A mere five weeks after running a 2:27:21 personal best at the BMW Frankfurt Marathon, Sara Hall crossed the finish line of yet another marathon.
Among elite runners, such an aggressive racing schedule is virtually unheard of. Hall’s husband and coach, Ryan Hall, who is a retired long-distance runner, Olympic athlete and American record holder in the half marathon and marathon, was initially skeptical of her plan. Ultimately, Hall, 34, decided to listen to her body and compete in the California International Marathon (CIM) on December 3.
“The first week after [Frankfurt] my legs came around relatively quickly, and the next week I actually did some of the best workouts I’ve ever done, so that gave me the confidence that, by race day, my legs would be under me,” Hall explained.
Even though she felt confident about her choice to complete the CIM, it was a difficult decision to make. “It was still a bit of a leap of faith, because in the marathon you really need to be firing on all cylinders,” Hall said. She credits less-than-ideal conditions in Frankfurt with enabling her to recover quickly enough to compete at CIM.
“I had some things go wrong [in Frankfurt] that were outside my control,” she said. “I went out a little slower than I planned, but still my body was totally shutting down near the end of the race. I just took it a day at a time after the race and recalled moments where my body came around way faster than anticipated.”
This tactic of listening to her body and embracing recovery allowed Hall to approach the CIM start line completely relaxed. “This [marathon] felt different to me because my last two were international…but for this one, I was home doing homework with the kids just a few days before the race and it didn’t really feel like I had a race approaching,” Hall said.
To help herself mentally prepare, Hall drove the course two days before the race. But instead of helping her get race-ready, the course preview had the opposite effect. Initially, Hall thought she would be able to obtain a PR at the CIM, but after realizing the course was more challenging than the elevation chart showed, she reassessed her goal.
“I had a little attitude check and realized I needed to come up with some other things I felt excited about other than PRing, in case I was off pace out there, so that I could stay engaged,” Hall recalled.
Throughout the 26.2 mile race, Hall altered her race strategy several times. She began with the hope of breaking the course record, then adjusted her goals to strive for a personal best and finally set her mind to winning the race. Even while changing her approach, she made sure to keep one thing consistent: listening to her body. Staying in tune with her body enabled Hall to win the race with a time of 2:28:10, which is the second fastest winning time ever clocked at the CIM. Hall was more than two minutes faster than the closest female competitor.
“In my mind I wanted to just go out and run fast and run the pace that was right for me,” Hall said. “I knew that was a bit of a risk because there was a great field of women, and I’ve never just gone out and led a marathon gun to wire. I wouldn’t say that’s my strength, because I love to compete and when I’m running with others I get the most out of myself. But I was telling myself that this is an opportunity to grow my skills as a competitor.”
Hall also acknowledged the incredible crowd support, which kept her remain energized throughout the race.
“I’ve never been leading a marathon alone, so I haven’t experienced the way everyone just goes crazy for the first woman, even if they don’t know who you are. That actually made me smile and even laugh at times. I had some slower miles than I wanted to later on, and I was bummed to slip off of course record pace, but I kept fighting all the way. I really had so much fun out there.”
Hall credits her faith with enabling her to achieve her accomplishments at the CIM and throughout 2017. “I kept thanking God for the moment, and thanking Him for giving me the gift of running,” Hall said. “I had a really special connection with God the whole way; I think running alone and feeling like I was in the flow really helped me focus on Him. Of course, breaking the tape and wearing the flag with my family there and past coaches, like my junior high coach, was so meaningful.”
After a wildly successful year, Hall has big hopes for 2018. Her next race will be the Boston Marathon in April 2018. But first, Hall will take a much-needed breather.
“My body needed a break after this one,” she said. “I love to race, and would race every weekend if I could! But that’s not how you run your best. This will be a rebuilding winter over the holidays. But I’m very excited to be running the Boston Marathon for the first time! And I’ll probably run a couple races building up to it.”
When asked about specific time-related goals, Hall said, “My main goal is just to keep enjoying this gift God’s given me and see how far I can take it. I want to keep figuring out how I can do it better even while prioritizing my family. I still feel I have a lot of improvement in the event, which keeps me addicted to especially the half and full marathon distance.”