Benefield: Sara Hall stays on course for Olympics after dropping out of NYC Marathon
The New York City Marathon did not go as planned for Sara Hall.
Brimming with confidence after a spectacular 2019 so far that saw her post the sixth-fastest marathon time for any American woman ever, Hall, 36, flew her four daughters with husband and two-time Olympian Ryan Hall to New York to see her race Sunday on one of the grandest stages in the sport.
“I have only dropped out of three races in my whole life. They have been at two of them, which is crazy,” Hall said of her two eldest daughters, Hana, 19, and Mia, 15.
Hall, a 2001 Montgomery grad who went on to be a seven-time All-American at Stanford, was among the pre-race favorites.
She was just five weeks removed from a massive personal best at the Berlin Marathon, running to a fifth-place finish in 2:22:16 that put her front and center among favorites to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic squad for the marathon.
The Olympic Trials in Atlanta in February have always been the target. A super fast time at Berlin was a goal and a competitive performance on New York’s hilly course — similar to what runners can expect in Atlanta — was the next box to tick.
So her daughters traveled to New York. The two eldest daughters were on the course, somewhere in East Harlem with their dad, when Sara Hall made the rare call to pack it in.
An upset stomach from the previous day had left her feeling less than her best. She felt well enough to start, but not well enough to finish. She posted on social media that she felt “weak & wobbly” on the course.
With the Olympic Trials four months away in February and with nothing else to prove in 2019, she let go. Somewhere just after mile 18, she stopped.
“It was back and forth,” she said of the conversation she was having with herself as she ran low five-minute splits on national television. “There were moments when I was like, ‘This is not how I felt in Berlin at this point. I don’t feel like my normal, strong self.’ But then we were still running at this pace, I’m still at this pace.”
But it started to feel like a hole she was digging. And frankly, the New York City Marathon is not the end game. The Olympic Trials are.
There was solace in the fact that Hall could pinpoint the source of her woe that day. Her stomach had been off since the day prior and it never fully came around. She was left feeling weak. It wasn’t a mystery she had to unravel about what had happened.
“There are reasons the race didn’t go well,” she said. “I am able to see it for what it was, adjust and move on.”
Hall has the tools to move on. She has more race-day experience than your average bear. Her relentless racing schedule is not the norm, even among the most aggressive pros. She and Ryan Hall have described her training and racing regimen as high risk, high reward.
In 2019, she raced three marathons, two half marathons and five races between seven miles and 25K. It’s not just her race calendar that garners attention among run watchers. Her training schedule is also legendary. If she’s running that far and that fast in the hills around her home in Flagstaff, Arizona, she might as well toe the line at a race, right?