February 02, 2012

BOSTON (AP) -- When Ryan Hall was starting out as a distance runner, he thought training better meant running more.

"I always felt, 'That's kind of the American way, right?' You feel like if you're taking time off you didn't really earn it," he said on Thursday. "But if you come out of a rested state, you perform better."

Now that he's had some success - including an Olympic berth and a 2 hour, 4 minute, 58 second marathon in Boston last year that's the fastest ever run by an American - Hall is more comfortable allowing himself to rest between workouts. To prepare for last month's Olympic trials in Houston, he cut his mileage and didn't run in the afternoons at all.

He finished second, earning a spot in the London Games along with winner Meb Keflezighi and third-place finisher Abdi Abdirahman.

"I was amazed I had so much pop in my legs," he said before a training run with employees at John Hancock, a Boston Marathon sponsor. "After having trained so hard for so long and looking at other athletes, thinking, 'I trained 10 times harder than these guys and they're killing me in races,' you learn that more is not always better."

Still just 29, Hall is coming off a year in which he shattered the course record in Boston but finished fourth - his third top five finish in a row in a race that went eight years without an American man in the top 10 and hasn't had a U.S. winner, man or woman, since 1985. He was second at the U.S. half-marathon championships.

But his body, he said, felt "super run-down."

That's when he remembered his coach telling him what the composer Claude Debussy said: "Music is the space between the notes." The message, in music and in training: The quiet times are as important as the activity.

Hall was too young to listen before, but now he's a believer.

"I love that. It really is true," he said. "It takes an amazing amount of confidence in your condition, and belief in yourself, to rest."

Hall said it wasn't until he had more success, including breaking the 2:05 milestone, that he felt like he could afford to take days off. He has cut his mileage, from about 120-130 miles a week to less than 100, and he runs only six days instead of seven, in part because of his religious beliefs.

And he has tinkered with his training schedule so he doesn't feel so worn out.

Alberto Salazar, the 1982 Boston champion who is now a coach, said athletes who overtrain often feel like they need to work harder to make up for shortcomings in talent.

"You've got to have the mental toughness and confidence in yourself where you believe that you can take those days off and you can recover and you can run great," Salazar said. "A lot of what we see in athletes that just train all the time and never give themselves adequate recovery is often portrayed as toughness. What I've realized over the years is it really is a weakness. It's an insecurity that you're not good enough to recover like other athletes: I'm not good enough to do that; I need to keep training; I can't take time off; I can't take easy days."

Salazar tells his athletes that training and recovery are two sides of a coin - and they're equally important.

"You really need to embrace that and understand it," he said. "It's best to get that into athletes' heads at a young age, because it's very hard to change that later. Some athletes like Ryan, that always trained and never took much recovery, learn soon enough in their careers like he has that they're able to salvage their careers.

"But a lot of athletes, like myself, never learned. We only wanted to do the one side of the coin, and that's the training part, and we believed that the recovery part, we really didn't need that."

Speaking from John Hancock's headquarters near the Boston Harbor, Hall lamented the fact that he won't be able to run Boston this year because it's too close to the Olympics. Being in town this weekend and driving near the finish line on Boylston Street "was absolutely destroying me," he said.

"I'm curious to see how the race turns out," he said, noting that he set the pace in the last three races.

Keflezighi is heading to his third Olympics. He ran the 10,000 meters in Sydney in 2000 and finished 12th, and as he was leaving the stadium, he made it his goal to reach the podium the next time.

Switching to the marathon, he earned a silver medal in Athens. (He did not qualify for Beijing after finishing eighth in the 2008 trials with a stress fracture in his hip.)

But with his oldest daughter now 6 years old, he is eager to go back to the Olympics with his family.

"During the race at the trials, that's all I was thinking: I've got to do it for my girls," he said. "What do I have to lose this time? I've been there, gotten a medal. Unless I get a gold, it can't be any better."

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