Feature | Athletics

Marathon runner Sara Hall talks about her running triumphs and heartbreaks from an incredible 2020

Sara Hall reveals how she untied her identity and self-worth from what she achieved in her running career. 

By Ed Knowles ·

Sara Hall, runner up at the 2020 London Marathon, was close to leaving the sport. A long-career of near-misses had taken its toll.

“My identity and my self-worth were tied in [to] how successful I was,” she said to the Olympic Channel Podcast.

After some soul searching, she found a new appreciation for her faith and came to a new conclusion.

“I had to really make that separation of like, ‘I'm worthy of love and acceptance no matter what I do.’

"Even if I do nothing, even if I don't even race - I'm worthy of that.”

The acceptance she found with herself changed everything. And she had her most memorable year of competing in 2020 – including running the second fastest marathon time by an American woman ever.

“Ever since then, I've enjoyed my career more and more every year and gotten better every year.

“That's what's kept me in the game so long at 37, still enjoying it[and] still improving at this age.”

Here are four more things we learnt from her interview with the Olympic Channel Podcast.

Sara Hall of USA showing determination to finish second at the 2020 London Marathon 

Sara Hall: the ‘heartbreak’ from the 2020 USA Olympic Marathon trials

At the 2020 USA Olympic marathon trials in Atlanta, Sara Hall didn’t finish the race.

“That was the biggest heartbreak of my career,” Sara said.

“So starting the [2020] year with that, followed by all the lockdowns, and all the races cancelled. It was hard because I was hoping to really use that fitness towards future races, but it took a really long time to be able to do that.”

But there was some hope and a surprise just around the corner for Sara.

Sara Hall shows her elation at second-placed position at 2020 London Marathon

Sara Hall: The gift of a marathon race

Most athletes like to wash away the bitter taste of disappointment with another performance.

With the pandemic raging across the globe, and races postponed, moving on was a challenge for Sara.

“I typically race a lot more than average professionals…. This period was really difficult to have no races.”

Like a dream come true - Sara Hall running at the 2020 London Marathon

Through determination from the organisers, and a training regime built on pure faith, Sara was soon on the plane flying to the capital of Britain to run an unusual looped course without crowds.

For Sara, it was just what she needed.

“Getting into [the] London [Marathon] was like a dream come true. I felt so grateful.”

Sara Hall: Showing gratitude in the face of negativity

London’s streets are usually lined up for the entire day cheering the elite runners and the thousands of members of the general public who sign up to race.

“Any time I started to feel sorry for myself out there, I just I was able to kind of slap myself and be like, ‘Man, you are so lucky to get to do this race right now.’

“‘You're in the best shape of your life, do not let this opportunity pass you by.’”

She finished second in the dramatic final metres where she pipped world champion Ruth Chepngetich on the line.

“I think that gratitude just kept me moving forward in the race and kept me focused even [with a] less than ideal atmosphere out there.

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Sara Hall: The Olympic dream still alive

Sara plans to channel her determination into some track racing in order to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

Even if that goal isn’t reached, Sara’s mentality should provide some protection.

“I've seen miracles, but also [I know] that at the end of the day, nothing has to happen.

“I think I've been OK, time and time [again], when it doesn't [happen]."

Her advice on dealing with disappointment? Belief

“You can have [the goal] with slightly open hands. So, you can be like, ‘I believe anything's possible here [and] I believe in myself.”

Listen to the full interview on the Olympic Channel Podcast also available wherever you get your podcasts.