By, Sara Hall
This week, Ryan made the decision to step away from competitive running (You can read his blog below this on reasons for doing so if you haven’t yet). It was a bittersweet day for me when he made the final decision, and yet I knew in my spirit it was the right one. On one hand there was relief. Few saw and experienced the struggle he went through like I did. Constantly trying to encourage him and doing what I can to help him physically and emotionally has not been easy. The hardest part for me is that it hasn’t all been struggle, he has had stretches of really good and hopeful training that have us entering races and believing for better days. And yet right before a race would sink into a pit of fatigue, much to the frustration of both of us and much harder than if things were linearly dismal.
It has also been sweet because he has been genuinely joyful and at peace ever since the decision. It was clear to him, and there were no second thoughts. The plan was never to hold onto the career “’til the bitter end” but until he had fulfilled what he felt God’s call on his life was for this season. Seasons change and this felt like a new fresh one. He has lots of incredible gifts, including as a father, and it has been fun to see him already leaning into them more.
Nonetheless, I was surprised by my emotions when the article was released on Friday. I sat there in the plane to Houston reading the article and tears started falling and wouldn’t stop (just a tad embarrassing! No wailing though fortunately). It was such a fun ride, and I was going to miss those times together. Bumming around Europe on the track circuit, sharing many miles just us two (and maybe the pups), seeing him grab the lead from the gun in the Boston Marathon… I think my favorite and one that rarely makes the highlight real is when he ran his first marathon at the London Marathon. Most people are just trying to run conservatively and not blow up in their first marathon, but Ryan went out and took the lead over world record holders and Olympic champions. He became the 2nd fastest American of all time in his first race by choosing to run absolutely fearless and with passion. There are many other races that you all know well where his similar approach led to breakthroughs.
A big reason why he is able to run so fearlessly is having his identity so secure in who God says that he is, apart from his performance. We are all created by God in His image and have value regardless of what we achieve. We are loved fully and unconditionally. When we fully grasp that we can run free, not worrying that failure will disconnect us from what we really want- love, approval, a sense of worth. Having this mindset is something we have been going after and at times feel like we are pioneering together, and I will miss sharing the process with him. But I have already learned so much from him in that area and was so inspired by how he was just as concerned about internal breakthrough as he was external breakthrough.
Ryan is the most authentic person I know. He bears his soul for the world to see because he couldn’t care less about criticism. He hopes that in doing so maybe he could help a few people that might be going through what he’s going through. Often people keep their training a secret, but he published his entire marathon buildup in his book, along with his personal journal, with hopes that others can learn from his mistakes and successes. When your identity is secure, you are not competitive and withholding but you are encouraging of others learning from and surpassing you. I am not fully there yet personally and continually inspired by his authenticity and lack of weight criticism holds in his life.
So here I am sitting on this plane to Houston with tears flowing, and as I was praying about it I felt God reminding me that those fun adventures of races together weren’t ending if I didn’t want them to- because I was continuing to race, and just starting my marathon career. I don’t consider it likely that I will reach the same heights Ryan did, but regardless I hope to make some new memories together on the same streets while reliving the treasured memories from his career. This has already begun with my race last weekend at Houston half marathon, where I couldn’t help but be thinking about that moment in 2007 where his career first took off. It felt very fitting to be back there, where it all began for him on the roads and was now ending. He wasn’t lighting them up with an American record this time but instead popping around the course on a bike cheering me on and coaching me to a new PR. I hope this race was just the beginning of a new season of adventures together!