When I read the news on Friday I was somewhat surprised, and proceeded to read five articles about his retirement over the course of the rest of the day. You see, Ryan Hall was, and is, not only an athlete I look up to, but a person as well, you can’t say that about all athletes, or all people.
In the spring of 2007 I studied abroad in Costa Rica. There were three of us from my college, and for the majority of our time there, it was just those two to speak English with. Subsequently, I turned to the Internet in the evenings, and as I was fresh off of a spectacular 2006 track and cross country season of 15 consecutive personal records, I began to read the running media. Plus, I was planning to run the Green Bay Half Marathon in May, and I was taking a crack at longer distance training for the first time since high school in 2003. Several months before my sojourning experiment Ryan Hall ran 59:43 for the half marathon, setting the American record, and showing the world that a young guy from California could run with the best in the world. Needless to say Internet searchers for "half marathon" in the spring of 2007 returned results about this guy.
That spring Ryan, Peter Gilmore, and Deena Kastor had blogs for Runner’s World about their build up to the Boston and London Marathons. In 2007, not everyone had blogs. In 2007, Runner’s World newswire didn’t update daily (or hourly like it does now). Media, and long form social media (blogs, videos, etc.) didn’t have the coverage it does in 2016. It was exciting to gobble up everything that existed, and Hall talked about his Christian faith as well, which was also encouraging. So I read their blogs. Deena had stomach problems and ran 2:35. Peter ran a nice race, 2:16, and he was top American at Boston in 8th. Ryan… Ran 2:08, setting the American debut record, and running with the Kenyan leaders well into the race, even pushing his pacer to pick up the pace. Americans don’t run like that.
I ran my race, set a personal record in the half marathon (1:19:50) and proceeded to spend the summer on campus doing my first ever full summer of training. 2007 was also the year that Flotrack really started. Flotrack is a video website, or at least it was in the beginning, and it enabled people to watch videos of races that otherwise were unobtainable, like Ryan’s 59:43 ten minute highlight video. If it was just a few people running in 2007, it would have been no big deal, but it was everyone that summer.
In May, Galen Rupp, born the day before me just up the west coast, ran a 27:35 10k, also pretty ground breaking stuff at the time. That whole video was posted to Flotrack, I think I’ve watched it seven times. In June and July on the European track circuit the Americans were great. In particular, at a small meet in Belgium, Alan Webb ran a 3:46 mile to set the American record, and the whole thing was on Flotrack. Then in August at the world championships in Osaka, Japan, Kara Goucher won the bronze medal in the 10,000 meter run. Matt Tegenkamp sprinted his way to 4th pace in the 5000, just a half step away from third and getting the bronze medal. It was a great year for American distance running.
That fall, I had my best college cross country season, and the week after it was over, with a teammate and some of his high school friends we drove down to the men’s Olympic marathon trials in New York City. Wow! What a race! For starters, Michael Wardian, a serial racer took off at a normal pace, and led for seven miles, the kind of moment guys like me hope to have one day. It was pretty calm with a big lead pack, until four guys took off, a bunch of really good runners, Ryan included. Then at 17 miles, Ryan threw in a surge, and ran the rest of the race alone, floating through 4:3X and 4:4X pace miles like it was nothing as his lead continued to grow. He won by over two minutes on a somewhat hilly course, setting the Olympic trials record in the process.
The day wasn’t all roses. Ryan Shay died, and I saw them doing CPR on him as we walked past. I just thought he passed out, it wasn’t until after the race I realized those people bending over him were doing CPR.
In the spring of 2008 I woke up at 4:30 AM on a Sunday to live stream the London marathon and watch Hall run his third marathon, a 2:06! At the time it was the fastest deepest field in history, he ran 2:06, and came in sixth. A week later, I went into Boston for the women’s Olympic marathon trials. As my friends and I were jogging around the course in front of MIT (looking at our competitors) we saw Hall with a couple other people about 50 feet away. After a moment of hesitation, I jogged over, asked if it was him, he said yes, then I told him I liked how he expressed his faith, and encouraged him to keep it up. He was a real person, his face had the look of strain that day, like I suppose you have to look a week after running 2:06. Then not wanting to take up his time I jogged back to my friends and we cheered out the rest of the race.
A couple weeks later I ran 32:58.50 for the 10,000 at the NEWMAC championships, getting third place, over a two minute personal record, and former school record. I secured a spot at the ECAC championships by running under 33:00, which means my parents and grandma were able to see me race. Those two races were, and are, very important to me.
The rest of his career can be read other places. He had his good days, and his bad days. But for a season, at a pivotal time in my own running career he served as a model for how to run and what it means to run fast. Run like it might be your last race, lay it on the line and take that risk. Running fast doesn’t change the person, but it is a way to show the beauty of being human, a gift that God gave us. Sometimes I think of running as dancing with God.
Point being, I see two things that can be done with the gifts that any one person has, either use the gifts, or not use the gifts. To me the logical path of using a gift, is to use it just as much as possible. I think Ryan Hall trained himself into the ground. I know, that the Africans actually feared him. I know he ran a 2:04 marathon. I know the things he did stood out.