Ryan Hall’s foray into writing is an interesting mesh of training diary and personal mission statement. Running with Joy tracks Hall’s progress as he prepares for the 2010 Boston Marathon. In my mind the writing of this diary and the introspection shown by the author appear to join seamlessly with Hall’s decision to self coach and leave his established training group. It’s as if Ryan Hall was figuring it out as he thought his way through the writing process, the realizations were tumbling out; perhaps not fully formed as personal philosophies, but you can see the genesis of the thinking that has delivered recent good results for Ryan Hall the runner and more importantly a happier person. This is where any runner should find something of value to shape a healthier perspective on your relationship with the sport of running.
Ryan Hall may inextricably link his relationship with running to his relationship with God, but that doesn’t mean non-believers should cast aside this book as the rantings of religious fanatic. Personally I’m an atheist, and when I read of Hall’s struggles I see a man coming to terms with and accepting himself – cutting himself some slack if you like, which for type A driven, obsessive compulsive runner types (as many of us seem to be) is a good thing to do. The book provided me some challenging moments, but if you do as I did and relate to Ryan Hall the human, you’ll be rewarded by one of the more honest and informative accounts of the highs and lows of elite running.
Finding a happy place of balance between the obsessive dedication required to succeed in the unforgiving world of elite athletics is no easy feat. But if you think about it plenty of regular runners place themselves under similar pressures. You’ll find as I did much in common with Hall’s battles with his own expectations and even the challenges of training with an organized group where competition between members can be as destructive as it is constructive. In recent months little snippets of information have trickled into the mainstream running websites concerning Ryan Hall’s self coaching approach. His initial decision to make his own way was greeted with something approaching hysteria, personally I found the reasons logical and you’d have to say that on balance he’s made the right call. Running 2.04 at the Boston marathon may have been wind-assisted, but it remains stunningly fast running no matter how you look at it.
As you read Running With Joy you will probably find yourself confronted with your own running daemons and you’ll find they’re one and the same as Hall’s. You just need to magnify them a little to understand the pressure facing runners like Ryan Hall and the massive expectations of a demanding and often critical American public and you wonder how he keeps it together. It makes his decision to self coach, reduce his workload and run a more flexible schedule a courageous and impressive act. For someone looking for a more forgiving psychological and physical approach to training this is a good read. You really get the sense of someone who’s come to the realization that running is not a schedule driven sport, it needs plateaus and down time, the body can’t be rushed, it needs time to recover and evolve.
So as Ryan Hall continues with a training approach that features weekly rest days, lower overall mileage and frequent down weeks where the body is allowed to recover and recoup energy for the next block of hard training I’m intrigued to follow his progress. Peter Coe wrote frequently that coaching an athlete was an “experiment of one”. You can see that Ryan Hall is following a similar line of thinking with his own preparations heading into the 2012 Olympic year. I’d like to see a similar book that documents the Ryan Hall training philosophy leading up to the 2011 Boston marathon and 2012 London Olympics.
For the reasons outlined above I’ve filed this book review under training philosophy as it gives a different insight and thinking process that many athletes and coaches could find helpful. It’s not often you hear about elite runners running less miles (usually that comes in retirement when mistakes are more evident and perspective are clearer). I hope Ryan Hall succeeds in London with a high and fast finish in the marathon, if he does you may find a mini Hall lead revolution in elite marathon training methodology. Personally I think he’s already demonstrated the positive impact of his approach, but there’s nothing like an Olympic medal to offer up as empirical evidence.
Useful lessons from Ryan Hall’s training approach:
Running alone is often better
Let you body find it’s natural rhythm on any given day, whether it be a training run or a recovery day, sometimes choosing your own pace is wiser than being swept along with the competitive urgings of a group. Personally I find running alone is preferable for most of my running for exactly the reasons Hall outlines, but I do find it helpful to run with another runner of similar ability when performing harder sessions such as tempo runs and longer intervals. Mentally these sessions are tough and sometimes having someone running stride for stride with you really helps get the work done.
Slow days should be slow
Ryan runs them often with the girls at a pace that most recreational joggers could maintain – a refreshingly un-macho approach. This is something that I’m trying to learn to bring into my own running; the tendency to run a bit fast on easy days is to be avoided. Although I get the sense that Ryan Hall is running very slow because his body is smashed from all the long hard miles – it would be interesting to see if his easy days remain this slow now that he has modified his approach to include more rest and recovery.
Don’t over-invest in running
Running is like any other profession, people suffer when they invest too much of themselves and equate their self work solely with the success in their chosen endeavor. I’ve been there, you need balance, and it makes me really question the wisdom of the genre of the full time athlete. Having a part-time job or as Hall is exploring: the work of his Steps Foundation provides balance. If your life is a portfolio of activities, a down period in one aspect is much less likely to tip you into a bout of depression.
Don’t use your best in practice
Great advice, save the all out efforts for racing, not the training track. This takes courage, as on race day you’ll often be in uncharted waters, but if you harness the nervous energy and really delve deep on race day you’ll be surprised how much faster than training you can run.
Long runs every two weeks
Not every week is a long run week. While relatively speaking Hall’s runs are mostly long, when viewed from a regular runner’s perspective, it does show that not every week is about heading out and running 30km long runs.
Tempo run every two weeks
Long hard tempo runs are not done every week. Again this is a good idea to keep things in balance – Hall breaks it up with long steady hill runs as tempo work. The intensity is the same, but the pace much slower and running up hill more forgiving on the body as well as building strength.
Two sprint/stride sessions per week
Even as a marathon runner Ryan Hall includes a lot of short sharp running sessions. The volume is very low e.g. 4-6 repetitions to ensure these do not impact on his other running training. This is a great idea to keep the legs turning over and working through a good range of motion.
The bottom line:
For all the analysis about why Ryan Hall runs and what he wants to get out of the sport you get the sense that the reasons are pretty simple. He runs because he loves it run, and he’s realized if it isn’t fun, why do it? I’ve recently been reading More Fire by Toby Tanser and I’m full of admiration for the Kenyan runners who forge themselves into world champions to escape poverty and provide opportunities for themselves and family. But there’s also a sense of sadness that many stop running all together when their competitive days are over. Did they really run for the love of running? There’s no doubt Ryan Hall wants to succeed, but he’s found some perspective and the real reason for lacing up his shoes and training each day.
To find Running with Joy: check out my page of essential running reading.
Written by: Brian Martin