The Faith of Olympic Runner Ryan Hall

This is not exactly how I envisioned it

September 2nd, 2008

I thought to myself as I descended down the cement path into the quiet of the tunnel that would lead me into the Birds Nest. I had never been into the Olympic Stadium before but I had run through this tunnel thousands of times in my minds eye during training. For the past decade, whenever I ran through a tunnel I would always picture myself running into the Olympic Stadium, of course, in my dream world I was always winning the marathon, not struggling n 10th place. Nevertheless, as I made my way into the stadium I decided I would enjoy the moment. My eyes circled around the stadium in amazement. This is what I pictured heaven to be like.

Coming down the homestretch I saw a sea of red shirts that made up a group of 15 or so of my family members wearing the Hall Believe t-shirts. I waved to them as a sign of appreciation for all they had supported me through. It was comforting to see my family. It had been a difficult two hours and twelve minutes of running and this final stage of my Olympic marathon would be somewhat of a consolation. As it turned out it was one of the most memorable moments of my life.

My watch read 3:13 am when I first opened my eyes on August 24th. I had set my alarm for 4:30 am to be ready in time for the 7:30 am start but this was the day I had been waiting for my whole life and I was glad to have the night passed over and the day at hand. About half an hour after I woke up I heard a loud booming noise outside. I looked out the window and saw the most freakish lightening storm I had ever seen.

In hindsight I speculate that the Chinese may have seeded the sky because it was a super intense storm with lightening flashing brightly across the dawn sky for about ten minutes then there was torrential rain for two minutes and then it just seemed to vanish out of no where. It seems too random that there would be a freak thunderstorm just three hours before the start of the Olympic marathon. Regardless, I was glad for the clear skies and somewhat cooler temperatures.

We headed out to Tieneman Square on a bus at 5:30 am. The atmosphere was buzzing. I jogged for seven minutes with Dathan and Brian. The mood was lighthearted as we circled around on the cobblestones near the starting line. The temperature was slowly starting to rise so we slapped on our ice vests in an attempt to keep our core temperature low.

Finally I was here. After years of struggle and wanting to throw in the towel I had made it to the start of the Olympic marathon. I took a minute to remember all the American guys back at home that hoped to be on the starting line. I wanted to do my best to represent them well. I fell to one knee and prayed, “Lord, I will do my very best for you no matter what happens out there.” A few minutes later the gun fired.

From the very first hundred meters Samuel Wanjiru, of Kenya, made it clear that he was feeling good. He sprinted straight to the front and asserted a fast pace. During those opening kilometers I was forced to make a tough decision: either go with the leaders and hope that I wasn’t committing suicide or try and win by out smarting the lead pack knowing that they had gone out too hard and wait for them to slow in the later stages.

I knew that above all I had to listen to my body, the pace felt fast and my breathing felt heavy, and when I finally saw the first 5k split (I never saw a mile or kilometer split before 5k) of just over 15 minutes I knew that I couldn’t go out any harder than I was running. I also knew that if I kept running three minutes per kilometer I would win the race, however, much to my surprise three minutes per kilometer would have only earned me the silver medal.

I figured the best plan was to run similarly to how I raced the World Road Running Championships in 2006 when I went out way slower than the leaders and worked my way up to a top ten finish. I saw my coach at 10k and he affirmed that the leaders went out too hard. He was right, the leaders did go out at a pace that they couldn’t hold to the finish, but unfortunately for me, even before I hit the half way point I felt my legs tiring and tightening. I just wasn’t as fluid or strong as I had been in previous marathons.

By 30k I pretty much knew, by the sight of the helicopter in the distance following the leaders that I was slowing down more than the leaders. There would be no medals for me this time around. I set my mind on the only thing I could still accomplish in the race: giving 100% of all that I had on the day. I may not have my “A” game but I was determined to give all of whatever game I brought on the day.

In hindsight I wish that I had gone out with the leaders and just hung as long as possible. I think the way I ran was smarter and probably did yield a higher finish than if I had gone out two minutes harder for the opening half, but part of me also wonders if I would have been more excited being with the leaders and been able to rally with some supernatural strength and pull off a medal.

Although, if I would have blown up I know I would have been telling myself that if I would have just went out slower I could have held the pace all the way to the line. In the end, I wasn’t physically on top of my game. I had put in a lot of hard work but for whatever reason my training hadn’t been nearly as quality as in my previous marathons. I was running my tempo runs 10-15 seconds slower than my typical. As an athlete this can be hard to swallow. When the big day arrives I want to have my very best, so naturally it is disappointing to only have my B, or C, game.

After the race the disappointment was setting in, especially when I saw how fast Sammy ran. I couldn’t believe that 2:06 was possible in those conditions. He clearly owned the day. It was also disappointing because I knew I had run with those guys before and had been able to hang till late, yet today I was six minutes back and six minutes back from my personal best.

It is going to take some time to figure out why my preparations weren’t as good as typical. Was it the pressure and anticipation of my first Olympics? Was it living apart from Sara? Am I just not as good as others in the heat and humidity? Was I trying too hard in practice or not trying hard enough? Did I not take enough time off after London? Should I have run London? The hard part about running is there are so many variables that come into play. Trying to identify the ones that really impacted your performance on the day can make your head spin.

A little less than twelve hours after I ran into the Olympic stadium I hobbled back in to take part in the closing ceremonies. I stood just feet away from the three marathon medalist as they were presented their medals to kick off the closing ceremonies. At first I was bitter, I had worked so hard, sacrificed so much, and wanted so badly to be up there, but by the time the Kenyan national anthem had finished its last note my bitterness had melted into inspiration. I could see myself up on that podium. I know that it is possible with God, but even if it is not God’s will for my life I will still praise Him and make the most of the gifts He has given me. What the Olympics has taught me is that I need to live a life surrendered to the will of God. It is my prayer that I will be able to have the same heart as Christ before He was nailed to the cross, “not my will, but Your will be done.”

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