By: Tyler Lehmann
America’s fastest marathoner doesn’t have a coach. Unless you count God, that is.
Ryan Hall, who will run for the U.S. at the London Olympics on Aug. 12, uses a method called faith-based or spirit-led training.
“I’m trying to apply Biblical principles in my training,” Hall told USA Today. “I’m in a position now to rely on God for guidance and coaching, whereas I don’t think I could have done that earlier in my career.”
In 2010, Hall left his longtime coach Terrence Mahon. The split occurred when a training setback revealed Mahon’s doubts about Hall’s commitment to running. Hall had constant fatigue during his workouts, and it was discovered that he had an underactive thyroid.
“If my coach doesn’t believe in me, that’s a really huge problem,” Hall told USA Today.
Hall declared God to be his coach when filling out a standard drug testing form after finishing second in the 2011 USA Half Marathon Championship. When an official told him to list a real person, Hall’s response was, “He is a real person.”
“My faith is a huge part of my running, and I don’t try to hide that,” Hall told USA Today. “At the same time, I don’t throw it in people’s faces. I’m not pushing it on people, but if it’s the honest answer to a question, I’m going to share it.”
Called “experimental and unorthodox” by The New York Times, Hall’s approach to running draws largely from the Bible. He takes one day every week as a Sabbath from running. Every seven weeks, he runs only once a day instead of twice, an allusion to the admonition in Exodus 23:11 that farmers should leave their fields unplowed every seventh year. He also spaces his toughest workouts three days apart, signifying both the Trinity and the number of days Jesus spent buried in the tomb.
“It’s been the best thing that ever happened to him,” Hall’s wife Sara told USA Today. “He’s a different person. He’s much more at peace, really enjoying his running. In [our previous residence], running felt burdensome to him. He was exhausted all the time. Now, he doesn’t have a coach to encourage him, but he’s learned how to strengthen himself through the Lord. That’s been inspiring.”
Hall said that when he plans his training sessions he senses which course of action God wants him to take. According to Hall, this approach keeps his training and his life in sync.
“I was a runner who happened to be a Christian. I needed to become a Christian who happened to be a runner,” Hall told The New York Times.
Known to sing praises to Jesus during his workouts, Hall said he feels closest to God when running. He seeks to bring glory to God through his athletic achievements.
“Sometimes I don’t even like to think about how fast I run … because it just seems totally impossible, but it’s just a testimony to the amazing bodies that God has given us,” Hall told his home congregation at Bethel Church in Redding, Calif.
Seeking to further use his athletic success for God’s purposes, Hall founded with his wife The Hall Steps Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to fight global poverty. Hall donates prize money from his races to the foundation.
In the 2008 Olympic marathon, Hall was expected to medal, but he finished 10th. Even though he is America’s fastest marathoner, Hall has yet to win a major marathon. He set the American record last April in the Boston Marathon with his time of 2:04:58, though he finished behind three African runners.
However, Hall believes God has given him a specific race plan for London, which he has not described publicly.
“It’s going to take a special day,” Hall told The New York Times. “But I feel like I went for it, regardless of how the race goes. I’ll always look back on this as a season of joy. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s part of the fun of life, taking some chances and seeing what happens.”