Though the turnaround between races is short, Hall said she was attracted to the idea because the championships are close to her Redding, California, home and she enjoys competing on the national road-racing circuit (she won the 10-mile title earlier in October at Twin Cities). But her coach, who happens to also be her husband and fastest American marathoner ever, Ryan Hall, wasn’t so sure.
“In my mind I probably decided to race CIM two weeks after Frankfurt,” Hall wrote in an email to Runner’s World, also admitting, “Ryan wasn’t originally a fan of the idea.”
The week after Frankfurt, Hall started with some easy running. In two weeks, all leg soreness had subsided and she had completed three solid training runs—a couple of which were faster than she ran while preparing for Frankfurt. In total, Hall has put in about two and a half weeks of training before cutting down ahead of CIM. One workout was 25 miles long, including 12 at marathon pace, and another 10-mile tempo run faster than her goal pace.
“As athletes, we often wear it as a badge of honor when we really wreck ourselves in a race—like we ran so tough,” Hall said. “But for me, it has been the opposite. After my best races I come off them feeling the best, and it was my worst marathons where I wasn’t prepared for the heat that I’ve needed the most recovery time.”
It’s not the first time Hall has attempted an unorthodox racing schedule. After she debuted at the marathon in Los Angeles in 2015, which didn’t go well on an unseasonably hot day (she finished 22nd in 2:48:02), she jumped on a plane to Guiyang, China, to compete at the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships just 13 days later. She finished 20th, the top spot for Team USA in the 8K race.
Running back-to-back marathons on the professional level, however, is another story and a feat Hall hasn’t tried yet. Her goals for CIM are simple and she’s driven by the fact that her four daughters will cheer for her on the course.
“I’ve learned to not have too set expectations and instead trust my intuition as a competitor,” she said. “My goal is to get the most out of myself, to worship God as I run with my very best effort, and to make my kids proud, who will be waiting for me at the finish.”
What allows Hall to bounce back so quickly? She has a few ideas.
Recovery is a lifestyle. Hall has been running for so long—since she was a kid—that she is able to incorporate basic recovery techniques into her daily routine without even thinking about it. Making sure she’s hydrated, getting enough sleep (harder now, though, as a mother of four), and receiving consistent care from sports medicine experts has kept her mostly injury-free. And, of course, backing off when her body tells her to.
“I don’t think I’m the most talented, but I’ve always been able to train aggressively and race often and have my body absorb it well,” Hall said. “The majority of my injuries have actually been from freak accidents like tripping and falling. I’ve been under the care of a great therapist [John Ball, in Phoenix, Arizona], who helps nip things in the bud quickly and provides guidance to what I need to stretch or strengthen to prevent injuries.”
Good nutrition over time is critical. Because she doesn’t count calories or attach certain rules to her diet, Hall said she is able to recognize what her body needs to continue training on a high level. She’s weighed herself maybe eight times this whole year, she said.
“[The scale] doesn’t tell me anything because I’m not trying to be a certain weight,” she said. “I focus on my energy levels and figure when I’m fueling well and not eating a lot of junk, my body finds where it needs to be.”
And focusing on making nutritious choices most of the time has served Hall well over the long haul, she said.
“Consistently eating well over the years helps you develop good bone health, and you don’t have to fear stress fractures from all the pounding,” she said. “Some people try to lose weight to get to some kind of ambiguous ‘race weight’ before a big competition, so I can see why they need to have that time off to put the weight back on, but I don’t do that and I’m not convinced it leads to better performances.”
Sometimes it pays to make your own rules. Training in Ethiopia has taught Hall that the American mindset of only competing in two marathons per year might not apply to every athlete. Why subscribe to that theory if you feel like you can do more? While in the African nation, she learned that even their fastest athletes don’t overthink their running.
“Whereas in the West, myself included, it’s normal to constantly be looking to your training for confidence and affirmation—or at least to feel things are going according to plan—and a few bad days can threaten to derail you,” she said. “When it comes to racing, [the Ethiopians] don’t have in their minds this perfect six-month buildup to a race. They don’t have to check every box by doing a tune-up race or coming down from altitude at a certain point. They just go where their agent tells them to and show up and bring their A-game.”
The attitude has rubbed off and now Hall tries to bring more art to her running career, supported by science but not dictated by it.
“I am very adaptable and spontaneous as a person and that carries into my running,” she said. “I have seen in Ryan’s career how the opposite—being married to a certain plan or schedule and not willing to adapt—can be detrimental. And really, we don’t even know if that plan is the ‘right’ one anyway.”