#199 – Running, overcoming challenges, and finding success | Ryan Hall

You just got to bring yourself back to being present in this moment, and there's always enough to get you through this moment.” —Ryan Hall

Read Time 80 minutes

Ryan Hall is the fastest American ever to run the marathon (2:04:58) and half marathon (59:43) and is the author of the book Run the Mile You’re In. In this episode, Ryan discusses his amazing successes and epic failures during his remarkable running career and what he’s learned through these experiences. Ryan explains not only the physical aspects of running – including his training routine, fueling regimen, and recovery process – but he also emphasizes the mental aspect of the sport. He discusses how accepting and reframing negative thoughts can empower you to take on challenges and reach your potential. Additionally, Ryan discusses the traits that make the best competitors, the keys to overcoming setbacks, and his amazing feat of 7 marathons in 7 days as a goodbye to the sport that gave him so much.


We discuss:

  • How Ryan got into running and his formative years of training [4:45]; 
  • The advantages of altitude—living high and training low [9:45];
  • Progressive overload, blood flow restriction, and switching up your workout routine [14:15];
  • Lessons learned from competing in the Beijing Olympics [16:45];
  • Importance of speed, power, and strength for runners [22:15];
  • The crazy idea that got Ryan hooked on running [35:15];
  • The mental aspect of training and the power of reframing negative thoughts [37:45];
  • The importance of fueling, and Ryan’s marathon diet [52:00];
  • Boosting performance with Tylenol and keeping core temperature down [59:00];
  • Ryan’s early struggles and later success at Stanford [1:09:45];
  • Keys to overcoming difficulty: faith, mindset, and being a better teammate [1:15:45];
  • Ryan’s professional running career and his discovery of his gift for marathon distances [1:22:00]; 
  • Reflections after breaking the American half marathon record, and challenges faced by retired athletes [1:32:45];
  • Ryan’s marathon training regimen at the Mammoth Track Club in 2010 [1:39:45];
  • Optimal body weight for competition and the pros and cons of going below your natural weight [1:48:45];
  • Training volume, importance of mixing up the intensity level, and zone 2 and zone 5 for longevity [1:53:45];
  • The most impactful adjustments Ryan made to his training leading up the to 2011 Boston Marathon [1:58:15];
  • A new personal record at the 2011 Boston Marathon and lessons on maximizing your own potential [2:03:30];
  • Learning from failure and takeaways from his disappointing performance at the 2012 Olympics [2:12:30];
  • Utilizing cardio and strength training for overall health, and how Ryan uses blood flow restriction in his workouts [2:24:45];
  • Performance enhancing drugs (or lack thereof) in marathon runners [2:29:15];
  • Traits of the greatest marathon runners [2:32:30];
  • 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents—saying goodbye to the sport [2:38:45];
  • Reflections on what running has given Ryan [2:49:30]; and
  • More.


How Ryan got into running and his formative years of training [4:45]

  • Peter has been a fan of Ryan’s for a long time
  • Running is sort of like F1 racing
    • It’s not really popular in the US, but it is becoming more so
    • The Netflix series Drive to Survive has made F1 very popular
    • People are starting to becomes more aware of runners
      • Kipchoge‘s two hour sub effort kind of got a lot of people in this country excited about it
  • Peter’s interest in running began in the early 2000s
    • He use to swim with Allan Webb
      • Allan was this phenom who set the high school record for the mile 
      • Peter often swam next to this guy, in the next lane and just became kind of interested in his journey 
    • Then Peter learned about Ryan Hall and the other runners of that generation

Growing up at altitude

  • Ryan grew up in Big Bear, CA; it’s at altitude
    • It was a really cool place to grow up
    • It’s 2 hours from the beach
    • It’s one of the few places someone can both surf and snowboard/ ski in the same day
    • He lived a mile away from snow summit
  • Many of the best runners in the world come from places that are 7,000 feet altitude, such as Ethiopia and Kenya
    • So he found himself in the perfect scenario for a distance runner in the sense of being able to live high and train low
  • When he was growing up in high school, his dad was his coach
  • His dad started a cross country and track team just so he could run
    • There wasn’t even one available at Big Bear High School
    • The team would drop down twice a week, drive an hour down to sea level, get on a track at sea level, run some super hard interval sessions and then pop back up to altitude
    • This was before research and studies showed how beneficial this kind of training is
    • But they were doing it because it just made sense
    • This  was the environment in which he found himself in

The benefits of training the cardiovascular system during the formative years

  • It’s pretty crazy to look back on it now and see how things like that really did contribute to the trajectory of his path  
  • Peter suspects there is something to being in that environment when you’re young, during the formative years of the cardiovascular system
  • He looks at his daughter who’s 13 and she loves volleyball and basketball, but doesn’t like cross country or track
    • He’s trying not to be a psycho about it, but he’s also telling her, “You have this really narrow window in which your cardiovascular system is quite malleable.” 
  • He’s very fortunate that because he was involved in boxing when he was young
    • He had to do so much cardio, both aerobic and anaerobic training during those formative years
    • Even though he’s a fraction of that level of fitness today, he can still ride on what he had then
  • Peter thinks if one doesn’t push their system hard in the teenage years, it’s very hard to develop it later
    • He doesn’t know if this is true, but this is his impression
  • To be able to take this one step further with altitude is unbelievable
  • Ryan agrees that the effects of cardio at a young age definitely play on later in life
  • Now, for example, Ryan is focused on strength training
    • He is just trying to get as big and strong as he can
    • His weight went up from 167 to 192 over 9 months
    • He was literally doing zero running, none; no other cardio, no biking, no swimming, nothing
      • He hopped on a treadmill at the end of that period when he was at his heaviest, just to see where his mile was at
      •  He was going to train for this challenge— he tried this 500 lb deadlift into a sub five minute mile
      • He hopped on a treadmill after his weight session— 5:18 for the mile, with zero training
  • Ryan thinks when someone develops their cardio early on, later, they just need little touches here and there
  • He takes pretty short rests between a lot of his lifts and he thinks that’s enough to keep him in 5:8 mile shape without even trying
  • There are lots of interesting things about how the body develops
    • Kids who are born at altitude and how they have greater potential for cardio-development over time
    • Looking at his family, he’s in the middle of 5 kids
      • His youngest brother, Chad is super into endurance stuff
      • And he was born at altitude, where Ryan was born in Seattle, Washington
      • His family moved to Big Bear, CA when he was 5 (elevation 6,772 ft) 
    • His brother was a really good runner
      • He won the national championships in high school cross country
      • He went to Oregon on scholarship 
    • But between Ryan and him, there’s not a huge difference in their top end potential for cardio


The advantages of altitude—living high and training low [9:45]

  • Peter thinks it is important that he became interested in looking for ways to improve his training, in the years when he was a swimmer
    • He looked at the matrix of living high, living low, training high, training low 
    • And coming up with what was the optimal scenario
    • There is a clearer answer to this today than there was 20 years ago
    • Today, the answer is crystal clear— best results are attained from living high and training low, when it comes to intensity
    • It is important to live high and train high for low end aerobic efficiency
    • But one has to train that anaerobic peak at sea level
  • Peter remembers swimming up in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center as a guy who lived at sea level
    • He would go there for camps and try to push it hard in Colorado; this was a total waste of time
    • This was the exact opposite of what to do
  • He had friends who lived at sea level but they would sleep in oxygen deprivation tents to replicate living in altitude, so they could train at sea level
  • How Ryan grew up was the perfect way to do this; they accidentally discovered the efficacy of living high and training low

{end of show notes preview}


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Ryan Hall

Ryan Hall is a two time Olympian for the United States in the 2008 and 2012 Marathon.  He is the fastest American to ever run the marathon (2:04:58) and half marathon (59:43) distances. Ryan retired from professional running in January of 2016 and now is focused on being a good husband, father, and coach.  He is also an author, speaker, and enjoys his hobby of weightlifting with current best of 405 lb deadlift, 395 lb squat and a 315 lb bench press. [RunFreeTraining.com]

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  1. This is such an exciting episode! I’m 66 and am dreaming of joining a runners club this spring after listening to this interview!!!! I love the idea of vertical jumping and using the G Flight especially as I age, and to get my tennis students to experiment with other resources for developing their bodies and tennis abilities!!! Question: where can I buy the G Flight? Nothing is coming up online so far.

  2. Amazing episode, thanks!!
    Are there any specific brand of gels that can be recommended (caff and decaf)??
    Appreciate any color . . .
    Brooklyn, NY

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