Browsing Category



My Un-Sexy Training

August 14, 2015

From my experience, I have found that fitness simply takes a lot of hard, smart training spread out over months and months.  Anytime I have amped up my volume or intensity too quickly in a short amount of time in hopes of getting ready for a big race in a few months, it has resulted in either injury, fatigue, or poor race results. Leading up to the LA marathon, I was pushing my body too hard for where I was at in an effort to get where I wanted to be. I would have great workouts some days that gave me hope and excitement for the race ahead, but then some days I would be reduced to trudging through training runs. It showed that my body was not absorbing the training as it should, no matter how hard I was trying to recover well and do all the right things. Having great workouts is only part of the equation, it’s more consistency in training that matters.

It’s not our culture to be patient. Today’s fitness culture grabs everyone’s attention with trendy and “sexy” looking training plans and gadgets.  You know what I am talking about, ‘5 minute six pack,’ ‘run your best 5k in 4 weeks,’ etc.  However, most of these quick tricks to instant abs and fitness are simply ploys to get more clicks, shares, or sell stuff.  It sets people up for disappointments, disillusionment, and perhaps worst of all, believing that there is something wrong with them because they don’t see the promised results.

I’m not following any of these gimmicks, and yet I see within myself the same desire for quick results. I’m tired of making that mistake, so rather than hitting my body as hard as I have in the past (and maybe gotten away with) I am progressing my training in a fashion that is almost unnoticeable to my body. My approach to training has been comparable to watching my hair grow (and yes it’s at an all-time long!).  When I wake up in the morning I don’t notice a difference in the length of my hair.  I don’t notice a difference in a week, and probably not in a month, but if you show me a picture of my hair 2-3 months ago I notice that it has grown a lot.  Sometimes this is how gaining fitness needs to be, at least for me right now as I am “on a short leash” and don’t seem to have much room for error.

So what does this tangibly look like in a training plan?   What I do is get a calendar, identify my goal race, and start working backwards.  I plot out the key workouts I want to be able to hit before my taper for the target race.  Then it’s just common logic from there, I decrease these workouts as gradually as I can with the remaining weeks I have to bring me up to my current fitness.  A key workout for me is a 15-18 mile run at marathon pace.  There are shorter workouts throughout the week which support my marathon pace run, but they are not the main course, just appetizers.  I know if I can run 15-18 miles at marathon pace in practice that I can sustain it for the marathon on race day.

Don’t buy into quick, gimmicky tricks.  The truth is, adaption to training takes time, a lot of it.  Your body can do amazing things, things you never thought possible if you treat it right, give it ample time to respond to training, and most importantly take a “like watching your hair grow” approach to your buildup.



June 18, 2015

By, Sara Hall

“If you’re going to be a big dreamer, be ready to experience a lot of disappointment”. This is the line that stood out to me most during the documentary on Ryan recently released online by Flotrack. Often times I feel I spend half of my career rebounding from disappointment and setback and I have come to believe a huge key to success is resiliency. My last blog I wrote about my devastating disappointment at the LA marathon, but since then I was able to rebound and place 20th at the World Cross Country Championships 13 days later, my highest World Cross finish.

IMG_1625I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to compete, as I could still hardly hobble around the day after the race. I had envisioned a much different finish at the marathon, one that would leave me tired but not trashed, much like the majority of Ryan’s marathons. But after praying about it and discussing it with my support team and our US women’s team coach I decided that since my struggles had mainly been muscular, that I was going to do everything I could to get my muscles working again and be able to use the fitness I had worked so hard to build.

I asked my coach Steve to send me a protocol for my new state of “super recovery-mode”. It felt like cramming for a test, and the task was just what my mind needed to rebound emotionally. I’ve found often the best thing to do after a race disappointment is to start looking ahead and get a vision for the future. Of course, you want to assess what went wrong with your team and not just sweep it all under the rug and move on, but you can’t stay there forever. And maybe racing again right away doesn’t make sense, but at least get a vision of where you are headed and what tangible things you can work on to get you there- even if that is taking a vacation! Having vision helps you to not feel so disoriented when this goal you had been so focused on is suddenly gone and without closure.

My recovery cramming included getting in the pool, at first just moving my legs around and doing walking drills, and eventually doing Aqua jogging (land running was out of the question). I iced my legs in the Sacramento River ( perfect 50 degrees), took

Icing in the Sacramento River

Icing in the Sacramento RiverEpsom salt baths, wore compression tights and used the Normatec compression boots. I did self massage with all my tools. I took in lots of Muscle Milk and Monster Amino and ate lots of protein, including a large amount right before bed.

Epsom salt baths, wore compression tights and used the Normatec compression boots. I did self massage with all my tools. I took in lots of Muscle Milk and Monster Amino and ate lots of protein, including a large amount right before bed.

One thing on Steve’s list I found interesting was “minimize stress- it has a similarly catabolic effect on your body”. Of course it makes sense, but the reminder made me more motivated to make peace with LA. I am normally very disciplined in staying away from running websites in general and specifically commentary on myself as that is rarely beneficial, but I made an intentional effort to take a break from social media as well, as often you can see more than you want to there without looking for it. Fortunately I have friends and family that love me unconditionally, and I made sure to spend time with them and spend time listening to what God says about me. I believe that when you give your life to God, He redeems everything in your life, and believing this makes me realize that all the hard work leading up to the marathon was not in vain. He will redeem it, even if I haven’t seen how yet. This takes off a huge load of stress and regret.

Eventually my extremely slow and painful runs became less tender, and I was able to do a

XC World Championships in Guiyang, China (pic: Jim Estes)

XC World Championships in Guiyang, China (pic: Jim Estes)

short fartlek on grass before flying out for Guiyang, China. I had seen how far I had come in a week, and felt confident I could represent the U.S. well given another week

of recovery. How well was definitely in question, and I won’t say I wasn’t nervous going into the race without knowing what my legs would give me. Because of that, considering the race was at altitude,and after seeing the tough course, I opted to go out more conservative than usual. But I was able to work my way up through the packs well and was excited to feel my leg strength was there when I asked of it. I crossed the line in 20th, elated, and watched anxiously for my teammates to see how we’d fare (we ended up 5th). It is probably the most memorable world championship I have run thus far and I feel incredibly thankful!

No sooner had I enjoyed the post-race afterglow and finally having my legs back under me, ready to get back to work towards track season, that I got hit with another “opportunity” to rebound once again. As soon as I got on the 12 hour flight leaving China, in a completely full economy cabin, I got extremely sick and vomited most of the way. It was some kind of Chinese superbug, as it didn’t pass In the few days that the usual Ethiopian variety I’ve gotten recently, but lasted 10 days until I finally killed it with meds. It was frustrating knowing I was missing precious track preparation time, but I put my head down and grinded on, trying not to compare myself constantly to my pre-sickness self or be rattled by slow times, but focus on doing what I could to get my energy back. Four weeks later, I was rewarded by getting my legs back going in time to finish 2nd at the US 25k championships. Since then I’ve run my second fastest half marathon at RnR

Rock n Roll San Diego Half marathon, with this shaggy guy

Rock n Roll San Diego Half marathon, with this shaggy guy

San Diego and my first track 10k at Portland Track Classic, qualifying for the US Championships.

The shiny race performances will eventually fade, but what remains is the character built on the journey of overcoming disappointments and choosing hope again. I hope you will be inspired to not let discouragement keep you knocked down- you never know what opportunities are on the other side if you do what you can to rebound and keep believing!


My Debut Marathon

March 22, 2015

By, Sara Hall

You know when you get off the plane and do a shake out around congested LA airport that you’re excited! I arrived in LA just itching to get to the starting line. I had a healthy respect for the marathon and knew that it can take even the least suspecting of victims, but I felt I had prepared the best I could for the challenges I might face out there (all the while knowing that the best preparation is having raced 26.2 miles before, which I lacked).

The early miles of LA are a series of steep descents and ascents. The pace was much slower than I anticipated, so the ascents were never taxing and I relished the feeling of being out there in the race I had visualized often. The crowd at times made me smile and gave me goosebumps when they roared. I smiled inside as I successfully maneuvered crowds to get my bottles, something I had watched Ryan do countless times. It was my turn, I was running a marathon, and I felt great! However, I couldn’t help noticing my quads feeling unusually heavy. I at first chocked it up to eating extra carbs the day before, which causes you to retain water. “The extra glycogen will do me good later” I thought. However, as we progressed along and they got heavier and heavier I realized this wasn’t just water weight, that my muscles were taking a beating from the downhills.

Yet at halfway, I wasn’t too alarmed. I tried to tell myself that my fitness would carry me through, and shifted my focus to my controlled breathing. When we ran downhill I didn’t need to use my quad muscles much, but on the uphill stretches when they were required to work it became harder and harder to keep up, until finally at mile 16 on a long uphill stretch I wasn’t able to stay in contact. It is a strange feeling to be trapped in your body, with your engine ready to go but two flat tires. I looked at my watch at mile 16 and thought “I’ve done 16 mile tempo runs at altitude much faster than this, and my quads never felt this way. What’s going on?!”. I had tired to intentionally prepare for the downhills in training since they are not my strength to begin with, but apparently it wasn’t sufficient. Aaron Braun had warned me that at his debut on the course “at mile 14, my quads were done” at it now it rings eerily similar.

My mind kept telling me to speed up as I noticed the pack wasn’t pulling away too much, but my quads felt like lead- and then the cramping started. Adductors, and calves at different points started also making themselves heard, likely due to dehydration from the unseasonally warm day. I was having a hard enough time keeping my typical easy run pace going on the flats, and then Miles 21-23 were severely uphill, and I felt like I was in one of those dreams where you are running in quicksand. At this point, I contemplated dropping out. It would be the smart thing to do. I was set to finish at a time embarrassingly slower than I anticipated. It would save my muscles from further damage from running through cramps. There were plenty of reasons to justify it.

But I didn’t feel peace about that, and when I prayed about what to do I felt God encouraging me to keep going. I have never dropped out of a race before, and one of my core values is if at all possible, finish what you start. Plus, I know that once you drop out once it is always an option in your mind. I have had some races that it would have been easier and saved me the humiliating black mark of a bad time on my running history. But as I finally crested the never-ending hill, I had a steely resolve that “I’ve come this far, I am finishing this thing!” The pain was relentless, my legs were like steel poles, but I pressed on.

My view of the marathon was not the same view I had experienced through Ryan’s eyes. I felt like in those final miles, I got a glimpse of what it is like from the masses’ perspective. Whereas normally I am so into competing that I rarely hear individual cheers, I was moving so slowly that each person’s encouragement made a literal difference in spurring me on. I remember the little 5 year old girl holding the “Go Sara Hall” sign and excitedly cheering, with little care for my place. I remember my mom at mile 24.5, and I thought in my head “Oh please do not be running so slow that she can keep up with me!” (sorry mom!). And I will never forget crossing the line and having them put the finisher medal around my neck.

Now usually I don’t even take the finisher’s medal at the end of the race, or if I do, I give them to my friends’ kids. As a professional, just finishing is never really an accomplishment. However, today it was, and as humiliated as I was to see the clock, crossing that line I couldn’t help but be proud. If nothing else, I was a marathoner, a title hard-fought for.

Since finishing, the race has been one of the hardest ones for me to swallow in my entire career. I had spent months in preparation where I had gained so much momentum going into this day, and now it feels like a bad dream. But there is no going back, only forward, and I know though it is a painful memory for me at this moment, 20 years from now when my professional career is finished I will look back and treasure this moment were I endured more pain and fought to not give up more than I ever had in my life. It’s these moments that build resolve in us that we carry into every challenging experience in life, running or non-running.

Part of the challenge of the marathon is not just the distance, but handling the course and weather you get on the day on top of the distance. I wasn’t prepared for all I encountered, and you’d think that after this I would never want to run another marathon, but quite the opposite has happened, I can’t wait for another opportunity! Sometimes believing in yourself means learning what you can from each poor performance, and then believing that next time with greater preparation and more experience it will be different.

“I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14


Ethiopia, Gratitude, and Debut Marathoning!

February 21, 2015

By, Sara Hall

Hello from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia!

I’ll attempt in one paragraph to sum up my life and racing since my last blog post 5 months ago…. Ready, Go!

My favorite memories of the sport are moments like this- at Pittsburgh 10 Miler

My favorite memories of the sport are moments like this- at Pittsburgh 10 Miler

After my appendix rupture and taking two weeks completely off of running, I started back training with a shuffle that eventually became a jog and then what I would consider a “run”. However, the further I pushed the envelope, I was surprised how easily the training started coming back, and I ended up PRing in the 10k at the Tufts 10k (32:13) just 2 months after surgery. That sparked some more PRs (12k and half marathon) during my Fall race binge, along with a fun win at the Pittsburgh 10-mile in November. I capped off the 2014 year with a 2nd place finish in the USA Running Circuit series and a win at the Dallas Half Marathon, finishing off the most fun year I’ve had as a professional thus far!  We also hosted our first ever Hall Running Retreat in the wine country where I grew up, which exceeded our expectations and we hope to find time to do another sometime soon!

At the end of 2014 Ryan and I headed back to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to start our marathon training in the thin air (and summer!) of 9,000 ft. elevation. Spending time here is just as much about the experience for us as it is the training, and I find I

The view from my room in YaYa Village, Addis Ababa.  Yes I eat lasagna for breakfast when marathon training, among many other random things!

The view from my room in Yaya Village, Addis Ababa. Yes, I eat lasagna for breakfast when marathon training.  Anything is fair game!

always gain refreshed perspectives and motivation from being there. This last trip, one thing that God was speaking to me about was areas in my life where entitlement has crept in. I won’t bore you with the typical “I went to Africa and realized how many material things and comforts I take for granted in the US” speech as I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, though I am reminded of it every time I come here. But it was more entitlement as it relates to running that I found myself becoming aware of in how it has subtly slipped into my perspective as an American runner.

When you spend time in Kenya and Ethiopia, you see hundreds of runners every morning killing themselves in training, hoping for a lucky chance or opportune break to race outside their country and make some prize money. They are motivated by generational extreme poverty and lack of other opportunities besides running. They have no gear sponsor, often their shoes are falling apart at the seams, they likely have just enough food to fill their bellies, let alone focusing on the nutritional components. It is inspiring, yet sad at the same time, knowing that realistically the majority of them will never have the chance to make money from running simply because of the vast number of runners doing the very same thing with only a small handful rising to the top.

Now, I realize that right now it isn’t easy even as an American distance runner to make a living full-time through running. Yet we in the US do all have more access to opportunities and support, and worse case scenario, can secure good jobs outside the sport, whereas in these areas that is not usually the case, running is the only option. I am very grateful for the opportunities and support I’ve been given to pursue my career full-time, yet I find that it is easy to lose sight of it and for entitlement to creep in.

Likely where I got sick. Love that we have a photo of it and that the place is called "Seedy"- I was asking for it! To my defense, it is where all the local runners go after training...

Likely where I got sick. Hilarious that we have a photo of it and that the place is called “Seedy”- I was asking for it! To my defense, it is where all the local runners go after training…

Recently as I competed in the US half marathon championships at the Houston half marathon. I was excited about my fitness, but right before leaving Ethiopia and flying to Houston I ate something bad and came down with a nasty bacterial infection, such that I thought about skipping the race altogether. In the end, I managed a good race, coming in 4th in 70:50 which I was initially very happy about considering the circumstances. But it wasn’t long before those little voices crept in saying “man, when will I catch a break? First the appendix, now this, I just want to be able to run the race I’m capable of!” It took a bit for me to realize that, although there was truth in that, there was also a good helping of entitlement as well. I am not entitled to have every race go as planned and run exactly what my fitness is capable of. It is by God’s grace that I have the opportunities that I have. Sure, when you work hard you want to reap the reward for that hard work. But what about the Ethiopian athletes, working just as hard as me, if not harder? They would kill for the opportunity to come to Houston and run the half. If they won the same prize money I did it would feed their family for a year.

Holding it together at Houston Half Marathon

Holding it together at Houston Half Marathon

Now I am not about to become complacent about my running performances. But rather than feeling entitled to having everything go perfectly my way, I am trying to focus on being grateful for the opportunities I do have and what I do achieve. In this sport, there will always be something greater out there to achieve and there’s a healthy (or unhealthy) discontent in the process. But I’m hoping it’s possible to have an awareness and gratefulness in the process at the same time that I am constantly pushing myself to greater levels. And remembering the athletes I see training in Ethiopia gives me motivation not to overlook a race as “less important” but to take advantage of every opportunity, because each one is an undeserved blessing.

Well that’s enough of my soap box, in other news, I am running my first marathon at the ASICS LA Marathon! Speaking of gratefulness, I have been incredibly grateful to have enjoyed nearly every moment of the training and buildup for this race. When I first decided to run the marathon, I expected it to be this miserable grind of a process, peeling myself out of bed to trudge through the miles every day, but it has been quite the opposite. I feel like an over-eager newbie, energized by the constant satisfaction of running bigger workouts and more mileage than I ever have before and feeling like my body is absorbing it like a sponge. I have been waking up the morning of my hard workouts giddily excited as if it was race day, not thinking about the pain I’ll be going through at the end of 24 miles at altitude, but looking forward to the fun of challenging myself. I don’t know what race day will hold for me, but I do know that I poured my heart and soul into the process and I hope to wake up with the same deep gratitude and giddy smile on my face as I have during training and fully take advantage of an amazing opportunity! I also qualified for my 4th  World Cross Country Championship team to compete in Guyang, China the end of March, and I hope my marathon strength carries over to representing the US well there!

Grinding away on Lake Mary Rd. in Flagstaff, a marathoner's playground

Grinding away on Lake Mary Rd. in Flagstaff, a marathoner’s playground

Lastly, I am committing my race at the LA Marathon to bringing clean water to people in Ethiopia.  Clean water decreases infant mortality 50%, allows young girls to go to school instead of fetching water, and increases life expectancy 10 years.  I can’t think of a better use of $50 than to bring clean water to one person and change their life! For every person you fund, Ryan and I will also fund until we reach our goal!

Can you imagine drinking muddy water from a pond? I can't. No one should have to.  It's $50.

Can you imagine drinking muddy water from a pond? I can’t. No one should have to. It’s $50.


A new coaching season w/ Jack Daniels

September 15, 2014

I first met Jack during the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school back in 1999 at Jim Ryun’s Running camp. My Dad and I attended the camp that summer and we were like sponges, soaking up every story, every conversation, every video, and every seminar we attended. One of the speakers at camp was the legendary coach, Jack Daniels, who’s coaching expertise rivals that of any coach in the country. He told story after story of testing he had done on various Olympic runners, like Jim Ryun prior to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and all he had learned with each study. My Dad picked Jack’s brain during our week in Kansas and we came back ready to take on a new year.  With our new found knowledge my Dad coached me from a mile PR down to a 4:05 by the end of my junior year. It was one of the biggest breakthrough I’ve had in my career.

During my time at Stanford I crossed paths again with Jack, as he was one of the coaches on the Farm Team (a group of professional runners that trained at Stanford), and I did a couple of VO2 Max tests under Jack’s eye. I remember doing those tests with Jack and thinking to myself what an honor it was simply to say you’ve been tested by Jack Daniels, joining my name to a list a mile long of incredible runners Jack has worked with and tested. There are few coaches in the world I have as much respect for as Jack.

Now, as a professional runner I am thrilled to be working with Jack as my coach.  It has been a fun ride over the last couple of years being self-coached and I have learned a lot, but I feel like I am back in my old “sophomore self” shoes looking forward to soak up everything Jack has to say. Jack has already played an influential role in my development as a runner as well as hundreds and thousands of others and I am confident he can help me get back to my full potential as a marathon runner. With the Olympic Trials just a year and a half away it’s time to start making progress towards my main goal as an athlete, to return to the Olympics and be at my very best there. This is something that has eluded me the last two Olympics but I am hopeful and expectant for the next years ahead with Jack’s guidance.