Sara Hall: Part of the fun is the pursuit

Sara Hall of USA sprints to cross the finish line in second place ahead of Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya in the Elite Women's Field during the 2020 London Marathon (Photo by Richard Heathcote / Getty Images)
Sara Hall of USA sprints to cross the finish line in second place ahead of Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya in the Elite Women's Field during the 2020 London Marathon (Photo by Richard Heathcote / Getty Images)

From missing out on Team USA's Olympic Marathon selection to placing second at the London Marathon, the year 2020 was full of highs and lows for the American distance runner

Drive, passion and resilience are important traits to have as an elite athlete.

For American marathon specialist Sara Hall, it has been one of the biggest lessons she's learnt over her career.

"I've got pretty resilient at picking myself back up," she told the Olympic Channel Podcast.

And more than ever, in 2020, she had to draw upon this.

While the former 2011 Pan American 3,000m steeplechase champion missed out of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team, Hall was able to not only able to finish as the runner-up at the 2020 London Marathon but also ran the second-fastest marathon ever by an American woman (2:20:32) at The Marathon Project in December.

"I think you miss moments like London [Marathon] if you let disappointment keep you down too much. That's the biggest take away I'll take from running, that resilience you build in yourself of being able to pull yourself back up and hope again, dream again."

My biggest career heartbreak

With just one chance to qualify, the U.S. Olympic Trails are known for their heartbreak.

And Hall knows that all too well.

A favourite to make Team USA for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the 37-year-old had been preparing well for the trials which took place on 29 February 2020.

"This time last year I was really excited to be training for the Olympic Trials. I'd never made an Olympic Team so I was highly motivated to make the marathon team for the US and I was really preparing for the course in Atlanta which is the hilliest elite marathon course that's ever been," she recalled.

After a spectacular 2019 season, which included posting the sixth-fastest time for an American woman ever, her only blemish was she did not finish the New York Marathon - dropping out after 18 miles - in November

At the Olympic Trials, Hall had remained with the lead until the 30.5km (19 mile) mark before falling back. Just a few kilometres (3 miles) on, she dropped out of the race.

"Unfortunately the race didn't go that way, being unable to finish and not make the team. That was the biggest heartbreak of my career so starting the year with that followed by all the lockdowns and all the races cancelled and everything, it was hard."

For the distance runner, being able to get back out on the road and compete is way to overcome disappointments but as the world shut down due to the pandemic, it wouldn't be possible. At the same time, Olympic Trials for the USA Track team were postponed until June 2021.

"Mentally it was a challenging time," Hall said, "I definitely relied on some friends, talking with them about it and also try to be present with my kids."

A London Marathon on her own

The 2020 London Marathon was unlike any major marathon before.

Usually thousands are drawn to the streets of the British capital to watch and cheer on the best of the best but in the middle of the pandemic, the streets were empty and the course itself was run in a loop around St. James' Park.

However, just having the opportunity to race was "a dream come true" according to Hall.

Despite the rainy morning and starting the first two-thirds of the race out of contention, the American started to pick off runners all while running in just hearing the sound of footsteps.

"I was just hearing my footsteps wondering if that was someone behind me or just the echo of my own footsteps. It was kind of a marathoners' worse nightmare," she said.

Hall, who ran most of the race on her own, caught up and passed current world champion Ruth Chepngetich with 150m left to cross the finish line in a personal best time of 2:22:01 - which was broken just two months later - to finish second.

The Olympic dream isn't over

The Olympic Games is still the dream Hall, and her husband and coach Ryan, who competed at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012, are chasing.

And to make it happen she is looking at the 10,000m for Tokyo 2020.

"I haven't raced on the track in over four years. That's going to take a lot of hard work on my part," she said.

"At the same time the marathon has made me strong in a way that last time I was running track, I'm a different athlete than I was four years ago because I feel that the sky's the limit of what's possible."

While her heart might lie with the marathon, Hall knows that she can draw on her previous experience as a track athlete to be able to prepare.

"Even though I'm kind of removed from the track now, the shorter stuff has always been a strength of mine so I do feel like that it's going to be an easier transition then it looks on paper."

"Part of the fun is the pursuit just go go all in on it and just believe.

"I'm going to give it a good fight because I want to become an Olympian."

The US Olympic Trials - Track and Field will take place between 18-27 June, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon.