2000 Foot Locker Champ Sara Hall shares her thoughts on a surprise qualification, defending a title, and meeting her husband.
Q: Can you please describe some of the most important memories from your FLCC experience?
A: For me, making the FL finals first helped me realize that I had potential in the sport. I ran the Seeded Western Regionals as a
freshman to qualify for the FL finals as a fluke. I was going to run the Freshman race, and someone recommended I run the Seeded race (I
had no idea even what the Foot Locker Nationals were). I ended up out leaning someone for the last spot to make the finals, and once I
was there, I was amazed at the whole production. The way that Foot Locker put on the event made us feel like it was the Olympic
Games! After that year, I always dreamed of winning the FL National Championships.
It was a goal that didn't come easy. I was 3rd my Sophomore year, didn't make it my Junior year (a year I was supposed to be in
contention to win it), and my Senior year got off to a rough start and it looked unlikely. But though I started the year running slower than
I had as a freshman, I held strong to that goal and ended up winning, even though I lost many races leading up to it. It taught me to never
give up, even if it appears unlikely, that anything's possible. It's something I still draw on today.
I remember that my plan was to always go out in the back and be last at the first mile. For some reason I always overemphasized pacing
myself (I guess I thought I was smarter than everyone else!) Some years, it was easier to move up than others. My freshman year was the
El Nino year where we ran through knee deep water on the flooded golf course. I hadn't run the course the day before with the others (I
never ran the day before the race at that point) so I didn't know how close to the finish I was until I rounded the turn and saw it. My
senior year, after having run the race a few times, I knew the course better, and I knew that people often went out too hard in the heat and
humidity, but I had to stay closer than I had in years past.
I also have fond memories of the weekend as a huge social event. Meeting other runners from around the country in a time before email
and running websites had really taken off was huge. Obviously, something I remember is meeting Ryan (my husband) for the first time at the Foot Locker western regionals my senior year. He had a bad race (3rd) that he was disappointed with, and I remember him taking off his number, crumpling it, throwing it on the ground, and kicking it! It wasn't a great first impression! But we talked a little bit at the Nationals (he was super shy) and though nothing romantic came of it, I'm sure that there was some attraction there!
I also remember that they always gave us a tape of the race. The year I got 3rd, I watched the tape over and over to inspire me to
train harder so that I would never get third again. I would watch it before I went out to do a hard workout and would end every run doing
strides, visualizing myself winning on that final stretch of grass.
Q: Can you provide some tips for runners preparing for the Regionals?
A: I learned the hard way my junior year that the #1 goal of Regionals should be qualifying for Nationals, and not about placing
as high as you can. I went out really aggressively at the Regionals my junior year with the hopes of defending my title by a large margin,
but faded in the last 800 of the race. Make sure you have a conservative enough race plan to ensure you have the gas at the end,
but an aggressive enough mentality going into the race that you will do whatever it takes to earn one of those spots!
Q: Do you have any tips for runners who qualify and have one or two weeks of downtime between their regional race and the Nationals?
A: My advice would be to not change anything that got you to where you are. Don't think of yourself differently and think you need to live like a professional athlete because you made the championships. Continue to do the things you enjoy and keep yourself relaxed by spending time with family and friends. Get plenty of sleep, plan ahead on your school work so that doesn't become an unneeded stress as the race gets closer, and make sure that any classwork or tests you miss are taken care of. When you are training, visualize yourself on the course, running strong and excited. And get excited for a memory you will never forget!
Q: What can the runners expect at Nationals?
A: At the Nationals, Foot Locker brings an incredible staff that will take care of anything and everything you need or want. So relax going into it; you will have everything you need to perform your best. The food is great, the hotel is incredible, and the atmosphere is positive and exciting! Expect to meet not only other great high school athletes, but professional athletes who will be there to offer advice for the rest of your career and cheer you on! You will be rooming with another athlete from your same region, so it is probably someone you know from competing and hopefully are comfortable with. And though the goal is to be rested and fresh for the race, there will be some fun social activities planned leading up to and after the event so that you can get to know the other runners and stay relaxed!
Q: What are some race strategies for the runners at the National Finals?
A: On race day, the atmosphere will be really exciting with everyone in their different region uniforms and the golf course buzzing with
anxious fans. If you have any needs, you will have a region team captain that's a professional athlete that can help you with any last
minute decisions on your race plan. Otherwise, stick with what's worked for you in the past and what your coach recommends. The San
Diego course is very undulating, so make sure to pace yourself on the first mile. The year I won the Nationals, I was last at the mile and
just continued to move up. Because the course has a number of turns, you will want to stay in striking distance of the leaders so that they
don't appear to be out of reach (unless they've gone out at a suicidal pace). And take into account that the race surface is thick grass and
not as responsive as packed dirt or road. Depending on what you're used to training and racing on, this may make your legs feel more
sluggish than normal, so don't think you're headed for a bad race in the first 100 meters. Save a little for the end, and get some
momentum going down the big hill for the last time to carry you through to the finish!