Pro Runners Sara and Ryan Hall Become New Parents (Four Times Over!)
Sara Hall has won U.S. national titles in the mile, the 5K, and in cross-country. She won Pan American Games gold in the steeplechase. She qualified for four different Olympic trials in four different distances. But at the Chicago Marathon earlier this month, Hall did something that changed up her life even more than a race ever could.
She finished her first race as a mother -- of four.
Her Ethiopian-born daughters had landed in the U.S. only eight days before the race. So rather than subjecting them to the crowds of Chicago, sisters Hana (15), Mia (13), Jasmine (8), and Lily (5) were watching live footage at their new home in Redding, California, with Hall's in-laws, Susie and Mickey Hall, the parents of two-time Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall.
But the girls had high hopes for their 32-year-old mom. "They were like, 'We're praying you're going to come in first, because in Ethiopia, everyone's just 'First place! 'First place!'" Hall said, recalling their prerace chat on FaceTime.
Their native country so dominates distance running that she said, "I don't think they realized that a victory is just getting in the top five or 10."
In the end, Hall ran a personal best 2:31:14 -- nearly 17 minutes faster than her marathon debut in Los Angeles in March. She placed 10th, and was the second-fastest American woman behind 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor. "I was thinking of them out there," she said afterward.
How did Hall balance adoption with the extensive training required of a pro runner? For the Chicago Marathon, she got a little lucky.
The hard training was already over. Hall had run most of her 110- to 115-mile weeks in Arizona in July and early August, and in Ethiopia in August and September. She also fit in eight long runs of 23 to 24 miles -- including some at 8,800 feet in the African hills. By the time she returned to California, she was tapering, running once a day in the early morning before the other five family members awoke.
In retrospect, though, the adoption process was nearly as arduous as any training plan.
"It's a good thing [Ryan and I are] endurance athletes because it takes incredible perseverance," she said. "Logistically, it's insane."
The Halls told the girls they were willing to adopt them -- and the girls joyously accepted -- this winter, before Hall made her marathon debut in Los Angeles. In September, she and Ryan returned to Ethiopia to finalize the adoption.
For two and a half weeks during that trip, they also lived together as a family for the first time, along with an Amharic interpreter to facilitate conversation. They stayed at Yaya Village, a hotel owned by the legendary distance runner Haile Gebrselassie, before flying home to Northern California.
"Down to the final day, we were waiting for immigration," Hall said. "We gave ourselves plenty of time to fly out, but because of a computer glitch only three of our kids traveled with me on our [planned] flight. One got stuck." So Ryan flew home with the oldest, Hana, one day later and arrived on October 3.
While Hall's daughters aren't in school yet, they are settling in and enjoying freedom. In Addis Ababa, they were confined to an orphanage -- basically a house with a courtyard -- and weren't allowed to leave, "so they've been sedentary for almost four years," Hall said. Now the girls often ask to run with her. She obliges for about a mile, but she and Ryan also hope they play a variety of sports.
Mom and Pop, however, will be marathon-minded for a while. Sara and Ryan have both qualified for the 2016 US Olympic marathon trials in Los Angeles on February 13.
After Chicago, Sara seemed eager for the challenge. "I felt strong the whole way," she said of her second career marathon. "It's made me curious and excited about my potential" at the distance.
But first, she is looking forward to some family time, and, perhaps, to perfecting their injera recipe with her four new daughters.
"It's kind of an intricate process," Hall said of creating the perfect Ethiopian staple, a spongy, fermented flatbread. "They made it for my in-laws. It went OK, but I think we're going to give it another go."