LetsRun Debates: How fast can Galen Rupp run for 26.2 at Sunday’s Chicago Marathon?

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by LetsRun.com
October 4, 2015

Editor’s note: The 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon is Sunday. Since LetsRun.com co-founders Weldon and Robert Johnson (Rojo) both rabbitted women to world records in Chicago, they thought it would be fun to debate how fast American Galen Rupp can run in Sunday’s Chicago Marathon. Enjoy.

Rojo: As you and I both know, Chicago is known for running fast. Sure there are a ton of plot lines we’ll be analyzing in advance of Chicago and from Chicago, but one of the biggest plots is how fast will American Galen Rupp go?  

Some people have claimed since Rupp has run three marathons with the fastest being 2:09:58 that Rupp is a 2:09-2:10 guy. Now even I, someone who many think is a ‘Rupp hater,’ think that’s absurd as I stated just a few weeks ago: 

To the idiots who don’t think Rupp is an elite marathoner, get real.

He’s finished 2nd in Boston and 3rd in the Olympics. The only question is whether he’s simply an elite championship style marathoner or if he can run fast. 

Weldon: This idea that Rupp is a 2:09 guy is absurd. He’s run three marathons in his life and hit all three out of the park. He won the Olympic Trials, got a bronze medal at the Olympics, and got second in Boston to a guy who then went on to win the World Champs. He hasn’t run a bad marathon in his life, and if you look at what guys with his pedigree have done, I think it’s fair to say he’s at least capable of 2:05. 

RojoHold on here. While I’ll admit Rupp is an elite marathoner, the jury is out on whether he can run fast for 26.2. You say he’s “at least capable of 2:05.” That’s a very bold statement. History would say he might be “at most capable of 2:05.” 

As a history major, are you aware of the significance of 2:06:05? 

Wejo: That’s not Ryan Hall’s PB, so no. 

Rojo:  That’s the fastest record-eligible marathon time ever recorded by someone not born in Africa. Brazil’s Ronaldo da Costa ran that in Berlin in 1998 – it was the world record at the time – and a non-African-born man has never run faster on a record-eligible course. The Japanese-born record is 2:06:16 (Toshinara Takaoka) and the American-born record is almost exactly the same — 2:06:17 (Ryan Hall). 

So in the history of the world, a non-African has never run under 2:06 and you think Rupp is capable of “at least 2:05.” Ryan Hall – who was born to run the marathon – only managed a 2:04:58 with a hurricane at his back.  

Wejo: It is amazing how much the sport has changed in the last 20 years, and in particular the marathon. I’ll grant you that Ryan Hall is the American version of an African-born runner as he grew up at altitude, but Ryan Hall is no Galen Rupp. Does 26:44 mean anything to you? That’s Galen’s 10,000m PR. Before Rupp hit the scene, the fastest American-born man at 10,000m was 27:20 (Mark Nenow, although Chris Solinsky beat Galen Rupp to the sub-27 club). Galen also has an Olympic bronze and a second at Boston, both better than any of Ryan Hall’s accomplishments in the marathon. 

Rojo: Fair enough. I like your thinking. I like to be governed by facts – not emotions. So at 10,000 meters, Rupp is 5.79 seconds per mile faster than any other American-born runner who began competing before the start of his career (again, this rules out Solinsky). 5.79 seconds per mile equals 2:32 over the course of the marathon. The question is, what do we subtract 2:32 from? If we compare it to the previous generation of American-born runners, the fastest ever run would be Bob Kempainen‘s 2:08:47 (granted, that came on a wind-aided year in Boston). So take 2:32 off of that, and guess what? Rupp is a 2:06-low guy like Takaoka and Hall. 

Wejo: Please. I think it’s a disservice to Rupp to compare him to Takaoka and Hall. But if we’re choosing between the two, let’s take Hall and subtract 2:32 and 2:03:45 is in the realm of possibility for Rupp. That is crazy fast, but I fully expect him to be the fastest American marathoner ever when it’s said and done. 

Rojo: At least you used the words “crazy fast” when referring to 2:03:45 and Rupp. To me, that’s the outer limit of what’s possible. Yes, he might be capable of something like that if — and this is a big if — he’s as good at the marathon as he is at the 10,000.  

Now, early in Rupp’s career, I thought for sure the marathon would be his best event. I never understood why he even bothered with the 10,000. I wanted him to run the marathon in 2012, yet he and Salazar had the last laugh when they won silver at 10,000. But I thought that back when Rupp was in college and struggling to break 4:00 in the mile – when he had no speed. Somehow, he became a 3:50 miler. Are we really supposed to believe that a 3:50 miler is going to be as good at the marathon as he is at 10,000? That just isn’t normally how physiology works. 

(Editor’s note: On our Berlin Marathon podcastJonathan Gault pointed out that Eliud Kipchoge has that type of mile speed) 

I’d say that’s totally impossible except for one thing. I always have the following image flashing in my head – to me the following video is one of the most impressive accomplishments of Rupp’s career. Here you go: 

 That’s Rupp running a solo 61:20 half at the less than prestigious Foot Traffic Holiday Half Marathon in Portland 2015 looking like he was jogging. So I’m willing to admit it’s possible he ends up being as good at the marathon as the 10,000, but the jury is still out on it. Here’s a stat for you. 

18 men in history have broken 26:50 for 10,000 and also finished a marathon.  

Guess how many of them have broken 2:08 – just 2:08 – in the marathon? 

Just half – nine. 

I bet that stat surprises most people. 

Wejo: That is a crazy stat. And I must admit I went looking at the all-time 10,000m list to prove guys as fast as Galen at 10,000m are good marathoners and it’s not the case.  

I even went looking to see what the 20 guys who have broken 27:00 at 10,000m have run in the marathon in the last five years and it’s not that impressive. 

But I think 10,000m stats are not the ones we should look at. Galen already is a proven world-class marathoner in this new era of marathoning.  Guys who get second at Boston and third in the Olympics these days generally can run very fast marathons. The slowest PB of any of the Olympic marathon medallists the last three Olympics besides Galen is Stephen Kiprotich‘s 2:06:33 (and he’s won Worlds too). Everyone else has run under 2:05:30. 

Of the last five Boston winners and runner-ups, Meb Keflezighi has the slowest PB at 2:08:37 (but he’s also won NY and his career is an anomaly). Everyone else is under 2:06:56. 

Throw in the fact Galen has never run a bad marathon and I’m thinking he should be capable of a 2:05 for sure. 

Rojo: Galen’s likely not running 2:05 in Chicago without rabbits anyway. In our Berlin Marathon podcast, just before the 45-minute mark, I said I knew for a fact given his past marathons performances he clearly is at least a 2:08 guy.  I said the limit logically seems to most likely be 2:05 flat to 2:06:17. If he runs 2:05 in his career, I think it should be viewed as a good accomplishment even if he finishes way back, as a non-African has never done it. If he runs 2:04, it’s a monumental accomplishment, and if he runs 2:03, then I’m going to help lay the stones down for the pedestal of the statue they should put up for him.  

Weldon: I agree, unless there is a rabbit, Galen’s not running 2:05 in Chicago. I’ll grant you that Galen may never run that fast just because he may never be in a race that fast. He’s going to have a huge financial incentive to run Boston every year, Chicago has stopped hiring rabbits, and New York never has them, so he could be a tremendous marathoner and never run under 2:08. The poster child for a career like that is Meb, but I’d take an even money bet Rupp could run 2:06 tomorrow with a rabbit. 

Rojo: Ok even I will agree to that. If Salazar had him go to a Monza-type track with three pacemakers for 30k (not even hopping in and out) and the ran the first half in 63:30 with the goal of running 2:06:59, of course he’d almost certainly do that. But we are talking about the real world. There aren’t any rabbits in Chicago anymore, so what do you think Rupp will run this year? 

Wejo: There was an interesting thread on the forums last week “Fastest non-rabbited marathon times” and it pointed out 2:06 races are super rare in non-rabbited, non-wind-aided races. But I think that largely may be because the best runners in the world rarely get together on a flat course and go for a fast time without rabbits in good weather. Geoffrey Mutai ran an incredible 2:05:06 in New York in 2011 (that may be the best marathon ever) and Sammy Wanjiru ran 2:06:32 in the heat of Beijing so clearly fast times are possible without rabbits when the best in the world get together and get after it. 

I have no idea how they ran so slow (2:11) last year as it wasn’t hot in Chicago (they ran 2:09 in warmer conditions in 2015), but if they come through in close to 1:05, I think for sure they’ll run 2:08 or better. 

Rojo: I agree. Rupp should be able to run 2:08 even in less than ideal weather. The weather forecast for Sunday in Chicago is certainly warmer than ideal – low of 60 and high of 77 – but that’s much better than what he had in Rio when it was 72 degrees at the start and raining. I imagine he’ll run the whole thing on Sunday in 60-degree temps but the hourly forecast won’t be out for another 36 hours or so. 

Wejo: A high of 77 is not good for fast times. The high in 2015 was 79 and they only ran 2:09 that year, but this year’s field is better in my opinion. The hotter the better for Galen in terms of his competitiveness for the winm as he is the best prepared runner to run in the heat in the world. 

Rojo: Ok, let’s end this ‘debate’ by agreeing. I think the worse the conditions, the greater are Rupp’s chances for victory. And I think we should hold off on making formal predictions for time until we get the actual hourly forecast.  

For the record, I think Rupp should be capable of running a 2:06 in the marathon, but it’s not a guarantee. Meb was a great marathoner – but only a great championship-style marathoner. Over the last decade, I’ve said repeatedly it’s stupid to doubt Galen Rupp on anything but it doesn’t mean I’m a ‘Rupp hater’ if I say it’s certainly not a guarantee that he’ll run 2:05 – faster than any non-African in history – before he retires. 

What do you think of Galen Rupp as a marathoner? Discuss here: Is Galen Rupp a 2:05 Guy? Wejo, Rojo and You Debate 


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