Q&A: Ryan Hall

Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for ASICS

After making a name for himself as the fastest marathon runner in US history and setting an American record for the half marathon (59:43), Ryan Hall retired this year at the age of 33 after suffering from extreme fatigue and low testosterone. Not one to let things get on top of him, Ryan’s changed his focus to weightlifting and packed on almost three stone of muscle, as well as coaching his wife Sara Hall, also an elite runner, and taking care of their four adopted Ethiopian daughters. We caught up with his at the launch of Asics’ brand new shoe, the DynaFlyte.

What would you say the highlight of your running career was?

It’s always hard for me to choose one just because they’re all different. I feel like the day I was the fittest I’ve ever been in my life was when I broke the American record in the half marathon, 59 minutes. I don’t think I ever felt that good or felt that strong before that or after that. I kind of see it as the day where I really hit it.

Your training must be very different these days. What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

I do six days a week weight training and I run four or five days a week. I’m running more now since I’m running Beat the Sun (a team relay race around Mont Blanc on the longest day of the year, where runners aim to complete the course before sunset) so that’s kind of reawakened my love for running. To be honest, when I stopped I had zero desire to go for a run, and I didn’t have one day where I was lacing up my shoes and going for a run because I wanted to. I would run with Sara to keep her company, I would run with my kids, but never for me, you know? But when I started training for this race I started getting back into it and kind of re-finding my passion for running.

My emphasis is definitely on the weight training. It’s fun to kind of marry those two things (running and weight training) together because they fit pretty well, as long as you’re not doing an excessive amount of running as then you’re not going to make the strength gains that you want.

What would you eat back when you were in elite training compared to what you eat now?

My macros when I was training for running were probably more like 60-70% carbs, and then the rest evenly divided between protein and fat. Whereas now it’s much more protein-based, probably about 60% protein, 30% carbs, 10% fat, somewhere in that ballpark. My nutrition has changed quite a bit but I’m eating loads of high quality Alaska salmon and Muscle Milk protein powders all the time. Every three hours I try to take in 30-50 grams of protein. It’s a lot of protein, it’s like 300 grams a day!

What would your top strength training moves for runners be?

Squats. Make sure you’re doing it properly! I had to read an entire book about how to do a squat properly. Also, I got Asics lifting shoes, and those made a massive difference for me to be able to squat because it lifts your heels up a little bit, so it allowed me to get in a squat position whereas with normal shoes I can’t do that.

Lots of single leg exercises, because that’s what you do when you run - you’re hitting on one leg so it makes sense to do your strength training in the same manner, so step ups, lunges. Doing some toe raises is always a good idea, keep you from having Achilles problems and such. A lot of strengthening stuff is great for preventing injury, so definitely having that in your routine two to three days a week is pretty important. It doesn’t have to be long, you can get it done in 30 to 45 minutes.

Beat the Sun is a massive race. How are you mentally preparing for that?

I’m just excited. I’m getting more and more excited for this challenge. I’m even hoping that the weather’s going to be bad and the conditions are going to be tough just to make it harder! It’s nice to not have the performance element. I want to beat the sun and be a good teammate, but at the end of the day it’s just fun to relax on the performance end and enjoy the beautiful scenery, being part of a team and this whole experience we get to do together.

Will you be wearing your DynaFlytes?

It’s funny, I was asking my Asics rep about that and was like ‘I want to race in these, these are perfect for me,’ but he’s saying that for the terrain you need something with more grip. I’ll put on a pair of trail shoes but I will do my runs in these once I’ve finished Beat the Sun - I feel fast in them, they feel good.

What do you think about the current state of doping in athletics?

My perspective as an athlete is that I didn’t pay super close attention to it. The problem is if you start believing that everyone’s doing it, you’re setting yourself up with a massive disadvantage mentally. If you think the guy next to you is doping, you expect them to beat you because they’re on something. If you just expect everyone you’re racing against is clean then in your mind at least it’s a level playing field. It might not truly be that, but it’s better to believe it is.

It’s sad, you know? It’s robbery, is what it is. People are stealing amazing experiences that clean athletes should be having, whether that’s getting medals, the Olympic Games or prize money. I personally have lost a decent amount of money from people who were in front of me who we later found out were drug cheats. It’s literally robbery. It’s not right. It’s good that they’re cracking down on it and taking steps towards eliminating it.