From Clydesdale to Ironman
Meet the Halls
Jeff Hall (age 51) and his wife Elsie live in Surprise, Arizona. Both are avid runners and bike riders. Jeff is a soon to be retired Adult Education Professional and Elsie is a nurse for Hospice of the Valley. This is Jeff’s story, but I’m sure Elsie would tell you she figures in much more than just “being along for the ride.”
Behind the Running
Before he became an administrator, Jeff spent a number of years as a fire-fighter in the military. This led to a ruptured disc and subsequent back surgery in 1998. During the recovery period, Jeff started gaining weight, topping out around 260 lbs, well into Clydesdale range, especially considering that Jeff measures 5’ 10”. In ensuing years Jeff would experience a litany of health concerns. He was aware that heart problems ran in his family; his mother suffered chronic heart problems and ultimately died from them. His older brother had his first heart attack in 2004. Jeff himself was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These conditions were acerbated by the stress of a failing marriage.
So when he received a flier from the American Stroke Association inviting him to train for the 2005 PF Chang Rock & Roll Marathon in Phoenix, he grabbed it like a drowning man. The deal was that he would “plunk down” $100, raise $2,600 for the Stroke Association and be sponsored and trained for his first Marathon.
In describing the long drive to his weekly group run and the guided training in between, Jeff concludes that raising the $2,600 was even harder than the training. Jeff went on to finish the PF Chang. In his words, “About five minutes from the end I started to tear up and by the time I crossed the finish line I was bawling like a baby”. At that point, his only regret was that, due to the deteriorating marriage, his wife and kids were not present to witness his emotional triumph. “I had an uncle who came, but that was it.”
Jeff has gone on to finish 17 marathons and one Ironman competition. En route he lost enough weight (61lbs) to escape the Clydesdale label. RFYL wants to both commend Jeff and thank him for sharing his running experiences in the following interview. I also want to thank Elsie for coming into the picture. We can always use another runner, not to mention another partner.
RFYL: What does running mean to you?
Jeff: It means a sense of accomplishment. It means de-stressing. Just going out and having fun. Reaching goals. A way of life. A life changer. An integral part of who I am.
Ryan and Jeff Hall (no relation)
RFYL: Has running affected you in other ways?
Jeff: Well, I’m a runner. I’m a marathoner. That’s who I am. Sometimes I think about my accomplishments and it blows my mind. For example, the Ironman, I mean ride a bike a hundred miles than get off and run a marathon. Not to mention the swim. But I have to tell you, five minutes after finishing the Ironman it hit me. I’m still me. With all my flaws. I’m the same person despite my accomplishments.
RFYL: Jeff, I know you are a big fan of many elite runners. You met Ryan Hall and may get a chance to interview him at the upcoming Chicago Marathon. Who else has inspired you?
Jeff: Anybody I come across that gives me information or good ideas. I consider you (RFYL guy) a good example. I mean, here you are in your upper sixties still going strong. Wow, I hope I can run as well when I’m your age. I know a guy 75 who did an Ironman. But I’m also amazed when I see somebody who is handicapped, especially blind runners running unaided with only a stick. It makes me think, “Who am I compared to these people when I’m able bodied?”
RFYL: Jeff, you’ve done a bunch of marathons…
Jeff: Chicago in October will make 18.
RFYL: Right. Plus an Ironman. So what are your top three favorites?
Jeff: Ironman was probably the biggest. When I went through the chutes, I saw all the people cheering and clapping, it was late at night, just hearing my name called out, “Jeff Hall You are an Ironman”. It was awesome. My first marathon that I did in 2005, PF Chang, huge sense of accomplishment, such an emotional moment when I crossed the finish line bawling like a baby. Third biggest race was the New York City Marathon. Just because it was New York City. And running the race was a great way to see the city. It was one of my slowest races because I kept stopping to take pictures.
RFYL: You make running sound like fun. What are some fun things about it?
Jeff: I enjoy seeing some of the wildlife around the valley. I like to hear the birds chirp. There’s a pair of brown tailed hawks that fly around our house. I see them sitting on telephone poles looking for rabbits and we have tons of rabbits. I enjoy seeing families of quail with the little chicks running behind. The other day I saw a family of coyotes with a mom and a dad with two pups.
I like playing with my toys. Like my Garmin. It allows me to run against myself. Create a virtual run. Me against my past performances.
Playing games with Elsie. Like making her the rabbit, giving her a head-start then trying to catch her. This year I’ve gotten into trail running. It’s just like hiking, only faster.
RFYL: You’ve talked about what running has done for you. How are you giving back to the sport?
Jeff: Well, by encouraging others.
RFYL: In what ways?
Jeff: It’s being excited and exuberant about everything. Just talking it up, whether it’s swimming, biking, whatever. It’s getting people to believe in themselves. Always giving words of encouragement. Sometimes advice.
RFYL: You mention advice. What advice do you have for other distance runners?
Jeff: Try to stay consistent. Listen to your body. Just know every athlete is different. What works for another person might not work for you. Focus on recovering well from races and hard workouts. Keep a log. Look at your data. Use it to measure your progress and plan future workouts. Know you are going to have set-backs. Don’t try to perform like anyone else.
RFYL: What would your typical workout week look like?
Jeff: Now that Chicago is ten weeks away I’m sticking to my plan where I’m running three days a week. Monday is Speed work. Wed a tempo run. Fri or Sat is a long run. Other days I either don’t do anything or else I swim or bike.
RFYL: What would you do if you couldn’t run?
Jeff: I hope that I could find something else to replace that sense of gratification I get from running. So let’s say I couldn’t run, maybe I could be a wheel chair athlete or something. I know when I had my bike accident May of 2010 when I broke my hip. I was driven to prove the Doctor and other people wrong. That I could run again. I could compete in another Marathon. If I couldn’t run I would hope it wouldn’t depress me to the point that I wouldn’t do anything else.
RFYL: How long do you intend to run?
Jeff: As long as I possibly can. I’d love to be the oldest person ever to run Boston or any marathon. The other day I read about a woman 97 years old who ran a marathon. She didn’t start running until she was 86. How cool is that?
RFL: What’s down the road for you?
Jeff: I want to qualify and run Boston. That would be my capstone. I’d like to go back and do NY again. If I ever get into Ultra running, how cool would it be to do Western States or Badwater?
Pot shots (all Jeff):
People ask me all the time, what am I going to do after I retire? I say I don’t know but the only thing I really want to do is to run.
I like running behind a cute girl.
I hate some old geezer just blowing me away, or worse getting passed by a fat dude.
I don’t want to run in big groups because you have too many people who are just trying to show off.
You are not a runner until you’ve pooped on yourself in a race.
If I’m running with someone, then I’m running with that person; I’m not going to leave them behind.
You can either run real fast now and not be able to run later, or you can run easy now and still be running 20 years down the road.
RFYL: Cool Runnings, Jeff and Elsie!