Between long runs, speed workouts, strength-training sessions, stretching and physical therapy, professional distance runners enjoy precious little downtime. But during a recent training stint in Arizona, Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall found himself with a few spare moments, and decided to darken his shaggy blond locks with a do-it-yourself dye kit.
"I was getting bored in Flagstaff, and [my wife] Sara was out of town, so I decided to color it," Hall said. The missus, also a former Stanford standout and a good bet to make the U.S. Olympic team in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, returned home, took one look at her husband's new look, and sent him to the salon to restore the blond color. "She still doesn't really like it," he admitted.
The rest of the year will present few opportunities for further adventures in hairdressing. Hall, who was in New York on Wednesday to announce he will race this fall's ING New York City Marathon, will be bouncing between training bases in Redding, Calif., and Flagstaff as he prepares for the Olympic marathon on Aug. 12 and the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4.
With only 12 weeks separating the two races, Hall's schedule offers both a challenge and a dose of perspective.
"For most of the track world, the Olympic year is such a huge year, and it's a big year for us [marathoners] too," said Hall, 29. "But it is nice to know that you have other races lined up, because sometimes you can get so focused on your next marathon that it can become kind of unhealthy in some ways. So it's nice to have something else to slap you in the face and say, all right, there is life after the Olympics."
His feelings about his first Olympic experience in 2008 are mixed. Hall placed 10th overall and was the second American finisher in Beijing, but didn't get to walk in the Opening Ceremony or take in any other events, mostly because the men's marathon falls on the last day of Olympic competition -- a scheduling reality that Hall, a self-professed sports and Olympics junkie, considers "a massive bummer."
But Hall intends to approach the London Games differently, going to more events and soaking up more of the Olympic atmosphere than he did four years ago.
"I really didn't feed off the whole Olympic experience at all, and I regret that from an athletic perspective, and also from a personal experience," he said. "I feel like I missed out, so I'm not going to do that this time."
He's lucky to have a second opportunity. Hall entered this past January's Olympic marathon trials struggling with plantar fasciitis. The Aleve he took to manage the injury upset his stomach, which in turn limited the amount of fluids he could take in during the race. By mile 23, he was "feeling like a space cadet" and concerned he wouldn't make it to the finish line. But thoughts about walking into Olympic Stadium next to his wife for the Opening Ceremony propelled him to a second-place showing (behind Meb Keflezighi) and a second Olympic marathon team berth.
Hall took three weeks off following those trials, and then got back to training. Self-coached since his 2010 split from Terrence Mahon, he is paced by former steeplechaser Billy Herman, who uses a Garmin on his bike to ride at precisely the tempo Hall requests for his runs. Hall recently came down from a month of altitude training in Flagstaff, and will stay at sea level through the New York Road Runners' Healthy Kidney 10K in New York on May 12. After that race, he plans to return to Flagstaff for a couple of more weeks of training at 7,000 feet, and will do one more to-be-determined race before heading to England in late July.
"I don't usually back down [my mileage] too much for those races, so they usually aren't super encouraging for me," said Hall, whose tailwind-aided 2:04:58 at Boston last year is the fastest time ever run by an American. "I race kind of sparingly."
Race-tested or not, Hall will be ready when it's time to toe the line in London. And in an attempt to aid his and the other American marathoners' preparations, U.S. track and field officials have scheduled an "Olympic marathon summit" for next Monday in Palo Alto, Calif. There, the six men and women who will represent the U.S. in London will be lectured on weather conditions and logistics, and watch a video tour of the Olympic course, which is heavy on hairpin turns and cobblestones.
One obstacle Hall won't have to contend with in London is Patrick Makau, the reigning world-record holder in the marathon. On Wednesday, Kenya's athletics federation announced its Olympic marathon roster, and neither Makau nor Geoffrey Mutai, who won the Boston and New York City Marathons in course-record times last year, made the cut.
"I was pretty surprised by their selection," Hall said. "You leave a world-record holder off the team, the fastest man in history. And what Mutai did in New York and Boston last year, both of those are more impressive to me than the world record. A 2:05 on this [New York City] course is pretty unreal."
As for his own Olympic prospects, Hall is more forthcoming about his ambitious post-competition plans than he is about hopes for his two upcoming marathons.
"I've always told Sara, 'As soon as we retire, I'm going to the very next Olympics, and I'm going to go to every single event.'"