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For First Time, Ryan and Sara Hall to Tackle Marathon Together

The husband-wife team head into the LA Marathon on different trajectories.

The husband-wife team head into the LA Marathon on different trajectories.

Despite the fact that she’s a marathon novice, Sara Hall’s competitive nature seems to be rubbing off on Ryan Hall, her more road-hardened husband, ahead of this Sunday’s ASICS LA Marathon.

Sara Hall, who will be having her first go at 26.2 miles on Sunday, is riding a wave of momentum over the past three years, winning a national title at the 2012 U.S. Cross Country Championships and posting runner-up finishes at the U.S. 10-mile championships last April, the U.S. 10K Championships last July and also at the U.S. 7-Mile Championships later in the summer. She’s raced three half marathons in that time period, winning her debut at the Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon in October 2013, running 1:13:38 to finish 11th at the 2014 U.S. Half Marathon Championships, and, most recently, ripping a 1:10:50 personal-best effort to finish fourth at this year’s U.S. Half Marathon Championships in January. In February, she finished a solid fifth at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Boulder.

“Time doesn’t matter to me as much as competition,” Sara Hall said on Friday. “I’ve never been someone that’s been really been motivated by time. I’ve always done better when I’m just out there competing.”

Ryan Hall, on the other hand, has struggled since running 2:04:58—the fastest marathon ever run by an American—at the Boston Marathon in 2011. After making his second Olympic team in 2012 and dropping out of the London Games that summer due to injury, the 32-year-old has struggled to find the form that catapulted him to a still-standing U.S. half-marathon record of 59:43 in 2007, a 2:06:17 marathon at London later that spring and a dominating win at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon.

For much of his professional career, Hall has been focused on running fast rather than placing high, even going so far to say that he’d rather be the first person to break two hours in the marathon than to win an Olympic gold medal. But a string of untimely injuries and sub-par race results in the past three years have motivated him to modify his approach with less than 11 months to go until next February’s U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon—which will also be held in Los Angeles, the same weekend as the city’s annual marathon.

“I really just have to practice competing again,” Ryan Hall said at Friday’s pre-race press conference. “For me it’s a shift in mindset—you’ve got to find other things to get excited about out there and that has to be competing alongside other people.”

The Halls, who have been training in the Ethiopian Highlands outside Addis Ababa since early February, returned to the United States recently after logging 100-plus-mile weeks for the second straight spring in the high-altitude environs of the small east African nation. Living a simple lifestyle while training alongside some of the world’s best long-distance runners has become something of a welcome annual getaway for the couple, while also serving as an extremely uncomfortable—but necessary—component of marathon preparation.

“I feel like I’ve been getting good at feeling bad,” Ryan Hall jokingly said of training in Ethiopia. “The training is just so unimpressive because you’re at 9,000 feet. I’m doing these tempo runs on a grass field so it’s just ridiculously slow. You don’t feel very good and then you come down [from altitude] and you feel very good. I felt terrible this last trip, so I think I’ve improved.”

Both California natives—Ryan grew up in Big Bear and Sara in Santa Rosa—the Halls are excited to mix it up in Los Angeles on Sunday, where they hope to feed off the energy of family, friends and fans along the 26.2-mile layout from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica Pier.

“This is basically my backyard,” Ryan Hall said. “It’s an opportunity for me to build my crowd base. I thrive so much on the energy of the crowd. [The crowd] is important for me to run well.”

Sara Hall, who will start with the elite women 10 minutes ahead of her husband and the rest of the main field, has been logging upwards of 115 miles a week in preparation for her marathon debut. A track runner by trade, the 31-year-old has taken well to marathon training under her coach, Steve Magness, and has been surprised by how smoothly she’s adapted to the increased workload and longer, more marathon-specific training sessions. She’s excited for the opportunity to compete for another national title on Sunday (the L.A. Marathon doubles as the 2015 U.S. Marathon Championship), while also taking advantage of the opportunity to race in an area that has meant so much to her over the course of her competitive running career.

“It’s a really meaningful place for me,” Hall said of Southern California. “I’ve raced here throughout high school and college and have so many memories at Mt. SAC and Arcadia. To get to run my first marathon here, and with the momentum of the Trials a year from now, it just kind of all came together to create an exciting atmosphere.”

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For Ryan Hall, whose last—and only—race of 2015 was a second place, 1:04:16 finish to Kenyan Benson Cheruiyot at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon in January, Sunday’s race will likely be his last marathon before the Trials next February. On Sunday, he hopes to simply let his competitive juices flow following a year of relatively injury-free, uninterrupted training under the tutelage of renowned coach Jack Daniels.

“I wasn’t fast but I felt strong and I felt like I could have kept running that pace,” Hall said of his lone tuneup race in Arizona. “So we’ll see what happens on Sunday. This course in these conditions is not going to run fast, so you’ve got to get excited about something else aside from running fast. I don’t think anyone’s going out there trying to hit a flyer on Sunday, but you have to be ready for guys to do anything.”

Despite Sara’s ups and Ryan’s downs in recent years, the Halls continue to find ways to support one another as their careers have taken opposite trajectories. In the buildup for her first marathon, Sara has leaned on Ryan for advice on everything from training and racing to nutrition and gear, while being inspired by the seemingly boundless energy her blonde-haired husband brings with him to the race course.

Ryan says he’s more balanced as a person and an athlete than at any other time of his career and has learned firsthand how to better handle setbacks in the continued pursuit of achievement. He also feel he’s benefited from the residual excitement of his wife’s first marathon attempt and the energy of her recent racing success—something he hopes to replicate on Sunday, and then again as he attempts to make his third Olympic team next February.

“It’s like when you’re on a team and your teammates start racing well, you expect to race well too,” Hall said of competing in the same race as his wife on Sunday. “I’ve definitely piggybacked off her confidence.”