Note: Since February is the month of L❤VE—and the Olympics—we are devoting our Mondays at Another Mother Runner to Fast #Motherrunners we L❤VE. Although their training miles and splits are vastly different than ours, their perspectives—fitting it in, wanting the best from and for themselves—mirror the lives of every busy, ambitious female runner out there.
Sara Hall is a super accomplished runner, but I’m in L❤VE with her family.
Sara Bei Hall has been fast her whole life. At her Santa Rosa, California, high school, she won four state cross-country titles. At Stanford, she was a seven-time All American. There, she met and married Ryan Hall, a pretty fast runner himself (he’s the only American-born runner to break 2:05 in the marathon). A pro track runner, Sara stepped up to the marathon in 2015, set a PR of 2:27 at the Frankfurt Marathon in October, and followed THAT up with the California International marathon just a few weeks later. Which she won.
But it's how Sara and Ryan formed their family that melts my heart.
In September of 2015, the Halls welcomed into their homes four sisters from Ethiopia: Hana (now 16), Mia (13), Jasmine (9), and Lily (6).
The Halls, who are deeply grounded by their Christian faith, had always felt called to adopt and had a strong connection to Ethiopia, where they traveled frequently to train. They had formed the Hall Steps Foundation, which grants microloans in East Africa.
Like many prospective adoptive parents (including me), the Halls had imagined adopting a baby. But when they met the four sisters in an orphanage in Addis Ababa, learned that the girls had been waiting for a family for years, and reckoned with the dual truths that sibling groups are hard to place and Hana would soon age out of the system, they knew what they had to do. Well, Ryan did at least.
“I felt immediately that God had put love in my heart for these four girls and wanted to adopt them,” Ryan wrote on their blog in 2016. “My wife took a more systematic approach, weighing out the pro’s and con’s and deciding if we were at a point in or lives to be both willing and able to adopt four girls.”
They were. They did. Yay!
“It’s neat how something that sounds so crazy to you at one point feels totally normal when God gives you the grace,” Sara wrote for Women’s Running.
Today, the Hall clan lives in Redding, California. Ryan retired from professional running in 2016, took to weight lifting, and immediately buffed up (wow!). He coaches the girls’ cross-country teams (cool!), and oh yeah, last February he ran 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days (Sara was home with the girls). They also have two dogs, Dash and Kai.
The Halls still travel regularly to Ethiopia, to train and to keep alive the girls’ connection to their home country. Sara speaks Amharic (she went to Stanford, remember?). And oh yeah, she’s training for the Boston Marathon.
This may qualify her as the world’s busiest pro marathon mother.
Which made it hard to pin her down for an interview. But luckily for us, she’s a prolific and beautiful writer, so here are some feel-good reasons to [heart] Sara Hall, in her own words, adapted from their blog.
We chose to adopt from Ethiopia for a number of reasons, one of which being that there are over 4 million orphans in this country alone and though adoption is only one fractional solution to this orphan crisis, for those few it is life-changing.
What is it like for you to run in Ethiopia?
There are very few foreigners in Ethiopia, so as a white person I am definitely a spectacle, especially in the rural areas. I can’t run anywhere without everyone staring at me unabashedly. Quite often the ensuing comments are encouraging, like “Berchi!” and “Aizersh!” which basically mean, “be strong, good job!” But almost as often I get someone yelling “CHINA! CHINA! CHINA!!” at me (the few foreigners that are here are usually Chinese, contracted to build roads and other city infrastructure, thus it’s assumed that anyone white is Chinese). I usually ignore this good-naturedly, but sometimes I can’t help but playfully respond “Habesha!” (which means “Ethiopian!”) to hopefully show them how silly it is to yell someone’s nationality at them (all with a smile of course!).
What is your training/racing philosophy?
A friend once told me as I was heading out to a race “No matter what, keep your peace.” It is something that I draw on constantly. No matter what my external circumstances, it is up to me to keep my peace internally. Rest is not just the absence of work, you can be very busy but be at rest and not stressed internally, something I have to remind myself as a mom. No one or nothing can take your peace if you don’t let it.
When I’m suffering at 9,000 ft. up a hill, trying to keep my pace, and donkeys are cutting me off and people are yelling “CHINA!” at me and a bus whooshes by me from behind, I am practicing keeping my peace.
Ed note: Sara is a pro athlete for ASICS. The Halls are also sponsored by (and true believers in) Oakley, FitBit, Pacebands, Muscle Milk and Alaska Seafood. These last two turn up in all their recipes, which sound seriously good.
What was it like to have an instant family of six?
The journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been more than worth it. I’ve come to understand that building a family is a process.
What is breakfast like in the Hall household?
Every single school day Ryan gets up early and makes the kids pancakes, and usually a chocolate Teff one for me (recipe here). He even will put in a daily “secret ingredient” that the girls have to guess, ranging from a tea-infusion to lemon zest. No joke, we are spoiled!
A favorite moment:
Watching Hana win her section’s championship in cross country was very special. As the oldest (she’ll be 17 in July), Hana has had the hardest uphill battle, transitioning to high school in the United States—something hard enough when you know the language! When we first met Hana, she told me she wanted to be a runner but had never run a lap in her life. In a short time, she tapped into an incredible talent that provided her with much-needed confidence. I’m so proud of her.