The Mature Runner
By David Summerfield
I haven’t been involved or even interested in the elite USA running scene for a long time now. This does give me some guilt. Writing articles for a running club should deal with current running events, and so here’s my foray into what’s going on in the American running scene today.
I scoured all the various publications that I haven’t paid any attention to for so many years. Yes, I’m a “has-been” runner, but I can still get totally inspired by a good story! I was so happy to discover the Ryan and Sara Hall story. I do remember the emergence of Ryan Hall in the early 2000’s. Ryan and Sara were running at Stanford, got married in 2005, and these intervening 17 years is a story of incredible steadfastness, determination and one-point focus. For those who don’t know them, their story unfolds as follows.
I’ll start with their athletic achievements, but frankly, those are the least of what they’ve done. The more I look into what they’ve accomplished, the more unreal it seems. Athletic prowess, yes, but behind it all are two lives who are really committed to helping humanity in every way possible. So, here’s what many of you probably already know (I had forgotten). Ryan trained hard, often too hard, and kept getting injured. He did end up running the fastest American marathon (coming in 4th in the Boston Marathon) in 2:04:58, and then the American Record in the 1⁄2 marathon in 59:43. Of note is that Sara established the women’s American Record in the 1⁄2 marathon herself in 1:07:15, just a few days ago (Jan. 16, 2022). Those two records were 15 years apart. But, the story has just started. Both Ryan and Sara are obviously devoted Christians, and I took this off their internet site.
Said Ryan, “God was telling me that He gave me a gift to run with the best guys in the world, but He gave me that gift so that I could help other people … I started seeing myself how God sees me, and that was a really, really powerful shift for me.”
And from Sara, here’s what came out in an interview, “Although she might not be outwardly vocal about her faith, she’s never been shy or felt the need to hide her convictions. ‘You have to have a sense about what you’re being called to do,’ Sara says. ‘I never really envisioned doing this career for more than a few years; it wasn’t necessarily my dream. I would have been fine stepping away from the track in 2009 when I was dealing with a lot of injuries. I attribute it to God speaking to me and letting me know that there was more ahead. I always sensed something in my training and in my racing that there was more ahead.’”
Ryan and Sara put all this into practice by adopting four sisters from Ethiopia (Hana, Mia, Jasmine and Lily) They had often traveled to Ethiopia to train, so … they did what was most important to them!
In doing more research, I found out that Ryan (after officially ending his professional running career) decided to join a hearty group of runners to do the 3rd Annual World Marathon Challenge, who ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. Now that sounds like an adventure! He averaged a 3:39 marathon. Not bad. But the best was he realized he could finally stop training so hard (and get healthy), and I really love what he came up with next: he started weightlifting, and ended up gaining weight (from 127 pounds – to 165 pounds). Now, that’s something that will nag me for a while!! I think I have a natural running weight too … but how “healthy” is that? If I’m no longer trying to win races, why not really get strong, and forget a faded ideal of the “perfect weight” … Oh no, me, a weightlifter? Maybe that’s the next best thing for now 🙂
Here are a few thoughts about their STEPS Foundation. Ryan and Sara have worked on behalf of millions of women and children living in extreme poverty in Ethiopia through their foundation, the development organization they established in 2009. “In a country of over 4 million orphans, Ethiopia is in great need of sustainable orphan care. One of our most recent grantees, Kingdom Vision International, needs your help in their work in orphan care and education of some of the poorest children. KVI has placed over 1000 orphaned children into loving homes and has been a forerunner in starting domestic foster care and adoption in Ethiopia (the first to place a child into foster care) and successfully deinsitutionalized six orphanages with all the kids being taken in domestically. Its founder continues to do weekly foster care trainings all over Ethiopia and is working on a program for respite care. These services are not funded by the government and depend on donors. KVI continues to house older kids in group homes and special needs children and other children who are unable to be adopted. Recently they became very close to being unable to pay rent for their children’s home because of the hold on international adoptions that provides funding to orphanages.” Here they are “at work” in Ethiopia! I hope this story of the Halls has shown what can happen with elite runners who realize there’s so much more than just running fast! Happy February!