The Runner Diaries — Ryan Hall

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Welcome to The Runner Diarieswhere we’re sharing a behind-the-scenes look into a week of training with runners of varying ages, paces and GPS coordinates. Get The Runner Diaries delivered to your inbox, here.

This installment is special for two reasons:

  1. It includes the training regime of 2X Olympic Marathon Runner and American Record Holder, Ryan Hall
  2. It’s a condensed week, featuring just 48 hours of Ryan’s training and home life

Luckily, I had a chance to catch up with the 2x Olympic Marathon Runner and American Record Holder before he started logging his workouts, so here’s some background information to make up for the remaining five days:

The former professional runner admits that most of his “running goals” these days are actually not for himself, but for others — he coaches a high school cross country team, as well as his wife, professional runner Sara Hall (who just finished the Frankfurt Marathon with a PB of 2:27:21). While the retired long distance runner still holds the U.S. record  for the half marathon (59:43), his fitness priorities have shifted to the weight room since retiring. Today, he’s more interested and focused on being able to bench press and deadlift 400lbs than breaking any running record, but he still gets outside roughly three times a week — often running with his wife on her “easy” training days and doing the occasional hill sprint workout to increase his power output.

This new focus has given him a unique, firsthand perspective of the contrast between elite running and strength-focused training.

“This is very much a solo journey that I’m on,” Ryan explained to me over the phone after just returning home from The Runner’s World Half Marathon and Festival, which he attended with Sara and their four daughters. “I have a weight set that I put together in the garage — I call it my ‘mad scientist garage of weight training’ — and a bunch of different workout ideas and goals, but I have no plans to compete. I just like competing against myself and seeing what I can do, tracking my own progress.”

Hall, who now weighs about 50lbs heavier than he did during his professional running days, has an entirely new fueling strategy (“I’m eating more calories than I’m burning, which is a lot more fun!”). His diet today consists of “clean calories” — 40 percent macros/protein, 40 percent carbohydrates, and 20 percent fat. As a professional runner, his diet was once 70 percent carb-based, 15 percent macros/protein, and 15 percent fat. 

The combination of his new workout regime and diet, he says proudly, has finally given him defined abs — something he never had during his elite running days.

“As a runner I always wanted to have abs, but no matter how lean I would get — I look back at pictures now and I think I looked sick, like I just got out of the hospital — but I never had any definition in my midsection,” he said. “Now I’m not as lean as I was when I was running, but I can see my abs.”

But perhaps even better than having abs is Hall’s increased energy and additional free time for things other than running. Rather than focusing on extreme recovery tactics all day as he did during his days as an elite, he now how more simple recovery tools, like wearing his Second Skin compression gear to bed to promote recovery while he sleeps.

“When I was running professionally, I had very little energy for anything besides very hard training,” Hall says. “Now, it’s fun for me to be able to focus on other people, trying to make them better, and to just be on my feet more and not worry about sacrificing performance.”

Catch a glimpse into 48-hours with Ryan Hall, below.

THE RUNDOWN

Name: Ryan Hall
Location: Redding, California
Age: 35
Training For: I want to be able to bench, squat, and deadlift 400lbs by the time I’m 40.  (I’m not very close yet — bench: 275lbs, deadlift: 335lbs, squat: 325lbs —  but making progress towards it!).
Occupation: Former professional marathoner. Currently I coach, speak at events and am a brand ambassador.
Goal race:  No races scheduled, but I still like to do fun runs at various races.   
Following a training plan: I make up my own plan.  
Part of any running communities, clubs or training programs: Coaching Cross Country at UPrep High School in Redding, California
How long you’ve been ‘a runner:’ 22 years — but I don’t really count the last two years after I retired, since I do minimal running now. I shoot for 3 days a week of 30 minutes of easy running. I lift intensely and heavy for an hour per day. 
Goal weekly mileage: 9 miles

Day One » 10-24-17

6:30am: Wake up after a late night traveling back from the Runner’s World Running Festival and Half Marathon in Bethlehem, PA. I check my weight and I’m at 175lbs, which I’m not too happy about as I am trying to add muscle and strength. Not to worry though! I think the lighter weight could just be water weight loss from a 6-hour airplane ride yesterday. I always dry out on airplanes, no matter how much water I drink.  

Next I check my sleep duration and quality on the Fitbit app on my phone. Last night I only got 6 hours of sleep, which isn’t enough but will have to do as I have a busy day in front of me. I usually like to aim for at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep is a magical time for athletes, as it is when the body is doing the majority of its repair work and making itself stronger — so I try and never skimp on sleep.

My breakfast ritual is to make a giant Muscle Milk teff cocoa pancake. (This is the same recipe I used to eat every day when I was running professionally, but now I add an extra scoop of protein powder and extra teff to increase the calories. Now that I’m trying to gain muscle and strength I have to eat more than I burn, so I usually shoot for about 4,000 calories a day, compared to being closer to 3,000 calories a day when I was running professionally.)

I make my kids Muscle Milk oat based pancakes for breakfast before they leave for school. Then I drink a 20-ounce coffee (I roast my own beans and brew via French press).

7:25am: Drive my oldest daughter, Hana (17), to school and make a quick run to the store to restock our empty fridge.  

8am: I arrive home after the store. On a typical day, I pick Sara up to go to her training, which usually takes a couple of hours. (I usually run with her on her easy days and bike with her for her workouts.) Today, however, Sara is in Chandler, Arizona seeing our chiropractor guru John Ball. She will get home tomorrow afternoon before we leave the following day for Frankfurt for her next marathon on Sunday. In her absence, I decide to take the dogs (two miniature Siberian Huskies) for a run since they didn’t get to run while our family was in Bethlehem this past weekend.  

I lace up my Asics Dynaflytes for an easy 30-minute jog on the trails closest to my house. The dogs are quiet and peaceful on an unusually warm fall day.

9am: Snack of a muscle milk pancake. This time its oats, egg whites, Muscle Milk vanilla 100-calorie powder, salt, baking powder, pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and Stevia. Macros add up to be about 50 grams of protein and about 90 grams of carbohydrates with little fat (I try and eat minimal fat after runs/workouts so the carbs and protein can hit my system faster). This is roughly a 600-calorie pancake.  

10-11 am: Get stuff done around the house and on the computer.

11-12 pm: Time for my real training. First, I throw on my workout gear which is always Second Skin compression gear. Today I’m going with my favorite piece of compression gear (it’s a grey tank top that allows me to get the benefit of wearing compression without overheating since it’s still warmish in Redding today). I lift in my make-shift gym in my garage. Today I’m focusing on arms. Here is what I did:

Bicep/Tricep:

  • 10 sets supersetting between ez bar curls/skull crushers/close grip bench
  • 8 sets of cable curls superset with standing BB tricep extensions
  • 5 sets of hammer curls superset with donkey kick/backs
  • 1 set of 100 reps of hammer curls

Shoulder:

  • 10 sets of BB overhead press (Instead of supersetting I go to failure, then take some weight off then go to failure again — then take more weight off then go to failure again)
  • 8 sets of seated DB seated arm raises (same 3 time stripping method as above)
  • 5 sets of cable lateral raises (same 3 time stripping method)

For rest between sets I take 45 seconds. For reps, I like to vary how much I’m lifting. I start my first couple of sets of each exercise heavy (after warming up with lighter weights first) with low reps, then take weight off as my muscles tire and increase the reps.  

*BB = barbell; DB = dumbbell

12:15pm: Lunch is 440 calories of sourdough bread and 8oz of canned Alaska Salmon mixed with a spoon of light mayo and a generous squeeze of Sriracha. Then I put it on a panini press to get it hot. I also have a decent amount of steamed broccoli, and a large tea (three kenyan black tea bags, and a little half & half).  

1pm: Head out to the backyard to finish splitting and stacking firewood.

2pm: Get some work down around the house, make dinner for tonight and snack, then start packing for Frankfurt.

2:50pm: I need a snack, so I have some of the same Muscle Milk pancake as my mid-morning snack.

3pm: I pick up girls from school and head to Cross Country (XC) practice at Uprep. This is my first season coaching high school cross country, and I’m loving it. It’s fun to coach my oldest daughter Hana (17 years old) and the rest of the kids on the team. I think they are capable of incredible things.

3:30-5:30pm: Practice at Uprep. Today is a workout day for my kids, but just a moderately hard pre-race workout since they have a meet Wednesday — although I won’t really start their taper for another week in preparation for Section Finals and the State Championships.

Today’s workout is:

  • 15-minute warm up, plus drills and strides
  • 4-to-6 sets of: 800 meters hard, 2 minutes rest, 400 meter hard, 2 minutes rest
  • 15-minute cool down

6 pm: Dinner is sweet potatoes, Alaska pollock burger and spinach salad.  

7pm: Homework with the kids.

8:15pm: Snack: same Muscle Milk pancake as other snacks. I decide to throw in a little lemon zest in lieu of pumpkin to freshen them up.  

8:30-9 pm: I read in bed. Then Zzzz.

Day 2 » 10-25-17

6:30am: Wake up. Today for breakfast I’m having six scrambled eggs and a cup (dry) of oatmeal prepared as normal oatmeal. 20 ounces of Ryan Roast coffee.

Today, I’m making mango tea infused Muscle Milk pancakes for the kiddos. I like to infuse secret flavors into my kids pancakes to keep them guessing. I put some herbal mango loose leaf tea in my French press last night so I could use it this morning in place of water when I am making the pancakes.

7:25 am: Drive Hana to school

8-9 am: Going to lift during this time since I try and limit my running to about 3 days a week.  I’ve found running a lot and trying to put on muscle are opposed goals. Today I’m lifting legs, so for tomorrow’s run my legs will be shot.

Here is what I did today:

  • 10 sets of heavy deadlift.  I was pumped because I hit a new PR of 345lbs for the deadlift.  
  • 8 sets of heavy leg extensions were I go to failure and then take off 25-35lbs then go to failure, then throw off another 35lbs and go to failure again (aka dropsets). I superset this with hamstring curls.
  • 5 sets of heavy front squats.  This was the first time I’ve been able to use 195lbs for sets of 4-6 so I’m happy with that.
  • 10 sets of heavy toe raises (I use about 400lbs on a barbell and toe raise off a board…I have to use straps, otherwise my forearms aren’t strong enough to hold the weight).
  • Abs. 10 sets of hanging leg raises with a 15lb dumbbell I hold with my feet to failure, then I drop the dumbbell and go to failure — then I go straight into plank to failure.  

*All the above exercises are performed with 45 seconds rest

9:15am: Same Muscle Milk pancakes as yesterday’s snack

9:45-12pm: I finish packing for Frankfurt, dishes, laundry and work on the computer.

12pm: Lunch of 175 grams sourdough bread, 8 oz lean grass fed beef, spinach salad.  20 oz tea.

1pm: Meet with school administrator to talk about how the cross country season is going.

2pm:  Work on the computer and make a snack — the same muscle milk pancake as earlier.

3:05pm: Pick up girls from school and drive to XC practice at Uprep.

3:30pm: Talk to the team and get them started on their 45-minute easy run. I usually bike with them as they run, but today I have to pick Sara up from the Redding airport. After which, I drive to the Sacramento River where I meet the team to ice their legs.

6pm: Dinner with the family and Sara’s parents, who are in town to watch the kiddos for us while we are in Germany. Dinner is 175 grams sourdough bread and 8 oz of Alaska Salmon sandwich with spinach salad.

7pm: Homework with the kids and give recovery massages to Hana and Mia.  

8:15pm: Snack of the same Muscle Milk pancake.

8:30pm: Read in bed.

9 pm: Zzzzzz

About Ryan Hall

Ryan Hall 3
Photo credit: SecondSkin

Ryan Hall is a 2X Olympic Marathon Runner and American Record Holder in the half marathon. Now retired, he’s coaching the next generation of distance runners and is a Second Skin ambassador. He lives in Redding, Calif., with his wife and their four daughters.

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