Sara Hall Interviewed, pre-ASICS LA Marathon, the RunBlogRun interview, by Max Lockwood

Sara Hall, March 2015, courtesy of  ASICS communications

The following interview was done with Sara Hall, by Max Lockwood, on the eve of her marathon debut at the 2015 ASICS LA Marathon, which, in February 2016, will be the site of the 2016 US Olympic Trials marathon. That her husband, Ryan Hall is also racing this weekend, makes this an even more fascinating event!  
Sara Hall, photo courtesy of ASICS Communications

RBR, #1:  Your training over the past few years must be going well as your race performances have been strong. Are there a few key reasons for this?

Sara Hall: Yes, I've been happy and thankful for the last few years. I have some theories why that is, but honestly the more I do this sport the more it seems like a mystery to me sometimes why things are "clicking" more sometimes rather than others! One reason I've struggled in the sport were times I was overreaching in training, which is probably my weakness. I like to workout really hard and do a lot of race specific workouts, but sometimes you leave your races out there on the practice track. But I feel like I've been pretty aggressive in my training recently and for some reason my body is handling it well, I think partly because the type of training doesn't tax me as much as hard track work.  

In 2013 I tried to scramble back from knee surgery and salvage a track season.  After I re-injured myself in the process it gave me a long time to patiently return to the base training I should have done to begin with.  I had my eyes on the marathon in the end of 2014 so started emphasizing the strength work more, and I think I really respond well to that kind of training and will try to keep that up even when track training. I think I got away from it a bit because it isn't as immediately gratifying as the track work and you can't see a linear correlation always to your goal race.  

RBR, #2: I think one of the great stories here is the fact that you and Ryan seem to be a very harmonious couple as you both strive to be the best at your respective professions.  This is not easy to do. What are the three main reasons you both seem so happy and successful along these lines?

Sara Hall: Balancing both of our careers wasn't easy at first, but now we are 9.5 years into it and have found our groove.  You start to change as a person over time, for instance he used to want to be 100% at altitude and I would rather be at sea level, but now we both like periods at each of them.  But our faith is really the thing that both grounds us and keeps us connected to each other.  Without it I know we'd be selfishly focused only on our own needs, and instead we try to look to God daily for guidance and try to serve others (and each other) as Jesus did.  The last few years have been tough for Ryan physically, so we can take that stress to God and get His perspective on the situation rather than dwelling in our stress or on what others' perspectives are.  When you see God's perspective, which is eternal, the situation is always filled with hope.

I think another reason is we don't take ourselves too seriously.  We are serious about our sport and it's a big passion and our career, but at the same time we realize its just sport and have fun with it.  I think spending a lot of time in Africa the last few years changes your perspective, seeing people whose lives revolve around survival and realizing that is the reality for the majority of the world.  Sometimes when you are in the bubble of professional athletics it seems like the whole world revolves around running the A-standard or something, but it doesn't.  We try to stay balanced by investing in friendships, growing spiritually, and just having fun.

RBR, # 3: Obviously you come from a shorter distance running background. Is there something about the marathon that has always been alluring to you or are you just now seeing it as a natural progression as you get a bit older and more seasoned with professional running?

Sara Hall: The marathon has always carried its own allure for me, largely because I saw it through the lens of Ryan's career. He made it look so easy- going out in his first marathon, leading a World Marathon Major field of world beaters and running the 2nd fastest time in American history, etc.  There is so much energy and excitement around these races with 30-50,000 people in them that felt so different than the track.  So I've naturally been curious about trying one for myself, but my focus has been making world and Olympic teams and it never seemed to fit.  

RBR, #4: Has there been anything specific about your training over the past year that has educated you in a way to make you feel stronger or more confident and if so, what is it?  For example, are you doing weights or stretches of any type to help?

Sara Hall: My training is different in that I'm doing more mileage, and more quality mileage, and longer long runs and tempo runs as you'd expect for longer races.  One change Steve has made when I was training for track was doing less race specific work, because it is taxing on your body, which has been good. I give my therapist John Ball a lot of credit for helping me work through some chronic tightness that was holding me back, and freeing up my stride. But I think having some of these freak injuries have actually been beneficial in giving my body big breaks to rejuvenate.

RBR, #5: Tell me a bit more about your Foundation and how that works with your life, training and connectivity to the broader world.

Sara Hall: It has been really fun to be in our 6th year of the Hall Steps Foundation, and to have gotten to fund so many incredible projects.  It's been really rewarding to meet like-minded runners that commit their races to helping those in extreme poverty and getting to meet some of the grant beneficiaries and see their gratitude.  I've been the main "director" of the foundation since 2011 so that we could be 100% volunteer run, which isn't that demanding and can be fit in my downtime from training. It has definitely taught me a lot about running an organization.  We are excited to be launching our My Steps Matter Challenge where high school and college teams will get to log their miles and raise money for clean water in Ethiopia, competing for the grand prize of getting Ryan to come to their team practice!

RBR, #6: Running goal-wise you seem driven and happy.  At least this is how it appears on the outside.  Do you have a sort of set of specific goals you want to achieve over the next year or two? If so, what are they and please prioritize.

Sara Hall: That is an accurate assessment; I think I'm enjoying my career more now than I ever have! Which is the number one goal, enjoying it and being faithful to what God leads me to do.  Other than that, my main goal is to make the Olympic team in 2016, which I feel is the one thing that has been within my grasp but I haven't quite been able to achieve.  Other than that, it really depends how the marathon goes and what direction my career takes.  

RBR, # 7: Do you have any female runners from the past you look up to?  If so, who are they and why?

Sara Hall: I have been blessed to have some great role models in the sport.  In high school and college, Lauren Fleshman was someone that was both a friend and training partner but also someone I looked up to for her balanced approach to life yet fierce approach to running. Training with Deena Kastor so many years in Mammoth was also influential; to see someone that has achieved Olympic medals yet takes a very normal approach to life and training. She isn't an athlete made in a lab, she has a very natural approach, just going out in the forest and the snow and working hard.

RBR, # 8: Do you find training abroad, in say, Ethiopia provides something unique and special other than the obvious that it is the home of some of the best runners in the world? For example, is there some training program or group to work with who are helping you out etc? 

Sara Hall: Ethiopia has become somewhat of a home away from home for me, largely just as a break from the routine and a fun adventure. I always thought I'd live in Africa and do missions/development work, so it feeds a part of my soul that is neglected a bit by my career.  It keeps my work with The Hall Steps Foundation energized, seeing the need and remembering why I do all the tedious paperwork involved, because the extreme poverty you see daily breaks your heart.  As for the training, I've enjoyed getting to know some of the elite athletes here and learning from their approach to training and mentality.  I've always really connected with Ethiopian culture, and I thrive getting to experience new places and learning new languages.  Plus training at 9,000 ft. is really tough and makes you strong (if you can handle it!) 

RBR, #8: What is your goal for the LA marathon?

Sara Hall: My goal is to make the race an accurate reflection of all the work I've put in and finish strong with a smile on my face.  A lot can happen during 26.2 miles, and this year's race presents some challenges that I hope I will be able to overcome so that is just that. And mostly I hope my heart will stay worshipping God and at peace, which is one thing I can control.   

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