New York City Marathon: A Lesson From Ryan Hall

Ryan Hall, nyc marathon, ING New York City Marathon, Runner's World

Ryan Hall has had his share of ups and downs as a runner (Photo: Shan213/Flickr)

Runners tend to be goal-oriented people. Whatever the goal may be, we plot, we plan and we train to make it happen—running right, eating right, sleeping right, doing everything “right.” But what happens when something goes wrong?

I found out the hard way in the last two weeks of my training for the 2010 ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 7. Reassessing goals and shifting expectations are among the hardest things a runner can do, especially when the goal is in sight.

Ryan Hall

Take Ryan Hall. After a hot streak in 2007 and 2008—he broke the North American half-marathon record, won the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and at the London Marathon logged the fastest time ever by an American-born runner—Hall was officially dubbed the next great American marathoner. In 2009, he placed third in the Boston Marathon and won the Philadelphia Distance Run.

Then he made a goal: to break the U.S. marathon record at the 2010 Chicago Marathon on Oct. 10.

But after a shocking 13th place finish in September in the same Philadelphia half-marathon he’d won the year before, Hall announced that he was withdrawing from Chicago due to unshakable fatigue.

“It was a hard decision, not so much because I wasn’t sure if my body was ready to perform—I was sure of that—but more because I had invested so much energy, passion, and life into the last six months of training,” Hall wrote in his blog on Sept. 30. “My level of fatigue, though not an injury, could have lasting implications on my career should I choose to run an all-out marathon through it.”

Then came the bombshell—Hall was changing coaches and changing scenery.

“To be honest, change is not always easy,” he wrote in a blog entry on Oct. 22. “ It would be easy for me to stay on the team and continue to train as I have been, but I have learned to trust my intuition.”

Talk about a re-evaluation. The running world, and I, took notice.

New York City Marathon Training

So when my doctor temporarily banished me to the elliptical trainer in the wake of some ominous knee pain, I found myself questioning everything—from my gait, to my training program to whether or not I could, or should, be at the start on Staten Island. My doctor postulated that I had a meniscus tear, tendonitis or a pinched fat pad. First, all I could think was, “What? My knees are fat?” Sheesh! And then, “Oh no! Am I going to be able to run the marathon?”

If a pro like Ryan Hall could pull the plug on the big goal in the big race that he’d been training for his entire career, perhaps I could conceive of missing the marathon.

I had one last long run on my schedule—a 20-22 miler. So on my doctor’s advice, I rode the elliptical trainer in my gym for nearly four hours just in case I could still run the race. Yes, yes, you read that correctly. I rode for as long as it would take me to run 22 miles, and I kept my heart rate between 65 and 75 percent of my max.

A few days later, I was lying in an MRI tube. The technician gave me a choice of music to drown out the clanking cacophony of the test. Frank Sinatra crooned in my ear—of all things—the “Theme from New York, New York,” which plays at the start of the marathon. I smiled and hoped it was a sign.

The verdict? I don’t have a tear or tendonitis or fat knees. Yay! I have arthritis. Boo. I was totally shocked, but shouldn’t have been. Arthritis is in my genes—nearly everyone on one side of my family has one form or the other including my sister, aunts and grandparents. I’m sure training for my fourth marathon didn’t help.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: my doc cleared me to run. She said it wouldn’t make the arthritis any worse. I just have to manage the pain.

So off to the physical therapist I went. What could I do to help? Maybe my gait is wrong? Nope, my PT said it’s fine. Maybe being a heel-striker is wrong? Nope, my PT said it wouldn’t matter where I land on my foot. But I can strengthen my quads, hamstrings and core, make sure my IT band is nice and loose, and then get an injection after the race to slow the arthritis down.

But with all the knee shenanigans and two weeks lost to the elliptical, I’m shifting my expectations for the race. Like Ryan Hall, I’ve learned to trust my intuition.

Could I still break 4:30 like I planned at the outset of training? Perhaps. Am I still going to try? Maybe. Would I like to at least PR? Sure. But am I going to sweat it? No.

Being able to shift expectations is important if I want to be a lifelong runner. Hall shifted gears because he didn’t want to run one race at the sacrifice of his entire career. Though I’m no Ryan Hall, I feel the same way.

So I’m ready to let this be a “fun run” without the pressure to perform. If the pain is too searing, I have no qualms with earning my very first DNF. Far faster and far smarter runners, including Paula Radcliffe, Haile Gebrselassie and Meb Keflezighi, have done it.

But something tells me that if I can stomach four hours on an elliptical trainer, running the New York City Marathon, with screaming spectators and bands lining the course, is going to seem downright easy, even with a newly arthritic knee.

So start spreading the news, I’m going to be a part of it…after all.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Shan213/Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.

Karla Bruning is an award-winning journalist and running nerd. She has completed three marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning. To listen to an interview with Karla, check out The Marathon Show, available for streaming or download on BlogTalkRadio and iTunes, or listen to a panel of runners, including Karla, discuss the ING New York City Marathon.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


10 2010

6 Comments Add Yours ↓

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  1. 1

    Karla – When my runners ask me a question like “Should I race through this?”, I ask them “What would you tell your very best friend if they asked you the same question?”. I can empathize with you on so many levels – I am a coach, I am a Physical Therapist, and I am runner with 128 marathons and ultras under my belt. But, I am also a runner with 2 arthritic ankles. Basically, after trying to deny the pain and “running through it”, I decided to get a hold of it and I’m in month 11 of a one year rehab program and I am getting better. I had to ask myself “Do you want to run hurt, or do you want to run?”. You have a ton of readers, and you have put yourself out there by sharing your journey with us. But, when the smoke clears, you have absolutely NOBODY to answer to but yourself. Sure, run NY, but keep the big picture in focus. You see, all this advice is purely selfish because I want to keep reading Run, Karla, Run. Good luck and listen ONLY to yourself – AL

    • Karla Bruning
      Karla #

      Thanks, Al. I know I can always count on your for truly sound advice. The runners you coach are lucky to have you :) I gave this a ton of thought, and I’ve definitely got the big picture in mind. I want my knee for my whole life, not just one race. I already battled a bone tumor below my right knee for over a decade, and post-surgery, running has been a Godsend for me. After dealing with something like that, my body and I are good friends. So I’m going to listen to my body on race day and adjust accordingly, even if that means running the whole race, just a few miles or not running at all. But right now, my body is giving me the green light. Thanks for the advice, as always, and keep it coming! The world needs more great coaches like you.

  2. 3

    Karla, I strongly agree with Al DiMicco. I always think of my instructor for “theory of coaching (level 1)”. She asked the class of coaches “Who has a nagging injury since your youth”? About half of us did. She then said “Do not do that to your athletes – do not make them train or compete through an injury, because it could haunt them forever”.
    The elliptical trainer might be easier on your knees than the road, but at least your medics say the road will not do more actual damage. That is important.
    Tell yourself that you just took a bit more time to taper than you had planned, then run relaxed and confident. You already had one PR this season!
    Regards, Mike.

    • Karla Bruning
      Karla #

      Thanks, Mike and it’s good to hear from you. That’s a great perspective and I’ll try to heed it. Like you said, I already had one PR this season. If that’s all I get I’m still thrilled :)

  3. 5

    Great post and good for you Karla for going for it. You put a lot my own thoughts down in this post and it really hits home.

    I’ll see you on the course and best of luck to you! HAVE FUN at it.

    • Karla Bruning
      Karla #

      Thanks, Jake and best of luck to you! Enjoy it! It’s truly an amazing race.


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