By Jonathan Gault
October 6, 2017
CHICAGO — Nike Oregon Project teammates Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay are two of the United States’ biggest marathon stars, but neither ran particularly fast in their prep races for the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, but to hear them tell it, they’re both ready to run better than ever on Sunday. And that’s a tall order as the 31-year-old Rupp and 26-year-old Hasay are both coming off terrific showings at April’s Boston Marathon (Rupp was second to Geoffrey Kirui; Hasay finished third in a U.S. debut record of 2:23:00). Today, at the pre-marathon press conference at the Hilton Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, both athletes were optimistic about their chances to run even better in the Windy City
“This is the best prepared for the marathon I’ve ever been,” said Rupp, with Hasay adding that her training “has gone quite a bit better than it did before Boston.”
While Rupp has run three spectacular marathons since making his debut at the Olympic Trials in February 2016, his buildups for those races have been far from ideal. For both the Trials and the Olympic Games, Rupp’s training was a hybrid of track-specific 5k/10k work and marathon training — Rupp noted that in the eight weeks before the Olympics, he ran no more than two long runs as he was really honing his speed for the 10,000 meters. It was not until this year’s Boston buildup that Rupp went all-in on marathon training, but even then, he could train without pain as a result of a nagging case of plantar fasciitis.
This time around, Rupp is solely focused on the marathon and fully healthy, a dangerous combination for the rest of the field. He said coach Alberto Salazar added some extra speed work in to prepare for the fast Chicago course, but Rupp said it hasn’t come at the expense of his longer efforts — Rupp said that he’s tried to log a long run of 23-25 miles once a week, with a longest run of 27. Even though the Chicago field features some fearsome names in world record holder Dennis Kimetto, Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa, and defending champ Abel Kirui, Rupp will be one of the favorites — if not the favorite — when the gun goes off on Sunday.
Rupp’s goal, first and foremost, is to win the race, but he’d ideally like to do so in a fast time as well.
“I’ve been in a lot of 2:10 races,” Rupp said. “I think 2:06 or 2:07 in this race, hopefully, is the next progression.”
Where will that progression culminate? Rupp would not put a number on his ultimate ambition — “once you start saying that, you automatically put somewhat of a barrier on yourself” — but his goal has always been to compete with the best in the world at whatever distance he races, and in the world of marathoning, that means heading to London or Berlin to face the likes of Eliud Kipchoge in a fast race.
“Ultimately if I want to make the jump to getting down to [running in] marathons that might be [won] in 2:02 or 2:03, I think I have to start working my way down. I can’t just be in a bunch of 2:10 races and expect to come down there.”
As for the fact that Rupp only won the US 20K champs in 59:04 (62:18 half marathon pace) and only ran 62:18 for a half in Philly during his buildup, Rupp wasn’t concerned. He said he wasn’t focused on running fast in either race and just wanted to run hard over the final five or six miles, which is what he did in New Haven. In Philly, Rupp faded a bit but he said the weather was way too hot and humid to run fast.
With no injuries to report, the only potential hiccup since Boston came in May when Flotrack released a leaked USADA interim report investigating Salazar and several of his Oregon Project athletes, including Rupp.
But Rupp, who said he “hates” social media and generally stays off it, has done his best to ignore the detractors and said that he has no worries about the contents of the report, even though he claimed that he had not read it.
“I know the truth about it so there’s really no need for me to waste my time reading that outside noise”, Rupp said. “I know what I’ve done, I know the truth behind it and I have confidence that that truth’s gonna come out in the long run…When you know that you’ve done nothing wrong, there’s really nothing to be concerned about.”
Hasay’s track record in the marathon is shorter than Rupp’s, but given her stellar debut in Boston, expectations are almost as high for her in Chicago.
“I try not to think of it as expectations, but just high goals that I have and those are goals that I have for myself as well. So I chose Chicago because I wanted to run a very fast time and I think that if I put that same effort that I ran in Boston, it should result in a PR,” Hasay said.
In recent years, assistant coach Pete Julian has taken a larger role with the Oregon Project’s track athletes, but the two athletes whom Salazar works most closely with are Rupp and Hasay. The two spent more time running with each other during this buildup than in any of their previous ones, and Hasay is even starting to sound like Rupp as she offered the same explanation when I asked her about what time she hopes to run on Sunday. Like Rupp, Hasay views Chicago a chance for her to narrow the gap between herself and the world’s best by lowering her PR, and like Rupp, she said she did not want to place any limitations on herself by providing a specific time goal.
“I think it’s important to start bridging that gap between [myself] and 2:17,” Hasay said. “Obviously, I’m not gonna make that jump from 2:23 to 2:17 on Sunday, but I’d like to start making small steps towards doing that…Obviously, I’ll be pleased by a PR. Actually, I’d like a pretty big PR but I’m just gonna see how the race plays out.”
Hasay is optimistic because her buildup has gone great. Coming into Boston, Hasay was cautious in her buildup in order to ensure that her body would not collapse under the weight of her training. Now that she has a better idea of what her body can handle, she has pushed her long runs harder and her speed sessions have gone “a lot better.”
To the uninformed observer, this kind of talk may seem blasphemous given Hasay’s tuneup races were both significantly slower than her tuneup races before Boston. Before Boston, Hasay ran 68:40 at the Houston Half Marathon, won the US 15K champs in 49:28, and ran 67:55 at the Prague Half Marathon. Before Chicago, Hasay won the U.S. 20K champs in 66:35 — though that’s only 70:14 marathon pace — and ran just 70:42 at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.
The difference is, Hasay backed off her training significantly for those races during her Boston buildup. There was no backing off this time around as she came into Philly having logged her highest mileage week the week before and tacked on a seven-mile tempo after the race to give her 20 miles of quality on the day.
“This time, we really just trained through those buildup races,” Hasay said. “I think [running fast in my tuneup races] was important going into Boston because I had never run a marathon so I needed that confidence. And this time, I don’t necessarily need that.”
Though Hasay has fewer obstacles than Rupp between her and a Chicago victory, those obstacles — 2:17 marathoner Tirunesh Dibaba and two-time defending champion Florence Kiplagat — are bigger.
“Obviously I have to be realistic and if Tirunesh says she’s hoping to PR, then I’ll just be honest, I’m not gonna win. I don’t think I’m in that kind of shape. But I’m just going to do my very best to run a fast time. And that’s what’s exciting, is they both seem to be really fit and so they can help push me towards a fast time on Sunday. And that’s why I chose this race.”
Galen Rupp interview, part I (Chicago prep)
Galen Rupp interview, part II (his chances of going back to the track, his marathon potential, and the leaked USADA report)
Jordan Hasay interview