Ryan Hall Hoping To Have "Best Stuff Ever" at 2012 London Olympic Marathon
With Plantar Fasciitis Problems Behind Him, The Fastest Marathoner In American History Is Getting Excited For A Possible Third Special Day in London on August 12th
By Robert Johnson
July 16, 2012
On Friday afternoon, the fastest marathoner in American history, Ryan Hall, was gracious enough to call in and spend over 30 minutes with me on the phone from the birthplace of LetsRun.com - the high altitude environment of Flagstaff, AZ.
Hall, who ran a 2:04:58 on the point-to-point Boston marathon course in 2011 (and a 2:06:17 marathon in London in 2008), has struggled so far in 2012 after finishing as the runner-up at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in January. He's run two races during his 2012 Olympic marathon buildup and neither one ended up going well. On May 12th, he ran 30:15 for 15th place at the Healthy Kidney 10k in Central Park. On June third, followed up that up with another disappointing performance - a 65:39 half marathon in San Diego in a race where a somewhat dejected-sounding Hall admitted afterwards he was hoping to run in the 61s and that he was struggling with plantar fasciitis.
The Hall I talked to today was optimistic and hopeful that he can have a magical day in London on August 12.
Hall admitted that things through June hadn't gone well. He'd purposely taken a calculated risk and it hadn't worked out as planned.
"I've had my ups and downs in this buildup that's for sure. Going into it, I was looking at my position and knew that it was worth taking some risks in my training. I started doing marathon training earlier than I would normally do - I had some big workouts earlier than I normally would," said Hall, who as he explained in Sunday's New York Times had purposely "skipped early speed training, feeling that interval work deadened his legs. Instead, he favored free-flowing, undulating runs, each meant to simulate race day."
"(But) going to Healthy Kidney and not having a good race there made me realize I wasn't hitting the speed stuff enough. I still had some junk in my legs. I've had to sort of re-position my training part-way through (this buildup) - and kind of rest up my legs. I went through a week there where I didn't do afternoon runs."
When asked about how his plantar fasciitis was doing, Hall said it's gotten much better and he's now running pain free. When he was suffering with plantar fasciitis, Hall said as the time he didn't think it was effecting his performance, but now that he's pain free, he does think it affected him.
"My foot affected me more mentally than physical - just thinking about it (was tough). It's just a terrible way to start the day," said Hall. "Right around the (2012 US Olympic Track and Field) Trials it really just turned the corner. We've been doing a lot of shockwave with Dr. John Ball and Amol Saxena and now I'm really running pain free on it."
"And now I'm realizing it did have some physical effects on my stride - on my return off the ground. I was like a horse trying to run on three legs and not getting good extension off my left side."
"My workouts have really taken a turn and gotten a lot better and been going really well."
"Now I'm started to get a lot more excited for London and the race. I'll be totally honest (and admit that wasn't the case after San Diego), but that's nothing new for me having been through that experience before," said Hall, referring to the fact that last year he struggled through a half marathon in 63:53 on March 20th in New York before running his 2:04:58 marathon in Boston less than a month later on April 18th.
What Is Hall's Goal For The Olympics?
I then asked Hall what his goal for the Olympics. Was it as simple as simply getting top three?
"Certainly the Olympics is about going for those top three spots. Time is secondary - that won't be an emphasis. But for me the big goal is to really just hit a big day like I did in Boston. Just to know that on the biggest day of my career at the biggest venue of the sport, I had my best stuff ever. No matter if I finish tenth or first - obviously it would be better to be first than tenth," chuckled Hall.
"That's kind of the thing that haunts me about Beijing - my preparation didn't go nearly as well as my other marathons. I did the very best I could do out there (on that day), but it wasn't my best stuff. I think your dream as a little kid is to show up at the Olympic Games and be on fire. But regardless of what I show up with (in London), I'm going to get everything out of my body. There is only so much you can do. You do it all - take calculated risks. There is also the mystery of the marathon as anything can happen."
When asked if he thought if it might actually be easier to get top three at the London Olympics where only three Kenyans and Ethiopians can enter the race as compared to, say, a major like the Virgin London Marathon where there is no limit, Hall had an interesting response.
"I just know whatever race I'm going to do - it's going to be loaded and it's going to be tough. I try to go into these races with a blank mind. I don't study my competitors' best times because just simply I don't like to build people up in my head as unbeatable. At the same time, I have great respect for everyone."
When Hall failed to win the 2012 US Olympic marathon Trails, he received criticism from some distance aficionados for not training at altitude. As a result, I asked him if he was training at altitude in preparation for the Olympics or if he had an altitude tent.
"I don't have an altitude tent or anything. I did do a couple of stints at altitude kind of early on (in this cycle), but I'm actually in Flagstaff right now doing my final preparation. I'll be up here for 4 weeks."
Considering Hall is 29 years old, I asked him if he viewed this as his last Olympics.
Is London His Last Olympic Hurrah?
"I definitely don't view this as my last hurrah. I see the two prime time Olympics for me as this one and then Rio (in 2016).
Still Learning & The Need For Speed
"I still feel like a student of the sport especially going out on my own and doing a little bit of faith-based coaching. I learn so much each time out. I learn not just about training - but about me - what I need (as a person) and what my body needs. Every single marathon, I've learned so much. I feel like I'm still in a learning stage and nowhere near capping out my potential. I still believe my best marathons are in front (of me)."
"What I've learned recently is the importance of speedwork for me. I've been doing a lot more interval work than I've done for recent marathons. I've realized how important speed is for me. I have had to change my training to prioritize my training to emphasize that."
And with that opening, I proceeded to try to dive deep into the specifics of Hall's training and try to ask the questions one doesn't normally see in mainstream interviews of Hall.
How Much Mileage Does He Do?
"I don't keep track of my mileage. It's never super high, but my big workouts are really big workouts. I take one day off a week. If I had to guesstimate my mileage, I'd say I never break 100 - probably 90ish. That's with a day off and some really light jogging on my easy days."
Hall then proceeded to talk about what he thinks went wrong at his two prep races and what he learned from that experience.
"Looking back some of my workouts were probably really too hard - they took something out off me," said Hall, who said several times he did the following workout at 7,000 feet of altitude in Flagstaff.
"I'd do 10 miles of in-and-out 400s - with the first (400) in 70 and the next (400) at 6-minute pace - well, I guess slightly slower, as I'd usually average like 5:50 pace on that. And then I'd run to the top of Snowbowl - however how high that is (Editor's note: The base of Snowbowl is 9,200 feet and the top is 11,500 feet) and I'd tempo that as hard as I could. Altogether it's 20 really hard miles. I did that a couple of times and felt really super fit after that."
20 X 1k @ 2:55
"I also did like 20 x 1k at 2:55 on like 2 minutes rest, which for me at altitude is really good."
"The ironic thing is I didn't see that translate to sea level fitness. Maybe I was kind of zapped - maybe they were just too big of workouts too early in my training."
As a result of his missteps earlier in the year, Hall is now making sure his workouts aren't as taxing as they were earlier in the year.
"(Today) I actually just finished a run up Snowbowl - I did like 10 miles at medium pace but I skipped the (10 miles of in-and-out 400s). I ran the uphill section as hard as I could. (Altogether) I did like 2.5 hours."
Given how fast the marathon is run at these days and how poorly he ran earlier in the cycle, Hall is making sure to incorporate more speed days into his training.
Instead of a normal hard workout cycle of interval day, tempo day (long or short), and long run where an interval or speed day was done basically every third workout, Hall is now making sure an interval session - a "speed day" - is done every other workout. So now his cycle might go like this - interval day, tempo day, interval day, long run.
I asked Hall what he planned on doing in the three-plus weeks before he leaves for London on August 4th.
*Continued on Page 2 (Hall talks about what workouts he'll do before the Olympics, talks about his wife Sara's failure to make the team, how London has been special to him in the past, his post-London plans, and what shoes he'll race in).
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