Linden Hall is quietly taking it to the world
Linden Hall exhibits a clear case of a professional sport induced split personality. Capable of spending long periods of time alone, introspective, training diligently for a racing opportunity. On the other side of the calm, conversational professional - an inherent level of unadulterated violence.
A gloomy afternoon at Lakeside Stadium places Hall’s terrifying alter-ego on show. Hall has run 2500 metres of intervals at 800 metre pace, enduring a session she cheerily described in the warm-up as ‘the death session’. The stadium is near-empty, Hall’s coach Bruce Scriven keeping a careful eye on a stopwatch. Hall makes her way across the infield to finish the session with a 1000m rep.
Hall pauses on the grass, dropping to an uncomfortable squat of sorts. Without warning, Hall promptly vomits up what might’ve been lunch. Scriven suggests she has likely done enough for the day, only to be met by a blunt, “give me a minute.” Hall calmly returns to the track to peel off 1000m at a tick under 5km pace.
When quizzed as to what encouraged completing the session, Hall looks at me deadpan, “Well, it’s on the program. If it’s just general fatigue and vomit, well, just get it done. If they’re lactic-induced issues - that’s the point of the session.”
Therein lies the reality of a spectators mortality. We seek to understand what we will never achieve. Never able to peek behind the curtain, not able to comprehend, spectators consume in an attempt to understand. Hall represents a misunderstood space. A consummate professional off the track, treading the same tartan we all walk. On a whim, Hall may apply a dose of athletic venom, the pace only familiar to those in the upper echelon of international racing.
To those unaware, Linden Hall presents as polite to a fault, quite cheerfully discussing her favourite coffee shop. On mention of her experiences in the upper echelons of the sport, she shifts in her seat slightly, adopting a slightly more serious frown. The global Diamond League circuit is home to the 28-year old.
“Doha, Shanghai, Stockholm, Pre, Paris, London, Birmingham, Lausanne… and Zurich” explains Hall, with a wry grin, listing off the nine of 14 Diamond League meets she has competed at. The highest competitive level of the sport available charts a winding road across the globe from May to September.
These events are often highlights for runners on the up from Australia, with admission competitive in the extreme.
“It’s a settled expectation… almost.”
“I plan around the Diamond League dates at the start of the year, but I still keep a Plan A and a Plan B, since I'm still in the lane filler space somewhat - I’m not a guaranteed starter by any means.”
Hall’s 2019 belied her competitive, and often stubborn approach. Suffering calf and quadricep tears in late 2018, the Australian 1500m record holder spent 12 weeks in rehabilitation, followed by a further month progressing from the dreaded 1 minute walk, 1 minute jog, to a ginger 30 minute run. Hall shakes her head whilst explaining it all, “I felt like I lived at the Victorian Institute of Sport.”
Hall’s eventual return to racing was dictated by her desire to be competitive on the global stage. Consequently experiencing the highest and lowest ebbs of the sport in the space of three weeks. A 4:24.78 1500m placed her 15th of 15 at the Pre Classic.
“There were plenty of people trying to talk me out of it, even after Pre I had suggestions of “maybe come home, get ready for next year.”
Did Hall ever consider calling her season early?
“I’m pretty stubborn. I think a lot of those people hadn’t seen what I’d seen. Whilst I knew I ran terribly at Pre, it wasn’t reflective of where I was at.”
“I felt like I’d done so much work while I was injured, cross-training and trying to get back, spending so many hours in the pool and the gym. I knew that 4:24 wasn’t what I deserved - in a way I needed something else.”
Hall flew to Belgium, preparing for the London Diamond League. Similar to the Pre Classic, a meet she had previously broken a national record at.
“I remember talking to my sports psychologist on the phone in Belgium, he asked “What value do you see if you’re only going to run 4:10?”
Hall held strong, “On paper that seems so much better than 4:24, and it makes it feel like it was worth my time smashing myself in the pool and suffering through smelling like chlorine for six months.”
Hall’s sports psychologist tried to simplify Hall’s stubbornness, “Well if you know, and you can train that well, isn’t that enough?”
“No, it’s different, it’s a result, it’s on paper, it actually happened and it’s comparable. Pre was so far away from the result I expected, that it almost didn’t count.”
Hall explains that if she had run somewhere in the region of 4:10 at the Pre Classic, fitness might’ve matched expectations, 2019 might’ve been passed in. Hall’s subsequent 13th place 4:04.29 finish at the London Diamond League qualified her for Doha. Painting an accurate picture of the determination and self-belief that has carried the Olympic semi-finalist across the globe.
Crossing the finish line in London, an anxious wait for results ensued.
“It was very much a meet of 'There’s no way if I don’t run well here that people won’t notice'.”
Upon seeing the result flash up, Hall was quietly relieved, “I thought 'this was ok', I didn’t completely embarrass myself, which was obviously a big fear going in after Pre, as obviously that didn’t go particularly well.”
The realities of life at the top of the 1500m world aren’t lost on Hall, “It’s been a bit of a backwards and forwards process in finding a balance between working and running.
It’s also kind of cool, to get to go to all of these different places and not necessarily pay a whole lot to do it.”
“You get pretty well looked after, and sometimes you have to take a step back and appreciate that a bit.”
“So yes it is really cool, and I know it’s only going to last a certain period of time, maybe a number of years, and i’ll have the rest of my life to hang out in Melbourne and do regular things.”
Hall’s navigation of the international circuit has been strengthened by experiences in the NCAA system. Building a support team around key relationships - coach Bruce Scriven, and former coach and long-time mentor, Sarah Jamieson.
An athletically intertwined pair, Scriven coached Jamieson to the 1500m national record that Hall broke in 2018. The affable Geelong icon also guided the likes of Craig Mottram, Georgie Clarke and Paul Byrne to debut Olympic teams. A three-time Olympian, Jamieson and Hall were brought together via their club connection at Athletics Essendon, “It came about by chance, when she was pregnant with her first child, I feel like I was a little bit of a side project. I was pretty in awe of her, so I was happy to go along for the ride!”
Jamieseon was a strong role-model in a crucial post-high school transitional period. As tales of international racing, and late-career national records filled Hall with rational optimism.
“I was at a point where things were getting pretty hard, I hadn’t improved in a couple of years, so it was make a coaching change or be done with the sport. It’s probably the only time I’ve thought about … not running.”
“I remember when Jamo ran the record, I was 15 at the time, and she was 30. The biggest thing in hearing that at the time was - “Shit, that’s a lot faster than I can run” - I was probably running 4:30 at the time. It was a big “alright, it’s taken her until 30 to run this, I don’t need to do everything as a teenager.”
Jamieson recognised Hall’s needs, with the NCAA route ultimately fitting best. A self-appointed “early adopter” of the US collegiate system, Hall is quick to point out “I would go again, if I was 18 again.” Embracing an athletic program similarly responsible for the transitional stages of Colleen Quigley, Susan Krumins and Hannah England’s careers, Hall was the sixth fastest 1500m runner on the team upon arrival.
Remaining in contact, Hall has an uncomplicated support team. Scriven handwrites her programs, texting through an image, limiting Hall’s urge to over analyse. Jamieson remains a trusted consultant in all things tactical, “I pester her every so often on the phone, I try not to be too annoying, she’s got four kids now, so she doesn’t need a fifth that’s 28! We probably chat once a month on the phone, or more often closer to competition.”
The value of such a specific relationship isn’t lost on Hall, “It’s great to have someone who’s done the things you’re trying to do, and understands the challenges, or even just how things work in terms of the challenges of being from Australia, having to pick up and be away for months at a time… and just staying sane.”
2020 has seen the athletic world plunged into uncertainty. Prior to the escalation of a global pandemic, Hall was steadfast in her goals.
“It’s the Olympic final.”
“I was the first one to miss out in Rio, unlucky number 13 by 0.21sec”.
Before I can finish a sentence starting with a mention of “sub-four?”
“If I’m doing the same work as trying to get to an Olympic final, I'm also doing the same work toward trying to break four minutes.”
Hall is aware of the barrier, “There’s no point in wasting energy panicking about it.”
“When I ran my PB, I had no idea what the clock was on.”
In a period of sustained uncertainty, Hall falls back on what she knows best. Running provides a welcome level of structure, waiting patiently for the return of a competitive season. When that day comes, Hall will be ready to return to the international circuit, as assertive and determined as ever.