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

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  • Reply Rob aubrey March 22, 2015 at 2:09 am


    Thank you for shariNg Your thoughts and feelings during what was apparently aN emotion-filled experience. I can’t wait to hear about your Next marathon. I pray that the efforts that you and ryan continue to make on the roads for the steps foundation and others will be blessed.

  • Reply Lindsey March 22, 2015 at 2:17 am

    I love this! I finished my first marathon earlier this year, and it was ugly. I wasn’t trying to win, but I desperately wanted/trained for a BQ time that did not happen. The verse you ended with is perfect. Thank you for sharing so honestly!

  • Reply Jim Mather March 22, 2015 at 2:43 am

    Great attitude and scripture

  • Reply sergio GAYTAN March 22, 2015 at 3:08 am

    Thanks for sharing Sara. Marathons are not easy. I only plan on running 2 and la was #3 in the books. I train for a sub 3:00 and ended up with 3:02:11. I was bum but remember this will not be my last chance to race a marathon. I will train harder and smarter next time. Being a dad and a full time truck driver dose not make training easy. But at least I get to show my kids dreams do come true. I wish you the best of luck and can’t wait to see you race again. Happy running young lady

  • Reply NoRma thomas March 22, 2015 at 3:19 am

    I ran the LAm in 2013 .AppreciAte your comments . Had just won a national masters champ i. Twin Cities. a. Kastor prepaRed me well!!! Found all the same problems you mentioned! !!!! The last 6 miles were not downhill to the finish. R. Foot was numb and i felt if I stepprd on it wrong a giant charlie horse cramp would stop me!! Coach said this was nutritional. I know he is correct!! I managed to finish and 1st in age group!! Only with God””s strength!! Planning to run again in 2016 !! Hope to see you there!

  • Reply dani w. March 22, 2015 at 3:20 am

    Thank You For SHARING your maRathon experience. I have been running for about 6 years now and am lOoking at running my first maratHon in the fall of 2016. I am sorry that your race did not go as planned but i have so much respect for you sticking with it and finishing. And most of all i love that you boldy proclaim yOuR faith! Thank you for Being and Examlpe that my 8 year old daughter can look up tO( she is a gifted runner) and i pray that she has the courage to live Out her faith and run like you do!

  • Reply Jennifer c JOHNSOn March 22, 2015 at 3:27 am

    I waited til age 20, then ran the steamboat springs marathon. Finished my first half all downhill at altitude at 1 hr 47min, however I was done at mile 20. I did no marathon training. That feeling that it isn’t a good hurt but bad for you. I had no upper body nor core strength. Finished in like 4 hrs 7min. So I know what you were saying about taking a beating. I guess you picked a rough marathon for your debut.

  • Reply NoRma thomas March 22, 2015 at 3:44 am

    Commenti tHanks Sara for your Comments!!! I plan to run again in 2016 God willing and coach Kastor willi Ng!!! I share your comments about the complexity of the course, the ups and downs Were tough ! The last 6 miles were not dow hill to the finish buT rolling hills down to the finish !! I finished With great humility and gratitude for God’s grace!! I was still first in my masters age group!!!as time goes bY i Too am. Grateful to have conquered Yet another marathon. !!

  • Reply Paula Villadelgado March 22, 2015 at 4:05 am

    I am in no way an elite athLete. I am a mom Of 4 who at best can compete in my age group of a small town race. Yet, i felt so connected to your marathon experience. I ran my first marathon jn january. I put in the training mIles. Yet at mile 20 my legs stiffened. My husband who ran with me thought i might be injured or in paIn but the only pain i felt was embarassment. I trained for one time, but saw that goal slowly slipping away. My mind too wanted to go Fast, tried to will my legs to Turn over but it wasnt happening. I too wanted to drop Out, but for me it was seeing my four children, sister and her husband cheering me on arouNd mile 22 that kept me goiNg. That race made me feel defeated, caused Me to question my love of running. Thank you, thank you, thank yoi for telling your experience. It showed me tHat even the best have moment that echo us non elite runners. PerhaPs i mIght tackle 26.2 miles again in the near future.

  • Reply Heather mora March 22, 2015 at 4:31 am

    Thus was a great, honest post, thank you so much for sharing. I’m so excited you want to run another marathon! You are going to be great! I’m so glad you finished, I understand why some people don’t, but I do really admire you for completing the race. God bless! Keep it up 🙂

  • Reply anthony klimczak... AKA... Applerooftop March 22, 2015 at 4:33 am

    Be excited Sara , its just the beginning of your marathon adventures. hoping great success in the marathon and in all you and ryan do. peace.

  • Reply alicia March 22, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    thank you Sara for sharing. although i am not an elite runner, i had many of your same thoughts. i trained for 3:55 and didnt quite reach my goal because of the heat and cramps that i began to feel at mile 23. i continued just like you did and finished at 4:09. happy that i finished and i will definitely be back for another marathon.

  • Reply George Mason March 22, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Good job, Sara. You learned a lot through a tough experience. Next time, on a warm day, start hydrating at 3 miles, and your quads won’t complain. Also, learn to run downhill without killing your quads; it can be learned if you practice…. you should be able to run effortlessly at 6:10/mile pace on a medium downhill grade, without affecting your quads. Otherwise, every marathon will bite you.
    God ‘s blessings as you pursue your next one.

  • Reply Katie March 22, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    Thank you for this raw and inspiring race recap. It was humbling and motivating to read. The writing was beautiful and honest and very respectable. You are truely a role MODEL That i Hope to Emulate and one i hope young girls coNtinue to look up to. Thank you!

  • Reply Heather hanratty March 22, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    It is wondeeful to hear your feelings on your first marathon. As many before you have said “i will never do this aGain” and then turned around and signed up for the next race. You are an insPiration to all runners and i personally love follwoing your path. Run on!!! You are amAzing:)))

  • Reply Kelvin MacAderm March 22, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    Great synopsis of your race Sara. Most all marathoners can relate to your experience. nice to know you elites are sometimes mortal like the rest of us!

  • Reply patrick voo March 23, 2015 at 12:57 am

    Sara, we are all so inspired by your effort and your finish! you put in all of the necessary work, and then saw the experience through to the end – we are definitely proud of you and can only see greater things still in your (and Ryan’s!) future!

  • Reply bRENDAN O'BRIEN March 23, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    Comment hI SARA
    gREAT rr and thanks for sharing . Nothing more humbling than a marathon as bill Rodgers has said. you should read his book its great funny full of entertainment, you will enjoy it. I’m from boston so can’t wait for you and ryan to run here. my dad always told me when the going gets tough the tough get going. witch you always have so chin up and run on. 🙂

  • Reply Eric Owings March 23, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Sara, I was out there and finished about an hour behind you, and this blog actually caused me to cry a little. I missed my Boston goal by 10 minutes, and you said so eloquently a lot of what I was feeling that day. This is an excellent blog post, and I am inspired by your determination. Thank you for sharing of yourself so honestly and selflessly.

    I am reminded of Tim Tebow’s favorite scripture, Philippians 4:13: I can do everything by the power of Christ. He gives me strength. Thank you again for being an admirable role model; this gives me new resolve too.

  • Reply John And Adriana March 23, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    You have a wonderful perspective on life Sara! Those verses from Philippians have gotten us through some tough times. Our family wEre some of the voices cheering you On around Mile 25. We were so proud of you!

  • Reply Jenn Wilson March 23, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    from the heart, I love it. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Zachary Wilson March 23, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    Thanks! I needed to read this today. Be Wild.

  • Reply Allen young March 24, 2015 at 2:10 am

    Sara, thank you for sharing your marathon journey. your words were an encouragement as i finished my second la marathon running for team world vision and clean water for the congo. it was definitely hot out there.! may the lord be with you and ryan as you continue to run for the glory of god.

  • Reply The Uncomfortable Zone March 24, 2015 at 3:55 am

    […] were on fire.  I was trying to dig deep, but I felt like I didn’t have much.  I thought of Sara Hall who wrote about her quads being on fire during the LA Marathon.  Yes, mine were about ready to give up.  If she could push […]

  • Reply Kristen Zaitz March 24, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Way to carry on when all you wanted to do was quit. both roads are tough because neither are the outcomes we have visualized and hoped for (yes, sadly I have dropped out of a race before). I have also battled through some brutal ones (one was at LA last year and one at the 2012 Olympic trials) that have taught me more than I ever knew about myself. I found a resolve and a fight that I didn’t know I had. All of those experiences have led me to a 2:32. Thank you for being an inspiration for girls and woman everywhere and showing everyone one of my favorite mottos: “quitting is not an option.” keep on keeping on!

  • Reply Aedion patino April 11, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks sara for the inspiration to press on dispite the hardships. Receiving grace to continue and finish the race is becoming the anthem of mh life at tHIS point in time. I love the life you and Ryan both LIVE, and IM propeled TO live out the same lifestyle in a way that relevant to MY LIFE! You and Christine Cain are some of the strongest fighters and runners of this race called life THAT I know. Much love to you all! Thanks 🙂

  • Reply Sean Woodrow April 13, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    Comment Sara- you are a world class athlete with a way cool husband and 2 awesome dogs, you have sponsors and are beautiful……….no worries. enjoy your life. you guys rule.

  • Reply SARNA bECKER May 8, 2015 at 1:55 am

    Congrats Sara! Oh, how I know the feelings of highs and lows. I wish I had learned much earlier in my running career to not be afraid of bad races. If you ever want to come to Quito for altitude training, look us up! God bless!

    • Reply sara hall May 18, 2015 at 9:09 pm

      Hey Sarna! It’s so nice to hear from you! Thanks for your support. We would love to visit you guys in Ecuador sometime! Blessings to you guys

  • Reply Half Horse Half Man June 4, 2015 at 1:21 am

    Thanks much for sharing, Sarah! Great writing.
    I was watching you on TV… AND actualy thought if that was your first marathon… Congrats!
    What’s your next Marathon?
    Hope to see you in LA next year 😉

  • Reply Eugene Ryan October 5, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    You listened to the voice that’s carried you and Ryan on the exciting journey this far, you’ve blessed four precious girls making them part of your journey. Be blessed dear sister for this next race is one you certainly can do. From a fellow marathoner and brother.

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