“Ryan Hall is done.”
That’s what you would have heard had you tuned in to usatf.tv’s live coverage of the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday. Halfway through the race, Ryan Hall, once the golden boy of American distance running, decided to call it quits in what many were hoping would be his return to form.
Those watching as Hall stepped off the course in West Hollywood and tore off his bib number had to wonder if the race commentator’s words reflected a larger truth about the athletic career of a man who once clocked 2:04:58 in Boston, the fastest marathon by any American, ever. After dropping out of the marathon at the ’12 London Olympics, withdrawing from two major races the following year, and finishing a disappointing 20th in Boston in 2014, Hall has long been under attack in the vitriolic world of online running chat forums. But more often than not, those attacks come from a place of sorrow—mourning for what Hall could’ve or should’ve been to American distance running.
Hall’s potential was huge. In fact, no one would be talking about Hall right now if that former promise hadn’t been as great as it was, with performances like a 2:06:17 London Marathon finish at age 25, and a 59:43 in the Houston Half at age 24–which made him the first American to break one hour in the distance.
When Ryan Hall was at his best, he was in his mid-20s and running faster than any American had ever run. Since the prime age for most marathoners tends to fall in the late 20s-early 30s range, it was reasonable to assume that Hall would improve to a point where he could, on a good day, beat the best Kenyan or Ethiopian runner. Going into the L.A. Marathon, Hall was touted as a favorite for the win over Kenya's Lani Rutto and Simon Njoroge. Now it looks ever more unlikely that he will beat his African competitors, and we’re having a hard time accepting it.
“The truth of the matter is you can only have your best day ever once in your life, you know what I mean?” Hall told the New Yorker before his race on Sunday. Running fans don’t want to believe that day has already passed. That’s why Hall’s DNF in Los Angeles feels especially painful.
Hall certainly started the L.A. Marathon as though he had something to prove. Taking the lead from the gun, Hall ran his first mile in 4:42, on a day when unusually high temperatures were expected to force top competitors to take a more conservative approach. When Ryan Hall charged out at near world record pace, a few optimistic souls may have thought that they were about to see something incredible. (Held throughout the race, a 4:42 pace would net a 2:03:14 finishing time.)
Around mile five, the lead pack of Africans ditched him, including eventual winner, Kenyan Daniel Limo. After toiling along at a substantially reduced clip, Hall eventually was passed by a three American runners who were competing in the USATF National Marathon Championships—a title which would have been small potatoes for the Ryan Hall of four years ago. The Ryan Hall of last Sunday, however, quit the race just before catching up to the lead pack of elite women (who had started ten minutes before the men) which included his wife Sara Hall, competing in her first marathon.
“He didn’t want to depress his wife by letting her see him,” the USATF announcer speculated after Hall dropped out.
“Unfortunately for Ryan some crucial ingredient is still missing.”