Sara Hall Runs 2nd Fastest Marathon In US History – 2:20:32 – To Win Marathon Project
December 20, 2020
One day before the winter solstice, Sara Hall closed out a fall marathon campaign for the ages by running 2:20:32 to win the Marathon Project and become the second-fastest American woman of all time. In a year in which most of the fall racing season was wiped out due to COVID-19, this was the 37-year old Hall’s second exceptional marathon in the last 11 weeks — back on October 4, she ran 2:22:01 to finish second at the London Marathon, the first American to climb the podium in the British capital since 2006.
Though that 2:22:01 was a personal best, foul weather and race dynamics prevented Hall from running her absolute best time, and less than two weeks after London, Hall announced she would run the Marathon Project, a race held on a 4.3-mile loop course in Chandler, Ariz., with the express goal of getting as many Americans to run as fast as possible. Hall announced her intention before the race to go out in 69:40 in the first half — a split that would put her on pace to break Deena Kastor’s 14-year-old American record of 2:19:36.
Hall was true to her word, passing through halfway with four male pacers in 69:38 today on a perfect day for marathoning (the temperature rose steadily from 34 degrees at the start to 50 degrees by the finish, with almost zero wind throughout).
The big question before the race was whether anyone would go with her, and we got our answer early as Kellyn Taylor, who finished 8th at the Olympic Marathon Trials despite running on a stress fracture, was right with Hall — Taylor’s halfway split of 69:38 was 38 seconds faster than her open half marathon pb of 70:16.
The hot pace would take its toll on Taylor, however, as she fell off shortly after halfway and would ultimately fade to third in 2:25:22.
Hall kept her foot to the pedal, and the American record was still within reach as she passed 30k in 1:39:22 (2:19:46 pace). She, too, ultimately began to hurt, as her last two 5k splits were the slowest of her race — 16:47 from 30 to 35k and 16:57 from 35 to 40k. But by that point, she had banked enough time that she was still able to run an enormous personal best, joining Kastor and Jordan Hasay as the only Americans under 2:21.
Farther back, Keira D’Amato — the 36-year-old mother of two who took a seven-year break from the sport but has dazzled in 2020 — ran a terrific negative-split 2:22:56 (71:40/71:16) to move to #8 on the all-time US list. Emma Bates just missed her personal best of 2:25:27, running 2:25:40 for fourth. Fifth place was significant as Natasha Wodak ran 2:26:19 to become the second-fastest Canadian in history and boost her Olympic chances (she is one of four Canadians with the Olympic standard).
Results Top 12 (All the Sub 2:30s) Full Results here
1 Sara Hall 2:20:32 2 Keira D'Amato 2:22:56 3 Kellyn Taylor 2:25:22 4 Emma Bates 2:25:40 5 Natasha Wodak 2:26:19 6 Andrea Ramirez 2:26:34 7 Paige Stoner 2:28:43 8 Ursula Patricia 2:29:11 9 Sarah Inglis 2:29:41 10 Bria Wetsch 2:29:50 11 Julia Kohnen 2:29:58 12 Samantha Roecker2:29:59
Quick Take: The Sara Hall story is amazing
Back in 2009, Sara Hall almost quit the sport of running. Though she had been a national champion in high school and a top collegian at Stanford, she was coming off a last-place finish at USAs in the 5k and had grown tired of living in isolated Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
But Hall’s husband, Ryan, was one of America’s top marathon talents. She felt she owed it to him to allow him to chase his dreams in Mammoth, and decided that if she was sticking around in Mammoth, she may as well keep chasing her own running dreams.
“It was kind of like, well, I can’t do what I would do otherwise, so I’m just going to keep doing this because this is just the lifestyle we have right now,” she told LetsRun last year.
It’s pretty amazing how far Hall has come since then. She wound up outlasting her husband, who retired in 2016, and while she was competitive in a variety of events from 800 to the 10,000, she never made a US Olympic or World team on the track. She made the move to the marathon in 2015, but once again she seemed to be good, not great: through nine career marathons, her personal best stood at 2:26:20.
Over the last 15 months, however, Hall has gone from “good” marathoner to one of the best in US history. First, 4+ minute pb of 2:22:16 in Berlin last year. Then another pb of 2:22:01 in London this fall, followed by her 2:20:32 today. It’s an incredible transformation, almost unprecedented for an athlete of her age and experience.
Of course, advances in shoe technology have played a role (both today and in London, Hall raced in Asics prototypes, their answer to Nike’s Vaporflys). But it’s also become clear that Hall should have been in the marathon all along, as she only seems to grow stronger with each buildup. 2:20:32 will be hard to top, but we’d bet Sara Hall isn’t done yet.
For more on how Hall emerged as a marathon star, check out this story from 2019: LRC For Sara Hall, A Dream Deferred Led to a Passion Realized
Quick Take: Keira D’Amato’s story is amazing too
Hall’s journey from 2:26 to 2:20 in 15 months is incredible. But at least we had heard of Sara Hall 15 months ago. No one, outside of her friends and family, knew the name Keira D’Amato (maybe you knew Keira Carlstrom, her maiden name, if you have a strong recollection of mid-2000s NCAA distance running).
Now Carlstrom is the 8th-fastest American female marathoner of all time, her 2:22:56 today capping a breakout year. In 2020, at the age of 36, D’Amato has now run 15:04, 68:57 in the half, and 2:22:56 in the marathon. She’s a faster marathoner than Emily Sisson and Molly Huddle.
D’Amato, who briefly ran as a post-collegian in the late-2000s (4:22 1500 pb), spent seven years as a recreational runner before resuming in 2017 after giving birth to her second child the previous year. She had gradually improved since then, but it wasn’t until this summer that D’Amato really took off. Today’s run was a personal best of over 11 minutes (her previous best was 2:34:24, which she ran to take 15th at the Olympic Marathon Trials in February). She plans on running both the 5k and 10k at the Olympic Trials on the track next year.
Quick Take: Kudos to Kellyn Taylor, who gutted out a 2:25 after going out hard
Going with Hall was a risk for Taylor, and required coming through halfway faster than she had ever run in a half — let alone the first half of a full marathon. But Taylor is one of the toughest, fiercest competitors on the circuit, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that she decided to go with Hall instead of letting Hall run away from her and hope that she faded.
Instead, it was Taylor who faded, going 69:39-75:43 to run 2:25:22 for third. That’s unfortunate, as Taylor, 34, was clearly ready to lower her 2:24:29 pb, and likely would have done so if she went out with the second group (D’Amato came through in 71:40). Maybe Taylor will regret not doing that; personal bests are hard to come by in the marathon, and you never know when you’ll get another opportunity to run fast. But our guess is she won’t. You don’t hit home runs without taking big swings. Taylor took a big swing today. It just didn’t work out.
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