Ryan Hall could very well represent the top United States hope in the 2014 Boston Marathon, and to prepare to compete with the East African runners whom he has not beaten in the past, he went straight to the source.
Hall spent a month in Yaya Village, Ethiopia — just outside the capital of Addis Ababa — before returning stateside last week. Training — and training hard — at an altitude of 9,000 feet could go a long way for Hall Monday.
“I’ve never seen so much growth in my training in such a short amount of time,” Hall said Friday at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. “Just being up there, it’s really easy to see why those guys are so dominant and why they’re so good. Training at 9,000 feet is totally unlike anything I’ve done before.”
Some of the positive feelings surrounding his time in Ethiopia are due to his good health. Hall has battled injuries throughout his running career, dating to his Stanford days a decade ago, and they cropped up again in 2013, causing him to miss the Boston and New York marathons.
His hip bursitis calmed down enough for him to start training again in December, and before long he was confident he would be in shape to run Boston. Hall then went to Ethiopia last month at the suggestion of his wife, Sara, who is also a runner and had been there.
This will be Hall’s fourth Boston Marathon and first since 2011, when he ran a personal-best 2:04:58 to finish fourth. After the events near the finish line last year, Hall knew he wanted to come back for this one (health permitting).
Hall distinctly remembers driving near Sacramento last April when he heard on the radio President Obama’s memorial speech in the days after the bombings.
“You will run again,” Obama said.
Hall was determined to be a part of that.
“That really just got my heart going and got me really excited to train for this year’s race,” Hall said. “Things like that, they really do make a big difference in your training.”
Hall has spoken in the past about how much this marathon will mean to the community — both the Greater Boston community and the running community. He called Boylston Street “forever changed . . . but no less exciting,” adding that he expects the crowd along the route to be “electric.”
“They’re just setting the stage to do something really special, especially as Americans,” Hall said. “If an American were to win this year’s race, it would be the biggest win in arguably US marathon history, in my mind.”
No American man has won the Boston Marathon since 1983, when Greg Meyer took the crown in 2:09:00. No US woman has finished on top since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach did so in 1985 (2:34:06).
The runner who could be tops among the American women, Marblehead native Shalane Flanagan, was not in attendance during Friday morning’s media session. The three-time Olympian will run Monday, however, after a fourth-place finish in 2:27:08 last April.
Expected to be near the lead with her is Desiree Linden, who called this year’s field the best Boston has ever seen.
Like Hall, Linden traveled to East Africa to train for the race — opting for Kenya — and missed Boston last year because of injury. She was in town, though, and gave an interview at the finish line before going on a run and preparing to go to lunch when the bombs went off.
“Boom. Everything changes,” Linden said.
Linden came heartbreakingly close to capturing the Boston title in 2011. Her time of 2:22:38 was two seconds behind the winner, Kenyan Caroline Kilel.
That narrow margin of defeat still eats at her.
“They always ask first place, ‘What are you going to do with your money?’ ” said Linden. “And she says, ‘Buy a house,’ or something like that. They don’t ask second place [if she will] spend it all on therapy.
“It’s one of those things you look back at when you’re having a tough workout. How bad do you want it? You dig a little deeper because you don’t want to be that person finishing second again.”