Is Galen Rupp’s Foot Healthy Enough for Him to Become the First American-Born Boston Marathon Champion Since 1983?
April 12, 2017
From a U.S. perspective, Galen Rupp‘s Boston Marathon debut is the most interesting pre-race storyline in years. He’s America’s greatest distance runner, fresh off an Olympic bronze medal, running Boston for the first time, with a great chance to become the first American-born champion since Greg Meyer in 1983. It’s a tantalizing prospect, but the hype train that usually accompanies such a debut hasn’t quite taken off, largely due to the fact that we don’t know which Galen Rupp is going to take the start line in Hopkinton on Monday. If you were to plop the Rupp of August 2016 into this year’s Boston Marathon, he’d be among the favorites for victory, if not the favorite, considering he beat defending champion Lemi Berhanu Hayle by over three minutes in Rio last year. But that’s not the Rupp we’ve seen in the eight months since the Olympics. Here’s a breakdown of what he’s done since climbing the podium in Rio:
November 22: Finishes 10th in the Manchester (Conn.) Road Race, running 21:54 for the 4.748-mile course after suffering an asthma episode mid-race.
January 12: Withdraws from Houston Half Marathon, citing plantar fasciitis.
April 1: Runs 61:59 for 11th place at the Prague Half Marathon. After the race, complains of pain in his foot.
We doubt that’s what Alberto Salazar had in mind when he was drawing up plans for Rupp’s buildup. But all is not lost; athletes have run a lot slower than 61:59 in their tuneup race and run well in Boston. When Meb Keflezighi won in 2014, he ran 62:53 at the NYC Half a month before the race. When Ryan Hall ran 2:04:58 in 2011, he ran a 63:53 half in New York a month before the race.
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to Rupp’s Boston debut. That’s why we’ve broken our thoughts down into two sections below.
Why Galen Rupp WILL Win the Boston Marathon
- He had a better 2016 than anyone else in the field. Note that we’re not calling Rupp the best marathoner in the field. You could definitely make a case that Rupp is the best, but he’s run only two career marathons and his PR is only 2:10:05. Rupp is obviously capable of much faster than that, but could he run 2:04?
What we can say with some certainty is that Rupp had a better 2016 season than anyone else in the field. In our year-end rankings, we ranked Rupp fourth; defending champ Lemi Berhanu Hayle was the only other guy in this year’s Boston field to crack our top 10, and Rupp beat him at the Olympics. Dino Sefir did manage a pair of wins in Barcelona (2:09:31) and Ottawa (2:08:14), but didn’t run fast enough for us to value those over a win at the U.S. Olympic Trials and an Olympic bronze. If Rupp’s 2016 form carries over to Boston 2017, he has as good a chance as anyone to win.
- Boston plays to his strengths. There’s a little bit of guesswork involved here considering Rupp has never run Boston — or any hilly course, for that matter. But Rupp has the traits that suggest he will be able to handle Boston well. He’s already shown he can run well in non-rabbitted marathons. He’s tough (you don’t become a great hot-weather runner without toughness). Rupp generally races smart and with Salazar, the 1982 Boston champ, directing his training, he’ll be as well-prepared for Boston as any first-timer in history. We’d doubt Rupp MUCH more if this were London or Berlin, where the winner has to run 2:03 or 2:04 every year — something Rupp may never do. But the average winning time in Boston over the past 10 years is 2:09:19 (it’s 2:10:01 if you remove the freakish wind-aided 2011 race). Considering that Bill Rodgers ran 2:09 in Boston 42 years ago, we’re positive that a healthy Galen Rupp has the ability to run 2:09 on Boston.
- Rupp is totally focused on the marathon this time around. As well as Rupp ran in Rio, his buildup was not focused solely on the marathon — he had to run the Olympic 10,000 final eight days earlier (he finished fifth) and as a result, he incorporated more faster, shorter sessions than your typical marathoner. While this may have been a blessing in disguise (it allowed Rupp to ease his way into marathon training), it’s possible Rupp could be an even better marathoner once he’s training for 26.2 miles full-time. That looks to be the case for this buildup.
“This is the first time that I’ve really focused on training entirely on the marathon and doing what’s best for that,” Rupp told Competitor last month. “In the  Olympics I was [also] running the 10K and doing a lot of speedwork before that, and that probably wasn’t optimal training for a marathon!”
Because of the foot injury, this buildup hasn’t gone perfectly, but Rupp told Competitor he’s been running 140 miles per week, an impressive total for any marathoner. With that sort of base under his belt, he may be even better prepared than he was for Rio. And he won’t have an Olympic final in his legs from eight days before Boston.
- Rupp’s foot injury may not be that bad. Admittedly, we’re journeying into the realm of speculation here. The only person who knows exactly how bad Galen Rupp’s foot is feeling is Galen Rupp. With that said, Rupp showed in Prague that he can run 61:59 on it, a time most Americans would kill for.
Rupp’s injury boils down to the following: is it a pain management issue or is it something more? If it’s a pain management issue, well, Rupp ran 2:04 marathon pace for 13 miles in Prague. He doesn’t need to run any faster than that to win in Boston. Plus coach Salazar said he thought it may have been aggravated by some cobblestones in Prague – there are no cobblestones on the Boston course.
- Rupp will have had time to recover since Prague. 61:59 probably isn’t what Rupp wanted in Prague, but that race was preceded by a heavy training block and may not be indicative of his tapered fitness in Boston. There’s also the chance that Rupp’s foot has healed (fully or partially) since Prague. Rupp flew all the way from Portland to Prague to race a half marathon two weeks before Boston. He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t think his foot was strong enough to run on. Furthermore, even after aggravating the injury in Prague, Rupp is still down to run Boston. If he thought his foot was too injured to run on — and run well — in Boston, he would simply have scratched after Prague.
Why Galen Rupp WON’T Win the Boston Marathon
- Rupp’s foot injury is serious. As we mentioned in the other section, the key question about Rupp’s foot is whether it’s a pain management issue or a structural issue that interferes with his ability to run properly. And given how his race played out in Prague, we fear it’s the latter. In Prague, Rupp actually went out with the leaders but once his foot flared up he began to noticeably struggle and was dropped before 10 kilometers. The fact that Rupp was dropped so quickly (even before race winner Tamirat Tola made his big move just after 10k) after his foot began to act up is a major red flag. And the fact that Rupp has been dealing with this issue since January (when it caused him to scratch from Houston) suggests that it’s not something that will be totally cleared up by Boston.
- Prague did not go well. You could tie this into the previous point, but, as a result of his foot issue, Rupp’s Prague result was not ideal. Rupp was coy about his pre-race goals, saying he merely wanted to “get a good effort in,” but he could get a “good effort” by running 62:00 in a workout in Portland (Rupp’s NOP teammate Suguru Osako ran 64:11 at the Shamrock Half Marathon in Portland on March 19). Using context clues — Rupp flew halfway around the world for this race two weeks before Boston and NOP teammate Jordan Hasay ran a blazing 67:55 — we suspect that Rupp was looking to go much faster than 61:59 and possibly challenge Ryan Hall‘s 59:43 American record. Not only was Rupp nowhere near that time, but he was never competitive in the race and his foot acted up. Considering Rupp ran 61:20 by himself two months before the Olympic Trials, 61:59 on a quick course two weeks before Boston isn’t a good sign.
- There are too many other good guys. This is the biggest reason to bet against Rupp. In any major marathon, it’s almost always more sensible to take the field over one individual (exceptions: Mary Keitany in New York; Eliud Kipchoge anywhere). As stated above, Rupp had the best 2016 of anyone in the field, but he’s not so far ahead of the competition that it makes sense to back him over everybody else.
Rupp ran two very good marathons last year but there’s a big difference between winning the US Olympic Trials and winning a major and there’s a big difference between being a 2:10 guy and a 2:04 guy. The 2017 Boston men’s field certainly isn’t equal to the 2017 London field (LRC 4 Thoughts on the 2017 London Marathon Men’s Field: London’s STACKED Once Again, Who’s Left To Face Galen Rupp Boston) that includes 4 of the 6 major winners from last year but it’s still got a bunch of pretty good guys whom you can read about here: 2017 Boston Marathon International Men’s Preview: Lemi Berhanu Hayle Goes For the Repeat Against a Field That Contains 5 Sub-2:05 Guys. Hayle won here last year. Yemane Tsegay and Wilson Chebet both have multiple top-three finishes in the past three years. Sammy Kitwara has run 2:04:28. Sefir has run 2:04:50 and won two marathons last year. To win, Rupp has to hope his foot is well enough to run on, avoid any other disasters (pacing, fueling) and run a good race himself and hope that none of the other studs up front runs out of their mind. A lot of things have to go right for Rupp to win.
LRC prediction: Were he fully healthy, we’d be inclined to pick Rupp FTW in Boston. But considering the quality of his competition and the doubts about his foot, it doesn’t make sense to pick Rupp if he’s not 100%. Galen Rupp may well win the Boston Marathon one day, but it won’t be in 2017.
More: 2017 Boston Marathon International Men’s Preview: Lemi Berhanu Hayle Goes For the Repeat Against a Field That Contains 5 Sub-2:05 Guys.
*2017 Boston Marathon U.S. Men’s Preview: Olympians Galen Rupp, Meb Keflezighi, Jared Ward & Abdi Abdirahman Headline a Stacked Field