Today's Devotions

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Showcase: Assorted Treats

  • River of Love +

    There's a river of love that runs through all timeBut there's a river of grief that floods through our livesIt Read More
  • I Am Nothing +

    I stutter when I tryTo speak the language of lifeI want to shout out loudBut I just cry insideSometimes it Read More
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The marathoner Ryan Hall worshiping in Redding, Calif., at Bethel Church, which he joined with his wife, Sara, last August.


REDDING, Calif. - Ryan Hall rocked slightly, palms up, closing his eyes or singing softly to lyrics projected on giant screens at the evangelical Bethel Church. Other worshipers jubilantly raised their arms and swayed and jumped in the aisles. A band played onstage and a woman waved a fabric flag like a rhythmic gymnast.

Thin and blond and boyish at 29 - flight attendants still asked his age when he sat in an exit row - Hall wore jeans and a blue shirt labeled with the shoe company that sponsored his running. At the 2011 Boston Marathon, he ran a personal best of 2 hours 4 minutes 58 seconds. No other American has run faster.

The Boston course is not certified for record purposes because of its drop in elevation and its layout. Still, of the29 fastest marathon performances in 2011, Hall's was the only one by a runner from a country other than Kenya or Ethiopia. His next marathon will come Aug. 12 at the London Olympics. On a Sunday in March, Hall firmly believed he could challenge the East Africans for a gold medal.

"Light a fire in me for the whole world to see," he sang.

The Bible downloaded on his iPhone, Hall read along with Psalm 68: "Let God arise and his enemies be scattered." He took notes as Bill Johnson, the pastor, casually hip in a sports coat and jeans, spoke to hundreds of worshipers about risk-taking, saying, "If you live cautiously, all your friends will call you wise, but you won't move mountains."

The sermon seemed particularly resonant with Hall, a Stanford graduate with a degree in sociology, a surfer-dude mien and an approach to running that is experimental and unorthodox. He has pushed the boundaries of conventional training, seeking to confront the dominant East Africans and the unforgiving way that the fastest marathons have become something like 26.2-mile sprints.

He coaches himself, running alone instead of with an elite training group here in Northern California, two hours above Sacramento, where the flat land of the Central Valley begins to buck and heave like a rodeo bull.

For the Olympic marathon trials in January in Houston, Hall trained entirely at sea level, contravening a widely held belief that altitude training is necessary to increase oxygen-carrying capacity and enhance performance. Although he has incorporated some altitude training for the Olympics, Hall has headed to the highlands of Flagstaff, Ariz., for weeks, not months, at a time. He runs 100 miles a week instead of the typical 120, taking one day off each seven days. Every seven weeks, he runs once a day instead of twice, the standard regimen.

Hall has yet to win a major marathon. He finished 10th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After taking fourth at Boston in the spring of 2011, he finished fifth at the Chicago Marathon last fall. His preparation for the London Games has been complicated by foot problems, disappointing tuneup races and an acknowledgment that his initial training strategy - to try to shatter the world record - did not work. But Hall remains flexible, adaptable. He has four weeks until the Olympic marathon to refine a new approach begun over the past month.

"Sometimes, you have to fail your way to the top," Hall said in his open, easy manner in March. "Thomas Edison found a thousand ways not to make a light bulb before he got it right."

Underpinning his running is his faith. The marathon is so isolating in its training, so impossibly fast at the elite level, so restricting to two performances a year for most top runners, that many athletes seek a purpose larger than themselves, something to believe in more than the numbing miles of roadwork. For some, it is their families or an escape from poverty. For others, it is their religion.

"If you run without any reason, you are just chasing the wind," said Wesley Korir, the reigning Boston Marathon champion from Kenya.

During the 2011 Chicago Marathon, Hall began singing praise to the Lord. Freestyling, he called it. Korir joined in.

"Come Lord Jesus, come," the two runners sang as they ran. "Come Holy Spirit, come."

After finishing second at the 2011 United States half-marathon championships, Hall went to drug testing, a standard procedure. Asked on a form to list his coach, he wrote: God.

You have to list the name of a real person, a doping official said.

"He is a real person," Hall responded.

Conversing With God

Bethel Church, formerly affiliated with the Assemblies of God or Pentecostal faith, is a charismatic evangelical Christian fellowship with more than 3,000 congregants. It promotes a direct, personal relationship with an unconditionally loving God and what it calls supernatural signs and wonders. These include speaking in tongues, prophecy, healings and miracles that are said by church officials to include the curing of cancer, regeneration of limbs, mending of broken bones and raising the dead.

After the Sunday service in March, some worshipers came forward for healing ministry. Prayer teams circled them. Hands were laid on the spiritually and physically ailing. A few collapsed in apparent rapture in the presence of what they believed to be the Holy Spirit.

"Just what Jesus demonstrated in the Bible, we really do believe it; we're seeing it," said Eric Johnson, 35, the senior leader of Bethel Church and the son of Bill Johnson, 61, the senior pastor.

Eric Johnson also spoke of "a culture of honor," serving your fellow man and living as Jesus lived. Hall donates prize money from his races to a nonprofit organization founded by himself and his wife, Sara, the national cross-country champion.

The nonprofit, called the Steps Foundation, is dedicated to fighting global poverty through improved health. The Halls have financed running programs in the United States to help mentor disadvantaged youth and homeless adults. They have also worked with Korir to build a hospital in Kenya's Rift Valley.

As part of the so-called renewalist evangelical Christian movement, Bethel Church subscribes to a relationship with God that is not distant but intimate. Through prayer, charismatic evangelicals train their minds to converse with God, not unlike athletes who train their bodies to run marathons. They speak to God and believe that he speaks to them in return.

"There's a verse in the Bible that says we have the mind of Christ," Sara Hall said. "When you believe you have the mind of Christ, God can work in your own thoughts. His thoughts become your thoughts."

At Bethel Church, God's presence is felt in a number of ways, including what is said to be the appearance of feathers from angels' wings and the manifestation of what is called a "glory cloud."

Hall said he and his wife had experienced a glory cloud on New Year's night, likening the phenomenon to fireflies or the flashing of tiny fireworks. Others say it resembles gold dust. He had seen a YouTube version of the glory cloud and was somewhat skeptical, believing that it might be simply a cascade of dust from the ceiling of the church. His skepticism faded when he saw for himself.

"I feel like I've experienced God in a lot of ways, but I've never seen a sign like that in such a tangible way," Hall said. "I was like so sure it was God, that it was him doing it, because there was no explanation. I almost feel like we're kids and he's our dad and he's kind of like having fun with us."

It is while running or thinking of running, Hall said, that he feels most conversant with and dependent on God. And it is through this professional excellence that Hall believes he is best able to show God to the world, to display his goodness and his love.

Joe Bottom, who won a gold and a silver medal in swimming at the 1976 Montreal Games and attends Bethel Church, compared Hall's Olympic pursuit to that of Eric Liddell, a Christian runner from Scotland who won the 400 meters at the 1924 Paris Games. Liddell's story was featured in the movie "Chariots of Fire."

In the movie, Liddell is portrayed as saying, "I feel God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure."

Bottom said in an e-mail: "It's fulfilling, even exhilarating, to feel God's pleasure in our willingness to pursue and occasionally fulfill the dreams He puts in our hearts and the purposes He built into us. Cooperating with that purpose and those dreams is the greatest fulfillment that one could experience."

Hall said that God spoke to him regularly, giving him training plans, even a race strategy for the London Olympics. He does not hear a voice; rather, he will pray or scroll through workouts in his head and a heightened thought will give him a sense of peace, grace, empowerment. Or a passage from the Bible will seem particularly relevant and urgent. Hall is still learning to distinguish his own thoughts from what he believes are God's words to him. And sometimes, he has done workouts that in retrospect seem unwise - a thigh-shredding hill run in Flagstaff, a bicycle time trial a week after the Boston Marathon.

But Hall has also found biblical reinforcement for his training. He takes one day off a week, just as God rested on the seventh day. Every seven weeks, for restoration he runs only once a day instead of twice, an allusion to Exodus 23:11 and the admonition that farmers should leave their fields fallow every seventh year.

At night, he rubs his legs with anointing oil, another reference to Exodus and the belief that the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Hall bought - but did not immediately use - a weighted vest for uphill running, an idea gleaned from Judges 16:3 and Samson hoisting the doors of the city gate of Gaza on his shoulders and carrying them to the top of the hill facing Hebron.

In spacing three days between his most arduous workouts, Hall refers to the Holy Trinity and the time that Jesus spent in the tomb; for him, this period represents resurrection, completeness, new life.

"The Bible is not going to tell you how to be a good runner, just like it's not going to tell you how to build a computer," Sara Hall said. "I don't think Ryan is looking at the Bible for a formula, necessarily. There are certain things that God highlights for him that he applies to his training. The majority is what he hears from God."

Some elite runners seem taken aback by Hall's faith-based training.

"So he really thinks God is saying, 'Run 10 times 1,200 meters today,' or 'Take tomorrow off'?' " said Dathan Ritzenhein, who finished ninth in the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, one spot ahead of his countryman Hall. "Wow."

Hall's belief in a direct conversation with God was not a fringe occurrence, said T. M. Luhrmann, a Stanford anthropologist who spent a decade researching charismatic evangelicals and wrote a recent, critically acclaimed book, "When God Talks Back." Polls have shown that about a quarter of Americans have reported a direct revelation from God or have experienced a voice or a vision through prayer.

"Just the way a well-parented child will carry with them the soothing voice of their mother and father, these folks are really trying to build God as that kind of personal relationship," Luhrmann said in an interview. "It really does give an emotional buffer to people. It seems people are able to carry with them a sense of comforting reassurance and a sense of inspiration. So it's not so alien as it seems."

A Runner's Inspiration

On Aug. 24, 2008, Hall reached the starting line of the Olympic marathon in Beijing, expecting, along with many others, that pollution, heat and humidity would slow the race. A moderate time of 2:09 might win the gold medal, he thought. The temperature at the start was 70 degrees, with 72 percent humidity. Through the race, the temperature rose to 84 degrees. Anything above 55 was considered less than ideal for a marathon.

Still, Hall had anticipated this moment since he was a short, skinny eighth grader in Big Bear Lake, Calif. At the time, baseball was his passion. He wanted to emulate his father, Mickey, who was a pitcher at Pepperdine and was drafted by, but never signed with, the Baltimore Orioles. His father ran, too, as a triathlete. Ryan had loped through a mile in physical education class, but he dreamed of a career in baseball spikes, not racing flats.

Mickey Hall said, "Every time Ryan went for a run, he'd come back and say, 'I'm not a runner.' "

Then, as Ryan rode with his teammates to a basketball game one day, Hall experienced what he described as a vision from God, urging him to run around the lake at Big Bear. The family was deeply religious, belonging to a Pentecostal church. The next weekend, wearing basketball shoes, Ryan and his father covered 15 miles. His father tried to dissuade him, but Ryan persisted.

"He kept bugging me till he drove me crazy," Mickey Hall, a teacher, said with a laugh. "I finally said, O.K., but this is a bad idea."

Ryan eventually grew tired, and his father stopped for cold drinks. Ryan remembers soaking his legs in the cold water of the lake. When he got home, he collapsed on the couch, exhausted but changed. Soon, Hall gave up other sports. He was now a runner. He went on to win multiple California high school championships, and an N.C.A.A. title at 5,000 meters at Stanford.

"I felt like God was saying, 'I'm giving you a gift to run with the best guys in the world, but I'm giving you that gift so you can help other people,' " Hall said.

At a young age, he said he did not understand about helping people. But he understood, "O.K., I'm going to run in the Olympics one day."

That day had come in Beijing. Hall was considered a medal candidate. But he felt sluggish and when the gun sounded, his race plan crumbled. Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya had an entirely different, unanticipated strategy. He went out at a searing pace. This was a marathon, but it felt like a 10k race.

"It's like if you were to come out in a boxing match, kind of hoping to work into things and the guy comes out and, bam, pops you," Hall said.

He kept checking his mile splits. He was running fast and yet drifting so far back. "What's going on?" he wondered. He felt dazed, hoping the lead pack would come back to him. It did not. Hall grew discouraged and quit checking his splits. A helicopter providing a television feed of the leaders kept moving farther down the road.

Dejected, Hall finished 10th in 2:12:33. He was unable to watch a replay of the race for three years. Emotionally scarring, he called it. At the dining hall in the athletes' village, Hall sought consolation by stuffing himself with cookies and other junk food. He saw the celebrative Wanjiru walking out with a handful of fruit.

"I was like, 'Just salt my wounds,' " Hall said.

That night, he attended the closing ceremony at Bird's Nest stadium. He found himself perhaps 50 feet away from the medal podium as Wanjiru had gold placed around his neck, Jaouad Gharib of Morocco received the silver, and Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia was awarded the bronze.

"Man, I'm going to get myself there in four years," Hall told himself.

It would not be easy. Marathon running became something different in Beijing. Wanjiru broke the Olympic record by nearly three minutes, winning in 2:06:32. It was Kenya's first gold medal in the marathon. Given the oppressive conditions, some considered it the greatest run ever. A certain fear of the distance had been lost. The best runners no longer thought they had to hold back at the start to conserve energy. Wanjiru would not live to defend his Olympic title in London. His personal life grew messy. He drank heavily by many accounts, and he died last year after a fall from a balcony at his home in circumstances that have never been resolved.

Still, his effect on the marathon has been sweeping. Of the 24 sub-2:05 marathons that have been run internationally, 20 have come since Wanjiru's blazing victory in Beijing. The current world record, set last September in Berlin by Patrick Makau of Kenya, is 2:03:38, a pace of about 4:43 per mile. At least one scientist has predicted that a sub-two-hour marathon is possible by 2015.

"It's almost like how we measure time - before Beijing how the marathon was and after Beijing how the marathon is," Hall said. "People stopped being afraid. They are much more aggressive now. Guys just go for it."

Eventually, that defeat in Beijing changed from deflating to liberating for Hall. He embraced risk and lost his fear of failure.

"I don't see failure as a negative thing at all anymore, which is a huge shift for me," he said. "I just see that as part of my training, my process, learning, experimenting, getting it wrong so that I can get it right."

'Pioneering a Movement'

The chill lifted on a March morning, and Hall removed his shirt under a bright sky. He loosened his legs with a three-mile run through a forest filled with fat, spiky pine cones. Then he began a steep trail climb. Power lines hummed above him. Pickup trucks labored behind on the rutted road. The descent became so precipitous that a bicyclist carrying water for Hall flipped over the handlebars and cut his head.

Hall ran for 12 miles up and down the trail, his stride so light and long and elegant that he appeared to hover above the ground. Sometimes when he ran, he conjured the voice of British announcers: "He must be in a dreadful amount of pain now, but he must keep pushing."

Hall had begun to reassess his outlook toward running as he prepared for the Chicago Marathon in the fall of 2010. He felt fatigued, unable to complete his workouts. Later, he discovered that he had an underactive thyroid. He said that his longtime coach, the highly regarded Terrence Mahon, began to question his motivation, suggesting, "Maybe you just don't want it the same way that you wanted it before."

Mahon said he believed Hall simply wanted to train alone, as he had as a young runner. In any case, Hall withdrew two weeks before the 2010 Chicago Marathon, worried that his career might be at an end. He left Mahon and his training group in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

"Once I knew he kind of lost faith in me a little bit, that was a real shifting point," Hall said. "My coach has to believe in me. That's the most important thing, probably."

About that time, Hall also began to feel what he called a "desperation for God," a desire to make God a more constant part of his daily life, "to step out in faith and take risks with him."

At Stanford, with school and running going poorly, he had taken a semester off in the winter of 2003 to help redirect his life.

"I was a runner who happened to be a Christian," Hall said. "I needed to become a Christian who happened to be a runner."

Last August, Hall and his wife moved to Redding and joined Bethel Church. They had met at a meet in high school, both signing autographs annotated with biblical verses. They dated at Stanford and married shortly after graduation, nearly seven years ago.

In 2009, Sara Hall first visited Bethel Church, frustrated over the inability of sports science to heal a bothersome injury to her Achilles' tendon. She said she spent a few minutes in one of the church's "healing rooms." Hands were laid on her feet, prayers were said. Comforting words were spoken: "God just delights in watching you run; it doesn't matter which place you finish."

Sara said she went for an hourlong run and her foot felt fine. The next day, she tested the tendon with repeats of 200 meters. Again, it was fine. The tendon problem has not returned.

"I don't even remember which one it was," she said.

Four afternoons a week, when in town, the Halls attend Bethel's School of Supernatural Ministry, which is devoted to worship and the study of healing and prophecy. Before the Olympic trials, classmates ensured Ryan that he would qualify for London and told him, "You're not running a race, you're pioneering a movement."

Since moving to Redding, Ryan seemed happier, full of energy, free to improvise in his training and not so slavishly devoted to a particular workout schedule, Sara Hall said.

"He used to say he was a dead man walking," she said.

The life of an Olympic marathon runner resembles a battery for a laptop computer. Each day is consumed with a repetitive draining and recharging of energy. The perfect athletes, Hall said, are his dogs, miniature huskies named Dash and Kai, who "do their morning stretches, eat right after they run and lay around and do nothing all day, conserving energy."

Hall loads up on carbohydrates immediately after his workouts and follows advice given to him by Mark Plaatjes, a native South African who became an American citizen and won the 1993 world marathon championship: eat as much as you can.

"There are a lot of good runners who weigh more than 120 pounds," Hall said.

He visits a massage therapist and a chiropractor weekly and spends 90 minutes or more each day on what he calls self-therapy. He loads a sermon on his television or iPad and watches while he rolls his back and hips over a softball or lacrosse ball to relieve the tightness; stretches his left foot to manage swelling known as plantar fasciitis; rubs his legs with a tool that resembles a cake cutter to smooth the connective tissue surrounding the muscles; uses resistance bands for leg lifts; and strengthens his abdomen by exercising on blowup balls.

Ryan and Sara sometimes run together on his easy days. Hall also trades ideas with his father, who coached him in high school. The risk of coaching himself is a lack of objectivity, Mahon, Hall's former coach, said at the Olympic marathon trials.

"It's not easy to say, 'I screwed up,' " Mahon said. "It's easier when someone else says, 'This is why, and we can change it.' "

But some other elite marathoners coach themselves, including Makau, the world-record holder.

"You can listen to your own body and take time to recover after training," Makau said. "Sometimes, a coach pushes you too much."

Many elite marathoners would not dare skip altitude training, as Hall did for the Olympic trials.

"We're going to compete against those guys from Kenya" who grow up at altitude, said Meb Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist who defeated Hall at the 2012 trials. "Altitude's important."

After the trials, Hall reconsidered and decided to do a limited amount of altitude training. At sea level, he can run faster and says he recovers quicker and sleeps better. And his church is at sea level. He has some fellow believers among American marathoners. Desiree Davila, who finished second at the 2011 Boston Marathon and will compete in the Olympics, does no altitude training.

Scientists debate its effects. The variables that determine performance are complex, said Tim Noakes, an exercise physiologist at the University of Cape Town who served as an altitude expert for FIFA, soccer's world governing body, at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

"If you look at the literature, some people benefit and some get worse, and the general result is no effect," Noakes said of altitude training. The placebo effect, though, can be significant, Noakes said. He urges those who believe in altitude training to continue and those who are skeptical to skip it. At the elite level of marathon running, he said, psychology probably plays a more crucial role than physiology.

"The more stable you are as a human, the better you are as an athlete, and religion is a very stabilizing force," Noakes said. "You don't have doubts. God is looking after you. That's incredibly powerful. If Ryan finds special strength in his religion, it's much more important for him than training at altitude."

As his training for London began, Hall planned a longer, more gradual buildup to these Olympics than for Beijing. For the first time, he used a bicyclist as a pacesetter. And he skipped early speed training, feeling that interval work deadened his legs. Instead, he favored free-flowing, undulating runs, each meant to simulate race day. His workouts were infused with rest to keep his legs fresh. Hence the 100 miles of running a week, instead of the standard 120, and a rest day each seven days, rare for a marathon runner.

"I've learned to challenge some of the things we just do blindly," Hall said. "I feel like a lot of mileage just kills people. I wonder how many great runners are covering up their talent. They don't have pop in their legs because they're running a lot of junk. The marathon today is so fast, you've got to be fresh enough to run really fast in training."

God had given him a specific race plan for London, he said in March. He was reluctant to discuss the strategy at the time, saying only that it was rooted in the Bible and based on surprise.

"I feel like the vision God has given me is like a golden puzzle, and all the pieces are coming together," Hall said.

But the pieces never quite meshed.

His original plan, Hall said last week, was for an ambitious, even astonishing, breakthrough. He had intended to train to run the Olympic marathon at 4 minutes 40 seconds per mile, about 3 seconds faster per mile than the current world record.

His plan was based on workouts his father had given him for a 2:02 marathon. And on confiding words from a friend in Redding, whose own conversations with God had revealed an astounding Olympic possibility. After all, in 2007, Hall had become the first American to run a half marathon in less than an hour (59:43). But he pushed himself too hard in his buildup toward London and his body stopped responding. He found it difficult to sustain his desired pace beyond four miles.

"What I learned from this buildup is how to take prophetic words," Hall said. "It's more speaking of your potential than fortunetelling."

Shortly after the Olympic trials in January, Hall fasted for a week. Usually, he would have begun to gain 5 to 10 pounds, knowing that they would melt off when training resumed. But Hall was seeking more clarity in his communication with God before preparing for London.

While he sensed a closer spiritual connection during his fast, he also lost weight and felt his body "got into a little hole." His hormone levels were affected. In retrospect, he believes he remained too lean for a pair of poor tuneup races - a 10k in New York in mid-May and a half marathon in San Diego in early June.

Upon further biblical reflection, Hall noted that in 1 Samuel 14:24, King Saul proclaimed a fast as Israel faced the Philistines in battle. But Israel's victory was incomplete because its army was left in a weakened state. Hall's pastor had admonished that fasting before such physical exertion was not the right approach, Hall said. At 5 feet 10 inches, he hopes to race at 138 pounds in London.

"I had the right intention, but maybe I went about it the wrong way," he said.

Hall also came to believe that his lack of intensive speed work, based on 5k and 10k training, was detrimental to his Olympic marathon preparations. At the San Diego half marathon, he finished in 1:05.39, more than five minutes off his personal best.

"In hindsight, I would have incorporated a lot more 5k and 10k training," Hall said. He has begun doing more speed work in the past month, realizing "how important it is and how behind I am."

In San Diego, too, Hall reported a flare-up of plantar fasciitis, a painful swelling of the connective tissue on the bottom of his left foot. It had bothered him for two months leading to the Olympic trials. In March, he had a magnetic resonance imaging test. He also saw a podiatrist, who prescribed stretching, icing, an arch support and sound-wave therapy that causes microtrauma in the tissue and stimulates a healing response.

By early May, Hall said his left foot still became tight and sore sometimes but that it was gradually improving.

"I'm not really worried about it anymore," he said.

By early June, though, the injury was "worse than before." He had begun favoring his right leg, and the imbalance led to discomfort in his right hamstring and hip. He had gone to a healing room at Bethel Church, seeking relief. One day, while Hall filmed a commercial, a police officer laid his hands on the sore foot and prayed for healing. Hall also continued shock-wave therapy, and by mid-June, the plantar fasciitis seemed to run its course, like a prolonged fever.

"It's a huge relief," Hall said last week. "My stride is more normal. I feel I'm getting better pop off the ground."

Peers Weigh In

Other American runners watch from afar with some mix of intrigue, admiration and skepticism.

"When he decided to leave Terrence, we were all like, 'Ooh, I don't know how that's going to go,' " said Kara Goucher, who will run the women's Olympic marathon. "But Ryan has really impressed me with his consistency. He believes in what he is doing. As an athlete, that is everything. If you don't, it's a disaster."

It is O.K. to experiment, "but the racing has to back that up," said Bobby Curtis, who finished 15th at the 2011 New York City Marathon. "He'll prove everybody wrong if for the next three years he's the same Ryan Hall. But it will be fuel for the fire for a lot of people who are critical of him if he doesn't continue at that same level."

Among the most interested observers is Alberto Salazar, a former American marathoner who now coaches elite athletes. He, too, is a renowned tinkerer whose Catholic faith played a significant role in his career. Salazar said he had the utmost respect for Hall, but also believed that God wanted his followers to take responsibility for their daily actions and "not depend on him for the answer to everything."

"I don't believe God is necessarily interested in what workouts I should give my runners," Salazar said.

At the same time, he said, "I may not understand how Ryan believes, but what I respect him for tremendously is that he has the guts to share his faith."

Hall does not appear defensive about challenges to his beliefs. Instead, he seems to relish the discussion. He does not view his reliance on God as an abdication of responsibility but as a means of empowerment.

"I'm my own toughest critic," Hall said. "I've messed up, but the mistake wasn't on God's end. I really believe God is always wanting to speak to me and reveal secrets to me and tell me what I need to be doing. I just mess it up sometimes.

"I'm very open about saying I don't have it all figured out," Hall said. "I don't necessarily feel I've hit a marathon completely right yet. But I don't think that's a reflection of some character flaw. I've learned to see myself as God sees me. We believe God sees us as perfect, almost as if we have a Jesus suit on, because he died for us and took away our sins.

"If that's how the creator of the universe sees me, that's a very honoring thing," Hall said. "It builds your confidence. It makes you see yourself in a very good light. I don't have a lot of issues with my identity."

He has begun to compress his training, placing two days between his hardest workouts instead of three. And he has quit wearing a watch while he trains, so he will not be discouraged by slow splits or inhibited by fast ones. He says he does not plan on wearing a watch in London, either. He feels unbound this way, running for the joy of it, more closely connected with God.

What to expect now at the Olympics? Hall admits that he is hopeful and uncertain. He had hoped to be further along in training. It is difficult to gauge where he stands. But his marathon preparations usually coalesce in the final month. His wife did not qualify for London in the steeplechase, so Hall will skip the opening ceremony, spending extra time at altitude in Flagstaff. He said he would arrive at the start line with "no expectations and zero limitations."

His spiritual growth, he said, has freed him from caution and a dependence on results for his happiness.

"It's going to take a special day," Hall said of his gold medal chances. "But I feel like I went for it, regardless of how the race goes. I'll always look back on this as a season of joy. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't. That's part of the fun of life, taking some chances and seeing what happens."

Reflections to Consider

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  • River of Love

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  • I Am Nothing

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Audio & Video

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Hidden Blessings

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