Skip to content

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

Apr 19, 2014, 11:41 AM EDT

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. Three of four missing Ethiopian athletes at World Junior Championships found

    Jul 28, 2014, 8:55 PM EDT

    IAAF World Junior Championships - Day 5 Getty Images

    Athletes found safe in Beaverton, Ore., after going missing in Eugene.

  2. Yuna Kim attends coaching workshop

    Jul 28, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT

    Yuna Kim Reuters

    Retired Olympic champion took part in Korea Skating Union workshop, according to South Korean media.

  3. U.S. 400m runner Torrin Lawrence dies in car accident

    Jul 28, 2014, 10:19 AM EDT

    Torrin Lawrence Getty Images

    Lawrence won gold on the U.S. 4x400m relay team at the 2014 IAAF World Relays.

  4. Brazil’s Olympic coach wants Neymar to play at Rio 2016

    Jul 28, 2014, 9:32 AM EDT

    Brazil's forward Neymar (L) is challenge Getty Images

    Neymar played in 2012, but there’s a new obstacle that could keep him out of 2016.

  5. U.S. teams sweep World Series of Beach Volleyball (video)

    Jul 27, 2014, 6:46 PM EDT

    Kerri Walsh Jennings AP

    Kerri Walsh Jennings notched a milestone victory.

  6. UPDATE: Noelle Pikus-Pace’s brother and his children found in Idaho

    Jul 27, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Jared Pikus

    Search and rescue crews were on the lookout for Jared Pikus and his three children.

  7. WATCH LIVE: World Series of Beach Volleyball

    Jul 27, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross Getty Images

    Kerri Walsh Jennings can hit another career milestone.

  8. Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross make WSOBV final

    Jul 26, 2014, 5:24 PM EDT

    Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross Getty Images

    U.S. Olympic medalists will face Spanish or Brazilian pair Sunday on NBC.

  9. WATCH LIVE: World Series of Beach Vollyeball

    Jul 26, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Kerri Walsh Jennings Getty Images

    Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings in biggest tournament of 2014 in U.S.

  10. Usain Bolt arrives in Glasgow, says he’s injury free

    Jul 26, 2014, 10:17 AM EDT

    Usain Bolt Reuters

    Bolt will make a rare appearance in the heats of a 4x100m relay at Commonwealth Games.

  11. Henry Cejudo, Olympic champion wrestler, signs with UFC

    Jul 26, 2014, 9:02 AM EDT

    Henry Cejudo Reuters

    Beijing gold medalist slated for first bout in August.

  12. Runner with age discrepancy withdrawn from World Junior Championships

    Jul 25, 2014, 3:47 PM EDT

    IAAF World Junior Championships Getty Images

    Bahrain runner listed with 1996 birthday may have been born in 1990.

  13. Skateboarding to be showcased aside Youth Olympics

    Jul 25, 2014, 2:24 PM EDT

    Skateboarding Getty Images

    A step forward as skateboarding seeks Olympic inclusion.

  14. Bradley Wiggins probably done with Tour de France

    Jul 25, 2014, 11:36 AM EDT

    Bradley Wiggins Getty Images

    Brit can make Olympic history on the track in 2016.

  15. Mary Cain wins World Junior Championships 3000m (video)

    Jul 25, 2014, 10:07 AM EDT

    Mary Cain Getty Images

    Cain emerged from being boxed in to beat Kenyans.

  16. Australian women break 4x100m free relay world record

    Jul 24, 2014, 4:57 PM EDT

    Cate Campbell Getty Images

    How it impacts the U.S. and potential Olympic history for Missy Franklin.

  17. Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross clicking ahead of World Series of Beach Volleyball

    Jul 24, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT

    Kerri Walsh Getty Images

    U.S. pair is top seed at biggest tournament in the U.S. this year.