A chance to compete in the Olympic Marathon is one of the highest honors an elite runner can add to their resume. Out of the 105 men that lined up in London on Sunday for the Olympic Marathon, Ryan Hall had a chance to medal after finishing 10th in Beijing in 2008. As the fastest American marathoner with 2:04:58 at Boston and having previously run the London Marathon at 2:06:17 he had what was needed.
Unfortunately, just after mile 11, Ryan Hall had a race outcome that he had never attained before in his life; he did not finish (DNF). Previously, he had never finished worse than 10th in any Marathon he has run. For the miles leading up to the point he dropped out his hamstring muscle began flaring up in a way that had not occurred during his training. He tried to continue in the heat of the day but his hamstring muscle got progressively tighter the more he ran. Soon he had to make a painful decision: finish the Olympic race and risk serious injury or walk away.
Ryan Hall hit this point by saying,
“As marathoners you train so hard, you’re pushing the body so hard these things come up.”
Lesson 1: Things happen. The marathon is one of the great equalizers in running. No matter your ability it is entirely possible that on any given day you might just have a bad race. It just wasn’t your day. You can experience this in training as much as you can on race day itself. This also applies to other distances as well.
You could have trained well and be fully on track to PR in your next 5K yet on race day something goes wrong. A muscle spasms, you arrive to the start late and have to weave through slower runners adding time and distance to your run, it’s a 90° day, it is below freezing with ice pellets hitting your face causing your to go numb and your lungs to sting with every breath. You can’t control everything that will affect your performance so don’t beat yourself up over things. Know you gave your best effort.
But the biggest point that was made by Hall sums up one of the best lessons of this race. Hall stated,
“It’s really disappointing, but I’m trying to keep the overall big-picture perspective, I’m just trying not to do anything stupid out there, trying not to damage my body.”
Lesson 2: One race, one training run, one day – no matter how big the stage – is not worth a career ending injury. This is the key to being a great runner. Live to run another day. At age 29, Ryan Hall knew that despite this particular opportunity coming only once every 4 years, having to qualify for it and train for months and months he would rather have the opportunity again to come back than to risk never seriously competing in distance running again at this level.
Ryan exhibited this same trait in 2010 when he dropped out of the Chicago Marathon weeks before the race, to the disappointment of many. He knew he wasn’t in top shape with nagging injuries, so get healthy and race another day.
The final lesson of the 2012 Olympic Marathon comes from the winner himself, Stephen Kiprotich. With his finishing time of 2:08:01 he certainly was not the fastest runner in the world or a likely winner at most big city marathons. But he was the fastest this day.
“At the start, I didn’t believe I could win the race,” Kiprotich said.
Lesson 3: You just might surprise yourself. As much as misfortune can strike you in running, the opposite is also true. The stars align, you have ideal conditions, you fuel off the crowd, you never hit the wall, you are light on your feet and fly to a new PR. Days like this also happen, and is part of the reason you run the race.
It’s why Ryan Hall dropped out at mile 11 when he knew he was on the verge of serious injury, there will be another day and another race.
Try to keep these perspectives in both your training and running. Celebrate successes, and let go of the things that are beyond your control. And if you end up falling short of your goal know there is another race to try again. Be thankful that you are healthy enough to have been out there and accomplished what you did.
Well done Ryan.