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LONDON — Of the 21 athletes on the elite women’s start list for Sunday’s Virgin Money London Marathon, there is only one American: Sara Hall of Redding, Calif. The 33-year-old will be running in her fourth marathon and, as it was for her husband Ryan, she hopes that London’s fast course from Blackheath to The Mall will be kind to her.
Hall competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles in February, but dropped out. She hit the halfway point in 1:15:12, but recorded her final split at the 17th mile (27th kilometer). Soon after the race, she decided to run London. She spoke to Race Results Weekly yesterday here.
Race Results Weekly: How did you end up in London’s elite field? Did you decide right after the Trials?
Sara Hall: Ryan and I were like, whoa, that really happened, that was a bad dream. What do we do now? Naturally, we were thinking about the track trials, but I felt like my heart was really in the marathon right now. I had such a beautiful build up that I want to do another. I want to learn the event better, and Ryan and I were both thinking this race. So, we were like, let’s go for it.
RRW: Why did you drop out at the Trials? Was it the heat?
SH: I don’t really know exactly. I was struggling kind of around halfway. Maybe the pace, with how hot it was, got to me. My muscles started cramping really bad. I had that happen at the L.A. Marathon the previous year. These were like so strong that they were stopping me. So, rather than run through it like I did there… the smartest thing for me to do was just stop. I think that was around about 17 1/2 (miles). That was the first race that I ever dropped out of. It was really hard. Mentally and stuff, it was hard to get over. But in some ways, being so far from making the team made it easier in a way.
RRW: Why London?
SH: Well, I definitely wanted to come somewhere cooler after two really extremely hot races I really underperformed in. So, London is usually reliably cooler. That was one of the reasons for coming here.
RRW: After every marathon, athletes and coaches analyze what went well and what went wrong. What did your analysis of the Trials show you?
SH: The main thing is that I have not been racing well in the heat recently, like pretty much across the board. It’s not just in races, but in training, too. So, like where we live it gets quite warm, and I’ll be consistently training well and then we hit a warm day. So that’s on me, to get better at it. I was trying before the Trial to do some things to acclimate, even though it was the dead of winter and it was pretty cold. I think that was the main thing.
RRW: You ran the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships six weeks after the Trials, and you finished 15th (second American) in 70:58 in heavy rain. Did that performance demonstrate that you were on track to potentially run well at London?
SH: That was good just to get out there again and finish a race strong. It’s always nice, like at World Cross last year when I came off L.A. Marathon. I was like, I wasn’t delusional about my fitness (she finished 20th and was the top American). I am in good shape; it was just the conditions that really affected me. So, even though it wasn’t my fastest half, I felt like it was a good effort that got me back on track to being here.
RRW: What will be your approach to Sunday’s race?
SH: You know, it’s really just seeing what I’m capable of. I feel like I got a little taste of it in Chicago (last October when she ran a personal best 2:31:14 and finished 10th), but I really didn’t get a feel for it in my other races. So, kind of just that joy of going out there and pushing yourself and seeing what’s possible. I feel like I have no expectations of myself of the things I would like to accomplish, but I think it’s more like just focusing on that joy of just running with reckless abandon, without anything really on the line. It’s more for the joy of it that I’m here.
RRW: The larger than normal British field here (the race is the British Olympic Trial), should play to your advantage as there should be more women between the low 2:20’s and low 2:30’s than usual.
SH: I definitely am here to run with people. I’m a competitor and I always do better when I’m competing. It can be a lonely race with some of these races when they get strung out, especially when the have rabbits going so fast up front. But, I hope there will be some people running around where I want to run.
RRW: Ryan was very successful in London. He ran his first really fast time here (2:06:17 in 2008). What advice did he give you about the course?
SH: He just says how magical it is here. And I saw it when I was here (with Ryan). One of the biggest reasons I’m here is just seeing it. I was like, I want to run this race someday. Somehow, some way, I want to be here. That’s part of the reason for doing it, just for the experience of it. He’s just encouraged me about how good the crowds are. He remembers the course well.
RRW: After you dropped out at L.A., didn’t you think about the Track Trials first? What did you want to go right to another marathon first?
SH: Obviously, like, it’s hard with the track trials. It was definitely a step away from that. I think I had to follow my gut, and Ryan’s gut, with it that this is what I was most passionate about. So, I want to keep pursuing this, you know? Then, I’m going to turn the corner and run track. The strength training from the marathon is actually going to really benefit me on the track. But, this obviously wasn’t a decision based on track.
RRW: Will you still compete in the Track Trials? What event?
SH: I’d love to run another 10K maybe before the Trials. I ran my first one (in a national championships) last June in another 90-degree race at the track nationals (she finished 12th in 34:03.25). But actually, even in the shorter stuff, 5K or steeple, my workouts that I have done before this have gone pretty well. So, I’m really open to anything. We’ll see how the workouts go.
RRW: So you’re really not sure yet…
SH: Not really, no. I’ll think once it’s my focus more I’ll know from my training and early racing. Because I’m going to get out there and race as soon as I can as soon as my body recovers.