In Sara Hall’s long career, she has won national titles at distances from the mile to the marathon and represented the U.S. in cross country, indoor track and even the half marathon.
But, after 17 years as a pro, she competed Monday, July 18, on her first World Athletics Championships outdoor team.
It was a successful debut, to say the least: Hall finished as top American and a remarkable fifth overall – making her just the third American woman ever to place in the top five of the World Athletics Championships marathon.
“That feels special,” the 39-year-old Hall said in a post-race press conference hosted by ASICS.
Hall and fellow ASICS and Team USA teammate Emma Bates ran together until just past halfway, staying patient as the lead pack took off on a breakneck pace. Usually a championship-type marathon goes out at a conservative pace, with everyone focused on medals rather than the clock. But Hall said she stood on the start line ready for anything, given the cool conditions and tendency of several race favorites to go out hard.
Both felt that a 2:20 marathon was within their grasp, so when they hit 13.1 miles in 1:10:05 they knew they had made the right choice. The leaders went through 1 minute and 14 seconds faster.
“I was really wanting to feel out how hard is too hard,” said Hall. “If it had been a little slower, I would have been tempted, but I could tell early on that was really aggressive and so I shifted back into the mentality I had at the London Marathon [in 2020, where she finished second].” She said the thought, “I’m going to run the pace that’s best for me and hope they come back to me. A lot of what helped was having Emma there. We had spoken briefly before the race, ‘hey, I’d love to work together if it makes sense.’ It felt so comfortable to run with her.”
Hall’s thinking was spot on: Between 30K and 37K, she picked up four spots as runners ahead of her faded back.
Coming out of Stanford University in 2005, Hall was primarily a miler. She said that she never planned on a long track career; as a devout Christian, she thought her focus would soon turn toward development work in Africa, and that if her husband, Ryan – a two-time Olympian and the fastest marathoner in U.S. history – hadn’t been competing, she might have retired long ago. But after modest success early, her career really took off after the couple adopted four Ethiopian sisters in 2015 and then Ryan retired in 2016.
Hall won the first of her 11 national titles in 2006 in the 5K and the most recent in 2021 at the 10K distance, both on the roads. Among those titles is one in cross country, in 2012. She has competed in five Olympic Trials at four different distances: 1500m, 5000m, the 3000m steeplechase, and twice in the marathon.
“It kind of invigorated my track career at the time, because I’d really been struggling in the 1500 and 5000. It kind of gave me hope,” she said. “I think the benefit of the steeple is that it kept me in the sport longer, to eventually find my way to where I am now.”
She made her marathon debut in 2015 and has become the third-fastest U.S. woman in history (2:20:32) at 26.2 miles. By outkicking Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World Athletics Marathon Champion, to finish as runner-up in the 2020 London Marathon, Hall proved once and for all that she could contend against the best. In this World Athletics Championships marathon, Chepngetich set the early fast pace but dropped out just past halfway.
As Hall pounded down the final homestretch to the finish line, she was cheered by her daughters amid the throng of adoring fans, arms in the air and phones recording the moment.
“The crowd – I’ve never experienced a hometown crowd quite like that today,” said Hall. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had in a race.”