At Her 8th Olympic Trials, Sara Hall Ready to Step on the PodiumBy LetsRun.com
Sara Hall has been a constant in elite American running circles for the entire 21st century. She won the Foot Locker high school national cross country title in 2000 as a high school senior and has been near the top of the sport ever since.
Hall has been a mainstay at the US Olympic Trials since 2004 and has competed in every event from the 1500 to the marathon at the Trials. The 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials will be Hall’s sixth Olympic cycle and her eighth Olympic Trials (three in the marathon, five on the track). Her best finish so far is 6th in the 10,000 at the 2021 Trials.
Now at the age of 40, Sara Hall will toe the line on February 3 in Orlando as one of the favorites. The 2:22:10 she ran to place 5th at the 2022 World Championships in Eugene is the 4th-fastest seed time at the Trials. After a very successful 2022, Hall struggled in 2023. She finished just 17th at the Boston Marathon and then had a more limited schedule the rest of the year as she was dealing with an IT band and SI joint injury.
Hall, a mother of four, lives in Flagstaff, Ariz., with her husband Ryan, a two-time Olympian in the marathon and the American record holder in the half marathon. She runs for Asics, and co-founded the Hall Steps Foundation with Ryan in 2009 to fight poverty.
LetsRun.com reached out to Hall via email to get an update on her status before the Trials. Answers edited for clarity.
LetsRun.com (LRC): What are your general thoughts heading into the Trials?
Sara Hall: I’m extremely excited. I feel very hungry just to be able to compete, especially having not run a fall marathon or nearly as many races as I’m used to running the last year and a half. I’ve been training specifically for this for 5 months so I’m ready to finally get to do the fun part.
LRC: This is your 6th Olympic Trials and you’re likely the only athlete who has participated in all the longer distance events from the 1500 to the marathon including the steeple! Do you approach the Trials differently now than when you were younger? What is the key to your longevity?
This is actually my 8th! My approach to the Trials has definitely evolved from 2004 when I begged my college coaches to let me skip it, I was so overcooked from racing all 3 collegiate seasons. Most of my Trials on paper I was not a favorite to make the team but still would go in there with the mentality of “top 3 or bust”- which at some point would end in bust. At this point in my career I feel like I belong and also have more race experience so my approach is more to go do my thing as I would any other race.
As far as keys to longevity, they’re both mental and physical- this sport is tough, there’s no way around it and I would have walked away from the sport multiple times early on both from mental and physical burnout. The biggest thing that keeps me in it is I fell in love with the work. I really love the process, so even if the end result doesn’t work out, it wasn’t a waste and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. I love pushing myself and competing more now than ever. I found a way to handle the pressure mentally through my faith and Ryan’s unconditional support and belief in me. And that’s really the biggest thing- I have incredible people helping me. Ryan is an amazing coach and finding my therapist John Ball 15 years ago helped me physically get out of the hole I was in and helps me handle an aggressive work load even now in my 40s. Take him or Ryan out of the equation and I would have been done a long time ago. And having my kids 100% in it with me too, they want me to keep going and that’s everything to me.
LRC: You pulled out of running Houston which had some people concerned but you just posted on Twitter yesterday, “Grateful to hit 5 months without missing a day of running as I wrap up this training cycle- the most fun I’ve ever had training!” How has the training been going? How would you compare your fitness to say before Worlds in 2022?
Yeah I was definitely disappointed to not race Houston due to a flare up in my hip, because I felt really ready for a good one there and mainly I just miss racing. I probably would have raced if the Trials wasn’t less than 3 weeks away, but after the last year I’ve had to learn to be much more careful with my body than I’m used to being and there’s no way I was going to risk messing this one up.
Other than that, I don’t think I could have asked for a better buildup from late October ’til now, especially after the year prior. It’s the best I’ve handled the training energy wise and muscular fatigue wise. The big break – both not running and everything I had to do during that time to get back to running – was really good for my body and exactly what I needed. Running has never felt better, and that’s what made it so fun. Every hard workout I did I would break out into a smile out there both because I was doing what I love again and also because the actual movement felt so good. It was my most consistent buildup as far as no bad workouts and no missed running days, though I did have to cut some runs short and cross train 2 workouts for my hip. One of the highlights for me was a 20 x 1k workout with a continuous 200m float that really surprised me and made me think about hopping in a track 10k at some point. I also really enjoyed the 16.3 (mile) tempo I did in Orlando, getting to visualize race day in the elements.
LRC: In 2022 you broke the American record in the half marathon and then got 5th at Worlds. In 2023, you struggled in particular during the back half of the year and had to pull out of Chicago. Is all of that behind you?
There was as a year in there from late August 2022 to late August 2023 where for the first time since starting the sport there were more days I couldn’t run than I could. But when I could run, it wasn’t like I felt old and broken, I felt better than I ever have before, so that kept me in it. I felt like if I could just get some consistency, I could have my best races, but it took a lot longer than I thought to get that. But I’m grateful for each setback because each one made me peel back another layer and level up my game another level that made me better for it now. I’m really grateful to my therapist John for leading the majority of that process and getting me to what feels like the other side now.
I was actually never entered in Chicago though or any other fall marathon. I wanted to run one, and almost did. It was kind of an evolving thought process. Ryan was very adamant it would take away from the Trials, but I was dying to get to run one again, especially since Boston was off such limited training. In the end, it was the right decision. In the summer I had an SI joint injury and overtrained and overdid the heat training during it, which took me a while to come out of. I also had a pretty major health issue with one of my daughters that kept me from some races that I had planned at the end of October/early November and there weren’t many race opportunities after that. So it just made sense to keep the Trials the main focus.
LRC: You were one of the more vocal athletes pushing for an earlier start time. The race is now at 10 a.m. Are you ready for the possibility of heat? What preparation have you done for it?
Training for a hot humid marathon in winter has definitely taken some intentionality and was something we factored into training the whole buildup. This is the first time I’ve intentionally heat trained, besides some last minute efforts when a goal race that wasn’t supposed to be hot freakishly was. I started preparing off and on for this scenario since before Orlando got the bid because I thought it might be the case (when you’ve been in the sport a while you can start to predict USATF’s decisions).
I’m someone that has a tendency to overdo things, and with heat training you can definitely overdo it. I wanted to try some ideas I had in August and it was way too much, and it took me a few months to get my energy back. But that’s kind of how I operate- find the upper threshold then scale it back, and I’m thankful in a way I didn’t have a fall marathon because I got to try that and learn that lesson a lot earlier. Since then I feel like we’ve been pretty aggressive with it while still prioritizing having good workouts and it helped to do a training stint in Orlando and work out at noon every day and be like “this is what it’s going to feel like” and see that our protocol was working.
LRC: Do you have a race strategy in mind?
Yeah of course I do but won’t be sharing it!
LRC: What would it mean to make an Olympic team on your sixth try? (Editor’s note: This is Hall’s sixth Olympic cycle and eighth Olympic Trials when you count the track and marathon Trials separately) What do the Olympics represent to you?
Oh man, what’s it’s meant to me has grown with every Trials that’s gone by. I try to be process-focused and not outcome-focused, and especially in a sport where we’re trying to get people to not just care about the Olympics I think we need be the same. This sport has never been just about the Olympics for me, and finally getting on that team is not the main driver for while I’m still doing it now. I’m really proud of the process and no matter where I place I’ll be proud of what it took to get here. But that being said, I want to make this team more than ever before. I’ve never invested more in this sport than I did the last year and a half with this in mind. In my dreams it’s how the story ends.
LRC: What is your favorite training shoe and what shoe will you be racing in?
The newest ASICS MetaSpeed racing shoe is incredible. I haven’t tried everything, but I like to see what’s out there and I believe it’s the fastest thing I’ve tried (and will be for sale soon). I’m over the moon to be lining up in it.
NovaBlast all the way for training shoes. It’s a super fun shoe to run in and the foam has helped me handle the pounding of the miles much better.