Tough Love for Ryan Hall

“Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.”
“To An Athlete Dying Young” – A.E. Houseman

635555522021706263-Ryan-Hall

The news came hauntingly across the airwaves as I was watching the live feed of the Asics Los Angeles Marathon on KTLA 5 last Sunday. On the screen, I saw a pack of Kenyans moving swiftly down Sunset Boulevard. Over the speakers, came the words, as if pulled right from the pages of Brett Easton Ellis’s acclaimed novel, Less Than Zero announcing his disappearance.

“Ryan Hall has dropped out of the race.”

Once again, Hall walked off the course and vanished into the crowd. He was now a two-time quitter.

Now, I have to admit, I wasn’t completely surprised that Hall had dropped out: he has done this before, most notably at the 2012 London Olympics. However, this has sadly become a reoccurring theme in Ryan Hall’s career , along with a few DNS’s at New York and Boston. From the haters and trolls, it has also been a standard post-marathon thread on LetsRun.com message boards: “Ryan Hall is done.”.

Even noted distance running guru, RunBlogRun’s Larry Eder had to get it off his chest and posted a very brief blog  saying:

 “I hate to see talent squandered, and Ryan Hall is one race from being a trivia question on Jeopardy.”(http://www.runblogrun.com/2015/03/my-beef-with-ryan-hall-by-larry-eder.html)

 I guess I was a bit disappointed too. I don’t know Ryan Hall personally but I’ve been a fan of his accomplishments. I mean, for the last ten years, Ryan Hall has been one of the great American hopes – along with his counterparts: miler Alan Webb and Olympic 10K runner, Dathan Ritzenhein. In fact, each of the three high school cross-country rivals hold or have held an American best mile in the 5000 meters, ½ marathon, or arguably marathon records (Hall’s 2:04:55 is not recognized due to Boston’s net downhill). Three guys who raced in high school have thrown down historic times over the last 15 years: 3:46, 12:56, 59:20, and 2:04:55…raising the bar the bar of American distance running to a global level. Still, it was Ryan Hall who always seemed like he could be an Olympic Medalist – the next Frank Shorter or Meb Keflezighi. The best he’s managed is a 10th place at Beijing in 2008.

However, at the Los Angeles Marathon, it seemed that Hall’s early pace was frighteningly similar to his 2014 Boston Marathon, where he was an early leader, (2:17:50) and his DNF at the 2012 Olympics. Something seemed amiss with Ryan Hall. He looked like he was going out way too hard as they left Dodger Stadium and traversed up and down hills heading west toward Santa Monica.Then, just over an hour into the race, the great American hope to take on the Kenyans, was now a multi-time drop out.

Ryan Hall had simply disappeared from the race as three Americans finally caught him and continued the race for the American Championship, which would have required a middle-of-the-road performance for the old Ryan Hall.

Looking back at Hall’s DNFs and DNSs, I’ve noticed that some common elements preceded most of the events:

• Long training blocks in East Africa and Europe
• New coaches / Self-coaching
• Massive media hype about how he was a favorite to win the race.

Seeing as his last good race was the Olympic Trials runner-up finish at Houston in 2012 (2:09:30), it seems like Ryan Hall has been living off the brilliance of his 2011 Boston Marathon. There has been continued appearance money, several high-level sponsorships, media hype….all seemingly based off what he has done between 2006-2011. Since then it has been a series of drop outs and DNS’s and a mediocre 2:17 last year at Boston that turned into a claim that he had “sacrificed” himself for Meb’s win.

So what’s next? The 2016 Olympic Trials loom ahead in less than a year. And, let’s face facts: Now 32, Hall is not getting any younger. However, it’s not over yet. There’s still time on the clock. He really could come back. And I’d love to see it!
Ryan Hall has about five years before he hits that sweet spot as a marathoner, the window that legends like Carlos Lopes and Meb have enjoyed tremendous success with winning Olympic Gold Medals.
He still has time….but he needs really focus.

 I am a firm believer if you keep doing the same things in life, you will get the same results. Ryan Hall is as guilty of this as we all are. He goes out way to fast. He’s been doing this for awhile now and it is getting annoying. When I heard the splits of his early pace at the Asics L.A. Marathon and saw the rising temperatures, I knew things were not going to end well for him. However, part of me wonders if he is now that kid you coach, that mental head case, the one that bonks because they revert back to bad habits that as a coach you try to break them out of.

So, with my 30-years of coaching and watching distance runners, six marathon finishes to my name, and a hopefulness that he will return to some best practices in order to get back in the hunt for an Olympic Gold Medal, here is some advice I have for Ryan Hall.

 1) Stick with a Coach: Now, when you ran 59:43 for the American Record for the ½ marathon in 2006-2010, your coach was Terrence Mahon. I’m not sure why that relationship ended but it certainly could not have been due to his coaching: many of your PRs were with him! Then there was you, coaching yourself. Then there was God. Then Canova. Now there is Jack Daniels. Too many changes equals 0% consistency and poor race results.

 2) Take a Break from The Marathon: At least for the next 11 months. February 15, 2016: That should be your next race….The L.A. Olympic Trials. You can do your marathon training. You can race shorter distances and sharpen up. However, you should enter the Olympic Trials ready for war.

3) Put The Steps Foundation On Hold: Or get someone to manage it for you for the next couple of years while you finishing out your career. Running a charity organization or business while doing all the other training is stressful. This could be one of the biggest factor in your recent setbacks.It’s a great charity but I believe it is getting of your distance running goals.

 4) Finish The Race: Tough Love: You need to get a few races under your belt: 1/2 marathons, 15-20Ks, maybe even get on the track again. It was heartbreaking to see you drop out in London. In fact, to see three of the six American Olympians drop out was simply disgraceful. Then, last weekend, the L.A. Marathon it happened again. It has to stop.

If you don’t think you can finish it, no more fast starts concluding with a DNF. When I was a senior at Boston College, I had a three week stretch where I ran two 8ks in the 24’s and won a X-C race in 25:20. I was clicking along, doing 5 x miles at Franklin Park solo in the 4:40s-50s. Then, I traveled to Lehigh for the IC4A Championships and after a few miles, I dropped out. I walked back to the line and father raced toward me with a a concerned look on his face. “What happened? Are you okay?” he exclaimed. When I informed my father I had dropped out of the IC4A race. He looked at me disgusted, “You’re a bum. I drove five hours to watch you drop out?” He immediately stormed away. It was tough love. I never dropped out of a race again.

To my father’s point: I had been in fabulous shape but I quit because I was getting dropped in the race. He had driven 4-5 hours just to see his son drop out. I sure felt like a bum when I thought about all the work I had just blown. Finish the race…it insults your integrity.

 5) Train in One Location in the U.S.A: Ethiopia is a long way from California. I think you realize that. Stay Stateside. Big Bear seems like the ideal location – altitude and elevation, quiet dirt roads, trails. Seems to work for Meb, Deena, Shalane. Even seemed to work for you during those big years. Stay in town to get consistent. Don’t underestimate the stress and fatigue long flights and travel away from home can have on you.

 6) Pace Yourself Better: I’ve seen you do it once in Boston. I saw you do it in L.A. One resulted in a 2:17:50. One resulted in a DNF. I think back to London 2009 when you slowly you ran with the Kenyans, slowly moving up, and cruising to your 2:06. At the time, I thought it was the perfect strategy. Your 2011 Marathon – although I was over an hour behind you at Boston – that 2:04:58….that was brilliant pacing. Go back and figure out what was clicking on those days. Jared Ward went out in 1:07 and closed in 1:05…now that was the way to run a 2:12 in the heat at L.A. and win a U.S. Championship!

 7) Heal, Rest, Regenerate Mentally & Physically: When was the last time you took two weeks off between training blocks? Ask Lagat: it does wonders for the aging body. You may need some time to heal your legs, your muscles, your mind. Rest. Regenerate.

 8) Go Back to Whatever Worked in 2008-2011: These were YOUR GOLDEN YEARS! Search back through your training logs. Go talk to Terrence Mahon. I truly believe it wasn’t your age: it was your method, your training. The answer to your future is in those training logs.

9) Separate Marriage from Training  Married elite runners…I’ve known a few. It is hard to balance demanding schedules and married life. Separating training time from personal relationships is key because running is a selfish sport in many ways. You need to create windows for you each to train and then come back together when it is all done. Unfortunately, too much time spent on one endeavor causes a strain on the other.

 10) Get a Training Group or Partner: What’s wrong with running with Meb? Isn’t he your neighbor? What about Dathan? Hell – I’d figure out a way to get together with Mo and Galen up in Oregon. Why do you have to train on your own or with Kenyans or Ethiopians over there? Mentally, it must be a huge challenge to do it all by yourself. Get a crew. Follow the leads of other successful training projects / groups around the country.

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