Readers, I have spent the last few days thinking about Ryan Hall. Like, more than usual.
As you probably know by now, Hall announced Friday that he is retiring from professional running at age 33. As this news spread, the internet lit up with comments, opinions, and fond tributes to the man and his stellar career—Hall is the American record holder for the half-marathon (59:43 at the 2007 Houston Half-Marathon) and the fastest American marathoner ever, thanks to his 2:04:58 at the 2011 Boston Marathon.
My own reaction was, Oh, wow. Bummer.
I wasn't surprised, exactly. You don't have to follow elite running obsessively to know that Hall has been plagued by stubborn injuries and health problems these past few years. After dropping out of the 2012 Olympic Marathon in London, he racked up a series of DNF's and DNS's.
Still. It was sad news.
Rather than dwell on the sadness, though, I chose to remember the greatness. There were those stunning times in Houston in 2007 and Boston in 2011, for starters. There was Hall's 2:08:24 at the 2007 London Marathon—his first ever 26.2, and an American record for a debut marathon. Mostly I remember his win in November 2007 at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in New York's Central Park. I was there, and I got goosebumps watching him sail those final few hundred meters to a first-place finish, his entire body telegraphing triumph and joy. I am not a religious person, but it was... religious.
It wasn't until I read this piece in The New York Times, however, that I fully—and finally—understood what, for me, was the essence of Ryan Hall's appeal, the quality in him that I so admired but could never articulate.
Specifically, it was after I read this passage, which immediately follows two paragraphs describing Hall's "extreme approach" to training:
"I remember Wesley Korir telling me after [the 2011 Boston Marathon] that the Kenyans were afraid of me, and I thought that was ironic; I’d never heard of a Kenyan being afraid of a white person before in the race," Hall said. "I think it showed the level of respect they have for me. I love that it ruffles feathers with them ..."
And my immediate first thought was: The Kenyans, afraid of Ryan Hall. Because he's loco.
That's it, I thought. That's what I love about Ryan Hall—he is the Martin Riggs of professional running.
Martin Riggs, of course, is the lead character in the Lethal Weapon movie franchise, played by a wild-eyed Mel Gibson.
Martin Riggs is a little crazy. (In a good way!) He's a loose cannon. Unpredictable. Unorthodox. Fearless. Plays by his own rules.
He's also a smoker with a death wish, but, hey—apart from that, Martin Riggs is Ryan Hall. (I assume that Ryan can also wriggle free from a straitjacket by popping his shoulder out of its socket.)
Think about it: If Martin Riggs were a professional marathon runner instead of an L.A.P.D. homicide detective, how would he train? Like a madman, that's how. Possibly by doing, as The New York Times reports, "three weekly workouts at world-record marathon speed — a 4:42 pace per mile — pushing each session for as long as he could."
Would Martin Riggs, elite marathoner, choose a coach and stick with him for 5, 10, 20 years? Or would he bounce around from coach to coach, occasionally going solo—like a lone wolf!—to coach himself, like a certain recently retired American marathoner we could mention?
Would Riggs the marathoner play it safe during a race, sitting back in the pack, waiting and watching and biding his time? Or would he go balls-out from the gun, leading the race, the way Hall did at Boston 2011?
I think we both know the answer to that.
It's true that while Hall was professional running's "Lethal Weapon," he remained humble, kind, and gracious to everyone around him, all without carrying a gun. That's all a bit out of character, but we'll let it slide.
There are too few Martin Riggses in the world of elite running these days, and too many Roger Murtaughs—conservative, careful guys who do what they need to do until some day they decide they're "too old for this shit" and they hang it up.
Here's to you, Ryan Hall. Thanks for doing what you did, and for having the guts to do it your way. Best wishes to you and your family in your next adventure.
And please—take care of that shoulder.