As she swung around the 1.3-mile loop in front of Buckingham Palace for the ninth time, Sara Hall tossed her watch over to her husband, Ryan. Stuck in no-woman’s land at the 2020 London Marathon, the lead pack a minute ahead and a chase pack 45 seconds behind, she had no desire to look at her splits anymore.
Ryan, who is also Hall’s coach, was confused. “Usually when people throw their watches, they’re really frustrated because they’re running slower than they want to,” he says. “So then I’m, like, in the dumps, as a coach and as her husband. She put so much work in and it’s cold and windy and she’s all by herself.”
The elite-only race, held on October 4, was not an ideal scenario for Hall, who typically thrives in the company of competitors and whose performances are buoyed by boisterous crowds. COVID-19 safety protocols restricted spectators on the course; the race was so quiet she could hear the sound of her own footsteps. Just 18 invited female athletes crossed the finish line—far from the 40,000 runners who normally race.
On another of the 20 laps she would cover that day, Hall made eye contact with Ryan. “I can tell when she’s feeling good and when she’s not,” says Ryan. “But this was a look of, ‘What do you want me to do?’ I didn’t even know what to tell her. I just said, ‘You’re doing great.’ But inside I’m thinking, ‘This is not good. Maybe I should tell her to drop out.’”
Although the field was small, it still included the fastest women in the world—the world-record holder (2:14:04), Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, was leading the charge, along with Ruth Chepng’etich, the reigning world marathon champion, also from Kenya. Hall, at 37, was 11 years older than both of these athletes, came in with a personal best of 2:22:16, which she set by placing fifth at the 2019 Berlin Marathon.