Skip to content

Ryan Hall returns to marathon racing in Boston, by way of Ethiopia

Apr 19, 2014, 11:41 AM EST

Ryan Hall Getty Images

BOSTON — The fastest U.S. marathon runner ever,* missing from 26.2-mile competition for nearly two years, his future questioned, found himself at a place called Yaya Village last month.

Ryan Hall trained for the Boston Marathon, essentially his comeback race, “buried in the sticks” in the Ethiopian countryside.

“A running monastery, very tranquil, very peaceful,” Hall said. “And the hardest training I’ve ever done in my life.”

Hall is arguably the top U.S. men’s hope in Monday’s race, his first Boston Marathon since he finished fourth in 2 hours, 4 minutes, 58 seconds in 2011, the fastest marathon ever by an American. The time does not count as an official American record, though, because of Boston’s point-to-point, downhill course.

Hall then took second at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January 2012 to earn a trip to London. He hasn’t finished a marathon since. If that month in Ethiopia was the hardest training in his life, the two years prior may have been the most trying.

He dropped out of the 2012 Olympic marathon near mile 11 with a right hamstring injury.

“I’ve never DNF’d a race before, so this is a first for me,” Hall said in London. “Not finishing a race is not an option unless I think I’m going to do serious damage to my career.”

Hall withdrew from the 2012 New York City Marathon, before Hurricane Sandy canceled it, due to injuries that included plantar fasciitis and tightness in his legs.

Hall withdrew from the 2013 Boston Marathon due to a quadriceps strain.

Hall withdrew from the 2013 New York City Marathon due to a hip injury.

Hall came out of the stretch the better for it, calling it the best two years of his career, though he doesn’t want to relive it.

“I feel like I’m kind of failing my way to the top,” Hall, 31, said. “I see it as part of the process. I wouldn’t trade from 2012 to now. I don’t think I would have gotten to where I’m going to get to if I hadn’t gone through those two years. I’m grateful for them.”

Boston Marathon: The Boylston Street pre-race scene

Hall said he started up again “from ground zero” in December, after health issues cut short a training trip to Kenya in the fall.

The climb took him 9,000 feet above sea level in March to Yaya Village, a resort seven miles north of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. His wife, fellow runner Sarah Hall, visited Ethiopia last fall and raved about it. They went to Yaya together in March.

Yaya was founded in 2009 by a group that included marathon legend Haile Gebreselassie and bills itself as “a runners paradise above the clouds.”

Hall saw something different. An image burned in his brain from his month in Ethiopia was of women his grandmother’s age carrying loads of firewood up the same mountain on which he trained.

Hall said a local coach told him the women trek 30km. He estimated they’d earn about $5 U.S. Dollars for their journey.

“I’ll never forget the look in their eyes when you drive past,” Hall said. “The best image I’ve seen of what true strength is. It wasn’t like the Hollywood glamour type strength. It was like I’m going to make this no matter what.”

That rolled into Hall’s learning experience there, both mental and physical. He got an up-close view of an Ethiopian’s way of life. An East African has won every Boston Marathon since 2002 and all but one since 1991.

“They’re accustomed to suffering,” Hall said. “That’s what makes them so good.”

His training runs included going downhill for 10km and then uphill for 20km. He ate injera and drank macchiatos.

“I’ve never seen so much growth in my training in such a short time,” Hall said. “It makes you tough as nails.”

Home in Flagstaff, Hall prepared for Boston on a special treadmill that mimics Boston’s hilly course, rising and falling with accompanying video. He flew into Boston on Thursday, sat at a table near the finish line at a Copley Plaza hotel on Friday and made two short statements two years in the making.

“I’m feeling great,” he said. “Ready to go.”

Boston Marathon: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | TV, Race Schedules

Latest Posts
  1. Tori Bowie ‘going after medals’ after breakthrough season

    Jan 27, 2015, 4:14 PM EST

    Tori Bowie Getty Images

    Bowie may try to make the World Championships team in three individual events.

  2. Yohan Blake details ‘dreams’ for 2015

    Jan 27, 2015, 2:37 PM EST

    Yohan Blake Getty Images

    Once Usain Bolt’s top rival, the Jamaican is returning from a second major injury in as many years.

  3. Lance Armstrong on forgiveness: ‘We’re getting close to that time’

    Jan 26, 2015, 2:41 PM EST

    AP AP

    Armstrong touched on many topics in a BBC interview.

  4. Martina Hingis eyes Rio Olympics

    Jan 26, 2015, 10:58 AM EST

    Martina Hingis Getty Images

    Could Hingis return to Olympic tennis, 20 years after her only Olympic appearance?

  5. South Korean Olympic swim champ Park Tae-hwan fails drug test

    Jan 26, 2015, 8:41 AM EST

    Park Tae-hwan Getty Images

    Park’s management agency cited “an illegal injection administered by a local doctor.”

  6. Jason Brown wins first U.S. figure skating title

    Jan 25, 2015, 9:48 PM EST

    AP AP

    Brown is the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 2004.

  7. Sage Kotsenburg, Jamie Anderson beaten in Winter X Games slopestyle

    Jan 25, 2015, 7:35 PM EST

    Sage Kotsenburg Getty Images

    Instead, past Winter X Games champions prevailed in Aspen.

  8. WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s free skate — 4 p.m. ET

    Jan 25, 2015, 3:00 PM EST

    Jason Brown Getty Images

    Jason Brown tries to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 2004.

  9. WATCH LIVE: ‘Lindsey Vonn: The Climb’ documentary — 3 p.m. ET

    Jan 25, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Lindsey Vonn

    An inside look at the skier’s comeback from two major knee surgeries.

  10. Lindsey Vonn wins final race before World Championships (video)

    Jan 25, 2015, 7:36 AM EST

    AP AP

    Vonn captured victory No. 64 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

  11. Ashley Wagner shatters records for third U.S. figure skating title

    Jan 24, 2015, 11:50 PM EST

    Ashley Wagner Getty Images

    Wagner becomes the oldest women’s champion since Michelle Kwan.

  12. Chloe Kim wins Winter X Games halfpipe at age 14

    Jan 24, 2015, 9:15 PM EST

    Chloe Kim Getty Images

    Kim outdueled the greatest snowboarder of all time.

  13. WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships — 8 p.m. ET

    Jan 24, 2015, 7:00 PM EST

    AP AP

    Gracie Gold wants to deny history for Ashley Wagner.

  14. WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships — 3 p.m. ET

    Jan 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Maia Shibutani, Alex Shibutani Getty Images

    Pairs free skate and free dance national titles to be awarded.

  15. Lindsey Vonn struggles in St. Moritz downhill (video)

    Jan 24, 2015, 6:23 AM EST

    AP AP

    Vonn missed an opportunity to all but clinch the World Cup season downhill title.

  16. Jason Brown leads U.S. short program; quad debate stoked

    Jan 23, 2015, 11:58 PM EST

    Jason Brown

    Brown is poised to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion in 11 years.

  17. Lindsey Jacobellis wins ninth Winter X Games title

    Jan 23, 2015, 3:12 PM EST

    Lindsey Jacobellis Getty Images

    Jacobellis has now won 13 gold medals in 18 major championships.

  18. McKayla Maroney, Meb Keflezighi get Topps baseball cards

    Jan 23, 2015, 9:54 AM EST

    McKayla Maroney

    Olympic medalists threw out ceremonial first pitches last season.

  19. Bode Miller will not race Kitzbuehel downhill, hopeful for World Champs

    Jan 23, 2015, 8:44 AM EST

    AP AP

    Miller now looks ahead to the World Championships.

  20. Shaun White beaten in Winter X Games halfpipe

    Jan 22, 2015, 11:57 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    White had the same finish as he did in Sochi.