CAPE ELIZABETH – Ryan Hall was alone for the briefest of moments Friday morning. No media type asking him questions about Saturday’s TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race. No race committee member telling him where to go next.
Anne Mauney saw her opportunity and ran to it with two of her teammates.
Someone, anyone, take our photo. Please.
“Who wouldn’t want to be seen standing with Ryan Hall?” said Mauney, a runner with the Cabot Fit team and a registered dietician from Virginia. “He’s a celebrity.”
Like it or not. “It kind of comes with the territory,” Hall said two days earlier at his home in California. “It’s exciting to be part of the (rebirth) of American distance running. But the only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself.”
Expectations are the baggage that accompany any sport. Running is no exception. No American runner, male or female, has won the Beach to Beacon since its inception 16 years ago. Meb Keflezighi, the naturalized American citizen from Eritrea, was fourth in 2007 and returns for Saturday’s race. Hall is the newcomer. Together they are the two of the more visible faces of American men’s distance running.
At 30, Hall is eight years younger than Keflezighi, who still has the speed and endurance to win. Keflezighi is motivated. So is Hall, maybe for different reasons.
By nature, Hall is a humble and unpretentious athlete. He can relate to Eric Liddell, the runner/missionary who ran in the 1924 Olympics and whose story was told in the 1981 movie “Chariots of Fire.”
“I just want to do what God created me to do,” said Hall. He believes in what Wesley Korir — a runner and member of the Kenyan parliament — once told him and repeated in a recent New York Times story: “If you run without any reason, you are just chasing the wind.”
At first, Hall’s reason was to become the next great American miler. He and Alan Webb burst into the national consciousness in 2001 as high school runners. Webb, from Virginia, broke the great Jim Ryun’s high school mile record of 3 minutes, 53.43 seconds. The record had stood for 36 years.
Hall was regarded as the No. 2 high school miler behind Webb. For the quiet kid from Big Bear Lake, Calif., that was OK. He didn’t need to be in Webb’s spotlight.
We last talked when Hall was in Maine in July 2001 to run in the Maine Distance Festival at Bowdoin College. He was 17 and a month away from his first cross country season at Stanford. He didn’t own a car. He didn’t even have a driver’s license.
“The biggest difference between me at 17 and now at 30? I’ve learned how to better handle the ups and downs of running. I’m very prideful of being a miler but I was really struggling. It took a lot out of me.”
That he someday would run 10K races or the marathon wasn’t considered. That he would rise to become one of the top Americans, a two-time Olympic marathoner, wasn’t even a dream.
Hall has put a bothersome hamstring injury behind him and is training for his next marathon. He understands that some want to see him running for the lead Saturday. He understands that some would be disappointed if he’s not ahead of everyone else at the finish.
“I go into every race knowing everything is possible. I was still in training when I set the American record in the half-marathon.”
At the press conference the day before Saturday’s race, Hall’s natural shyness masked his fatigue. He arrived in Portland at 2 a.m. Friday after his cross country flight.
He smiled when Mauney and the others stood by his side.
“Ryan is a great person, a really caring guy and the most driven runner I’ve met,” said Louie Luchini, the Mainer from Ellsworth and Hall’s teammate at Stanford. Now Ellsworth’s representative in the Maine legislature, Luchini will be watching at the finish. A talented runner himself, he understands the racer’s mind and the hopes of the sport’s fans.
“People are waiting for the next great American runner. It’s not easy being just the best American. At any moment you can have one of those inexplicable days when you think you can run forever.
“Ryan has had those days. He’ll have them again.”
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 and at: