Growing up, Ryan Hall trained for hours upon hours on his swing, his pitching, and his catching; he dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. Unfortunately he could practice all he wanted, but it would never change his physical build enough to be a viable candidate for baseball. But, as he would soon learn, practice would indeed make him faster. His dad had always been a distance runner, but Ryan didn’t share the same passion for hitting the pavement. In fact, he didn’t enjoy it at all. But one day while sitting on the edge of a lake near his home in California, Ryan says, “I felt God tell me to run around it.” With no training or preparation, he and his dad ran the slow and painful fifteen miles around the lake. It was from that day forward that he says that he knew he would run in an Olympic Games.
He dedicated himself to training and was an all star high school athlete. Despite his reservations about attending a trendy, powerhouse running school, Ryan signed with Stanford University after he graduated. He had always been a decent student in high school, but was utterly unprepared for the rigors of college and wasn’t cut any slack for being an athlete as well. His undergraduate years were brutal. At one point his professors weren’t even confident that he would pass his classes, injuries plagued his racing, and his entire sense of identity was compromised because of it. “I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw because I wasn’t performing well,” says Ryan. He wrestled with relentless negative self talk and depression that drove him home midway through his sophomore year. Knowing that he needed to confront his destructive performance mindset, Ryan began pursuing his faith in God to rebuild his identity. “I needed to see myself how God saw me,” he says. He returned to Stanford with a new confidence in his self worth; what started as an inward transformation began to work its way outward, resulting in faster and faster times.
He signed with ASICS right out of college and continued his running career on a whole new level. He had always dreamed of running alongside the very fastest individuals in the world, and now he was training, traveling, and racing his dream alongside his wife, Sarah, who was also an elite runner. Ryan soon realized that his 5K times were simply not competitive, which led him to up his race length. This proved to be the perfect move for him. In 2007 Ryan made history at the Houston Half-Marathon as the first American to break the one hour mark for a half marathon with a time of 59:43. He describes that race as feeling enfortless, a “mountaintop experience.” Unfortunately there is no half marathon at the Olympics, so Ryan upped his distance once again to the marathon length. That same year he logged the fastest debut marathon ever by an American at the London Marathon, where he took seventh place. He followed that up with a first place finish at the US Olympic Trials and qualified to race at the 2008 Beijing games.
Of the Olympics, Ryan says it “completely lived up to its hype.” From the athlete village, to running with some of his heros, to the ceremonies – it was a dream come true. His dream also included him running the race of his life, which unfortunately isn’t what happened. Three months prior to the Olympics fatigue caught up with him, his times lagged, and he couldn’t overcome feeling sluggish. He mixed up his training, nutrition, and sleep rhythms in hopes of breaking out of the slump, but, in his opinion, his fitness wasn’t as good as it could have been. Feeling the weight of the difficult journey to that starting line, he decided to hand over the outcome to God knowing that it didn’t change anything about who he was. “I told myself that I’m still of worth and value even if I don’t have my best performance on the day that I want it more than anything else,” says Ryan. During the first half of the race he fell behind the pack, carrying burden of the heat, humidity, and his own discouragement. He prayed as he ran and felt God prompt him to start encouraging others athletes along the way. So as he caught up with another competitor he would encourage them, pray for them, or run with them until they caught a fresh wind. “As I turned my thoughts out to other people, I wasn’t focused on my own suffering or pain,” says Ryan. This perspective shift worked; his splits improved and he picked his way up to a tenth place finish, something he is still very proud of.
A year after the Beijing Olympics, Ryan and his wife, Sarah, ran the Chicago Marathon to raise money for World Vision. Following the race, they had the opportunity to travel to Zambia to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the clean water well that was built from what they helped collect. At the event a community member shared with Ryan that the availability of clean water would add ten years to the life expectancy of the 90,000 people in their village. It was in that moment that he realized the impact that running could have on people who truly needed it. The following year Ryan and Sarah founded the Hall Steps Foundation, which raises money for a variety of projects around the world – from foster care development in Ethiopia, to microloans for widows across a variety of countries, to health clinics in Kenya. Runners can fundraise for a race and all of the proceeds go directly to the programs through this volunteer-run organization.
As their foundation grew, Ryan and Sarah continued to run professionally, but unfortunately, a domino effect of injuries afflicted Ryan. He qualified to run in the 2012 London Olympics, but had to step off mid-race because of a pulled hamstring. The injuries didn’t relent and after four years of nursing one after another Ryan decided to step away from the sport. Despite his love of running, his body made it clear that it was time to retire and honestly, he was ready for it. “It was kind of a relief,” says Ryan, “I had a powerful realization that my journey wasn’t all about me.” He looked forward to a new season of teaching, coaching, writing, and speaking, finding it incredibly fulfilling to pour into others and see them succeed, almost more than his own successes. He also took time to heal his body from almost fifteen years of elite running.
During this time the Hall family also grew in numbers. After spending time training in Ethiopia, Ryan and Sarah grew to love the people and culture, while simultaneously feeling convicted by the poverty and growing orphan crisis. They were originally interested in adopting an infant from Ethiopia, but while serving at an orphanage there, were confronted with the need for adoptive families for older children and sibling groups. When they returned to the US they switched adoption agencies and were matched with a group of four biological sisters who needed a home soon to avoid being seperated. Overnight they went from a family of two to a family of six. “It was almost an easier transition than the traditional route,” jokes Ryan, “I have never changed a diaper and have probably only been woken up twice in the night.” It may have seemed like a big move, but they were ready. “If everyone chooses to take their own personal step, then we can see big change,” says Ryan. He hopes that their work can encourage others to look around and find ways to have a positive impact in their own communities. Ryan shares more of his journey in his upcoming book, Run the Mile You’re In: Finding God in Every Step that releases this month. Packed full of insights on identity, purpose, and calling, he writes about how to pursue a relationship with, and direction from, God, no matter a person’s journey.
Ryan’s personal race has come full circle; he heard from God on the side of the lake in California that someday he would help others through running, and that vision has come to fruition. He has traveled the world, grown his family, competed with his heroes, and yet still realizes that the best race is the one run not for himself, but for God and those around him. Keep up with all of the amazing things that Ryan and Sarah are doing around the world on Instagram, Twitter, their website, and through the Hall Steps Foundation.
[00:00:06] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcasts where we believe the best way for you to unlock your full potential is by
living into your purpose. We believe discovering your purpose is the only way for you to live a meaningful life. I’m your host
Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. And each week I have the privilege of connecting with a different elite athlete to
discuss how they win big in and out of their sport. We want you to compete better and live into your purpose. So stick around
to hear about an amazing opportunity that we have for you. But first, let’s talk about today’s episode. This week we’re joined by
Olympic marathon runner Ryan Hall. And it was such a treat to connect with him on the show. You’ll hear about his incredible
accomplishments throughout his career and his mountaintop experiences as an athlete. But what I hope you really take away is
how he overcame seasons of immense struggle in his life. He has so much wisdom to share with each of us as we run our own
race and his message is so encouraging. So let’s go ahead and dive on in. Ryan Hall thank you so much for coming on the Hope
Sports Podcast today.
[00:01:07] My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:09] OK For those listening to that may not know your background. Can you kind of take us through how you got into
sports in the first place and how that led you to running?
[00:01:16] Yeah. So my dream growing up is to play professional baseball. The problem was I was you going into high school
like 100 pounds and 5 ft tall. So it’s not the ideal frame it turns out for baseball. So you know like I was training really hard and
remember I would throw pitches against a backstop. My daddy built for me in our backyard for hours and hours and pretend
like I was like we need to make the World Series or what not you know. So like I had the dream I had the drive but I just didn’t
have like the physical makeup to make that reality you know. And I was grateful that like I learned that at a really young age
because if I would’ve kept going down that road I probably would’ve felt like I said my head against the wall for a long time.
You know that’s just not how God designed me so it happened one day when I was going down to basketball game and I never
played. I always sat on the bench and basketball was gonna get on the team but that was about it. And I remember looking at it
like in my hometown Big Bear Lake in Southern California. And I just felt like I’d just kind of planted this little seed of a
desire to try and run around the lake which is 15 miles around the lake.
[00:02:26] That’s a big lake!
[00:02:25] So it’s a big first round. For a first time runner, it’s not a good starting point usually. But that’s just kind of who I am
is like I’m a dreamer I love to dream big dreams. But I felt like this one was like there’s something different about this dream?
Because I hated the run like I didn’t like it at all. Like every time like as in P.E. class and kids have to run the mile like I’d be
just like all my classmates go No I don’t wanna run the mile today. But then I’d go and I’d run hard and I’d run well but it
wasn’t my passion I didn’t enjoy it. So there’s hope to any listeners out there that maybe think you’re not ever going to get into
running coz you hate it. That can change. That can change for me that day. So you know I went out and I ran the 15 miles
around the lake with my dad the following Saturday and.
[00:03:15] Wait. So like there was no preparation for this? You just went out and ran it with him?
[00:03:19] Yeah yeah yeah. So I got home from the basketball game and told my dad what I wanted to do and then the next
weekend we went out and did it. And it was a long slow painful effort. I feel like I was out there for days and days like it was
just like I just went I’ll just breeze through it no problem. You know it wasn’t that way at all. It was like really really
challenging. So I came home and I collapsed on the couch and super tired super fatigue. And I felt like I was like he’d give me
a gift to run with the best guys in the world. But he gave me that gift so I could help other people. And I think that was the
launching point my entire career you know. And I knew what it means around with the best guys in the world like I’d seen the
Olympics. So like right off the bat like I was like that’s where I’m going. You know I always had that belief from that moment
was 13 but I didn’t understand how you can help other people around you. Now it happened you know come on down the line
actually right after the Beijing Olympic swim. I learned how powerful and impactful sports can be to change people’s lives on
the other side of the globe from us.
[00:04:26] Yeah. I love that. I do have to ask though. Is your dad a runner?
[00:04:30] He was. Yeah yeah. And he still is. He’s actually like the only one still running our family. We all ran like all the
kids stopped and he’s still going. I think that run took a lot of patience on his end because he was a bit like running marathons
and so he felt like we were out for a walk a long long walk.
[00:04:39] That’s awesome.
[00:04:50] We’ll that’s call father-son bonding right? That’s good.
[00:04:53] Yeah. Exactly.
[00:04:54] Awesome. Well so you ran through high school then and it led you to Stanford. Like what made you decide to go to
[00:05:01] Yeah it’s like I feel like God does this to me all the time to the one squad ruled out is like I’m not going to Stanford.
At the time they were like the running powerhouse school on like the trendy place to go in. And like I have never been one of
those people who likes to follow trends you know. So it was like all pride you know like all my pride is like I’m not going
everyone goes there. And then there is also like the academic piece because you know I got good grades in high school. But I
took a very basic level classes like it and take like on a research a P.E. stuff in high school. So I wasn’t prepared for the
academics at Stanford at all. So I knew that was going to be a stretch for me if I end up going there.
[00:05:44] But then one of my friends Drew Ryan he introduced me to the coach we’re up there a cross-country meet during
my senior year in high school. And the coach like Hey we should just go around I’ll show you the campus and stuff. I talked to
my really like the coach and then I did go on like four more recruiting trips to different schools. And ultimately I remember I
sitting in the church at Stanford. Have you been to the church?
[00:06:06] I haven’t.
[00:06:07] Oh, it’s amazing! And the quad there’s this beautiful beautiful church like something that you’d see in like Italy or
something. And I remember sitting in there and then I was trying to decide where to go to school. And again I felt like kind of
the prompting of God to go to Stanford and again like it was not an easy road at Stanford. I struggled hard like in every aspect
of life. The only thing that was really stable for me during my four years at Stanford was my relationship with Sarah who’s
now my wife. But we dated all throughout my time at Stanford and her time at Stanford. And without that like literally like
nothing would have been going well for a long long time. Just academically like my teachers were very very very concerned
that even like make it through. Just so far behind everyone else. And then you’re trying to just juggle so much as a student-
athlete and at Stanford, they don’t cut you any breaks. You know in the same classes same expectations as we’re not getting any
special treatment. So it was a real struggle.
[00:07:10] And then there’s like all these injuries that came up into that point like early on in my career at Stanford. My whole
identity was kind of wrapped around how I perform. And so when I looked in the mirror like that’s what it was all about. And it
worked out when I was in high school except performing at a really high level. Like set a state record in 1600 my senior year
and not a very good high school career. But then when things are going downhill that just totally it’s like someone took the rug
out from under me because now I know it’s in there. I didn’t like that I wasn’t performing on the track. So that was a huge shift
that happened. Actually, I got really depressed in my sophomore year at Stanford left school. I thought that I could change
what was going on inside of me by changing the circumstances of my external situation. So I went home back to Big Bear after
winter quarter in my sophomore year. I didn’t know if I didn’t come back.
[00:08:07] I didn’t know what I was going to do but I knew I had to sort stuff out inside me. So I could just feel this like real
happiness. And this really kind of like lack of love for myself you know. So I ended up choosing to go back to Stanford and
just spend a lot of time with God. And in really like learning to see myself how he sees me. And as I kind of was able to adopt
that view was super powerful. And like getting away from that performance burden that I’d been carrying around my whole life
really. And in sports kind of started become fun again because I was OK with family and messing up and getting it wrong you
know. And it wasn’t an instant change you know. It’s not like I went back and got all this figured out in like a week. And then a
week later it was running fast like there’s a long slow gradual shift that kind of happened and started from the inside. Then it
slowly started to come out externally and then start performing better and better in cross-country and track. And I was able to
sign a contract with these six come out of college. And I run professional for 10 years and got a Campbell Olympic Games and
some pretty cool experiences. But you know it was a tough road getting there and I learned through so much through it all.
[00:09:22] I love that. I love that you said it wasn’t just an overnight thing like that stuff does take time and a lot of times you
just get frustrated we try to run away. Just I mean just like what you were saying I had just resonates so much with me and
athletes that I know. Yeah and I love that you just stuck with it and you knew the change was coming because it had to. You
had to start from the inside to make any kind of difference. That’s awesome. And your wife Sarah who is your girlfriend at the
time was your stability I guess through college. So what was it like kind of you know I mean your dating her then you get
married. And you guys are both runners you know is that a good thing or is there some conflict there? I mean what is that
[00:09:57] I definitely think it’s a good thing. You know like to be a professional runner it’s not just like a sport or hobby it’s
like an entire lifestyle. So if you’re married to someone who’s not willing to allow you to live that lifestyle? Like you’re running
wouldn’t work at all. Like you’d have to like stop running to make that work you know. Or you just have to sacrifice and not
like to develop your talent to the full level and the running round. But for Sarah and I nice because we were both going after
the same thing the same lifestyle. I mean I feel like sometimes I was like you’re constantly like eating healthy, sleeping a ton,
going to bed at like 8:30 at night, getting up at 7, taking afternoon naps and stuff. So it was a blessing for us because we got
spent so much time together. We’re both literally like she’s out training and then at home together. So it’s a really cool season of
life. And even now still like I’m retired but my lifestyle hasn’t shifted a whole lot. You know I don’t take as naps in the
afternoon or sleep as much anymore. But we’re still together all the time and I coach her. So I don’t even out there when she’s
running and only I’m on a bike now. It’s only going to be alongside.
[00:11:11] Nice change of pace there. That’s cool. Well in 2007 you won the Houston Half Marathon in a time of 59 minutes
and 43 seconds. The first American to break the one hour mark for a half marathon. And you still hold the American record for
the fastest half marathon. Was that the event that you had to record. That’s so cool. So what was that race like?
[00:11:32] Yeah. That was you know telling the story of like running with the best guys in the world. That was kind of the first
time that that was an actual reality. I had competed at the World Championships in track and competed in Europe on the track.
But I was never really in the race like I can remember running five games against the best guys in the world and I’m like
watching on the jumbotron. There’s Ching and I like on the other side of the track you know. So like this isn’t really running
with the best guys in the world. Maybe in the same race I’m not really the same race. But as I moved up to the longer stops
things just really started to click and see at the time when I ran that time 59:43. That was one of the top ten times like ever run
for that distance. So like now it’s more commonplace to see a lot of guys under an hour. But at the time that was kind of their
territory so that was kind of the moment whereas woah like you have the vision for a long time you’re kind of chasing the
vision. And then you have that moment where you realize it and you’re in it and you’re kind of like at the top of the mountain.
That was kind of the experience there.
[00:12:37] But it was the same as what you hear most athletes talk about their greatest performances. It was it felt really easy
you know I felt like I could have done another one afterwards. And you finished the race and you’re like oh I can definitely run
faster than that. And then you know I never even got within a minute of that time after that. As an athlete you have those
mountaintop experiences. And with athletes I’m working with now I’m like guys like soak it in because you may think you can
run faster and you might. I hope you do. You know I hope I’m wrong. But even if you don’t like let’s make sure we enjoy this
moment for what it is because we don’t know what the future holds.
[00:13:17] Exactly. Well just a couple months after that in April you placed 7th and the London Marathon and it was your first
ever marathon on 208 and the fastest debut marathon by an American. I mean that’s pretty insane. Had you been planning on
doing marathons for a while? What made you kind of graduate to these longer distances?
[00:13:37] Yeah. There’s actually the experience I was telling you about being on the track in Europe and watching guys finish.
That the moment where you know for a while as an athlete you’re kind of developing. You don’t really know where your gifts
and talents really truly are. You know especially in the running realm you don’t know how fast your foot speed is and that kind
of dictates a lot with the elite distance running. But it was at that time where I realized like 5 game I was not gonna be
competitive. So I need to be humble enough to move up even though I didn’t necessarily want to. And then like I said it seems
like you moved up like things just really really clicked. And so I was actually training for my first marathon when I ran 59
minutes and a half marathon. So I just changed my training up and is running more than I had ever run before doing harder
workouts. And that’s when things really really clicked in my body and took off.
[00:14:31] And I was planning on running the Los Angeles Marathon actually was my first one. And then Houston happened
and then the doors kind of opened for me to get to go to London. That was such a cool experience because I got to race against
guys like how they gave us slots. You know these are guys who were the greatest runners of all time in that era. And it was just
really surreal to be running next to them at mile 14 going across Tower Bridge. You know with all my heroes of running and
stuff. Another one of those moments were like this is what what I pictured you known when I was 13 on that couch.
[00:15:06] That’s so cool. So epic. I love it. You paint such a good picture of that. Well at that same year in November you won
the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the marathon in 209. I mean that’s pretty insane. You just started running marathons that year
and you made the Olympic team. I mean what was that like? I mean I know you said you wanted to run against the best guys
in the world. Was the Olympics always part of that dream? Or did not just kind of come up as you ran these longer distances?
[00:15:33] Yeah yeah. That’s part of the dream you know. They still don’t have a half marathon in Olympic. So if you’re going
to run longer than 10K it has to be the marathon distance.
[00:15:43] So what was it like at the Olympics? I mean was it everything you dreamed of? Was it totally just for you kind of in
shock or at all? Like what was your race like? Was it what you expected or what you hoped for?
[00:15:56] Yeah. You know it lived up to its expectations in many ways like the hype being in the village like you know I’d
watch Cool Runnings a million times.
[00:16:06] I love that movie.
[00:16:08] Yeah. It’s so good. And you always wondering was it actually like Olympic Village and stuff you know. And like
that part of the experience was I remember like walking out of the closing ceremonies next to Yao Ming you know he’s like
super tall who we’re in China. And so like all the people are just going crazy on and stuff. So there is moments like that. Was
like wow this is like really really amazing experience and like I feel so honored to get to be here. But then in terms of you
know what I dreamed of as a kid I didn’t necessarily have to win the gold medal or even podium. But I just really wanted to
have my best stuff on that day. You know like be the best version of myself be as fit as I’d ever been like. Like have my
Houston day but at the Olympic games like that’s what I wanted the most you know. But what I’ve learned in sports is
sometimes like no matter how much you want it. No matter how well you prepare. No matter how good of a coach you have.
You have everything in place. Like sometimes things just don’t click. Like I haven’t figured it out completely you know.
[00:17:15] But I’ve certainly just experienced that it’s like I didn’t change anything up on the same person. I’m training the
same way. I’m eating the same way. I’m sleeping. Doing everything same. And having two very different results you know like
one just effortlessly floating through a race 6 months before that. And then 6 months later I’m just struggling in my fitness. So
that was kind of my story leading up to the race. My fitness wasn’t quite as good as I wanted it to be. Training had been rocky
kind of up and down and just been kind of kind of struggling you know. So on starting line I was nervous but I still had like the
outside hope of trying to grab a medal you know. Like I just run the London marathon again for my second time and personal
best in 206 and finish 5th. And so you know those are the the best guys in the world we all go to London. So it’s like in
London. You know maybe I could pick up a couple more spots and grab a medal in Beijing.
[00:18:11] But that was him I my experience unfortunately you know. I wasn’t at my best upon Bigfoot. But still such a great
experience to immediately grow through. I remember doing a warm up run the day before a marathon. We always just jog like
30 minutes, do some drills and strides. And during that time I like to sometimes do it by myself and just have a little
conversation with God and be like What do you have for today? You know like for tomorrow? Like what do you want to tell
me? And you know I was always like hoping you can give me some like verse about David and Goliath or something like that
you know. Or soaring on wings of eagles and effortlessly flying through the race. But you actually reminded me of this story
during that moments Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. Which there were the guys who were being thrown into a fiery
furnace. And the king because they wouldn’t worship the king’s idols. Nebuchadnezzar idols and this is in way back in the day.
And I just love their response to the King.
[00:19:11] They’re like even if God doesn’t show up we’re not gonna bow down to worship. And I think that was really like the
word God had for me for my race the following day. Was like you need to set your heart in such a way. So even if you don’t
perform how you hope dreams, planned it out, drew it up in your head. It’s not going to change your heart towards me. Or even
like my heart towards myself you know. Like finding that I’m still a worth I’m still a value even if I don’t have my best
performance. On the day when I want it more than anything else you know. I could order on one day be today. But how might
you respond if that’s not the case. So it really helped me during that race. Nothing to help me because I found myself about
halfway into the Olympic marathon back way way back. So I went out really fast even though it’s super hot and humid in
Beijing. Now it’s back in like 30th-60th I don’t remember what place I was in. It was way back and it’s kinda pouting myself
like what’s going on? I’m so frustrated and how come I’m so far back. You know these are the thoughts are gone through my
[00:20:18] And again I felt like God was gonna tell me like I want you to start encouraging people around you. Which is really
odd because in our sport that doesn’t happen you know. Usually guys aren’t cheering for each other when they’re running which
is fine you know. I get it. But I just started to do that. I started just I’ll catch a guy and it’s been okay good job man you’re
doing great. Let’s work together and try to catch a group in front of us. Rather say a couple of words. You know just try and
encourage them a little bit. But again it was like getting to my heart and it was making me get outside of myself. And think
about other people and trying to help and encourage other people. And as I did that I stepped out on that I found that I started
to gain courage. I started to feel better about my situation. I think it was because whenever you’re internal and you’re in a lot of
pain and suffering like you are in a marathon. The more internal you are the more you’re aware of all this pain you know.
[00:21:11] I found thinking about other people other things I’m outside myself in things I’m able to push harder. Coz I’m not as
aware of the pain. Coz I found like whatever you focus on it’s going to increase the sensation. So just really let me go outside
of myself and start encouraging some other people. And I started to work my way up and ended up finishing intense position.
Which still wasn’t what I hoped for but it was the best that I could do on that day. And you know I’m still very proud of that
performance even though it wasn’t everything I dreamed of.
[00:21:47] I totally get that. We had a guest on one of our first episodes is a performance scientist Dr. Ben Houltberg. And he
talks about purpose based identity and performance based identity. And just like what you were saying just having that purpose
beyond yourself makes such a big difference. You know for the people around you but also for you. That’s really really cool.
You could walk away even though it wasn’t maybe the finish you wanted like you walk away with that amazing experience. So
cool. So a year after Beijing you and your wife Sara co-founded the Hall Steps Foundation. I would love for you to tell us
about your foundation.
[00:22:22] Yeah. So this actually happened kind of in the wake of Beijing. Sara and I became spokespersons for Team World
Vision. And their goal for the Chicago Marathon that fall after the Olympics was to have about 500 runners come together.
Fundraise to bring clean water to a community in Zambia 90,000 people didn’t have access to clean water. So we are just like
spreading the word about it like just trying to tells me people as we could. And just a part of that team. And so we have
opportunity after the Beijing Olympics to go to Zambia. And watch them like cut the ribbons of these boreholes that had just
been poured you know. And they had access to clean water for the first time in their life. And I’ll never forget I was at a ribbon
cutting ceremony just like way out mistakes in some old tiny village. And this guy this village guy and they all speak English
there. It’s like the business language you know so they learn in school. Which was really cool because I didn’t think I’ll talk to
anyone going over there. But he is telling me is like hey because you guys brought clean water to us like everyone in my
community their life expectancy is going to go up by 10 years.
[00:23:38] And that was kind of the moment for me where going back to my 13 year old self and hearing that like I’d been
given a gift to help other people. That was kind of moment like this is how you help other people through running. It’s like I
was a part of a team of people that did some fundraising ran a race. And as a result now 90,000 people in Zambia are getting to
live 10 years longer. Like you’re actually adding years to people’s lives because you ran a race you know. And I was just such a
powerful moment for both me and Sara like I went back home and I’d start training. And I’d just be thinking about these kids
that I interacted with ran with over there. That are in tattered clothes which is the biggest smile on their face you know. I guess
a very interesting interaction whereas like I wanted to help them in terms of like health, wellness, school, education,
empowerment, all of that.
[00:24:32] But they also had something that like I think we’re lacking here in the States which is a real sense of community.
You know it’s like when things are tough over there like they have to rely on each other. And that just builds a really really
strong community. And as a result at least this is my opinion they’re just super happy people. Like I hadn’t seen Joy like that
anywhere else in the world. Despite such like amazing poverty you know. So were able to help on bringing clean water to
them. But they really challenged me to find joy in my life and find joy through community. So you know we came back home
from that trip and Sara and I knew we wanted to do more. And we knew we wanted to continue to support World Vision and
the work they’re doing which is amazing work they’re doing all over the world. But we also wanted to support other kind of
local organizations. And some of our own projects that we were excited about doing so we started the Hall Steps Foundation.
[00:25:30] And so it’s basically set up the same as like Team in Training or something like that. Where you can run any race in
the U.S. you just go to our website thestepsfoundation.org sign up and create a fundraising page. And then every single dollar
that you fundraise for your race goes towards our projects so we’re 100% volunteer run. So that’s a really cool thing about our
organization is you know every single dollar is going towards the projects we’re supporting. And we’ve gotten to support some
really cool projects along the way. Like we partner with one of my friends in Kenya we helped to build a health clinic in his
community that didn’t have access to hospitals or health clinics. People have to take like buses for like 8 hours at a time. Like
his brother actually died of a snake bite that shouldn’t have taken his life you know. But you just didn’t have access to the
medicine he needed to to fix the problem.
[00:26:46] So we partnered with my friend Wesley Korir he’s actually Boston Marathon Champion. And we built this health
clinic and now people in that community have access to meet their medical needs. Things like that. We love doing stuff with
empowerment as well. So we partner with Cuba leading microloans to women in developing countries. Help them start their
own businesses so that they can work themselves out of poverty. And then we’re doing a lot in Ethiopia as well with mainly
with child care and trying to help them. Kind of get going a foster care system actually because they just closed down
international adoption which really kind of changed things in their country. They still have a ton of orphans in their country but
now they’re trying to figure out how they can take care of all those orphaned kids within the country. So we’re kind of
partnering with local organizations there to help bring those kids into families.
[00:27:31] That’s awesome. So many great things that you guys are doing through your foundation I love it.
[00:27:37] At Hope Sports we know that you want to be the best athlete that you can be. And in order to do that, you train hard
and dedicate yourself to performing at your peak. But sometimes it can feel monotonous. Every day has a similar routine and
when you win well no victory feels as good as a loss feels bad. It doesn’t have to be this way. We believe athletes can compete
at their full potential and reach their dreams while feeling lasting satisfaction from their accomplishments. We understand what
it’s like when you’ve dedicated your life to something. But you feel like you’re never living up to people’s expectations and you
don’t feel satisfied with your achievements. Hundreds of athletes have told us that they’ve discovered how to compete at their
best while finding lasting fulfillment in their achievements during our interactive international service trips. Our next trip is
coming up June 7th-10th in Rosarito Mexico and we want you to be there. It’s so easy to get involved. Just go to
HopeSports.org sign up for the June 7th-10th home build and build hope for a family and win like never before. So sign up
today. It could be the key you need to find success in your career.
[00:28:44] The running side of things now I know in 2011 you set a new PR the Boston Marathon. You made the 2012
Olympic team like things were looking good. But then you had to drop out of the marathon at the London games around the 11
mile mark because of a hamstring injury. You’ve dealt with injuries you dealt with not feeling good. What was that like how did
you do that at the Olympic Games?
[00:29:06] Yeah. It was definitely like one of those surreal moments where you feel like you’re in a movie or a dream like that
just really happened. I’d never dropped out of any race in my entire life you know. Like I never even stopped and walked in
any race and my entire life. So like that was never an option in my mind. But just having this sharp pain was out running and I
just decided after having a little conversation with God is better to live to fight another day. So you just stepped off the course
almost started running again just did it felt so wrong I was like this isn’t right you know. Not at all what I was picturing
happening but I stepped off and it was hard you know. But I’ve been through so much discouragement and hard times before
that. It really kind of prepared me for that moment. So I was down as disappointed afterwards for a couple of days. But I like to
do something that actually my wife’s kinda taught me. Like she allows herself to be really down to disappointed for a certain
amount of time. So it could be a day could be two days whatever she feels like she needs. And then after that it’s like OK now
moving forward and like I’d grieve the loss now I’m moving forward.
[00:30:25] So I kind of did that you know I had a couple of days or maybe a couple weeks I don’t know exactly how long it
was. I was really down and bombed out. But then I started moving forward and the good thing about running is there’s always
big races look forward to you. Whether it’s the Boston marathon, in New York City Marathon, Chicago, London. You know
there’s all these big great opportunities for runners to get to try and win a title. So I just kind of kept moving forward but we
kind of started this nasty string of injuries. So the hamstring thing started because when I was running actually training for the
2012 Olympic trials I developed plantar fasciitis on my foot. And so I had to just run through it coz there’s like no instant cure
for plantar fasciitis like usually just last a while and then eventually get better. So I was running through it and just like very
small alteration of my stride caused an injury on the opposite side of my body. So with the hamstring and then I heard my
hamstring and then literally it was almost comical how ridiculous it was. I was always really hard didn’t have a lot of injuries
before that. Then I tore my right quad and tore my left quads and I got all sacral stress fractures on my right side. And it was
just like this ridiculous string of like compensation injuries. So I learned a big lesson there about running through injuries and
how detrimental that can be to your body. I did eventually come out the other side of that were stopped getting hurt.
[00:31:59] But then I kind of started of struggle with just I call it extreme fatigue. So I’d been running at that point for 16 17
years and running like 100 miles a week see running like 15 miles a day. And that’s a long time to be running that much and
not just easy running. It’s all a pretty high quality not all but we have three high quality workouts for weeks. Just demanded a
ton of my body and it is kind of at that point where my body is like there’s nothing on the left side. So I’m free to start slowing
down and start giving back to your body. So after about that it was 4 year time and you cramps at my injury at the London
Olympics all the way. So I was training for the 2016 on big trials and still just like having really bad fatigue issues. And I tried
everything I could think to try. I work with a whole bunch different coaches and tried mixing up my nutrition. Tried rest. I tried
everything and I think to try nothing was working. My body was just clearly like tired and fatigue can ready to for me to get
back to it. So that’s when I ultimately ended up deciding to retire from running. And I kind of move on into this next season of
[00:33:15] Was that a hard transition? Or were you just kind of ready at that point?
[00:33:20] Yeah. I was always nervous about the day I was gonna retire you know. Because like running had been my craft, my
passion, everything for 20 years you know. So I didn’t know how’s gonna react when I hung up my shoes. But with how it
ended and just having it be kind of a long slow gradual four year process of coming to this realization. That I’d gotten
everything out of my body and there’s nothing else there allowed me to make the decision. And actually feel a kind of a sense
of relief with it which I was surprised by I wasn’t expecting to feel relief. But it kind of felt like I could finally look back on my
career and be thankful for what I got to experience and the performances I did have. And then stops striving to try to get back
to those you know I could finally just like fully appreciate it. And then also during that time and actually while I was writing
my book kind of powerful realization came to me that my journey wasn’t all about me you know. And now like I needed to
take the things I learned in that season in my life and pull them into my next season of life. Which is in writing, speaking,
coaching, and trying to help other people along on their own journeys that they’re on.
[00:34:43] Since retiring you’ve transformed your body gaining what like 40 pounds of muscle? I’d love to hear about this.
[00:34:51] Yes. It’s funny cause I feel like there’s a big theme in my life where I don’t enjoy doing something and then it kind
of becomes like my passion in crafts. So before like I do weight training for running but never upper body. I just always try to
get through it as fast as I could because it just wasn’t specific for running really. Like I didn’t see the correlation between lifting
more weight running faster. Which was a wrong way of seeing it in hindsight. But all that to say like I didn’t enjoy the weight
or not. And so when I retired from running I retired at about 3 1/2 years ago has 5’10” and 127 lbs which was too light for me. I
just needed to find something to get back to my body. And running is so cattle bollock in nature just strips your body of
everything it doesn’t need to run fast. So I kind of got into that weightlifting as a way to give back to my body as a way to build
it up and make it strong. And then also to just because I was curious like any time I’d be around some big strong person I was
always really curious. Just like know what that would feel like to be big and strong.
[00:36:02] So I kind of started the journey and it was really really fun. Because one of the things I love about sports is seeing
results and seeing progress. And I wasn’t seeing that in running for 4 years and then finally with the lifting. Like I was so bad at
it I had nowhere to go. So I was encourage people like if you want to find a sport that’s fun try something you’re really bad at.
And then it’s me so much fun coz it gonna grow and get better and better and better. So that’s kind of the journey I’ve been on
it’s just fun. You know the other day I was squatting I hit three 90 for the first time. And it’s just fun to see growth. It’s fun to
get underweight you could just failed at it like 100 times in a row. And then finally be able to give it up is just such an amazing
sensation. It kind of feels that I need to see personal growth and to see physical growth in my body.
[00:37:00] I love your. I love your attitude. I love how you always try stuff that you really don’t want to do. And so cool. So
cool. There’s so many things that I just love and admire about you and your wife. But there’s one especially that’s near and dear
to my heart because I’m also an adoptive mom. I have girls from China and Ethiopia. And I know you and Sara adopted four
girls from Ethiopia. And I wanna know all the things. What made you want to adopt? Why Ethiopia? What was that process
like? And how in the world did you survive going from childless to parents of four girls overnight?
[00:37:32] Yeah. I love telling the story because again like I just didn’t see adoption at all growing up. So it wasn’t so much like
I was opposed to it. It just wasn’t on my grid so I didn’t have any desire to adopt until I met Sara. But then Sara’s story is very
much the opposite of that where there is adoptive kids and your extended family. And she’d been around it seen it and always
wanted to adopt ever since she was a little girl. So she actually mentioned it on our first date. And I was like oh well I’ve never
even thought about that you know. So it’s kind of like when the ball started turning on my mind started considering it. And then
you know fast forward years and years later after we’re married and training professionally. One of the things I loved about
running was you got to train all over the world. And go to beautiful locations to train and train with just you really inspiring
incredible people from every different culture. And so we would go to Kenya and train. We ended up going to Ethiopia to train.
[00:38:34] And there was just something about Ethiopia that just kind of grabbed us and gripped us. Where we just fell in love
with the people and the culture and the country and this food and the music just kind of everything about it. The running was
fabulous. So just kind of like really grabbed us by one of the things that also grabbed us was being on the streets in Addis and
driving around. And seeing all these kids out on the streets orphans and in tattered clothes and shining shoes. And kids would
come up to me and asked to shine my shoes for like 10 cents. And they’d be so stoked if I gave them like equivalent of a dollar
you know. So that really pulled on our heart and we’re like with our foundation you know we’re all about just taking our step
you know. It’s like we can’t force other people to take their step but if everyone chooses to take their own personal step we can
see big change and big results. So our step was moving into the adoption phase of our life where we felt ready to take on
Parenthood. And so being in Ethiopia and seeing orphans and having opportunity to adopt from there. We decided we’d try and
adopt an infant just one in fact was our original plan. And so we’re number like 76 on a waitlist it was going to be a couple of
years before we’d have our our infant.
[00:39:55] And then what happened is we’re overtraining in Ethiopia and we went visited the orphanages. And we noticed that
there is all these older children in the orphanages that were waiting for families. And so I was like this doesn’t make sense I’m
like number seventy six on the waitlist all these kids are waiting for families. And after it was the face to face interaction that
really broke my heart and made me decide to adopt older children. Because after meeting the kids, playing with the kids,
hangout with the kids I was like man I take anyone’s these kids home you know. So we went home we changed up all of our
paperwork how to change agencies even. And became aware of our daughters through like a friend in Facebook page is kind
like around about what they’re really looking for a family for these four biological sisters. They’d been looking for a family for
3 years weren’t able to find a family. And they’re talking about maybe sending two of them with one family in like Australia
and to another family in Italy or something like that.
[00:41:02] And so you know coming from a big family I’m in the middle of five kids is like you know separate siblings like
you know. They’ve already been through so much and they don’t need to lose each other. So you know we just felt kind of love
in our heart for our girls. And I always like to tell people like there is a very real fear that was involved with adopting and
mainly a fear of my own inadequacy. You know like for example our social worker. She wouldn’t even approve us to adopt the
4 girls because she didn’t believe we could do it. So you talked about something that shake your own confidence you know.
But instead of following that fear I just followed like the love that God had put in my heart for my girls. And I knew if I had
that love in my heart that’s what I needed. I chose to follow the path of loving when I’m at my best and making decisions based
on love not based on fear. And so that’s what we did is a leap of faith you know. But it’s just been such an incredible road. The
girls have blessed us so much.
[00:42:08] And you know actually going from 0 to 4 was I think it a lot of ways easier than like the normal round that you
could take. Because so like for example all we knew previous to this was just like Sara and I in empty house you know. And
then our normal just changed just once. It changed from 0 kids to 4 kids. It didn’t change like four separate times or is like
you’re getting used to 1 kid and you get used to 2 and then 3 and then 4. It’s like every time you kind of shift your normal
there’s always like a stirring and shaking that’s like kind of like initially hard you know. But we just kinda have like one. One
and done. So in a lot of ways I feel like I’m going to cheat the system. And also our kids when we adopted them were 5, 8, 12
and 15. So I’ve never changed a diaper I’ve gotten woken up in the middle of the night maybe like twice in my life. So a lot of
ways like I have it pretty easy like our kids are already like almost like you know babysit each other, home and stuff. So we
could go out for training and stuff and they would be totally fine.
[00:43:22] Now you also have a new book out this month as if you’re not busy enough with those four girls and it’s called Run
the Mile You’re In: Finding God in Every Step. Please tell us about it.
[00:43:32] Yeah. I’m really excited to share the story you know like Tom Dean at Zondervan. He’s a runner and he had
approached me about writing a book you know years and years ago. But I still like very much in the middle of it telling them
my story. And then once I retired he reached back out again and the timing just felt right you know. I felt a sense of closure
with that chapter of my life. And I felt ready to share this story with people. And I found it to be a really therapeutic process for
me to go through to sit down and write every morning. It’s kind of like make sense of my entire career and try and pull out all
the biggest lessons from my career and share those with other people. Just in the hope of helping people on their journey. Like
I kind of wrote it from the perspective of how’s my 13 year old self getting in to sports. Like what things would I wanna
become aware of. And like I remember being super curious like what does it take to get to the Olympics you now. And so like
a lot of this is like my story of like learning what it does take to get to the Olympics. Or just for you to develop your own
potential and your hobby, your craft, as a dad, at work. Like just for you to become the best version of yourself. And these
were just like kinda lessons that I’ve been learning in all my journey and continue to learn as I continue on my own journey.
[00:44:58] I love it. It sounds so good. Where can we grab a copy of it?
[00:45:02] Yes you can get it on Amazon and then also Barnes and Noble. And whatever else fine books are sold I believe.
[00:45:12] All right. Run the Mile You’re In: Finding God in Every Step. Well Ryan where else can we follow you online to
just continue to be encouraged by you? To learn more about the Hall Steps Foundation. All of the thing.
[00:45:22] Yeah. So you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram my handles @ryanhall3 on both of those. And then our
foundation is thestepsfoundation.org And then my wife now we also have a website ryanandsarahall.com So those are all good
places to track us down.
[00:45:41] Awesome. Ryan, thank you so much for coming on the podcast for just sharing your absolutely incredible story
encouraging us and just inspiring us.
[00:45:50] My pleasure. Thanks for having me Laura.
[00:45:53] Wow. There is just so much powerful stuff in there. I know I’ve said that before but these athletes are just sharing
truth bomb after truth bomb. What I love most are the two strategies that Ryan shared that got him through difficult moments
in his life. The first, is solidifying his identity the regardless of the results he still has value and worth in the world. And
second, is turning his gaze outward. Remember when he ran a marathon and encouraged other people along the way? Not only
is that an incredible blessing for those other people but in turn it shifted Ryan’s own attitude and improved his morale and his
results. Sometimes we can get stuck in a rut and just by lifting up our eyes and looking to those around us that need help it
frees us. And all the work with the Hall Steps Foundation is so compelling. It has me wanting to strap on a pair of running
shoes and raise money to 5K. Maybe that’ll be a great warmup before I go dive in the pool. You should definitely check it out
too and get involved. How awesome would it be to have a group of hope sports listeners mobilized to do amazing work in the
world just by running. Drop a comment on our Instagram or tag us at your next 5K. We want to shout it from the rooftops. And
if you want support in ways that you can grow as a competitor to overcome obstacles or to rock that 5K? Head on over to
LauraWilkinson.com/performance to grab my free guide 5 things that you can do today to become a more confident
competitor. Again that’s LauraWilkinson.com/performance
[00:47:20] Thanks to Ryan for joining us today and I hope you tune in next week for our chat with Olympic Cyclist and hope
sports founder Guy East. As he shares about his journey through professional cycling. What caused him to hang up his bike for
a few years and what eventually led to the conception of Hope Sports. Be sure to hit that subscribe button because you do not
want to miss that episode on behalf of Hope Sports I’m Laura Wilkinson. Thanks again for tuning in and have a great week.
This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete
archives please visit HopeSport.org