Ryan and Sara Hall routinely train in the Ethiopian Highlands, have decorated running careers and corporate sponsors, but the husband and wife duo is approaching the Los Angeles Marathon with a strategy that would seem familiar to even the most novice runners.
"I'm going into this one with the same goal as everyone else — make it to the finish line," Ryan Hall said. "Having never run the course and knowing it is supposed to be a warm day, I am going to have a completely open mind on the starting line."
What separates the Halls from the vast majority of the 26,000 participants expected to compete Sunday is that their race won't end at the intersection of Ocean and California avenues in Santa Monica. Their endgame is to represent the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
Running in a marathon together for the first time, the Halls are part of a group of 74 American runners who will be vying for the USA Track and Field Marathon Championships title. The race Sunday has attracted many of the nation's top marathoners since L.A. will host the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials at next year's marathon in February.
Ryan, 32, is a two-time U.S. Olympian in the marathon and among the favorites to win Sunday. Sara, 31, is making her marathon debut after a standout career in middle distances. Despite her relative inexperience in marathons, she is a favorite to win the women's USATF title.
"I've done high mileage and trained with some of the best marathoners in the U.S. over the years," Sara Hall said, "and I've always been excited to take my shot at the distance."
What could complicate Sara and Ryan's efforts is the prospect of it being the hottest race of the marathon's 30-year history. With the weekend forecast calling for temperatures in the high 80s, marathon officials have taken steps to better accommodate runners. The full-field start has been moved up 30 minutes to 6:55 a.m. and course-side misting stations will be stocked with cold towels and ice. In addition, cooling buses will be available for runners to sit in at the finish line.
The hottest L.A. Marathon since exact measurements were taken was in 2004 when the temperature topped 84 degrees at the finish.
"Changing the start of the marathon was no easy undertaking," said Tracey Russell, chief executive of the L.A. Marathon. "All of our partners have been incredibly supportive to help make this happen."
Despite the hot weather, the Halls are happy to be running again in Southern California, the site of many of their accomplishments in high school and from their days at Stanford.
Ryan Hall was a standout at Big Bear High School, winning the CIF state cross-country titles in 1999 and 2000. He also set the then-course record at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut during the 2000 CIF-Southern Section finals. Sara Hall also had a remarkable prep career, becoming the first woman to win four consecutive CIF state cross-country titles. Like Ryan, she also has one of the quickest times ever on the famed Mt. San Antonio College course.
"My love for the sport grew in epic battles at Mt. San Antonio College and Cerritos [College]," Sara Hall said. "Running the L.A. Marathon will be as close to a hometown advantage as I could get from a major marathon."
For Ryan Hall, he hopes competing on the streets of L.A. for the first time will signal his return from injuries that compromised his 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Hall finished 10th at the 2008 Olympic marathon before placing third and fourth at the Boston Marathon in 2009 and 2010. In Boston the following year, he ran the fastest marathon time ever by an American, finishing fourth in 2 hours 4 minutes 58 seconds.
His struggles began at the 2012 Olympics when a right hamstring injury forced him out at the 11-mile mark. Injuries also prevented him from running the New York City and Boston marathons in 2013.
Despite the setbacks, Hall is confident he can remain at the top of the sport.
"The great deception with injuries is that you will never be the same and/or you are no longer the same person. This is simply a lie," Hall said. "It hasn't been easy and there have been many days when I felt like throwing in the towel, but ultimately I get up every day and put myself out on the road and, for that, I'm proud."
Training in Ethiopia with some of the best marathoners in the world has been a central part of Ryan's strategy to prepare for next year's Olympic trials. Ryan said working out alongside former New York City marathon winner Gebregziabher Gebremariam in the Ethiopian Highlands near the capital of Addis Ababa has helped him "develop a third lung."
Still, Hall thinks the "biggest aspect of running a good marathon is what you believe in yourself." He figures to have plenty of emotional support when the gun goes off Sunday morning.
"I will have lots of family and friends out there cheering me on, which will be a huge source of energy for me," Hall said. "I see this year's race as an opportunity for me to get further acquainted with the people of L.A. and hopefully build a fan base for next year's trials."