Friday, September 24, 2010

What is up with Ryan Hall?

By Joe Battaglia, Universal Sport

In track and field and road-running circles, news of big throws, lengthy jumps, high clearances or fast times tend to circumnavigate the globe quite quickly.

Occasionally, the same happens with less-than-spectacular performances.

Such was the case when less than 30 minutes from the conclusion of the ING Philadelphia Half-Marathon on Sunday, word of Ryan Hall's abysmal 14th-place finish had gone from the banks of the Schuylkill to the Tyne quayside in Newcastle, England.

The question everyone was asking at the Great North Run:

What is up with Ryan Hall?

The streets of Philly showed Hall no brotherly love as he struggled across the finish line in 1:03:55, nearly four minutes behind winner Matthew Kisorio of Kenya. Perhaps even more alarming than the pedestrian nature of that time was the fact that Hall was never in contention.

His 5K split of 14:40 was on par with what he ran a year ago in winning this race but on Sunday it put him 20 seconds outside the top 10. From there, Hall only got slower. His 10K split of 29:31 was 24 seconds off the top 10, and his 10-mile split of 48:07 left him 41 seconds behind American Brett Gotcher, a 2:10:36 marathoner on his best day, for 10th place.

"I figured from my workouts that I would probably be able to average 4:40 pace, so my focus was on hitting those splits in the opening miles," Hall explained in a post-race blog. "Having this goal (instead of having the primary goal of having fun) I forced myself to run this pace as long as possible, which ended up being about five miles, even though I was running at an effort level that was not physically sustainable for me (on this day) for the 13.1 miles."

Look, every runner has bad days. It's the nature of the sport. At the Great North Run, American Dathan Ritzenhein was less than pleased with his fitness following a fourth-place finish in 1:02:35.

But there is a big difference between the two sub-par runs.

First, Ritzenhein has about six weeks left to sharpen up at altitude for the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 7. Hall has about a third as much time before the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 10.

Furthermore, since he was announced to the elite field for Chicago in June, Hall has proclaimed that his goal is to break the American record of 2:05:38 set by Khalid Khannouchi in London in 2002. Judging by this latest performance, Hall is nowhere in the ballpark of being fit enough to run that fast or to even win in Chicago, especially against the likes of Kenya's Sammy Wanjiru, who set the course record of 2:05:41 last year.

"What I realized from this time is it takes a real and active faith to still believe that anything is possible for me heading into Chicago," Hall wrote in his blog. "It's not easy to still really believe that anything is possible on days like today when I raced half the distance slower than I typically come through half way in a marathon and I only have three weeks till Chicago."

Using an algorithm conversion, Hall's time in Philly would equate to a 2:14:14 over the full marathon. The last time the Chicago Marathon was won in a time that slow was 1992, when Brazil's Jose Cesar de Souza crossed first in 2:16:14. In Philly, Hall averaged 3:02 per kilometer, which is slower than the accepted global standard of three minutes per kilometer for a "fast" marathon, a race with a 2:06:35 finish time. American-record pace would be an even-swifter 2:58.50 per kilometer.

At this point, anyone with a keen interest in the sport has to question what is going on with Hall.

Since running his personal-best of 2:06:17 at the London Marathon in 2008, expectations have been high and Hall has come in under the bar in all but one race. After he ran 2:12:33 in a 10th-place finish at the Beijing Olympics, Hall was solid in a third-place finish in Boston in 2009, running 2:09:40. But then last fall he talked about winning in New York and wound up fourth in 2:10:36. This spring, he again talked about winning Boston but finished fourth in 2:08:41.

Yes, that time was the fastest ever by an American in Boston, beating every single mark ever run by four-time Boston winner Bill Rodgers. And yes, you certainly couldn't blame Hall for not matching what would have been a suicidal pace set by Kenya's Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, whose winning 2:05:52 is the fastest marathon time in history not aided by a pacemaker. But Hall seemed content not to challenge Deriba Merga in the closing meters, choosing to glide into the finish with his arms extended like a child mimicking an airplane instead of chasing the Ethiopian.

In his stated goals to "run free" and experience "the joy of running," has Hall somehow lost his competitive edge? Has not running an event on the track since 2007 somehow dulled his ability to race?

If Hall can somehow answer the bell in Chicago, the answer to these questions will be a resounding no.

But if he doesn't, you can bet the questions will persist.