What to Expect from Galen Rupp at the 2018 Prague Marathon — Is Khalid Khannouchi’s 2:05:38 AR in Danger?

By LetsRun.com
May 4, 2018

On April 16, Galen Rupp, like most of the runners in the 2018 Boston Marathon, didn’t have much fun. Battling temperatures in the 30s, freezing rain, and a driving headwind, Rupp, who traditionally has not fared well in the cold, began suffering breathing problems and hypothermia. Around the 19-mile mark, with no chance at victory, Rupp made the decision to drop out of a marathon for the first time in his life. He was not alone; of the 24 men in the John Hancock elite field, 15 of them (62.5%) dropped out.

Now, less than three weeks later, Rupp will try it again at the 2018 Volkswagen Prague Marathon on Sunday. As always with Galen Rupp, there are a lot of questions. How recovered is he from Boston? Can he win? How fast will he go? Let’s sort through the facts (and a few opinions) and break it all down.

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What: 2018 Volkswagen Prague Marathon
Where: Prague, Czech Republic
When: Sunday, May 6. Race begins at 9:00 a.m. local time (3:00 a.m. ET)
How to watch: The race will be broadcast in the US as part of the NBC Gold package starting at 2:55 am ET.

How much did Boston take out of Rupp?

Rupp at Boston 2017

Rupp at Boston 2017

Obviously it’s not ideal to have raced 19 miles of a marathon 20 days before your next one. But running Prague makes a lot of sense. One of our first thoughts after we heard that Rupp dropped out of Boston was, “Will he try to capitalize on his fitness by running another spring marathon?”

Rupp’s fitness may not be 100% of what it was on the start line in Boston, but we bet it’s above 90%. Think about it: if Rupp’s preparation was geared around Prague, and not Boston, what would have done that weekend? Likely some sort of long, hard effort. If this article is to be believed, Rupp ran 24 miles on April 28 (eight days out from Prague), with the final one in 4:28 on the track.

Remember, this is a guy that ran a 61:59 half marathon 16 days before finishing second in Boston last year and ran a 27:08 10,000 in the Olympic final eight days before taking bronze in the Olympic marathon. He’s used to bouncing back from hard efforts, and the 19 miles that he ran in Boston weren’t as fast as a typical marathon, either — the lead pack (which Rupp was a part of) hit halfway in 65:59 and slowed down from there.

Obviously running 19 miles at that pace in conditions like the ones Rupp faced in Boston took more out of him than it would have had he done it as a workout in perfect weather. But this is Alberto Salazar we’re talking about. He wouldn’t let Rupp fly out to Prague if he didn’t think he’s good to go.

“I don’t think he’s too tired,” Salazar told The Oregonian‘s Ken Goe. “He thinks he feels better.”

If Rupp is on the start line on Sunday, expect big things.

In defense of Galen Rupp

A lot of people have knocked Rupp for his association with Salazar and some of the questionable methods that they have employed to mold him into a world-class distance runner. That criticism is fair. But there are two criticisms of Rupp that aren’t fair. Let’s address them.

1) Dropping out in Boston showed a lack of toughness

If you’re going to criticize Rupp for dropping out in Boston, you better be prepared to criticize Tamirat TolaLemi BerhanuRyan VailDeena KastorKellyn Taylor, and the rest of the 23 elites who dropped out of the race. You can be tough as nails, but at a certain point, your body is going to start shutting down and many of the runners in Boston reached that point because of the horrible conditions. Could Rupp have suffered along for another seven miles and finished the race? Probably. But what’s the point? A guy like Galen Rupp — who finished second in Boston last year — isn’t going to derive any pleasure from struggling his way to a 50th-place finish. It made more sense for him to drop out once he realized it wasn’t his day and save himself for another crack at the marathon in Prague.

Bill Rodgers dropped out of marathons and no one questions his toughness.

2) He’s only a 2:09 guy

While we assume this criticism is made (mostly) in jest, we’ll address it anyway. Yes, Rupp’s marathon PR is 2:09:20, but anyone who knows anything about marathoning knows that he is capable of faster than that (and by the way, no American has run within a minute of Rupp’s PR since Meb Keflezighi won Boston in 2014). Rupp ran that time to win by 28 seconds over Abel Kirui in Chicago last year, and he did it by playing sit and kick: he hung with the pack for 35k before running 2:00:45 marathon pace for the final 5.2 miles.

In Rupp’s other three marathons, he won the 2016 Olympic Trials, earned bronze at the 2016 Olympics, and finished second at the 2017 Boston Marathon. Would you rather have all that on your resume or a 2:04 fourth-place finish from Dubai?

The weather for Pragues isn’t ideal (more on that below) but it’s pretty good compared to the other marathons Rupp has run.

Rupp told Race Results Weekly, “I’ve certainly always wanted to get into a faster race and a paced race.  This is shaping up really well.  The weather is supposed to be pretty good on Sunday (about 16C/61F at race time).  That’s something else that’s kind of been something with marathons I’ve run.  It’s been less-than-ideal weather conditions which, again, you can’t control.  But, if you’re really trying to run fast you kind of need the weather to cooperate.  It plays such a big part in the distance.  I think this is really working out nicely for a great race, between the course, the weather, and the competition, too.  You’ve got some guys who’ve run really fast, so I’m certainly hoping to lower my personal best (currently 2:09:20).  I feel like I’m in good shape to do it.”

What can Rupp do in Prague?

Before Boston, Rupp raved about his training, telling us he was in even better shape than Chicago and that he had run “significantly” more miles than ever before. His result at the Rome-Ostia Half Marathon on March 11 backed that up as he clocked 59:47 (albeit on a non-record-eligible course). If he had run a flat course like London, we would have expected a big PR, and we expect the same thing now that he’s running Prague.

Since Rupp has yet to get in a race like Prague — a relatively fast course with rabbits — evaluating how fast he can go based on his previous times doesn’t make much sense. How about we look at the PRs of the guys he’s beaten in his four career marathons?

2016 Olympic Trials
1. Galen Rupp
2. Meb Keflezighi (2:08:37 pb)
3. Jared Ward (2:11:30 pb)

Embed from Getty Images

2016 Olympics
1. Eliud Kipchoge (2:03:05 pb)
2. Feyisa Lilesa (2:04:52 pb)
3. Galen Rupp
4. Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (2:07:46 pb)
5. Alphonce Felix (2:09:10 pb)
6. Jared Ward (2:11:30 pb)
7. Tadesse Abraham (2:06:40 pb)

2017 Boston
1. Geoffrey Kirui (2:06:27 pb)
2. Galen Rupp
3. Suguru Osako (2:07:19 pb)
4. Shadrack Biwott (2:12:01 pb)
5. Wilson Chebet (2:05:27 pb)

2017 Chicago

1. Galen Rupp
2. Abel Kirui (2:05:04 pb)
3. Bernard Kipyego (2:06:19 pb)
4. Sisay Lemma (2:04:08 pb)
5. Stephen Sambu (2:11:07 pb)

Based on Chicago, in particular, one would expect Rupp to be capable of around 2:05 in ideal conditions. These days, you have to have that sort of ability to medal at the Olympics. If you go through all nine medalists from the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympic marathons, Rupp’s 2:09:20 pb is the slowest by far. Stephen Kiprotich is next-slowest at 2:06:33, then Jaouad Gharib at 2:05:27, and the remaining six guys are all under 2:05.

So the ability and fitness is there, but that’s not all that goes into running a fast marathon. The Prague course isn’t completely flat, but it’s nowhere close to Boston or New York. Check out the elevation profile below (the bottom line is 180 meters, the top line is 213 meters).

Screenshot 2018-05-03 at 1.40.47 PM

The winning times in Prague, however, have not been incredibly fast. Here’s what it’s taken to win over the last five years:

2013: 2:08:51 (Nicholas Kemboi)
2014: 2:08:07 (Patrick Terer)
2015: 2:08:32 (Felix Kandie)
2016: 2:07:24 (Lawrence Cherono)
2017: 2:08:47 (Gebretsadik Abraha)

Part of that, however, is because Prague doesn’t attract the same talent as a World Marathon Major. With Rupp and Sisay Lemma (who ran 2:04:08 in Dubai in January) in the field, there are guys capable of running fast. And there’s no way Rupp is going out to Prague just to win; when you’ve won Chicago and an Olympic bronze, a victory at the Prague Marathon doesn’t mean much. Obviously Rupp will still want to win, but he’ll want to do so in a fast time. And Prague will have pacemakers to help make that happen.

What we don’t know is how fast Rupp will be trying to run. We asked both Ricky Simms (Rupp’s agent) for information on pacemakers and whether Rupp is targeting a specific time and were stonewalled. The response from the Prague Marathon organizers was particularly amusing:

“Unfortunately we are not allowed to provide any internal information about Prague Marathon. It wouldn’t be appropriate and it could wrongly affect our public image. Thanks for your understanding.”

Still, there are some obvious targets Rupp may have in mind:

  • Fastest marathon by an American-born athlete, record-eligible course: 2:06:17 (Ryan Hall, 2008 London)
  • Prague Marathon course record: 2:05:39 (Eliud Kiptanui, 2010)
  • American record: 2:05:38 (Khalid Khannouchi, 2002 London — this was the world record when it was run)
  • Fastest marathon by an American: 2:04:58 (Ryan Hall, 2011 Boston)

Even for a runner as accomplished as Rupp, none of those times are easy. The slowest of them is Hall’s 2:06:17, but only one man (Eliud Kiptanui) has ever run faster than that on the Prague course. Plus the conditions in Prague will not be ideal. Remember how many athletes complained about the warm temperatures at the London Marathon? Well the high that day in London was 75, and the low was 48. The forecast in Prague for Sunday is similar, with a high of 71 and sunny, with a low of 48, according to Weather.com (the race starts at 9 a.m. local time). It should be less humid than London (between 48% and 69%; average humidity in London was 65%), but there will also be wind in Prague, 12 mph out of the ENE. The Prague course is an irregular shape, so while Rupp will have the wind at his back for the final 5k, overall you still want less wind (since a headwind hurts more than a tailwind helps).

With all of that in mind, it seems foolish for Rupp to try to run 2:04 or 2:05. Even 2:06-flat might be pushing it, but Rupp is a good warm-weather runner, so maybe he’ll stay aggressive. Our suggestion would be to go out on 63:00 pace and make an assessment at halfway. If Rupp is feeling great, he can keep on pushing in the second half and try to negative-split it. If he’s not feeling as good, he hang with the rabbits for a little longer and just focus on racing for the win, which should still yield a PR.

What is the competition like?

Here’s the elite men’s field for Prague:

1 Sisay Lemma ETH (2:04:08, Dubai 2018)
2 Stephen Kwelio Chemlany KEN (2:06:24, Seoul 2014)
3 Bazu Worku ETH (2:05:25, Berlin 2010)
4 Mekuant Ayenew ETH (2:09:00, Prague 2017)
5 Galen Rupp USA (2:09:20, Chicago 2017)
6 Suehiro Ishikawa JPN (2:09:10, Otsu 2013)
7 Duncan Maiyo KEN (2:09:25, Eindhoven 2016)
8 Yuma Hattori JPN (2:09:46, Tokyo 2017)
9 Afework Mesfin ETH (2:09:49, Dubai 2013)
11 Japhet Kosgei KEN (2:08:08, Kosice 2015)
12 Barselius Kipyego KEN (2:13:06, Ljubljana 2017)
14 Oleksandr Sitkovskyy UKR (2:09:11, Marrakech 2015)
15 Asefa Tefera ETH Debut
16 Felix Kibitok KEN Debut
17 Belay Tilahun ETH Debut

Rupp destroyed Sisay Lemma in Chicago seven months ago (Lemma finished 4th, 1:41 behind Rupp), but the fact that he ran 2:04:08 in Dubai in January clearly shows that he’s no scrub. If he’s close to 2:04 shape, he will be a worthy challenger to Rupp. Stephen Chemlany has failed to break 2:11 in his last three marathons — his last fast one was 2:07:37 in Paris in April 2016 — and hasn’t run anything at any other distance recently to suggest he’ll be a top contender here. Bazu Worku’s PR of 2:05:25 dates back to 2010, but he was second here a year ago and won Houston in January in 2:08:30. No one else in the field has broken 2:08.

If Rupp does decide to go out on 2:06 pace, several of the other 2:09 guys in the field may well go with him, and there’s a chance at least one of them will be able to hang on. But based on pedigree and recent form, Rupp should definitely be the favorite, with Lemma and Worku the only guys with a chance to challenge him (on paper).

LRC prediction: To run a super fast time like 2:04 or 2:05, you need a lot of things to come together (weather, competition, pacing), and we don’t see that happening. Still, a time in the 2:06s is very possible, and that in and of itself would be a huge accomplishment for an American (Hall and Khannouchi are the only Americans ever under 2:07). We’ll say Rupp FTW in 2:06:30.

Want More: Listen to the 10 Minutes from our track talk podcast on Galen Rupp’s chances in Rome: (set to start at right point):

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More: Q&A With Galen Rupp: Galen Rupp Ahead of Volkswagen Prague Marathon “This is shaping up really well.”

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