Running with an Olympian: The Influence of Ryan Hall on Shorter Cross Country

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Olympian Ryan Hall

Olympian Ryan Hall

Aug. 20, 2008

Running with an Olympian: The Influence of Ryan Hall

By Jared Carson and Josh Carson, Shorter College Cross Country Athletes

This summer, we traveled to Mammoth Lakes, Calif., which is nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at roughly 7,500 feet. The initial purpose was to train at high altitude for a month with many others on our team in order to benefit us physically and prepare for our upcoming cross country season. However, it turned out to be much more than we expected.

Not only did it make an impact on both of us physically, more importantly, it changed us mentally and spiritually. With the advantages of training at high altitude and having endless miles of trails to run on, Mammoth serves as home to many elite distance runners, including a handful of Olympians. While we were there, we had the great opportunity of meeting one of the most inspirational and decorated athletes in our sport, Ryan Hall.

Ryan is a professional distance runner. He began to make his name known as a junior in high school, winning numerous California high school state championships, as well as placing third in the Footlocker Cross Country National Championships as a senior. He went on to run at Stanford University, where he helped lead Stanford to an NCAA cross country title in 2003, and won the 5,000 meter title during track season his final year. Following graduation, Ryan continued to run on the professional scene. In April 2007, he ran his first marathon and did so in impressive fashion. He placed 7th at the Flora London Marathon, running 2:08:24, making him the fastest marathon debut by any American. This also made him the fastest American-born citizen to run the marathon. In November of the same year, Ryan placed first at the men's Olympic Marathon team trials, running 2:09:02, making that the fastest time ran at the trials. He did not slow down after that. He went back to London in 2008 to improve his marathon personal best, by running 2:06:17. He is now one of the favorites to medal in Beijing this weekend when he represents the United States in the marathon.

Meeting Ryan this summer was a moment we will always remember. We met him while attending a camp in Mammoth, called ALTITUDE project, which is a Christian distance camp. Ryan and his wife, Sara, who also is an amazing person and phenomenal runner herself, came over several times to hang out and talk to all of us. They gave us their insight on training and spoke about their faith and how it plays the biggest role in their running. They would not be where they are today without Christ in their lives. Listening to Ryan and Sara speak was incredible, but when the opportunity arose to actually go on a run with them, we were thrilled. Running with the two of them one morning taught us a lot physically, mentally, and most importantly, spiritually.

Physically, we learned so much from being able to go on a run with them. The admiration we have for Ryan and Sara is so strong, not only because of what they have accomplished as runners, but also to see their love for God. The two of them are super-talented runners, but at the same time, very humble. We went on a 10-mile run at 9,000 feet around Lake Mary and Horseshoe Lake and were able to hear about their personal training and how they have learned over the years what works for them and has made them successful. It was great to go on a casual run with some of the world's best athletes and hear the advice they had to offer. Plus, we got to run with their dog Kai, which always makes the runs fun, because that dog is super energetic!

The next lesson we learned and took to heart was the influence they had on us spiritually and mentally. Ryan and Sara are truly followers of Christ, and their actions are living proof of that. Sometimes we get too wrapped up in the sport of running and begin to do it for the wrong reasons. When we let running take over and control our lives to the point that we are unaware of why we even run, we need to stop and realize that if we just relax and let God handle things that we could begin to enjoy what God created us to do. Ryan spoke to us and told us that it is not about winning gold in Beijing, but that it is about running to praise God. He stated that it is about making sure our hearts are in the right place and that we should run with purpose. It is evident that Ryan is not just a super-talented runner who happens to read his Bible and pray. Ryan is a follower of Christ who just so happens to run. God is the foundation of his life and without that he would not be the runner he is today. He made us realize that running should not be our identity, but that Christ should be. Therefore, we can use our strong desire and talent to run as a form of worship and to praise God with the gifts he has bestowed upon us.

This weekend, Ryan will toe the line with the world's best athletes. He will race for two hours against one of the most talented marathon fields ever. For many, this would seem like a very intimidating task. However, for Ryan, he is going out to do what God envisioned him to do and that is to praise His name! He will run for two hours and praise God every step of the way. He will run with all his heart and pour everything he has out on the course. Sure, a gold medal would be nice, but for Ryan it is simply about giving all he has to God and running the best race he possibly can on that day. Ryan ultimately has the biggest advantage of all because he has God on his side. We all wish Ryan the best of luck this weekend as he competes in the 2008 Olympic Marathon, and most importantly we want to thank him for the inspiration he is to so many of us who strive to be as faithful as he is.

From left to right: Josh Carson, Ryan Hall, Jared Carson

Shorter College Men's Cross Country
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