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Sara Hall vs. Ryan Hall: who comes out on top?

The Halls are a running power couple, and it's interesting to compare their careers

Photo by: Instagram/sarahall3

Sara Hall has had an incredible 2020 season. After registering a DNF at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February, she ran two of the fastest marathons in American history, adding to her already stellar career. Her husband, Ryan Hall, also had an amazing running career, and after retiring in 2016, he still holds the American half-marathon record of 59:43. Both of the Halls are phenomenal athletes, and with Sara’s latest successes, we decided to ask the question: who has had the better career? 

Sara Hall at a glance 

Sara ran at Stanford University in California, where she met Ryan. She ran to multiple runner-up finishes at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in the 5,000m and 3,000m, and in 2003, she placed third at the NCAA Cross-Country Championships. She has had a long career, but it doesn’t look like she’ll be slowing down any time soon, as 2020 has quite possibly been the season of her life.

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In five races in 2020, she ran four PBs (two in the half-marathon and two in the full), including two amazing marathon results. She posted a second-place finish at the London Marathon in October, running the sixth-fastest result on the U.S. all-time list with a 2:22:01 showing. Just two and a half months later, she won The Marathon Project in Arizona, where she ran the second-fastest time by an American with a 2:20:32 finish, less than a minute off the national record. Moving forward to 2021, it looks like Sara will only continue to get better and add to her resume.

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Ryan Hall at a glance 

Like Sara, Ryan ran at Stanford, and he, too, ran to a podium finish at the 2003 NCAA Cross-Country Championships, placing second. In 2005, he won the 5,000m at the NCAA Track Championships before turning pro that summer. In the next 10 years, he was one of the top American marathoners. He went to two Olympic Games and ran the fastest half-marathon and marathon in U.S. history (although his marathon PB of 2:04:58 wasn’t record-eligible as he ran it on the point-to-point Boston Marathon course). 

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Comparing careers 

Ryan and Sara both have one World Marathon Major (WMM) podium finish. Ryan finished in third at the 2009 Boston Marathon, where he ran 2:09:40. That same year, he ran to a fourth-place result at the NYC Marathon, just off the podium. Before 2020, Sara’s top WMM performance was from the Berlin Marathon in 2019, where she finished in fifth in 2:22:16. In 2020, though, she sprinted to second place at the London Marathon. (She also finished third at the Ottawa Marathon in 2018, so bonus points there for the Canadian connection.) 

Unlike his wife, Ryan got into marathons soon after turning pro, and he ran his first in 2007. He had an extremely successful career, and he retired nine years after his first marathon. Sara, on the other hand, spent a decade focusing on the track before turning her attention to the marathon. This decision appears to have served her well, as she has improved in the marathon every year since making the jump up to 42.2K. 

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Finally, there is the matter of rankings. We can’t compare Ryan’s and Sara’s times head to head, but we can look at their PBs and where they rank on the U.S. all-time list. As already mentioned, Ryan owns the American half-marathon record of 59:43. Sara’s half-marathon PB of 1:08:18 isn’t listed as an eligible time on the World Athletics website, although if it were, her time would be the sixth-fastest ever run by an American. As it stands, her official PB of 1:08:58 is still ninth-best. 

Photo: Instagram/ryanhall3

As for the marathon, both members of this running power couple occupy high positions in the all-time ranks. Since Ryan’s 2:04:58 isn’t record-eligible, his next-best time of 2:06:17 (which he ran at the London Marathon in 2008) is the third-fastest in American history, just 10 seconds behind Galen Rupp and and 39 seconds off Khalid Khannouchi‘s national record of 2:05:38. Sara’s previous PB was also from the London Marathon, but she smashed that at The Marathon Project with her 2:20:32 result, which is now the second-fastest time ever run by an American woman, just behind Deena Kastor‘s record of 2:19:36. 

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Who’s the top Hall? 

We can’t decide who comes out on top between Ryan and Sara Hall. Both runners have had long and successful careers, and they’ve focused on different types of racing. Ryan spent the bulk of his career on the roads, while Sara spent a good chunk of time on the track before moving to the longer half- and full marathons. It’s too tough a call to pick a winner between the two, but what we do know is we’re just lucky to have witnessed this power couple in action.