By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission
ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA (15-Nov) -- It may come as a surprise that Sara Hall, a 9:39.48 steeplechaser from Flagstaff, Ariz., who has competed in three IAAF World Indoor Championships, is the overall points leader in the 2014 USA Road Circuit (USARC). Moreover, competing at distances on the circuit from one mile to 10 miles since last January, she hasn't won a single USA road running title this year.
However, because of her consistency --three second place finishes, one third and one tenth-- she is the current USARC series leader with 47 points, just two ahead of Olympic 5000m runner Molly Huddle and marathoner Brianne Nelson, who are tied for second. With double points available at tomorrow's .US 12-K Championships here, the series finale, Hall has a solid chance at the overall series title and a $45,000 payday ($20,000 for the race win plus $25,000 for the overall series title).
Perhaps of equal importance, the 31 year-old Asics athlete has made a noteworthy transition from the track to the pavement. She only ran two track races this year --an indoor 3000m and one steeplechase-- but competed in 14 road races up to the half-marathon distance, making the podium eight times.
"It's been a really fun year just experimenting for me," Hall told reporters at a press conference here today. She continued: "I've been surprised how naturally --post my appendix bursting in August-- how naturally the longer training has been going."
Indeed. A 4:08 1500-meter runner, Hall has found longer distances to her liking, just like her husband Ryan, the USA half-marathon record holder. At the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile in nearby Washington, D.C., last April, Hall ran a surprising 52:54 in her debut at the distance, well under the previous USA record for an all-women's race (she was beaten by compatriot Janet Bawcom who ran an even faster time so she didn't get the record). In that race, she came through 10-K in 32:26, at the time a personal best.
"You know, I've done roads my entire career, but always at the end of the year, like maybe doing a road mile or a road 5-K," Hall told Race Results Weekly in an interview. "Then I started doing Tufts (10-K run for women) a couple of times and always did well and enjoyed them. And I think that my focus was always, like, what is going to help me make the World Championships, the Olympic Games? Like, my coach at the time always thought it was in the shorter distances. But, in the process, I think I got away a little bit from all of the strength training that I did in college, and stuff that I really responded to."
After recovering from her burst appendix --and a broken rib and injured arm she suffered before that-- Hall has run remarkably well. She set another 10-K personal best of 32:14 at the Tufts Health Plan 10-K for Women last month in Boston, and followed up with a half-marathon best of 1:12:54 at the Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon in California where she successfully defended her title. Last weekend in Pittsburgh, she won the EQT Pittsburgh 10 Miler in 53:47, beating Ethiopia's Buze Diriba in a sprint finish.
"I really enjoy (longer races)," Hall continued. "Like the 10-mile I did last weekend went by super-fast. "It was really fun. I feel like it's a natural fit."
But beating Molly Huddle, the defending champion here and holder of the world best for 12-K (37:50), won't be easy. Huddle has been America's best distance runner this year below the marathon distance, winning four national titles (including three on the roads), and breaking her own USA 5000m record (14:42.64). Like Hall, Huddle has great middle-distance chops (she ran the second-fastest mile in the world this year: 4:26.84), and world-class 10-K speed (she also ran the #2 time in the world this year at 10,000m: 30:47.59). But time doesn't matter in tomorrow's race, and Hall is a skilled racer with a stinging kick.
"I really don't know what's possible, but at the same time I feel like anything I do is, like, a bonus compared to where I've been this summer," Hall concluded. "It's a good place to be. I have expectations of myself, but really in the end, I'm just thankful to be racing right now. I didn't think that was possible."