Now that husband Ryan has retired from competitive running, Sara Hall has assumed the mantle of the family competitive marathoner.
While she has yet to enjoy the same sort of success as Ryan, Sara hopes that will change Sunday when she tackles the 26.2-mile distance for the fourth time through the five boroughs of New York City. The 33-year-old has improved in her past two marathons—2:31:14 at the 2015 Chicago Marathon and 2:30:06 at the London Marathon back in April—but those results might have been even better if she had more runners to race.
“My other marathons have pretty much been just hang-on, survival type affairs,” she said. “So I’m looking forward to having a good group of girls to run with. I’ve always been better at racing than time-trialing, and that’s something that’s been missing in my other marathons.”
Hall is also looking forward to New York’s more challenging, undulating course.
“I like cross country and have always done well at it, and other runners have told me New York favors those type of runners,” she said. “So I really embraced the hills in my training for this one.”
Knowing that the New York course features some significant climbing, including the bridges and the final miles in Central Park, Hall incorporated more hills into her training, but also cut back on the total volume.
“This race comes at the end of a long year of training and racing, so I think I’ve built up a pretty good fitness background,” she said. “I was focused more on hitting my key workouts than on the overall mileage, just my go-to bread and butter workouts like 16-mile tempos and 23-mile long runs, so I could gauge my fitness. I knew I’d be emotionally and psychologically excited for New York, I was just hoping my body would feel the same, just have some wheels under me, and I’m pleased it has, I’ve got gas in the tank.”
Hall has also had to schedule her training around the demands of motherhood, as she and Ryan have their hands full with the four Ethiopian daughters they adopted last year.
“I think you kind of realize you’re not going to run as fast as you possibly could if you didn’t have to worry about making meals and homework and things like that. But fortunately I’m still running faster than I ever have, just maybe not as fast as I might if I was just focused full time on running,” Sara explained. “But you realize that when you make the choice to be a parent, that it’s a selfless thing. I’m enjoying professional running more than I ever have in my career, still PRing, so that’s been a pleasant surprise. And now that Ryan’s retired, he can pitch in a lot more with the girls if I have to do a workout.”
Ryan, who is Sara’s coach, only raced the five-borough NYC Marathon course once, finishing fourth in 2009 (he won the U.S. Olympic Trials race on a different criterium course in Central Park in 2007), so he hasn’t been a huge source of advice for Sara’s debut here.
“To be honest, I don’t remember that much about the course,” Ryan said. “And I wasn’t having that great a day, so I don’t want Sara’s expectations of the race to be colored by my experience then.”
One thing he did tell her was to focus on staying present in the race, not to be discouraged if the leaders start to pull away.
“I think Ryan was something like 15th on First Avenue, and he picked off about a dozen people who fell apart over the last 6 miles,” she said.
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That strategy plays to Hall’s strength of racing, rather than pacing, her run on Sunday.
“Ryan told me that in New York you can feel like you’re putting out more effort than your times show, so not to be discouraged if I see some slow splits, and just focus on competing,” Sara said. “I was also running in Mammoth last week with Deena Kastor, and one piece of advice she gave me that’s stuck is that the hills come at a tough time in the race, so you’ve got to have a reason to embrace that pain, and have it before you get there. So I’m going to try to keep that in mind for Sunday.”