The upcoming U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials will not be unfamiliar territory for Marielle Hall. She placed third in the 10,000 meters in 2016 to make her first Olympic Team, and she’s become well-versed in keeping her eye on the prize ever since.
Post-Rio Olympics, Hall, 29, left her training program in Philadelphia to join the Bowerman Track Club in 2017 and later competed in the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, where she placed seventh in the 10,000 meters in a personal best time of 31:05. That result currently has her ranked as third among qualifiers for the event at the Trials, and as the eighth-fastest American woman of all-time in the distance.
Hall, who grew up in Haddonfield, New Jersey, attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she initially specialized as a middle-distance runner. She quickly realized longer distances played more to her strengths and went on to nab two All-American performances in cross-country, as well as an NCAA championship title in the 5,000 meters in 2014, before making her first World Championship team in the 5,000 meters in 2015.
While the COVID-19 pandemic brought many race cancellations and made for an unpredictable year for professional athletes, Hall did her best to stay focused on her training and goals. She hit the Olympic qualifying standard once again at the Ten in southern California in February, placing fifth in 31:21, behind Bowerman teammates Elise Cranny, Karissa Schweizer, and Emily Infeld. Here’s what she had to say about what’s helped her keep a positive mindset in her final weeks of preparation for her signature event.
Runner’s World: Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been an unusual year leading up to the track trials. How has it gone for you?
Marielle Hall: I’ve been healthy, but it’s definitely been an up and down year, which I think is normal for training cycles.
I’m always remaining curious about what I can do to get every last percentage point to find those final pieces for race day in a few weeks.
You’ve qualified for both the 5,000 meters and the 10,000 meters. What’s your plan for the Trials?
I would love to compete in both, but I will be focusing on just the 10,000 at the Trials. I think anytime you’ve qualified for more than one event, and that double is possible, you want to be able to do it. But I also want to be able to give myself the best opportunity in the 10K. For me, that just means fresh legs and a few more weeks of training.
The 10,000 field is set to be pretty stacked, similar to how the Marathon Trials were last year. Does that excite you?
Yeah, I always say it’s nice sometimes when everyone there is good. You can’t really focus on one person, or one aspect of how the race will go. So by having all of these different things to focus on, you end up just having to focus on yourself. This is a case where it could be anyone’s race on a given day, which I think is what all of us are looking for anyway, our best performance. Hopefully our best performance leads to making the team, but it’s a pretty good secondary result if you were able to just have a good competitive experience.
What’s your reaction to the 10,000 meters being run in a two-section final?
I understand why the decision was made. I do understand why some people might be a bit disappointed because you want to be able to compete with everyone that you’ve trained to compete with. That’s what makes the U.S. Trials so great, that everyone gets to line up together no matter how or when they qualified. So I do feel for the people who will have that opportunity altered. But I think it’s one of those scenarios where there was just no good solution with so many qualifiers.
Do you have any prerace rituals or mantras that you repeat to yourself before a big event?
I feel like it always changes. I’ve definitely written down some mantras or quotes or things for these last 30 days or so. But I feel like I’m trying to use every day to have something to focus on. I usually also like to talk to my family and watch some of my favorite shows like Friends and Law & Order SVU to distract myself when I have more time to fill before lining up to race.
How would you say you’ve evolved as an athlete after being with the Bowerman Track Club for the last four years?
I think I’ve learned a lot about performance at a high level. It’s been helpful to learn through a lot of athletes and their processes and learn a bit from every person. That dynamic has been a fun way to experience track and field, because it is truly an individual sport. I think it’s really important to know yourself well, and since we are in a big group, there’s definitely a system based-approach to training and competition races, and how we select races. I’d say the group has taught me that, and that you can be supportive in a group setting but also have responsibility as an individual athlete. You’re not always going to be at 100 percent, when you’re having a bad day but someone else is having a good day, and you can work off of that and assist people and vice versa.
The last year brought about a lot of important conversations about racial injustice within the running industry and community, which included some powerful essays that you wrote for Runner’s World. While addressing these issues and giving runners a platform to share their lived experiences are steps in the right direction, many would agree that there is still a lot of work to be done to make the industry more equitable and inclusive. What are your thoughts and reflections on the past year and what are some further changes you’d still like to see?
One thing that I think is important is not just bringing people in to share their hardships, traumatic experiences, and lack of feeling a sense of community. There is qualified talent out there and I hope we can bring that talent in for key positions within the running industry, giving people the jobs and opportunities and getting to the point where it’s not a shock to see Black men or women in these positions. It goes a long way to have diverse voices covering everyday topics, such as nutrition, physical therapy exercises, and footwear, if we’re being specific to the running industry.
I also feel like traditionally, there’s not very much diversity in reporting and in storytelling and I think that shows up in the sport. It shows up in how it’s presented, how it comes across, and who’s interested in it. With the recent example of Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open to prioritize her mental health, improved representation in sports media could have made a difference there as well. I think that always goes a long way, if there is going to be somebody in the room who understands, or can interpret what someone’s saying in a better way than another person can. That’s the whole point of having diversity, that hopefully combined efforts can tell more and better stories.
Looking forward, what are your goals beyond the Trials and this Olympic cycle? Do you have any fall races planned or any other goals you’d want to share?
I don’t have anything planned, but I would love to keep racing, no matter what. Hopefully that there’s going to be some more opportunities in the fall, as things return to more of a sense of normalcy. I still have ambitions for myself on the track, like breaking the 15-minute barrier in the 5K and trying to get under 31 minutes in the 10K.
Hopefully there are opportunities to still race on the track this summer, but I’d also love to explore the roads more. I would also like to learn more about how I would need to adapt and adjust my training to be prepared to potentially pursue the marathon or half-marathon distances. We never really know what will happen and I don’t have anything scheduled at the moment, but that’s something I definitely want to try in the future.
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