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When Marielle Hall came down from the Bowerman Track Club altitude camp in Park City, Utah, in May to race 5,000 meters in California, it didn’t go according to plan, finishing a minute off her best, in a performance she didn’t find reflective of her fitness.
“One thing I have confidence in is that it’s impossible not to be fit at this point, it’s just a matter of getting things to align the right way,” Hall says. “Sometimes running can be very simple but also really complicated when you’re kind of hovering above or below that sweet spot.”
Along with her teammates Emily Infeld and Vanessa Fraser, she decided to spend the final month of preparation for the Olympic Trials, which begin on June 18, in Eugene, Oregon, back at home in Portland, where the oxygen supply is plentiful and recovery between workouts is a bit easier than it is in the mountains.
“I’ve just been struggling at altitude and not really feeling the sharpness that I know it’s going to take to compete well at the Trials,” Hall says. “I want to be on a team and represent the U.S. That means having confidence and getting the legs to come around.”
Hall has experience on her side. She competed in the 10,000 meters at the 2016 Rio Games and at the 2019 world championships in Doha, Qatar, she placed seventh in 31:05, then the sixth-fastest American woman of all time. Her time places her fifth among the 2021 Olympic Trials qualifiers.
In the last weeks of training, Hall has made a commitment to focusing on one day at a time, she says.
“I focus on self-awareness and knowing that the same 10 things I did at the beginning of the year maybe aren’t the same things that I have to do now as my body changes and adapts,” she says. “I don’t just do work to do work. It’s consistency and self-awareness and believing that strength will translate to speed.”
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Event: 5,000 meters (15:02.27) and 10,000 meters (31:05.71)
Training tip: When you’re in the heaviest months of training, you’re not always going to feel sharp. Hall trusts that the speed will come out of the aerobic strength she’s building.
“I remind myself that I’m really just trying to dust off layers and unveil something that’s already within me that I’ve been working toward not just this year, but for the last four years—and four years before that. You’re not starting from a blank page every time something goes right or wrong. You have all those years that add up and they all contribute. It’s within, rather than something you have to search for outside of yourself.”
Favorite workout: Hall enjoys a speed session focused on 400-meter reps. Although other workouts can reveal what she’s capable of for 5,000 meters, it’s whipping one loop around the track at a time (8-12 times) that sets her free.
“It doesn’t really tell you much, but I think it’s one of those things that you can just feel how you move and enjoy that aspect of it,” Hall says. “You don’t get that often because you’re mostly always redlining or tired. It’s fun to just be like, ‘oh yeah, this is nice.’”
The worst part of race day: Track meets almost always start late in the day and into the evening, so planning out how to eat in the hours leading up to the gun can be tricky.
“You don’t want to mess it up,” Hall says. “You have your staples, but I feel like race day nerves make something I eat every day suddenly interrupts my stomach. I don’t get it. I guess I should have this down by this point, but I feel like eating on race day is more burdensome than it is enjoyable.”
The best part of race day: The upside of waiting hours and hours to race is an entire day dedicated to relaxation and positivity for Hall.
“It’s music, quotes, watching feel-good TV, checking in with my family,” she says. “I reach for all the things that I know can put me in a good space. It’s kind of the best day ever—you’re just lounging around, everyone’s just kind of conserving themselves to be their best. I don’t think there’s ever a time where I’m that intentional about making sure that I’m happy, excitable, competitive, fun, and smart. Everything that I could possibly say nice about myself, I say it on that day.”
Trials success (aside from the obvious goal of making Team USA): If Hall can take what her competitors dish, she’ll consider it a good day, especially in the last mile and final 800 of the 10,000 meters.
“Outside of making the team, I don’t have a place or a time in mind,” she says. “I’m hoping to be there to accept the challenges of what I know will be phases throughout the race. To not just be a participant in the race, but a competitor.”
Last words to herself on the starting line: Hall hasn’t come up with anything yet, but she’s sure she will by race day.
“It changes, what I think I need to tell myself to be ready for every race,” she says. “I don’t have anything in my head yet.”
Sage advice: Pick your people wisely.
“Being surrounded by people that believe in you, you believe in them, and using one another to ask for help—it can be hard to ask for help unless it’s from this selected group of people,” she says. “Building a community and really leaning on them during these times that can be stressful, high intensity, I think that goes a long way.”
Pandemic pastimes: Hall confesses she went through “all the quarantine phases.” The bread baking, the puzzles, all the television shows; she even made some clay projects.
“I did all the things, but nothing really that I’ve stuck with,” she laughs.
One recommended read she shares, however, is The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, which is the story of twin sisters who grew up together in a small, southern black community and ran away at age 16. As adults, their lives go in different directions—their families, communities, and racial identities diverge.
“I feel like it was reflective of a lot of different things that I’ve been thinking about, and it was just a very well-written book,” Hall says. “But yeah, I don’t know how we got through the year, but we got through, so there’s that.”
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series leading up to the 2021 U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials, highlighting many of the top athletes contending for the U.S. Olympic team. You can find all of our coverage here.