By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
BOSTON (18-Apr) -- Exactly three years ago to the day, Ryan Hall ran the fastest marathon ever by an American in history, clocking 2:04:58 for fourth place at the 2011 Boston Marathon. Since then, the two-time Olympian has had many ups and downs, facing injury troubles around every bend. He hasn't finished a marathon in over two years.
At 31-years-old, Hall firmly believes he is back on the right track, ready to contend for a podium finish at the 118th Boston Marathon here on Monday.
"I've never seen so much growth in my training in such a short amount of time," Hall said, speaking to members of the media here today.
Eight days ago, Hall returned from a month-long training stint in Yaya Village, Ethiopia, roughly 10 kilometers outside of Addis Ababa. While living at an altitude of 9,000 feet, the Stanford University graduate completed one of the best training stints he could remember.
"Just being up there, it's really easy to see why those guys are so dominant and so good 'cause training at 9,000 feet is totally unlike anything I've done before in Flagstaff [Arizona] or Mammoth [Lakes, California]," he said. "I felt amazing coming out of there. I felt like I was in good shape going there, and I felt like things really clicked when I was there."
Hall decided to go to Yaya Village after his wife Sara, also an elite runner, raved about the training locale. Removed from the hustle and bustle of Addis Ababa, Hall began to find his groove, he said.
"It's up higher [altitude wise] and it's just in the countryside. You feel like you are buried in the sticks. I felt like in Yaya Village I was staying in a running monastery -- it's just like very tranquil, very peaceful and the hardest training I've ever done in my life," said Hall.
Hall described training runs such as a tempo effort that consisted of 10 kilometers going downhill, followed by an uphill climb of 20 kilometers, finishing at 10,000 feet. That kind of pounding on the quads and hamstrings can be expected on the tough hills of Newton on Monday.
"It makes you tough as nails," he affirmed. Today, Hall completed his final pre-race workout, a two-mile tempo run followed by some 400 meter repeats. He now feels primed and ready to toe the line in Hopkinton, briefly comparing his current fitness to 2011 -- the year he set his personal best and took fourth.
"I ran almost exactly the same splits [in today's workout as compared to 2011]. I don't know if that's telling or not, but it's difficult for me to compare being up in Ethiopia for the last month," he said. "I was doing long hard runs that no one in Ethiopia was doing. I don't know how my fitness will compare to those guys, but I've definitely trained as hard as those guys have trained."
Sitting in front of multiple video cameras, Hall momentarily reflected on the past two, troublesome, injury-plagued years. Since the beginning of 2012 he has dropped out of the 2012 Olympic Marathon, and subsequently withdrew from the 2012 TCS New York City Marathon (prior to the race being cancelled due to Superstorm Sandy), 2013 Boston Marathon, and 2013 TCS New York City Marathon. He hasn't completed a marathon since the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January, where he placed second in 2:09:30.
"I'm definitely willing to take risks and try new things [now]," he said. "I feel like I'm kind of failing my way to the top. I'm learning about my body, how to train properly."
Hall learned a whole lot not only when he was in Ethiopia, but also when he trained in Kenya last fall. There he observed world record holder Wilson Kipsang's training and spoke with the coach of the late Samuel Wanjiru, marathon gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"You learn things even when you're not training," he said in his trademark California drawl. "I'm learning how to get things right. I've never progressed so much so quickly in my training. I was starting from ground zero in December, so I haven't had a ton of time but Boston will be a huge step for me regardless of how it goes. I'm really excited to see how it continues to progress 'cause I feel like I'm getting the training right now."
On Monday, Hall will try and earn his fourth top-four finish in Boston. Knowing this year is extra special considering the tragic events of 2013, he is ready to give his all with hopes of becoming the first American men's champion since Greg Meyer in 1983.
"Honestly, I think what is going to make the biggest difference is the crowd. The crowd is always massive, it's always electric. This year it's going to be ten-times bigger and you're going to be running on pure adrenaline," he said with a grin. "If an American were to win this year's race it would be big, the biggest win arguably in U.S. Marathon history."
PHOTO: Ryan Hall speaks to the media in advance of the 2014 Boston Marathon (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)