With Tokyo On The Horizon, Distance Runners Sara Hall And Molly Seidel Shine In New York Mini 10K
by Rich Sands
Sara Hall poses for a photo after winning the NYRR New York Mini 10K on June 12, 2021 in New York City.
Exactly two weeks before she'll try to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in the 10,000-meter run, Sara Hall gave herself the ideal confidence boost with a victory in New York City. One of the most prolific — and successful — distance runners in U.S. history, the 38-year-old Hall, unleashed an electric finishing kick over the final 400 meters to win the NYRR New York Mini 10K in Central Park on Saturday.
Hall pulled away from Kenyan Viola Cheptoo in the closing stages to win the race in 31 minutes, 33 seconds. That's the fastest time ever for an American in this storied New York Road Runners event, which was first run in 1972 and is the longest-running women's only road race in the world.
"It wasn't easy, but I had a little more left out there," said Hall, who next heads to Eugene, Oregon for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Track & Field, where she'll race the 10,000 on Saturday, June 26. "That was exactly how I wanted it to play out. I wanted to have a strong finish and just have that mental image going into the trials."
Cheptoo clocked 31:39 in the runner-up spot, while another Kenyan, Monicah Ngige (31:59), completed the podium on a cool but muggy morning. U.S. Paralympian Susannah Scaroni of Champaign, Illinois, won the wheelchair division for the third time, hitting the tape in 22:44.
Hall's Olympic Dream
Hall has eight national titles on the roads (including the 2019 version of this race, which doubled as the USA Track & Field 10K Championship that year), and won a gold medal in the 3000-meter steeplechase at the 2013 Pan American Games, but she has yet to make an Olympic squad. It's not for lack of trying: The Stanford grad has competed in every edition of the track trials since 2004, and also ran the marathon trials for the Tokyo Games last year.
After spending the last few years focusing on road racing (she became the second-fastest American marathoner of all-time this past December), Hall is back on the oval again. In May, she set a lifetime best in the 10,000 meters on the track, clocking 31:21.90, which is an Olympic qualifying time and makes her one of the favorites for Eugene.
She's used to racing frequently, so there wasn't much concern about putting in a hard effort in New York so close to the Olympic trials. Still, she wasn't sure what to expect on the demanding Central Park course, which features a series of rolling hills.
"This is different from the track," Hall said. "On the track at least you can get in a rhythm, and here you don't have a single flat stretch in this course, it's just up or down, and it's humid. So to run almost what I ran on the track today gives me a lot of confidence that there's a lot more there."
High-Profile Training Partners
Hall lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, a mecca for distance runners who seek the advantages of high-altitude training at nearly 7000 feet above sea level. But for this training cycle, she wanted to take it to another level — literally.
So for the past six weeks she's been stationed in Crested Butte, Colorado, which sits about 9000 feet above sea level, making the air especially thin. Hall has joined up with the celebrated training group that features steeplechaser Emma Coburn. The 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and 2017 world champion, Coburn and her husband, Joe Bosshard, lead a band of Olympic hopefuls who compete in a variety of distances.
Hall was grateful to be welcomed into this established group and felt that working with middle-distance specialists would help her re-connect with her speed, since she hadn't raced on the track since 2016.
"Working out with Emma the last six weeks was exactly what I needed to prepare for the trials," Hall said. "I got my butt kicked some days, but just being able to be close to her in those workouts was just what I needed."
Seidel Tunes Up
While Hall is still hoping to earn her spot on Team USA for Tokyo, Molly Seidel is already on the roster. She finished second to Aliphine Tuliamuk at the marathon trials in February 2020 (held just before the world shut down due to the pandemic). It was her first time racing the 26.2-mile distance, and immediately catapulted her to elite status.
Now, more than a year after qualifying, Seidel came to New York City to tune-up for the Olympic marathon, which will be held August 7 in Sapporo, Japan. (The race was moved to Sapporo, well north of Tokyo, due to concerns over summer heat in the host city.) She hung on with the lead pack through the halfway point and ultimately finished fifth in 32:13 (her fastest ever on the roads), one place and four seconds behind fellow American Lindsay Flanagan (32:09).
"I'm right in the middle of a heavy training cycle, so I was really glad to be able to put together a pretty solid time," said Seidel, who turns 27 in July. "I don't think I raced as well as I was hoping to, but overall I'm pretty happy with the day."
Her effort was particularly notable considering she's in the midst of an intense build-up for the Olympics in Flagstaff.
"I've been lucky to keep a little bit of that freshness, but it's hard when you're doing 130 miles a week," the Notre Dame grad said. "I'm grateful to have a little bit of that speed. We're hoping to keep it because it's going to be a fast one in Sapporo."
She typically uses a tune-up race several weeks out from a big competition, and jumped at the chance to run in the first big race in New York City since the pandemic began.
"It was really nice to come out and get a really hard effort," she said. "A 10K burns quite a bit more than a marathon, so just being able to check in with that is really important."
Rich Sands is a New York City-based freelance editor and writer and has been a correspondent for Track & Field News since 1995, covering the sport at the high school, college and professional levels. He was previously an editor at TV Guide Magazine, overseeing the magazine's Olympic coverage.