Whether it was Ethiopians and Kenyans or fellow Americans, Ryan Hall never backed down from a challenge, running with the leaders in every race.
Ryan Hall can just be a dad now.
The two-time Olympic marathoner will now be able to cook up his signature pancakes for breakfast, take his four daughters to school, assist his wife, Sara, with her running and training, hang out with his dogs and, most importantly, stop stressing about a comeback.
On Friday, Hall announced that, at the age of 33, he is retiring from competitive running and will not attempt to make his third Olympic team at next month’s Olympic marathon trials in Los Angeles. In recent years, he has been plagued by injuries and low testosterone levels, which undermined any chance of his once again running at the level that catapulted him to icon status in American distance running.
A year ago, Hall was in a vastly different stage of his life. There were no kids yet. He was still training hard and looking to return to relevance in the marathon.
In 10 years as a professional, Hall notched a number of achievements on the roads. He was the first American to break the one-hour barrier for the half-marathon, running a sparkling 59:43 at the 2008 Houston Half-Marathon. His debut at the full distance, at the 2007 London Marathon, became a big deal. He ran 2:08:24, brushing shoulders with the East Africans for the first time on the way to a seventh-place finish, and emerged as the new face of American distance running. His commanding victory at the 2008 Olympic trials marathon seemed to suggest that he was ready to run with the very best in the world.
He embraced his role.
At the 2011 Boston Marathon, there was no bigger star for the home team than Hall, with his red-white-and-blue singlet that read USA across the chest. Halfway through the race, Hall cupped his hand to his ear and asked the screaming crowds lining the road in Wellesley to get even louder. The Kenyans did not break form. Hall made history again as he crossed the finish line in fourth place with his arms extended wide and his smile up to the heavens in 2:04:58. It was the fastest performance by an American ever and no one has come close since.
Whether it was Ethiopians and Kenyans or fellow Americans, Hall never backed down from a challenge, running with the leaders in every race. He was ride or die with a hot pace. Despite the strain he put on his body in every marathon, he always ran with joy.
The 2014 Boston Marathon paints another picture of Hall. In it, he’s crossing the finish line in 2:17:50, nearly 10 minutes behind the surprise winner, his Olympic teammate Meb Keflezighi.
Hall finished 20th overall and boarded a flight back to California soon after crossing the finish line. Keflezighi’s win helped steer the conversation away from Hall, who was later revealed as one of the key components to the first American win in Boston since 1983. Hall was credited by his compatriots in the race for leading early and helping to trick the Africans into letting Keflezighi take off.
It would be the last time the world would see Hall cross the finish line of a marathon.
In the time between those two paintings, Hall repeatedly changed coaches and suffered disappointing withdrawals from multiple marathons due to injuries.
He tried to fight back in Los Angeles last February. There was a U.S. championship on the line and Hall found himself running against Ethiopians and Kenyans as well.
When he ran, it looked as if he were looking for a sort of healing and for closure on the struggles of the last three years. In the end, though, he pulled off to the side and stopped—another DNF on his record. His wife was running the women’s marathon and would soon be approaching; there was no need for her to see him struggle.
“I’m glad I didn’t know ahead of time what was coming down the pipe and how much I’d be getting injured so many times in a row, because I don’t know how I’d handle that,” Hall said last year. “It’s hard when you don’t have hope. I always have hope that this injury will be the last one and I’ll be golden, I’ll get back to where I need to be and where I once was.”
With his announcement, Hall makes his move quietly. The attention will fall on him for a few days before all of his focus shifts back to helping his wife prepare for Los Angeles.
Without a doubt, Hall worked hard to save himself from the lowest point. As a strong man of faith, he believes, he says, that “in the process of going through the valley, you don't know how long you'll be stuck down there, when you're going to get out of there or if you're ever going to get out. I feel like I'm climbing back up to the mountaintop right now. I don't know when that's going to happen. I don't know when I'm going to reach my summit and see my full potential come out, but it feels to me closer than ever."
It was not Mount Everest but it was not the easiest climb, and Hall just fell short in his ascent back. It’s fair to ponder what Hall’s career would have been like if he had managed to stay healthy and run consistently, but that can be left for discussion on message boards.
Hall traveled to Ethiopia before the 2013 Boston Marathon and when locals asked what he’s run for the marathon, he’d tell them 2:04 and sometimes they’d laugh; they wouldn’t ask questions. A white guy ran that fast? Yes.
Chatting with my friend Scott Olberding of TrackStats.com about the news, we found:
• Hall has the second most sub-2:10 marathons by an American, with eight, behind only Keflezighi.
• He is one of 15 men to have run eight or more marathons under 2:10 before turning 30 and the only non-African.
• His eight sub-2:10 times are the most by any American under the age of 30 and twice as many as three-time New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar.
It all happened so fast. The race. His rise. His frustrating fall. His new life.
Hall will not disappear. Sponsors will still use him and he’ll be on the sidelines cheering on his wife on Feb. 13. After the race, Hall and his family will head to the celebratory grounds for champions, Disneyland.
Despite being years removed from his last race victory, Hall can still be a champion for American distance running.