Ryan Hall
Courtesy Ryan Hall

Ryan Hall says 7 marathons in 7 days gave him ‘sense of closure’

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Ryan Hall couldn’t walk without limping when he disembarked his airplane in Sydney last weekend. That’s when he knew he was in for the hardest marathon of his life Sunday.

Hall completed the World Marathon Challenge — seven marathons on seven continents in seven days — by clocking 5 hours, 15 minutes, 34 seconds in Sydney. He run/walked the entire marathon in Australia and then left his shoes at the finish line, signifying the final 26.2-mile race of his career.

As Hall waited in the Sydney airport for his flight home Tuesday, he couldn’t help but think of his first long run at age 13 — 15 miles around Big Bear Lake at 7,000 feet above sea level in California. In basketball shoes.

That outing sparked a career that included two Olympics and the fastest marathon recorded by an American — 2:04:58 at the 2011 Boston Marathon.

“So to end it with another epic running adventure, going around the world running seven marathons in seven days, just seemed like very fitting,” Hall said in a phone interview from Sydney. “It kind of gave me a nice sense of closure, which I think I was still looking for. It was kind of weird of how my body fell apart, and I retired. I never had the opportunity to have a farewell race. I felt like this week was that for me. It was actually an emotional moment for me walking away from my shoes on the finish line.”

Hall, 34, announced his retirement from elite marathon running in January 2016. Before that, he had finished one marathon since finishing second at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.

He quit at an early age for a marathoner due to “chronically low testosterone levels and fatigue so extreme … he can barely log 12 easy miles a week,” according to The New York Times.

He became engrossed in weightlifting last year, reaching 177 pounds by the time he toed the line for his first of seven marathons in Antarctica last week. That’s about 50 pounds heavier than his elite racing weight. Hall’s longest training run in the previous four months was eight miles.

“I didn’t even know I could finish,” he said, calling it a coin flip going in. “I was thrilled I made it through at all.”

The seven marathons were obviously quite different than anything Hall had previously experienced. He ran alone for most of the races (only 22 men were able to complete the seven-day gauntlet). He ran races with headphones for the first time, with varied playlists, from electric dance to church worship.

And he ate like never before. Some 16 cookies in Morocco, an estimated 45 Muscle Milk bars in a week and the coup de grâce, six Krispy Kreme doughnuts during that agonizing Sydney limpthrough. Hall can now relate to those who run five-hour marathons (“Way harder than running 2:04,” he insists).

“Probably the ugliest marathon ever run, but I made it,” said Hall, who still lost five pounds overall. “I was thinking, too, I probably set a world record for biggest differential between your fastest marathon and your slowest marathon.”

Hall said the biggest challenge was sleep deprivation. With so much flying from country to country, he only spent two nights in a hotel and averaged a few hours of sleep per night.

Old injuries popped up, such as the right hip pain that first struck at the 2009 New York City Marathon. And the right hamstring tightness that forced him out of the 2012 Olympics. It still throbs when he sits for an extended period.

Hall said he still hopes to run adventure races, but his focus is the weight room. He’s close to reaching a goal of 300 pounds in the dead lift, squat and bench press.

The most special moment of the previous week was laying his shoes at the Sydney finish, a symbolic act of retirement common in weightlifting and wrestling.

“That’s just how I always pictured my career ending in running,” Hall said. “The way things happened [as an elite], I didn’t get a chance to do that, so that was really cool for me to end my career on my terms the way I wanted it to end.”

MORE: Olympian ends longest running streak in history

Bradie Tennell matures from Cinderella — keeping AC/DC — in Skate America return

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Bradie Tennell is asked to recall one memory from 2017 Skate America.

“Standing at the door for free program and looking into the arena and saying to myself, oh, it feels a bit like nationals,” she said.

Tennell returns this week to the event where she broke out last season. Before 2017 Skate America, Tennell had never competed on the top senior international level. She had finished sixth and ninth at two nationals appearances, spending a summer in a back brace in between. She was the dark horse for the three-woman Olympic team.

Then Tennell went 15 for 15 on her jumps at Skate America at the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Arena on Thanksgiving weekend. She earned a bronze medal with the highest score in any international competition by a U.S. woman in more than a year and half.

“I did my job,” Tennell said that day. “I think I have [put myself in the Olympic conversation].”

Tennell’s next three competitions were nationals (which she won) and the Olympics and world championships, where she was the top-placing American in ninth and sixth, respectively, albeit with uncharacteristic jumping errors.

She goes into this week’s Skate America — at the beginning of the Grand Prix series, rather than the end — as the clear American headliner in the marquee Winter Olympic event.

MORE: Skate America TV, stream schedule

Mirai NagasuAshley Wagner and Polina Edmunds aren’t competing this fall. Gracie Gold is coming back but hasn’t competed in nearly two years. The other active Olympian, Karen Chen, just withdrew from her first Grand Prix next month with a foot injury.

“I don’t really get nervous, per se,” Tennell said last week. “I think the only time that I am anything close to like anxious is right before my music starts. But last year I was so excited to be at my first Grand Prix, finally, after so much had happened in the past. That excitement carried over into my performances.”

Tennell’s goals this season, which she looks at daily with coach Denise Myers in suburban Chicago, include showing a grown-up look. Last season, Tennell’s teenage free skate was to “Cinderella.” This season, the 20-year-old chose “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I want this year’s Bradie to be very mature, very elegant, somebody who is almost unrecognizable from last year,” Tennell said in an interview with Skating magazine, for which she wore a black “New Kids on the Block” sleeveless T-shirt and plugged into a Sanyo Walkman for the cover photo shoot, an homage to her love of 1980s rock. 

Tennell used the Shakespearean tragedy to overtake Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia in her season debut at the Autumn Classic in Canada last month. The free-skate score ranks sixth in the world going into the Grand Prix series, trailing three Russians and two Japanese.

The challenge for Tennell and every top U.S. woman the last several years has been breaking into the top echelon of skaters from Russia and Japan.

“When she blew onto the scene, obviously, technically, she’s fantastic and so consistent [with jumps], which I think really sets her apart,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said. “The effort [at Autumn Classic], the choices of music, her movement, choreography, intention behind each movement is, in my opinion, dramatically improved from last year. Is it at the same level as Yevgenia or [Olympic champion] Alina Zagitova? No. So I still think this is going to be a time of transformation for her over the next few seasons. But she’s off to a really, really strong start.”

Tennell also added the triple Lutz-triple loop combination, done only by Zagitova last season among the senior women.

Myers, who has coached Tennell since age 9, insists they don’t compare scores or even talk about placements.

“I don’t give that any thought,” said Tennell, whose pre-competition focus is on the likes of AC/DC, Journey and Foreigner on her 100-plus-song playlist. “I don’t focus on other people, who they are or what they’ve done.”

Then Tennell may not be dwelling on the fact that she could become the youngest U.S. woman to win Skate America since Kimmie Meissner in 2007. Neither Zagitova nor Medvedeva is in this week’s field in Everett, Wash. Neither is world champion Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada, who is taking the season off.

The top threats are Japanese Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto, who went one-two ahead of Tennell at 2017 Skate America. Tennell’s total score from Autumn Classic (206.41) beat those from Miyahara and Sakamoto in their late-summer events.

“You can tell that [Tennell] didn’t win the national title, go to the Olympics and is relaxing, easing into the next Olympic cycle,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said. “She’s out for blood.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Gracie Gold details ‘mental health crisis,’ return to skating

Watch ‘1968’ and ‘Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos’

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NBCSN airs “1968,” the NBC Olympics documentary on the Mexico City Games narrated by Serena Williams, followed by a 15-minute excerpt of “Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos” on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.

Both full programs can also be streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

“1968,” which premiered during the PyeongChang Winter Games, tells the stories not only of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their black-gloved fists on the medal podium, but also of the intersections of sports and politics leading up to and during the Mexico City Olympics.

“Bring the Fire” focuses on Smith, Carlos and the podium gesture, featuring a conversation between NBC Sports track and field analyst Ato Boldon and Carlos.

STREAM LINK: “1968”
STREAM LINK: “Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos”

Then on Oct. 31, NBCSN premieres a two-hour special, “1968: The Legacy of the Mexico City Games,” at 8:30 p.m. ET. That show will include “1968,” along with a roundtable discussion about the legacy of the Mexico City Games.

Mike Tirico hosts a panel including Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad (the first Muslim-American woman to compete at the Olympics with a hijab), tennis player James Blake and Olympic champion diver Greg Louganis.

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MORE: John Carlos, Tommie Smith remember 1968 Olympics on 50th anniversary