Ryan Hall

Ryan Hall returns to marathon racing in Boston, by way of Ethiopia

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BOSTON — The fastest U.S. marathon runner ever,* missing from 26.2-mile competition for nearly two years, his future questioned, found himself at a place called Yaya Village last month.

Ryan Hall trained for the Boston Marathon, essentially his comeback race, “buried in the sticks” in the Ethiopian countryside.

“A running monastery, very tranquil, very peaceful,” Hall said. “And the hardest training I’ve ever done in my life.”

Hall is arguably the top U.S. men’s hope in Monday’s race, his first Boston Marathon since he finished fourth in 2 hours, 4 minutes, 58 seconds in 2011, the fastest marathon ever by an American. The time does not count as an official American record, though, because of Boston’s point-to-point, downhill course.

Hall then took second at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January 2012 to earn a trip to London. He hasn’t finished a marathon since. If that month in Ethiopia was the hardest training in his life, the two years prior may have been the most trying.

He dropped out of the 2012 Olympic marathon near mile 11 with a right hamstring injury.

“I’ve never DNF’d a race before, so this is a first for me,” Hall said in London. “Not finishing a race is not an option unless I think I’m going to do serious damage to my career.”

Hall withdrew from the 2012 New York City Marathon, before Hurricane Sandy canceled it, due to injuries that included plantar fasciitis and tightness in his legs.

Hall withdrew from the 2013 Boston Marathon due to a quadriceps strain.

Hall withdrew from the 2013 New York City Marathon due to a hip injury.

Hall came out of the stretch the better for it, calling it the best two years of his career, though he doesn’t want to relive it.

“I feel like I’m kind of failing my way to the top,” Hall, 31, said. “I see it as part of the process. I wouldn’t trade from 2012 to now. I don’t think I would have gotten to where I’m going to get to if I hadn’t gone through those two years. I’m grateful for them.”

Boston Marathon: The Boylston Street pre-race scene

Hall said he started up again “from ground zero” in December, after health issues cut short a training trip to Kenya in the fall.

The climb took him 9,000 feet above sea level in March to Yaya Village, a resort seven miles north of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. His wife, fellow runner Sara Hall, visited Ethiopia last fall and raved about it. They went to Yaya together in March.

Yaya was founded in 2009 by a group that included marathon legend Haile Gebreselassie and bills itself as “a runners paradise above the clouds.”

Hall saw something different. An image burned in his brain from his month in Ethiopia was of women his grandmother’s age carrying loads of firewood up the same mountain on which he trained.

Hall said a local coach told him the women trek 30km. He estimated they’d earn about $5 U.S. Dollars for their journey.

“I’ll never forget the look in their eyes when you drive past,” Hall said. “The best image I’ve seen of what true strength is. It wasn’t like the Hollywood glamour type strength. It was like I’m going to make this no matter what.”

That rolled into Hall’s learning experience there, both mental and physical. He got an up-close view of an Ethiopian’s way of life. An East African has won every Boston Marathon since 2002 and all but one since 1991.

“They’re accustomed to suffering,” Hall said. “That’s what makes them so good.”

His training runs included going downhill for 10km and then uphill for 20km. He ate injera and drank macchiatos.

“I’ve never seen so much growth in my training in such a short time,” Hall said. “It makes you tough as nails.”

Home in Flagstaff, Hall prepared for Boston on a special treadmill that mimics Boston’s hilly course, rising and falling with accompanying video. He flew into Boston on Thursday, sat at a table near the finish line at a Copley Plaza hotel on Friday and made two short statements two years in the making.

“I’m feeling great,” he said. “Ready to go.”

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Jordan Burroughs’ son scores takedown (video)

Jordan Burroughs
NBC Sports
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Beacon Burroughs is getting an early start in wrestling, and performing in front of a crowd.

The 1-year-old son of U.S. Olympic freestyle champion Jordan Burroughs recently took down a bite-sized opponent on a stage.

Dad made sure it grab video of what could be the beginning of another decorated Burroughs career.

In Rio, Burroughs (the elder) will try to become the first American to win multiple Olympic wrestling titles since John Smith and Bruce Baumgartner in 1992.

MORE: Burroughs’ rival in doubt for Olympics

Michael Phelps eyes at least three events at Olympic Trials

Michael Phelps
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Michael Phelps expects to swim the 100m and 200m butterfly and the 200m individual medley at the U.S. Olympic Trials in four weeks, but he will be entered in more events, his coach, Bob Bowman, confirmed Tuesday.

Phelps plans to swim just those three events at the June 26-July 3 trials in Omaha, according to Sports Illustrated.

However, Phelps could also swim the 100m and 200m freestyles at the Olympic Trials to post a time fast enough not necessarily to make the Olympic team (top two at trials) but to earn a place on the 4x100m and 4x200m free relays for a fourth straight Games.

“I think he needs to put up a time, sometime, to let us know that he’s on that level [in the 100m and 200m freestyles],” Bowman, the head coach of the U.S. Olympic men’s team and thus an important relay selector, said two weeks ago.

Bowman said Tuesday that Phelps will be entered in more than the 100m and 200m fly and 200m IM at trials. But Phelps could scratch out of any event before finals or before preliminary heats.

Bowman said Phelps could theoretically try to make the Olympic team in more than three individual events.

As for those main three, it’s no surprise. Those are the three events Phelps focused on at his biggest meet of 2015, the U.S. Championships in August. Each time, he clocked the fastest time in the world for the year, making him the Olympic favorite in all three.

If Phelps intends to swim three individual events at the Rio Games, he’s looking at his thinnest Olympic slate since his debut at the Sydney 2000 Games at age 15 (one event, 200m butterfly, fifth place).

Phelps swam five individual events each in 2004 and 2008 and four in 2012, dropping the 200m freestyle for the London Games and the 400m individual medley altogether after finishing fourth in that event in London.

Phelps will race this weekend at what is expected to be his final pre-trials tune-up meet in Austin, Texas. He is entered in the 100m and 200m free, the 100m butterfly and the 200m IM.

MORE: U.S. swim stars spread across three Olympic Trials tune-up meets