Q&A: Sara Hall on Tokyo Marathon, Her Busy Schedule, & What’s Written on Her Bathroom Mirror Right Now
By Jonathan Gault
March 14, 2022
Few professional runners will have a busier first seven months of 2022 than Sara Hall. The 38-year-old American kicked off the year by running 67:15 to break the American half marathon record in Houston on January 16 and on March 6 ventured to Tokyo in an attempt to break the American record in the marathon. While Hall was on record pace through halfway (69:29), she faded over the second half but still ran 2:22:56 to finish 8th overall in the Japanese capital.
Hall is not resting on her laurels, however, as she will race the NYC Half on Sunday before tackling the Boston Marathon on April 18 and the World Championships marathon in Eugene on July 18. LetsRun.com caught up with Hall after she returned home from Tokyo last week to discuss her racing schedule, how she keeps improving deep into her 30s, how much faster she thinks Americans can run with the supershoes, and what goals she has written on her bathroom mirror.
You ran the Tokyo Marathon over the weekend. I assume you’re back stateside at this point. How are you feeling, and how is your body feeling after the race?
It feels pretty good. I would say pretty similar to other flat marathons I’ve done, maybe a little bit more sore on my right side, just with my knee, I think it’s been pulling a little more weight. But thankfully the knee came out of it really well and that was the main concern going in. And so I’m really excited to regroup toward the NYC Half and Boston, assuming I can stay healthy and have good training.
I emailed Ryan (Hall’s husband and coach) before the race and he mentioned that you fell and injured that knee in training a few weeks ago. How much did it affect your preparations for Tokyo, and how much, if at all, did it affect you during the race?
It didn’t affect me at all in the race. I didn’t feel it at all, thankfully. But it was one of those weird things where it just kind of dragged on. I didn’t expect it to be as much of an issue as it was but it was a pretty big setback at a pretty important time. It was hard to quantify how much it affected [my buildup] but I didn’t get in as much in the fourth and third weeks before the race.
With 10 days out from the race, I was feeling really good and it was finally responding really well to training. So I felt really good going into the race and was optimistic that all the training I had done prior to the knee was still in me and I’d be okay and I still wanted to stick to my original goal and stuff. But unfortunately, I wasn’t quite able to hold the pace I thought I would be capable of out there.
You just ran Tokyo and you’ve got a pretty busy schedule in 2022. You’ve got the NYC Half next weekend and then Boston and then the Worlds in July. You didn’t have to run Boston, but you are running it, so what made you want to run that race?
Well because it’s Boston. I’ve only gotten to run Boston once, it was absolutely incredible as an American out there and [a race where] I really saw Ryan come alive running in his career, probably his favorite spot. The one time I ran it, it was off really limited training off a stress fracture, so I didn’t really get the full experience because I crashed and burned pretty hard. But yeah, I think also having the chance to compete in a marathon, I definitely want some more opportunities for that. I really loved London [in 2020, when Hall finished 2nd] where I just got to compete out there and time was out the window. I think [ahead of] Worlds, [Boston] gives me another opportunity to do that. But really it’s just for the fun of it. I just love racing marathons and am really excited to experience it out there.
Your best marathons so far have come on flat courses. You mentioned you didn’t run as well as you liked in Boston (in 2019, when Hall was 15th), that was also coming off of injury. Do you think you’re a better flat runner than hill runner? And do you expect you might be able to do better on the hills this time around? Have you changed anything that you think might be able to help you succeed on the hills in Boston?
I feel good about the uphills. I do need some more downhill training between now and then, especially because I was starting to do that right when the knee happened, and then that was the absolute worst thing for the knee at the time so I definitely feel a little behind on that, and I think that’s a big factor in Boston to handle the pounding early on of the downhills. It’s a net downhill course. So looking to continue that, and I’m going to really need to stay on top of my recovery, my protein intake with the MuscleTech Pure Series because that eccentric load just really beats you up, so it’s just a fine balance with that. But I’m hoping also the supershoes factor will help, just because it’s my first hilly marathon in a super-cushioned shoe and that, I know from training, helps with the pounding component.
You turn 39 a few days before the Boston Marathon, but you’re not really slowing down very much – you just ran an American record in the half marathon in January. How much longer do you think you can keep going at this level?
It’s a good question. It is kind of surreal to think I’m going to be a masters [athlete] in a year. [laughs] I would have never thought I’d still be competing as a masters. It’s something I try not to think about – I learned this from Terrence Mahon, one of my coaches early on. Deena [Kastor] was joking about being old and he was like, “Deena, once you start saying you’re old, you start the clock.”
I was only, like, 23 at the time, but for some reason that stuck with me, that what you speak about yourself and expect makes a big difference. So I’ve just tried to be really intentional about not joking about that or expecting to slow down. My body’s still handling training really well, I’m finding ways to train smarter because I can’t really train harder or necessarily do more than I’m doing. Obviously my therapist John Ball in Phoenix has helped me so much with staying injury-free. That’s really the biggest limiter. Later in life, you can keep building aerobic capacity for a lot of years, but it’s really just can you stay healthy? So that’s a big focus. Recovering from training, obviously protein intake with MuscleTech, the recovery part is just an art that I’ve continued to try to perfect over the years. So I’m optimistic that my best marathons are still ahead.
You mentioned training smarter because there’s a limit to how hard you can train. Can you give me an example of something that you feel has helped you in that area to train smarter?
There’s some outside-the-box-stuff I do that I don’t really talk about because they’re my secret weapons. But I feel like those things are really what has allowed me to have the realistic jump I had in Berlin (in 2019 when Hall lowered her pb from 2:26 to 2:22) and I’ve really continued to do more and more of that type of training. They’re kind of secret, but I think what’s helped me is getting outside the groupthink of marathon training in the US. And that goes back to running Boston and Worlds and all these races. There’s a culture of we do things a certain way, but for me, I’ve been able to train in Kenya and Ethiopia and I’m just a curious person. I like to come up with outside-the-box stuff and Ryan’s similar. So I think some of that has really benefited me, having different perspectives and trying different things.
Since the supershoes came along a few years ago, we’ve seen the half marathon and marathon world records have drop quite precipitously. Recently, we’ve also seen the American records in those events have been lowered in those events, but not quite as much. How much lower do you think those records can go? Now that pretty much every American has access to some form of supershoe, what kind of times do you think Americans can run in those events?
That’s a good question. I think how I felt in Houston after that (where Hall ran 67:15 to break the AR in the half and Keira D’Amato ran 2:19:12 to break the AR in the marathon), and this sounds ambitious, but Josh [Cox, her agent] and Ryan and I are like, maybe breaking 2:18, that might be possible at some point. I’m not there yet, but thinking if you can just keep chipping away little bits. Definitely, the later stages of the marathon, [the shoes] just save your legs. And I think if I can do that, definitely some of these other people – Keira, the people that are running well – can do that too.
As far as the half, I think I can break 67:00. I’m sure other people can too. So we’ll see. Probably under 66:00 eventually, which sounds nuts.
Maybe not as nuts now that the world record is 62:52, right?
You’ve run all of the World Marathon Majors. You’re running the World Championships this year. I know you’d like to run the Olympics one day. Are there any other races on your bucket list that you haven’t gotten to do yet?
Really it’s the Olympics at this point for me. I’d like to podium at a major in the US, but I’ve gotten to experience them all. NYC Half is one that surprisingly I’ve never run and I’ve won all the marquee New York races like the Fifth Avenue Mile and Millrose Games and Mini 10K and Dash to the Finish 5K. And obviously, the marathon is the hardest one to win, so that one and the Half, that would be amazing to go for those at some point. But just to experience the Half will be fun next weekend.
I have one more question. You’re famous for writing your goals on your bathroom mirror. So I’ve got to ask you: what’s written there right now?
Well my Tokyo goals got erased. So now I just have Boston and a picture of a medal and Worlds and a picture of a medal there right now. Those are really gonna be really insanely hard goals. And I think my personality is one where going into Tokyo, it wasn’t an ideal buildup but I’m still gonna just go out there and go for it.
And that has its hard parts with that personality, because you struggle with disappointment a lot. Medalling in those races, that’s a really big ask. But at the same time, you do have those moments where it does come together like those Houston days or the London Marathon days, so I’m going to keep taking big swings and having fun with the process.
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Interview has been lightly edited for clarity. Hall was speaking to LetsRun.com on behalf of MuscleTech, a sports nutrition brand. LetsRun received no compensation for the interview, nor did MuscleTech have any say over the editorial content of this story or the interview.