This past February, pro middle-distance runner Sara Hall contended for a spot on the U.S. Olympic marathon team. This was Halls third attempt at 26.2 miles in less than a year, but unfortunately the opportunity fell short. Her first shot at qualifying for Rio 2016 was in March of last year, running in the Los Angeles Marathon. Hall finished the race with a disapointing time of 2:48:02, but two weeks later she made it in the top 20 at the world cross-country championships. Then this past October, Hall ran the 2015 Chicago Marathon, just days after she adopted four daughters from Ethiopia. The new shift in life didnt seem to impede her training because she had finished the Chicago marathon in 10th place. Moving forward from the past races, Hall continues to strive for the best and is refocused on running a few more races this summer for another chance at Rio. As for the new change in life of becoming a mom to four beautiful girls, Hall is loving every minute of it. She says her girls have made it easy for her to continue to run, and they too may be runners one day. Our online editor, Courtneye Anaya, chatted with Hall to find out what keeps her going and how she balances everything from being a new mom to eating right for the sport. With all that said, Hall is simply inspirational.
Courtney: How are you bouncing back from missing a qualifying spot at the trials?
Sara Hall: It was a big disappointment not to achieve that goal that I had really believed would happen. I let myself be disappointed for a few days, fortunately my kids provided a lot of joy and love to my life during this time (and going to Disneyland with them didn’t hurt) .Now I emotionally feel I can turn the corner and get ready to pour my heart into new goals.
CA: What’s next for you?
SH: I’ve refocused now on new races, the World half marathon championships in England in 5 weeks, and the Olympic Track Trials in July where I will get another shot at the team to Rio.
CA: What or who is your daily motivation?
SH: I absolutely love the process of challenging myself every day, seeing improvement, and I love to compete. So even when the end result doesn’t work out, I know it isn’t all lost because I loved the journey getting there. God has given me talent and a passion for this sport, and I feel like my running is a spiritual act. I love to pray and worship God as I run.
CA: How do you maintain your mental toughness during races, especially when one seems to be more challenging?
SH: For me the training is almost always more difficult than the races, because you don’t have the endorphins and the crowd spurring you on. So I build mental toughness in practice and visual my upcoming races when it gets hard. A lot of times it’s learning to salvage a workout that is going poorly and turn it around rather than quitting, that builds resilience in you.
CA: What’s your favorite part about running?
SH: I love being in nature, exploring new trails, and the post- run endorphins. But I especially like my hard workout days when I get to push myself and see what I can achieve. I love tangible improvement so I’m always trying to run faster than I did last week.
CA: You recently adopted four children from Ethiopia, how do you balance being a new mom, training, and everything else?
SH: I don’t think there’s any question that parenting is a sacrifice in some ways. But fortunately our girls have made it really easy for me to continue to do what I love, which I’m really thankful for, because they’ve adjusted super well to life here. They’re all in school, which is helpful, and they’re all emotionally doing really well and so I think it’s less stressful for us. There’s definitely still times where I come back from long training and I’m tired and I want to just crash out on the couch ,but they’ve been waiting for me to come home and they want to play. Or my oldest ones really need to talk through something, and so you have to choose to be selfless in those times. Which, as a professional athlete, it’s hard to be selfless. You have to be thinking about your body and what you need, so it is a balance, but fortunately I’ve gotten in the best training of my whole career since being a mom, so it’s not slowing me down too much.
CA: Do you think your children will get into running?
SH: I think so! It’s natural for them to want to do what you are doing. We don’t push them to do it but anytime they ask we make sure to take them running and make it a fun experience.
CA: Do you and your husband train together?
SH: We do, less of it is actually running now that he is taking a step back from competing, but we still run about 20 miles a week together and the rest he is on the bike accompanying me in workouts.
CA: In regards to training, what does your nutrition plan entail? Do you practice carb loading before a huge race?
SH: I stick to a pretty strict nutrition plan, and I make sure it’s the same when prepping for a race. I like to have what I have in training and will make Muscle Milk pancakes pretty much every day. I’ll actually bring a burner to a hotel and make them in the hotel room. If for some reason I don’t have the burner with me, then I’ll use a shake, and that’s a good option for people with sensitive stomachs because it’s liquid and will digest a lot easier than a pancake. For my protein shakes, I’ll use Muscle Milk Naturals powder with some maltodextrin based carbohydrate, and the one I’m using right now is called Cytocarb. And then just shake that up and maybe have a couple almonds with it, just for some healthy fat. I try to get carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fat in every meal, but especially a pre-race meal. After a workout I start with rehydrating and getting protein as soon as possible and typically use Monster Milk Amino. That provides branch-chain amino acids which go to straight to repairing the muscles you were just breaking down and help from further muscle loss. I always eat something really high glycemic carbohydrate – this is actually the best time to eat sugar. I have a big sweet tooth so I like to bring whatever treat I’ve been craving.
CA: In regards to race preparation, do you practice weight training when working out? Can you give an example workout?
SH: I do a very individualized schedule designed by my long time massage therapist/ chiropractor aimed at helping strengthen weak areas to maximize power and form. I do some Olympic squatting and lifts, but also theraband walks, planks for core strength, even neck exercises. Weight training is my least favorite part of training as I rarely feel I have energy to spare, so it really takes discipline to do it well.
CA: How do you keep your energy alive during a race?
SH: Pacing yourself in a race is a skill that takes practice, and one that you never stop learning especially as you take on new distance races. I like to think of myself as an airplane taking off, building momentum and increasing in speed as the races goes on. I also remind myself later in the race when I feel tired that “the well is deep”, there is always another gear available even if your mind is telling you to slow down.