American Sara Hall Runs The Race Of Her Life To Finish 2nd in 2020 London Marathon In 2:22:01

October 4, 2020

In a race that left many of the top contenders battered and broken, American Sara Hall ran the race of her life to take second at the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday, outkicking world champion Ruth Chepngetich to run a personal best of 2:22:01 (#6 all-time US) and become the first American, man or woman, to finish on the podium at London since Deena Kastor won in 2006.

Brigid Kosgei wins London
Photo: Joe Toth for Virgin Money London Marathon

While world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya was untouchable up front, running 2:18:58 to easily repeat as champion, the 37-year-old Hall beat everyone else in a loaded field that featured four women with sub-2:20 personal bests and two more under 2:22. Molly Seidel, the 2nd placer at the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials, also ran well today as she ran a personal best of 2:25:13 (72:26-73:47 splits, previous pb of 2:27:31) to finish 6th. The third American in the field, Lindsay Flanagan, was the 17th of 18 finishers in 2:37:16.

Hall’s run was a superb display of all-around marathoning. Bravery, smart pacing, guts, a finishing kick — Hall showed everything one could ask for from a marathoner over the course of 26.2 remarkable miles on a wet, cool (48 degrees F) day in London.

Hall, 37, broke out with a 2:22:16 personal best in Berlin last year, but entered today’s race having dropped out of her last two marathons (New York in November 2019, the US Olympic Trials in February 2020). But she had also lowered her personal best in the half marathon twice in 2020, clocking 68:58 in Houston in January, 68:18 in Eugene in August. And while the other Americans in London entered the race with an abbreviated buildup — the elite field was only confirmed in August — Hall already had already been training for a fall race and was able to get in a full buildup. The result was what her coach and husband, Ryan, described as Sara’s “best buildup ever,” six weeks of which took place at over 9,000 feet of elevation in Crested Butte, Colorado.

Sara Hall (USA)on the podium Photo: Andrew Baker for Virgin Money London Marathon

Prior to the race, Ryan told that he hoped Sara would be able to run the first half in 70:00, but the pacing groups made that difficult; group 1 was tasked with hitting halfway in 68:15-68:30, group 2 in 69:00-69:30, and group 3 in 72:30.

The key moment in the race came early, just five kilometers into the race. Hall hit 5k just four seconds off the lead in 16:30 (2:19:14 pace). But rather than continue to run over her head, Hall made the decision to step back — even though it meant running on her own. So while the leaders ran their next 5k in 15:59 — nine women (six racers) hit 10k in 32:35 or faster (2:17:29 pace) — Hall slowed to 16:52, coming through 10k in 10th in 33:22 (2:20:47 pace). At that point, she was completely isolated — 47 seconds behind 9th place, but 27 seconds ahead of 11th.

Hall would remain in no-man’s-land through halfway, which she hit on personal-best pace in 70:27 (still in 9th). And that is where the race shifted. While Hall would actually slow over the second half of the race (she went 70:27-71:34), she wasn’t slowing nearly as quickly as the women in front of her. The fast early pace — which may have been particularly tough on a raw, rainy day that even featured some hail — was taking its toll, and Hall was there to take advantage. 

Sara Hall after 2nd place in London Photo: Joe Toth for Virgin Money London Marathon

Suddenly, Hall had targets to shoot for. By 25k, she had passed 2018 London champ Vivian Cheruiyot and pacer Evaline Chirchir had dropped out so Hall had moved up to 7th. By 30k, after passing Frankfurt runner-up Alemu Megertu (and with the final pacer, Vivian Kiplagat, dropping out), she had moved up to 5th. After 35k, after passing 2:19 marathoner Valary Jemeli, she was fourth, and by 40k, after moving by Berlin champion Ashete Bekere at 24 miles, Hall was onto the podium in third.

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It looked as if that would be it. At 40k, Hall was 40 seconds behind Chepngetich — the fourth-fastest marathoner in history (2:17:08 pb). Hall had trailed her by as much as 2:17 at 25k and was 1:41 behind as recently as 35k, but 40 seconds over the final 2.2k (1.36 miles) seemed too much to overcome.

But Hall continued to push on, and with 400 meters to go, as she neared the finishing straight on the Mall, Hall caught sight of Chepngetich, providing the necessary motivation to dig into her deepest reserves. Pumping her ams, gasping desperately for air, and throwing her body forward with every stride, Hall closed the gap on a fading Chepngetich, and made the pass just 100 meters from the finish line, beating her by four seconds, 2:22:01 to 2:22:05. An incredible ending to a race that Hall — and American marathon fans — will not soon forget.

1. KOSGEI, Brigid (KEN) 2:18:58
2. HALL, Sara (USA) 2:22:01
3. CHEPNGETICH, Ruth (KEN) 2:22:05
4. BEKERE, Ashete (ETH) 2:22:51
5. MEGERTU, Alemu (ETH) 2:24:23
6. SEIDEL, Molly (USA) 2:25:13
7. STEYN, Gerda (RSA) 2:26:51
8. DIVER, Sinead (AUS) 2:27:07
9. MYKHAYLOVA, Darya (UKR) 2:27:29
10. JEMELI, Valary (KEN) 2:28:18
11. CHELIMO, Edith (KEN) 2:29:03
12. PASHLEY, Ellie (AUS) 2:31:31
13. COCKRAM, Natasha (GBR) 2:33:19
14. MITCHELL, Naomi (GBR) 2:33:23
15. BARLOW, Tracy (GBR) 2:34:42
16. JONES, Tish (GBR) 2:36:25
17. FLANAGAN, Lindsay (USA) 2:37:16
18. UMMELS, Bo (NED) 2:39:54

Quick Take: What a performance from Hall, who has a history of mowing down the field in big races

US viewers watching this on NBCSN at 4 a.m. likely had chills running up their spine at the end of this one as Hall ran down Chepngetich for second. Hall has a storied history of running her own race and running down people. In 2000, she did the exact same thing to win the US high school cross country championships. Dead last at the mile, the commentators — Toni Reavis and Deena Kastor (then Deena Drossin) — wrote Hall off but Hall ended up working her way through the entire field before winning in a sprint. In the middle of today’s broadcast, Kastor, who was broadcasting once again, referenced that race and Kastor poked fun at herself for how she prematurely wrote Hall off. 

Well, guess what? Kastor did it again today. After Kosgei won, the broadcast went back to look for second and we could see Hall in the picture with Chepngetich. However, the gap was still substantial with 1:40 left — probably about 10 seconds — and Kastor said it was too much to make up. 1:40 later, Hall was the runner-up. Kastor was a great sport as play-by-play man Paul Swangard had fun with her false prediction.

Below, we provide you the relevant portion of today’s broadcast as well as the relevant portion of the 2000 Foot Locker broadcast.

Quick Take: Hall finished second by slowing down the least

Hall outkicks the World Champ

While Hall deserves a ton of credit for a brilliant race, one of the reasons she was able to finish second is that everyone ahead of her — except Kosgei, who slowed over the second half, but not nearly as much — went out way too hard. Hall was slowing down as well — after 10k, every one of her 5k splits was slower than the one that preceded it — but she slowed much more gradually than her rivals and was able to mow them down as a result. Just look at how her 5k splits compare to those of Chepngetich. 

Distance Chepngetich split Hall split
5K 16:27 16:30
10K 15:59 16:52
15K 16:06 16:40
20K 16:05 16:45
25K 16:42 16:49
30K 17:02 16:57
35K 17:28 16:58
40K 18:13 17:11
Final 2.2K 8:07 7:23

Quick Take: Second against this field is an incredible achievement

Molly Seidel congratulates Sara Hall after Hall’s 2nd place finish. Photo: Bob Martin for Virgin Money London Marathon

It’s been 14 years since an American finished on the podium in London, and while its proximity to Boston is one reason for that, the bigger reason is that the field is usually way too good for an American to contend. 

And on paper, this London field, was, as usual, very strong. You had the top two marathoners in the world in the WR holder (Kosgei) and world champ (Chepngetich), plus a 2:18 woman (Cheruiyot), 2:19 woman (Valary Jemeli), and a 2:20 woman who won Berlin last year (Ashete Bekere). Obviously it helped that almost all of the leaders went out way too hard — no one expected only one woman would break 2:22 today — but to finish second in a field of studs like this is super impressive, requiring Hall to make smart decisions and close hard despite running alone for much of the race. A terrific run.

Hall did it as she ran much closer to her pb than everyone else in the top 5.

We have a separate article on Sara Hall’s great run but one thing we didn’t do is compare how she ran compared to the others. On a day no one else was coming close to a PR, Hall PRd. Here’s hot the top 5 did compared to their PRs.

Athlete PR Prior to London London Result
1 Brigid Kosgei 2:14:04 4:54 off PR
2 Sara Hall 2:22:16 15 second off PR
3 Ruth Cheptngetich 2:17:08 4:57 off PR
4 Ashete Bekere 2:20:04 2:37 off PR
5 Alemu Megertu 2:21:01 3:22 off PR

Quick Take: What shoes was Hall wearing?

Unfortunately, the reality of marathoning in 2020 is that when someone produces an incredible performance, the question has to be asked: what shoes were they wearing?

And in Hall’s case, we don’t know (LetsRun texted Hall’s agent Josh Cox and husband Ryan, but neither responded). While the orange uppers had the Asics logo — Hall’s sponsor — some have speculated that the sole looks like adidas’ new Adizero Adios Pro.

For the record, World Athletics issued an update to its shoe rules in July that stated, “Approved shoes to be made available prior to an international competition for distribution to any uncontracted elite athlete via an Athletic Shoe Availability Scheme.” 

In addition, Technical Rule 5.2.1 states places limits on shoe customization: 

A shoe that meets the criteria set out in this Rule 5 may be customised to suit the characteristic of a particular athlete’s foot. However, one-off shoes made to order (i.e. that are only ones of their kind) to suit the characteristics of an athlete’s foot or other requirements are not permitted.

So we’ll see what happens with that. If she wore a shoe that is out on the market but only changed the upper to protect her sponsor, we don’t that should result in a DQ as it’s simply a cosmetic change but this whole shoe debate continues to drive us nuts. Imagine if in a few years, we learn that her upper was somehow way better than anyone else’s.

Update: We have received more info on her shoe situation from Hall’s agent Josh Cox.

Reading between the lines, since he doesn’t name the type of shoe she was wearing, we believe that she’s wearing another brand’s shoe with a customized upper is a pretty good bet.

Quick Take: Molly Seidel seemed pleased after this one and for good reason

Molly Seidel seemed pleased when she crossed the finish

After she cross the finish line, Seidel stuck her tongue out and celebrated.

While Seidel was a national champ in both high school and college and became an Olympian in February, her career has been far from smooth sailing. As someone who has struggled with disordered eating, anxiety and depression, for her to PR in the midst of global pandemic and finish sixth in her first Abbott World Marathon major was something she rightly was proud of. She wanted to get more experience in the marathon and she did and showed she’s made for the distance.

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Leader Mile By Mile Splits

Split Diff
1M 5:19
2M 5:21
3M 5:13
4M 5:10
5M 5:10
6M 5:08
7M 5:12
8M 5:11
9M 5:11
10M 5:11
11M 5:07
12M 5:11
13M 5:18
14M 5:22
15M 5:23
16M 5:33
17M 5:30
18M 5:29
19M 5:34
20M 5:19
21M 5:22
22M 5:21
23M 5:20
24M 5:21
25M 5:25
26M * 5:18
Finish 1:13


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