By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — Professional middle distance runner, Sara Hall, spoke to a group of Shenendehowa students in the Gowana auditorium Friday morning. Hall, who was born and raised in Northern California, was in the Capital Region for the 38th annual Freihofer’s Run for Women 5k in Albany Saturday, June 4. Hall placed second in the race with a time of 15:56.
The students in attendance were on the edge of their seats before Hall arrived and cheered uproariously when she walked in through the back doors of the auditorium.
Hall, now 33, won four state championship titles in cross country in high school, ran for Stanford in college where she earned several All-American titles and represented the United States in the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico. Hall’s visit comes just a month before the Olympic Trials in Oregon.
“How many of you are under 13 years old?” Hall asked her audience. Almost everyone raised their hands. “I was 13 when I started running,” she said. Before that, Hall played soccer and basketball. “Through those sports, I knew I had some speed. I decided to go out for the cross country team the summer before seventh grade. “ Hall recalled training throughout the summer before seventh grade on a loop behind her house. “Every time I’d try to run it faster,” she said. Then, Hall won her first race in a sprint finish. “After that I was hooked.”
Hall described making the decision to leave her school’s soccer team in ninth grade in order to focus on running. “I decided I had a gift in running that could really take me places. I put all my eggs in the running basket and I’m glad I did that,” she said.
Her hard work and talent paid off, quite literally, when she earned nearly a full ride to the prestigious Stanford University. She estimates the full cost would have been about $160,000 or $170,000.
“Running has given me some incredible opportunities,” she said. Hall met her husband, retired professional runner Ryan Hall, at Stanford — he was also on the team. Ryan Hall won the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 2008 and placed 10th in that year’s Olympics. He also holds the national record for the half marathon. The couple adopted four Ethiopian sisters last fall.
What Hall loves most about running is that “what you put into it, you get out of it.” She’s drawn to the idea that in running, “You don’t depend on other teammates or teammates to do well. It’s up to you.”
Hall took that notion to heart and focused on pushing her limits when she first dove into the sport as a teenager. “On the way home from practice I would do hill sprints,” she said. “It was something that made me come alive.”
Another perk of professional running is travel. Hall said her running career has given her the opportunity to run in 20 different countries and on nearly every continent.
One of her favorite races was the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico where she won the 3,000 meter steeplechase race in a time of 10:03.
While Hall has trained 125 mile weeks to prepare for marathons, she said the most difficult race to prepare for was the steeplechase — a two mile race over hurdles and a water pit. “I really liked the 3,000 distance so [in 2011] I decided to give it a shot.” Hall found the race particularly challenging since it required her to develop an entirely new skill — hurdling. “Running was more about enduring a lot of pain. Steeplechase was about learning a new skill,” she said.
When asked about her mile time, since the kids in the audience are training for their gym mile, Hall said, “I just ran a 5k on a track in 15:28. That’s about a 4:57 mile each mile for three miles.” She recalled her mile times back when she was in school, saying, “In seventh grade I ran 5:49 in the mile. In eighth grade, 5:26. In ninth grade, 4:49. With training you can really start to bring that down. Who knows what’s possible for you guys.” Hall’s personal best mile is 4:31.
In an effort to reassure the young men in the audience who might be lagging behind their female classmates, Hall said, “My husband was tiny when he was your age. I was actually faster than him. But in his sophomore year he grew and got a lot faster. Don’t worry. You can still be an Olympian.”
Hall’s advice to aspiring runners is “Get fitted in the right shoes!” She also suggested running in nature trails rather than on the sidewalks. “Trails and really beautiful places to run. That’s how I fell in love with running.”
She told the Gowana students not to get discouraged by how difficult it may be to begin running. “When you first start running, a lot of times it’s really hard. You just have to get over that hump. You get to the point where it’s not that hard anymore and you actually really enjoy running,” she said.
One student asked Hall what goes through her head while she’s running a marathon.
“I like to pray. I like to think of workouts I’ve done in the past that prepared me. ‘Relax and roll’ — that’s something that goes through my head over and over. I think of my kids watching me and wanting to make them proud.”