Helping others reignites Ryan Hall’s passion for running

Ryan Hall holds up the American flag after winning the U.S. Olympic team trials in 2007. AP Photo
Ryan Hall holds up the American flag after winning the U.S. Olympic team trials in 2007. AP Photo

Ryan Hall knows running can be exhilarating, electrifying and, also, brutal. 

The sport offers ups, downs and, at times, great disappointment. 

Hall set the American record for a debut marathon, 2:08:24, in London in 2007. He still holds the U.S. record in the half marathon, 59:43. And he set a record for American marathoners during the 2011 Boston race, although it’s not official because Boston’s course makes it ineligible for such records

Despite his storied career, running was often painful for Hall, physically, mentally and emotionally. However, for him, it has always been God who puts things into perspective, offers new opportunities and stirs his interest in running.

When Hall retired from professional running in January 2016, he cited extreme fatigue, as first reported in The New York Times. Intense training helped him build a celebrated legacy, set American records and excite the running community with possibility. However, decades of sprinting up and down mountains in California also left Hall with chronically low testosterone levels. 

“Up to this point, I always believed my best races were still ahead of me,” Hall told The New York Times when he retired. “I’ve explored every issue to get back to the level I’ve been at, and my body is not responding. I realized that it was time to stop striving, to finally be satisfied and decide, ‘Mission accomplished.’ ”

Fatigue, injuries and disappointing finishes at times zapped the joy of running for Hall. But then, sooner than he expected, Hall found himself drawn back into the sport. It’s a mission to make life better for others that led one of America’s most accomplished runners to start the next chapter in his career. He’s now using that passion for running to give back.

Hall will be in Florida this weekend running in the inaugural Tampa Fit Foodie Race. Ahead of the race, News Channel 8’s Alissa Groeninger talked with the storied athlete about running, life and serving others.

Crossing the Olympic marathon finish line

In 2007 Hall set an event record at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. He won the race with a 2:09:02 finishing time, qualifying him for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

When he crossed the finish line at those Olympics Games, 10th place wasn’t what he’d set out for.  

Hall remembers pouting during the race. Then he entered the tunnel toward the end of the 26.2 miles. After running for miles through the crowded, cheering streets of Beijing, Hall explained, he was left with silence.

“All you hear is your footsteps,” Hall said.

That’s when he connected with God. While he was frustrated, the response he says he received changed his perspective. 

“This isn’t everything you wanted, but it’s everything you need for right now,” Hall understood.

Wanting to run again

When Hall announced his retirement this past January, he didn’t anticipate wanting to run again so soon. But, in June he competed with a team in the ASICS Beat the Sun event. 

The 140K relay takes six-person teams through France, Switzerland and Italy. Teams strive to finish in fewer than 21 hours and 35 minutes, according to the running magazine Competitor. That’s “the time between the sunrise and sunset in Chamonix, France,” making the race “a way of celebrating the summer solstice,” Competitor says.

“Knowing this challenge was presented for those reasons and the epic component of it, I thought this was amazing. The idea of it gripped me and gave me a desire to run again,” Hall told Sports Illustrated in June.

Hall has a new focus now: seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. This time his motivation is a ministry – the Dream Center. The Center helps people and families in need of shelter and food, job skills training and education, and counseling. Plus, its work supports human trafficking victims, addicts and gang members, among other individuals striving to turn their lives around.

“It’s just a really exciting thing for me to train for,” Hall said. “That’s also kind of brought back a lot of joy to my running.”

The World Marathon Challenge journey is scheduled to begin in Antarctica. Hall and the team will also run in Chile, Miami, Spain, Morocco, United Arab Emirates and Australia. You can follow Hall here as he embarks on this trip.

Hall’s relationship with running

Hall, who coaches his wife, Sara Hall, herself a professional runner, said the sport will always be a part of his life in some capacity. 

Retirement allowed Hall to become more involved in his wife’s training. When she hits a workout just right, “I can feel that same sensation she’s feeling,” he said.

After retiring, Hall turned to weightlifting, an endeavor that received significant media attention. But, he said, while it’s been fun, it won’t always be convenient.

Ryan and Sara have talked about living full-time in Ethiopia working to help develop the country. It would be hard to fit in trips to the gym if that becomes the case, he said. But running is simple. You can do it anywhere.

Running is also important to him because of the family connection. Last year the Halls adopted four daughters, all sisters, from Ethiopia.

Now, the Halls run and walk with their children to connect with each other, see the outdoors and explore. During a recent visit to the forest, Hall says he and his family laced up and ran. “It’s just a fun way to get to spend time together and get to explore nature and explore new places,” Hall said.

He said he’ll never push his daughters to run, but if they want to, he looks forward to helping. “If they find their own passion for it, and it’s something they really want to go after, I’ll be there,” Hall said.

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