Monday, December 7, 2009

The Ryan Hall Run Report

Standing at the Pacers running store yesterday, my friend Caroline and I chatted away, catching up on all things running (she just completed Ironman Florida) and all things life.  It was a crisp 29 degrees outside, but, unlike the day before, the sun shone high in a cloudless sky.  The murmurs of runners in all shapes and sizes, clad in a wide array of colorful winter gear, filled the narrow walls of the store.

In mid-conversation, I lost Caroline's attention.  She looked past me with wide eyes and a subtle head nod to the left.  I turned in the direction of that subtlest of glances and stared, starstruck as Ryan Hall waded through the crowd of onlookers.  If not for the boyish, California face, the one I've seen plastered on covers of Runner's Worlds, headlining hundreds of articles, and generally mentioned with anything to do with America's Next Great Distance Runner, he could have been any one of us there for a Sunday morning run in the Virginia cold.

I actually missed him at first because, for whatever reason, I pictured someone taller; however, he's a modest 5'10" and thin as a shadow.  Donning a black asics hat and matching jacket, Ryan moved through everyone with hands casually tucked in his pockets, and the look of someone who had not a care in the world, least of all becoming a champion marathoner.

Of course, as the shockwave of recognition rippled through the store, the cell phone cameras and *cough cough* those who brought their own cameras, came out, and suddenly, Ryan and Sara Hall had created their own red carpet entrance.

But maybe that's just how I saw it, because watching them and listening to them chat with all of us, you realize that these are two of the most down-to-earth "folks" you could meet. 

We set off on the snow-slicked sidewalks of Arlington, making our way along the Potomac River with monuments poking above the skyline just across the way.  The Pentagon came up on our right and turning the other direction, the rows of crosses that make up Arlington Cemetery.  Ryan stuck to the middle of the pack.  Caroline and I (or at least me) counted on him making his way up to the front, but it never came to fruition.  Instead Sara was within a stride's length of us for the majority of the 6.5-7 mile run we covered. 

It's moments like those that you realize how much you can take for granted living in a place like D.C.  We came across the Memorial Bridge, the Lincoln Memorial standing in our way, and I turned to my friend with the water shimmering below us, the Jefferson off in the distance to the right, the Kennedy Center to our left, and just said, "Can you believe we live here?"

Our group of 40ish runners drew some interesting looks from the tourists sharing the Mall with us.  We got some frightened looks as if they'd just gotten caught in a freak stampede, others waved (including an entire class of students posing for a picture with the reflecting pool behind them), some huffed in irritation, but most of all, I thought, not one of these people know that they've just been passed by an Olympic marathon runner.  And just like that, we'd disappeared past them.

I love seeing the reaction of people who've never been to D.C. before, as I believe Sara hadn't.  The group turned down toward the reflecting pool and ran under the canopy of trees that delivers you to the coloseum-like World War II Memorial and up toward the Washington Monument.  Every now and again, Sara would turn to catch a glimpse at Lincoln or stare down the long reflecting pool, 2.5 miles ahead to the Capitol building.  "Just incredible," she said, with a beaming smile.

And it is.

Once we got back to the store, Sara cracked to the group, "Good job, everyone.  We beat Ryan," to which everyone laughed with appreciation.  "Got to keep his confidence in check," she added, crossing one leg over the other to begin a quick post-run stretch.

When Ryan did get back, he and Sara graciously signed autographs and spoke some about the Hall Steps Foundation they recently started, something to be greatly admired.  I think both realize their mortality as runners and are using their "celebrity" status to create something that extends far beyond the world of running.  My friend thanked them for what they've done thus far with this foundation and both looked a tad surprised and grateful that someone reached out to them about something other than running.

I, however, tapped into Ryan's head for some advice on a first-timer running Boston.

"Don't go out too fast," he said, his mouth curving up in a half-smile.  "That was my problem."  We both laughed.

Caroline and I returned to our car, autographs in hand.  She summed up the morning best, "I think there are few things that could have made this a better Sunday morning."

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