Pre-NYC Half interview with Ryan Hall

After chopping more than a minute off the U.S. half marathon record with a 59:43 at Houston in 2007, after running away with the U.S. Olympic Team – Marathon trials later that year and a stunning 2:06:17 at London the next spring putting him as #2 all-time U.S. marathoner, Hall’s times have not improved. He has, however, continued top 5 performances at Boston in 2009 (third), New York City 2009 (fourth) and Boston 2010 (fourth).

But later last year, Hall suddenly cancelled his plans to run Chicago and then surprisingly announced he was dropping long-time coach Terrance Mahon and going out on his own. At that time, he indicated that many of his workouts at his Mammoth Lakes, CA, training venue were run harder than he felt he should be training.

Now in Flagstaff, AZ, the 26-year-old Hall is preparing for another run at the Boston Marathon title, to be first American male since 1983. His time of 2:08:40 last year was the fastest ever by an American at Boston.

American Running Association Correspondent Steve Nearman caught up with Hall Thursday at the Renaissance Hotel in Times Square in New York City as he prepares for Sunday’s competitive NYC Half. He was third here in 2009. Hall detailed a number of medical issues he was experiencing which he believes explains his bumpy road over the past few years, including days when he said he felt like “Dead Man Walking.”

Q: Since we spoke at the New York City Marathon last November, a lot has changed for you. How are you doing with the new environs?

A: I’ve been training in Flagstaff. Things are going well. Getting ready for Boston. This will be a good test run for me here in New York.

Q: Do you train much with the Team USA Arizona group, Greg McMillan’s team?

A: I’ll hop into easy runs with people every once in a while but I’m not officially a part of any group up there.

Q: What is it like training by yourself without a coach and a team around you?

It’s been fun. I’ve really been enjoying it. It’s a learning experience for sure. But it’s been really cool, every workout I do I’m really excited about it. It gives me a lot of confidence, too, knowing I’m doing exactly what I feel my body needs each day. The flexibility has been really good too, to shift workouts around every once in a while when I need to.

You’ve got to learn all the tricks. You have to pay your dues. I learned a lot from Terrance and the people from Mammoth. I still consult with people, bounce questions off people all the time.

Q: You haven’t raced much this year, your only race at the Houston Half Marathon in January. How did you feel about your race and your level of fitness?

A: I was really happy. It was a good base measure. I was very pleased with my progress. Usually when I am training for marathons, I haven’t run the best half marathons. But at Houston, I was very pleased with that and I think it set me up nicely to continue my momentum training for [NYC Half] and made me excited to have another race on the table before Boston.

Q: Knowing you don’t perform so well in the half marathon during marathon training, what are your expectations here in New York for this Sunday’s race?

A: I try to always temper my expectations because I want to enjoy the day, for what it is, no matter how it is going. Any time you have expectations, you take away that ability to enjoy the moment. That’s real important to me to be out there whether I am running 4:30 pace, enjoy that, or whether I am running 5 minute pace, enjoy that too. And expectations, like I said, limit your ability to enjoy the moment. There are things I can control and there are things I can’t. I can’t always control exactly how I am going to perform. Could be five seconds per mile difference. The things that I can control I control and don’t worry about the rest.

Q: Are you concerned that you have not raced at the level on which you were competing back a few years and whether you will ever be able to reach that level again?

A: Yes, that was one of the reasons why I made the change last fall because I was not heading in that direction. Things were getting worse, not better for me. And I realized that. It’s hard to tell because I came in third to fourth in the Boston Marathon and fourth at New York City Marathon. So my results were still good, you’re thinking top five in world major marathons. When I ran 2:06 in London, I was fifth there. You cannot compare times from the London Marathon course to New York City and Boston. They’re totally different courses. I didn’t know exactly where I was at. I knew my halfs were good, but I knew I was not feeling as good. I knew I didn’t have that same pop, that same energy in my body that I had had a few years ago. I realized that I cannot keep pounding my body like that. My body was totally whacked. I got some extensive blood work done and I saw a lot of specialists and after seeing my blood work, they were like I don’t know how were running. My testosterone numbers were really low, my thyroid was totally blown.

Q: Were you feeling beaten down every day?

A: I was, but it’s a gray line. You get tired from training. So for example, leading up to Chicago, I was taking two-hour naps, every day, and I was sleeping 10 hours a night and I’d wake up from those two-hour naps still feeling tired but that was the extreme end of it. But I was like “well, I always take an hour nap during the day so it’s like well two hours because I was training hard, whatever,” and you don’t really realize you are getting rundown until it gets really bad. And that’s what happened last fall, it got really bad. So I had to step back and be like OK, the number one priority above running fast is to get my body back right. And we’ve done that. I’ve gotten on thyroid medicine to get my thyroid back and that made a huge difference right away but my doctor thinks even that’s going to take time. You’re going to feel better right away but you’ve got to be patient. You didn’t get here overnight and you’re not going to get out of here overnight. But I did notice the remarkable difference, more energy.

Honestly, the last couple of years, just walking around and I’d feel like a Dead Man Walking at some times, not only tired but my quality of life is not as good as I’d want it to be. I don’t feel right, I feel tired all the time. Super low energy. And I’m a laid-back guy but this was a little too much. I’d feel like I needed five cups of coffee a day to combat it. Then I realized I needed to get my body back right. That’s what we’re doing. It’s taking a lot of time and patience, and it hasn’t been a fun process either.

I also found out I had a parasite so it’s like, I had all this stuff going on. And getting rid of a parasite is not fun let me tell you. My stomach has been taking a beating for two months straight, it’s been crazy. Like you have to take this stuff that kills all the bacteria, good and bad, and it makes your stomach super-sensitive to everything. I’d be getting sick and my stomach would be bothering me for months on end and it’s just been recently totally fine now and I feel like a new person. I’m realizing I have to be patient.

The question you asked was “do I want to get back to that point and am I concerned” and yeah, I really do want to get back there and I believe I can. I’m the same person I was in 2006/2007 but my body has just taken a beating for a bunch of years. I got away with it for a couple of years, you can train super-hard but when you’re not resting enough then eventually you dig yourself into a hole. And so I’m digging myself slowly out of the hole and I’ll get there. I’m going to get back to those results; it’s just a matter of time.

Q: At the next table from us is the new kid on the block, Galen Rupp. The press guide shows you two have raced head-to-head four times, with you beating Galen all three times you raced in college and Galen outracing you at the 2007 USA Championships 10,000 meters race.

A: It’s actually hilarious for me to look at those matchups. Like I didn’t even realize I had raced Galen before. It’s fun to have a lot American guys out there