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Ryan Hall Hopes Extra Practice on Course Will Bring Boston Success

By David Monti
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

BOSTON (16-Apr) -- About 60,000 people live in Waltham, a Massachusetts city about 20 kilometers west of Boston.  It's traditionally referred to as the Watch City, according to Wikipedia, because of its association with the watch industry.

It was there fewer than three weeks ago that marathoner Ryan Hall, and wife Sara, took up residence to help Hall, the 2008 USA Olympic Trials Marathon champion, get ready for the 114th Boston Marathon on Monday.  It was Hall's hope that additional practice on the course would give him an edge in Monday's race.  In last year's contest, Hall ran very quickly in the early kilometers, faded to ninth place mid-race, then battled back to finish third in 2:09:40.

"I think I've learned more from the last three weeks than from last year's Boston," Hall told reporters today.  "I really don't remember so much from just running the course once, you know?  I just remember hurting really bad from mile 15."

Although Waltham isn't one of the eight towns on the Boston Marathon route from Hopkinton to Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, it's just north of Newton, the site of the race's most important climbs, including famed Heartbreak Hill which begins just past the 20-mile mark (32 km).

"We arrived in Waltham two and one half weeks ago," explained Sara Hall in a separate news conference here today for Sunday's B.A.A. Invitational Mile in which she will compete.  "It was great.  It was out of the city which was great for us.  It was also closer to the course for Ryan."

Hall, 27, took full advantage of his time in Waltham, practicing on the course regularly.

"I've been on it three times a week, some of my workouts and sometimes on my easy days," Hall said of the course.  "I've done a 24-mile (39 km) run on the course, and a couple of other long runs.  I've probably logged close to 100 miles on the course the last three weeks."

Boston's first 25 km (15.5 mi.) are very seductive for elite and recreational runners, alike.  Over that stretch the race loses a hefty 129 meters (422 ft.) of elevation, and it's easy to go out too fast.  But through a series hills in Newton, runners gain back 54 meters (178 ft.) of elevation, before the course turns downhill for the final eight kilometers to the finish.  Athletes quickly learn that the downhills towards the end of the race can be excruciating because of the damage the course inflicts on their quadriceps muscles before that.  Veteran race commentator Toni Reavis said today that it felt like "getting an ice pick jabbed into your leg."

"Over the last three weeks I've really learned how to expend my energy over the course: how it rolls, what to expect," Hall continued.  "That's the biggest thing; how do you spend your energy on the course?  This is so technical.  You've got to know how to do it, you've got to be prepared for what comes later in the game.  So, this time I feel prepared and I'll run it a lot different than I did last year."

Hall's Mammoth Track Club coach, Terrence Mahon, agreed, and said that he had tailored Hall's workouts specifically to the Boston course.

"We definitely did a lot of things differently," said Mahon in an interview here today.  "Mostly, just, working on course specifics.  He continued: "We took some of the workouts we traditionally did, then tweaked them for the course.  So, he's just been out here engaging in the course, and trying to run the course in different segments... trying to get him to understand energy management."

Hall said he had been careful not to spend too much time on the marathon route, so that he stays mentally fresh about it.  That's a sharp contrast to last year where he only did one 20-mile run on the course.

"You know, I haven't, like, been on it every single day.  I don't want to get totally sick of it."

The Halls said that they loved their low-key existence in Waltham.  Sara said that it had a small-town feel, while Ryan said it was nice not to be noticed, at least for a while.

"It was a fun little town to kind of hide out in," Hall said.  "We didn't get discovered until, like, our second-to-last day when the FedEx guy was delivering a package and he was like, 'You're THE Ryan Hall?  What are you doing here?'  He was like, 'I didn't see anything in the paper.' I was like, I'm trying to keep it on the D.L."

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