Today, I watched Ryan Hall go out at a 2:03 pace for the Boston Marathon. Before Heartbreak Hill, he was passed by two stronger men on the day, Deriba Merga of Ethiopia and Kenya’s Daniel Rono. Hall finished third in 2:09, a minute off the winning time.
Part of me was disappointed because when he ripped off that first mile in Hopkinton, I thought for sure Hall knew he had a level of fitness that couldn’t be touched. That somehow, in the months between Beijing and April 20th, 2009, he’d found some magic formula to take his running to an unimaginable height. Watching the blur of his legs in those first miles, it wasn’t hard to believe that he was the class of the field. But it wasn’t meant to be, we’ll have to wait another year for an American to try and win the granddaddy of all marathons.
And that’s okay, because Hall’s performance (not to mention Merga’s and Rono’s) was about as good as it gets in terms of inspiration. Sure, the women’s race was more exciting at the finish but it was a very conservative race. A forty-five year old woman, Colleen De Reuck led it for the vast majority. No offense to Ms. De Reuck but that’s ridiculous. As she said herself afterwards, she was “embarrassed” by the pace.
Not so with the men. Just try and imagine what they were doing, they ran three of the first five miles in 4:32, 4:40 and 4:49. That’s exciting, that’s a bunch of guys that are willing to do some serious damage to their bodies and their psyches. “Okay, I just ran a 4:32 and now I’ve only got 25 miles to go.”
Hall’s a big God squadder, his running is closely tied to his spiritual life and he frequently talks about attempting to run himself into new states of being. What else could he have been trying to do with that early strategy? Going out that fast with those hills still to come.
Two years ago, I ran Boston. Before the race, I asked my coach at the time if I should shoot for a negative split (run the back half faster than the first). He said “no, if you’re gonna do something really special, you’ve got to go from the start.” Well, I busted out at a sub 2:50 pace and blew up by mile 20 coming home in 3:07. It was my slowest road marathon to date. And though, I’ve questioned the strategy many times in my mind, I’ve never questioned the experience of it. I was in so much pain, I wanted to quit so badly and yet I didn’t.
That 3:07 taught me a great deal about who I was, what I could put up with and what my limitations were. By going hard from the gun, I had a chance to do something great (for me) and I went down in flames. But it gave me a new sense of my being and I have to say that it was worth it.
To Ryan Hall, Deriba Merga, Daniel Rono and everyone else that ran that beast as hard as they could from the gun to the finish, thank you and congratulations. I hope you’re all enjoying a new sense of your own being.