It’s dark when Ryan Hall lines up at the start of the Houston Half Marathon on January 14, 2007, at 7 a.m. It’s his first attempt at racing 13.1 miles. He doesn’t quite know what to expect, but he can tell it’s going to be a special day. His legs have been feeling so good that he had trouble sleeping the previous night.
On the top of his hand, he’s written 4:42 and 4:37 in black ink. If he averages 4:42 pace, he’ll likely win the race. If he averages 4:37 pace, he’ll break the American record. The gun goes off and his legs begin spinning. He averages 4:33 pace for the first five miles, faster than he's ever run before, but he goes with it: it doesn’t feel any harder than his training runs. Hall’s parents and wife watch silently from the lead vehicle. They can’t cheer or they’ll interfere with the race.
Around mile nine, Hall’s stomach feels unsettled. He worries about cramping, so he prays. His stomach settles down by mile 10, and he crosses the finish line at 59:43, a new American record, and the crowd goes wild. He’s crushed Mark Curp’s 22-year-old American record by more than a minute. His family screams and runs out of the pace car and over to hug him.
“There was just pure joy coming out of me,” Hall says. “I was so excited.”
Fast forward to 2012. The half marathon is the fastest growing road race in the United States, with almost 1.4 million finishers in 2010 and more than 30 new half-marathons popping up every year, according to Running USA. You don’t have to run 4:30 miles to feel the euphoria Hall experienced, but learning from the American record holder will help you achieve own personal best. In the following pages, you’ll find a nutritional guide, training plans, and tips from Hall, Curp, and coach Matt Ebersole.
“The half marathon hits the sweet spot between being manageable and being a challenge,” says Ebersole, owner of Indianapolis-based coaching company Personal Best Training. “And when distance is no longer a challenge, time can become the challenge.”