Brett Bonisteel of Runner’s Feed had the pleasure of going one on one with recent U.S. Cross Country Champ and 3rd place finisher (3,000m) at this past weekend’s U.S.A Indoor Championships. Sara is a true ambassador to the sport and is always willing to share her opinions on a wide range of topics. In this Q&A, Sara discusses her recent U.S. championship, what defines success and a possible future in coaching.
Runner’s Feed: How did the race play out in St. Louis @ U.S. Cross Country Championships?
Sara Hall: It played out similar to how I expected – I knew between Renee and Molly, someone would want the pace to go hard. I was surprised by how hard the pace felt and I think not having run cross country in a while, the first lap was definitely uncomfortable to me. But, as each lap went by, I found my rhythm on the course and I think my body remembered how to run on mud and grassy hills! By the last lap I was feeling great and chomping at the bit. My coach and I had talked about making a move somewhere in the last loop, and I decided to surge over the final hills somewhere around 1k to go. Molly passed me back soon after that and I decided to wait until the finishing stretch, which was 400 meters long. I went really hard at that point- a little too hard- and opened up a slight gap, but I didn’t anticipate how muddy that stretch would be and soon found myself “rigging” pretty bad as I fought to keep up my cadence. I could tell from the crowd that Molly was right there, and as she came up on me and passed me, I just kept fighting through the line and got a final desperate burst in the last 5 meters. I ended up essentially diving over the line and we didn’t know who had won for about 10 minutes!
RF: How were you feeling prior to the race?
SH: I was feeling great going into the race. I had just come off a surprisingly fast 3k in Boston, and I knew that I was in better shape for XC than a 3k at that point in the season. I was excited to see what my body could handle as well as test myself over a longer race. My tempos and strength work was by far the best of my life thus far during the winter, I think largely because we were at sea level the whole time and I was recovering really well off of a great deal of volume. I love cross country and have missed not having it as a part of my career, so I went into the race excited just to run a XC race again!
RF: What were your expectations going in?
SH: I knew I wasn’t the favorite going in, but definitely was expecting a win out of myself or at least to be in contention. I really haven’t run on varying terrain like that in quite a while, so that was a bit of an unknown for me going in. I didn’t know if I still had strong stabilizing muscles over such a long distance in mud, etc. Sometimes those can fatigue before you are centrally fatigued. And I have only done a handful of races in my life over 5k, so that was a bit of an unknown too. I was just looking forward to doing what I always do- running my hardest and enjoying the gift that God has given me and worshipping Him as I run. I thought of a quote right before the race, “In the joy of going all out, I forgot my pain” and I felt like that really came to
pass in the race.
RF: Comment on the course and having St. Louis as the host:
SH: Ben did an incredible job and it was great to see the support of the local running community. It seems like a great place to be a runner! Forest park is an absolute gem and I enjoyed exploring it on my long run the next day!
RF: Many elite athletes base their success on results alone. It seems
like you try and have a more open mind to what success really is. To you, is
it all about results or can one achieve success without claiming victories and
SH: I think that seeing an Olympic gold medal as the only definition of
success is a very narrow view of success that leaves only one person
successful in a 4 year period- I don’t think that is setting yourself
up for success! I am shooting for medals in major championships, but
more than anything, I view success as being the best “me” I can be. I
can’t really control how much natural talent I’ve been given compared
to my competitors or the potential of drug-cheats competing against
me. What I can control is maximizing my training and also the
platform I’ve been given through running to positively influence
others- that to me is success!
RF: 2011 saw Kenyan’s dominate nearly every major marathon and a
handful of elite road/track races. I want to use a quote from Canadian elite marathoner Reid Coolsaet that I would like you to comment on.
“The way Speed River and the Kenyans train is actually very similar. In
general, North Americans and Europeans are concerned about things Kenyans
don’t think twice about, such as heart rate and blood lactate levels.” –Reid Coolsaet
Suggested Read: Reid Coolsaet on Training and Living in Kenya
RF: Do you feel North American and European athletes devote too much
attention to factors like blood lactate levels as opposed to simply
listening to their bodies, racing for the love of the sport and having an
open mind to what success can be?
SH: I think there is value in using science to serve you, but I do
think that North Americans can become too into fads in training and
can sometimes become a slave to the numbers. I personally don’t
collect a lot of scientific data along the way- I train by feel, and
constantly try to get more in touch with my body and understanding it.
I’ve learned a lot about myself as an athlete over the last 10 years
and my coach understands me as a person and a runner, and I think we
rely more on that info than my heart rate.
RF: Does a less strictly regimented attitude towards training and racing (obsessing over statistics, splits etc.) actually create an advantage for those who can reduce their anxiety prior to workouts and races because they don’t follow strict quantifiable standards?
SH: I guess so. I think if you view your training more as an art than a
science, it “leaves room for artistry” as my coach often says. If you
feel good, you can do extra, if you’re not feeling good, you can
adapt without feeling like you’ve messed up some formula or missed a
key milestone on the way to a goal.
RF: What’s up next for the Hall Steps Foundation?
SH: Currently we have a great team of runners raising funds at the Boston
Marathon, as well as people all over the country representing steps as
“Global Ambassadors” in various races. We have funded a hospital in
the Rift Valley of Kenya that is now operational, and we are going to
continue to support it towards its completion. Wesley Korir was just
over there checking it out and came back with great news that it
passed its inspections and is functioning well – which is exciting!
We launched a new website and online store, which has been great to
get people all over the world wearing the Footprint in their training
and races. Stay tuned for our Special Edition Olympic gear!
RF: Is coaching something yourself or Ryan will be interested in pursuing
after your professional racing careers end?
SH: We’ve definitely thought about it. We’ve even thought about starting
a team of people that are on a journey together both spiritually and
training at a high level. Right now our life is so crazy logistically
with alternating between two different states every few weeks, doing
the School of Ministry in Redding, and running Steps Foundation that
we can’t imagine having any more responsibility but we will see where
God leads us!
RF: Ideally what event would you most like to compete in following an Olympic
qualification in Eugene?
SH: I’m not sure at this point, since outdoor hasn’t started yet.
Based on my training, I think I’ll run quite a bit faster in the 5k
than I have in years past, which should result in the A-standard. But
I also love the 1500 and Steeple too, so I’ll really just feel out
where God is leading me as the year progresses. I’m definitely
planning to run some steeples and continue to pursue that event.
RF: Is there a good chance Redding, California is going to remain your home
for the foreseeable future?
SH: We love Redding and see it being a “home base” for us for the rest
of our lives. We have been pretty nomadic thus far since college, but
really feel a sense of home there and love the church community. I
think we will probably still train a good amount in Flagstaff, AZ for
altitude, and probably some other places like the bay area, where my
coach lives. We are open to wherever God sends us!
RF: What’s it like working with your former Stanford coach (Dena Evans) while living in
SH: It’s working really well. Last year was a good transition for us,
because though we spent time in Palo Alto at various points where she
lives, we were also in Flagstaff a good deal of the year so we learned good communication. Dena has been great with making herself
available by phone and since we’ve known each other so long she can
get a lot of info just from knowing me when I relay it. It’s not
ideal, but we are definitely making it work and I am thankful to have
her in my life.
Sara Hall will find out soon if she secured a spot to represent the US at the 2012 World Indoor Track & Field Championships. She will also be vying for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team come this June at the Olympic Trials from Eugene, Oregon. She is married to U.S. Elite marathoner Ryan Hall – together they created the ‘Hall Steps Foundation’.