2018 Chicago Marathon Preview: Rupp vs. Farah, But Is Geoffrey Kirui Better Than Both of Them?

Plus Augustine Choge’s Incredible Range & The Search for the Next American Sub-2:10

By LetsRun.com
October 3, 2018

If you’re like us, you’ve probably spent the last two weeks in a post-Berlin haze after Eliud Kipchoge‘s remarkable 2:01:39 world record. We can’t blame you — it was a legendary performance that will be talked about for years to come.

But with another World Marathon Major upon us this weekend, it’s time to turn your focus to the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, where there is a lot to get excited about.

Seriously, this is easily the most excited we’ve been about Chicago since 2014, when Kipchoge faced off against Kenenisa Bekele. Here’s what Chicago is featuring this year:

  • For the first time in 35 years, there’s a US-born defending men’s champ in Galen Rupp (Khalid Khannouchi won the race in 1997 and 1999 for Morocco and 2000 and 2002 for the US but Greg Meyer in 1982 was the last US-born champ before Rupp).
  • The winners of three of the four biggest spring marathons in Mosinet Geremew (Dubai), Dickson Chumba (Tokyo), and Yuki Kawauchi (Boston).
  • Geoffrey Kirui, our #1 rated marathoner in the world for 2017 as he won both Boston and Worlds last year.
  • American and British record attempts.
  • The Nike Oregon Project’s Suguru Osako chasing of the 2:06:11 Japanese record and the 100-million yen ($879,913) bonus that comes with it.
  • Two marathon newbies (Geremew and Birhanu Legese, who debuted with a 2:04:15 in Dubai in January) trying to graduate to international stardom.

Oh, and did we mention Mo Farah is racing Galen Rupp?

Yes, 2018 Chicago is going to be awesome.

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We’ve already taken a detailed look at the Farah-Rupp showdown (LRC As They Prepare To Face Off At The Chicago Marathon, A Look At The History Of Former Training Partners Mo Farah & Galen Rupp), but to boil this down to a two-man race would be an insult to studs like Geremew, Chumba, and Kirui. Below, we run through the men’s elite field and take a look at the men you need to know ahead of Sunday’s race, but before we do that, let’s start with a weather forecast considering the weather was the biggest story at the last Abbott World Marathon Major in the US (2018 Boston).

The Weather

Race day looks as if it will be a muggy one, with temps between 62 and 65 F and 78% humidity per Weather.com. Add in 11 mph winds out of the northeast and the conditions certainly aren’t perfect for running fast.

MB: Chicago Marathon Official Weather Discussion Thread

Editor’s note: This section has been updated as we originally posted the forecast for next weekend.

What: 2018 Bank of American Chicago Marathon
When: 7:30 a.m. local Sunday (8:30 a.m. ET)
TV: Live on the Olympic Channel starting at 8:00 a.m. ET.
Race will also air locally on NBC5 and will be streamed on
NBCChicago.com and NBC Sports Gold.

Men’s Elite Field

Reminder: since the start of 2013, 37 of the 38 World Marathon Major winners have entered the race with a sub-2:08 PR or World Championship/Olympic medal (Yuki Kawauchi, who won in Boston this year in large part due to the awful, once-in-a-generation conditions, is the lone exception). We’ve highlighted the guys who meet that criteria below, in addition to listing some other notable entrants (the full elite field is can be found here).

Name Country PB Note
Mosinet Geremew Ethiopia 2:04:00 Set Dubai CR in Jan.
Birhanu Legese Ethiopia 2:04:15 Debuted with a 2:04:15 in Dubai
Dickson Chumba Kenya 2:04:32 ’15 champ earned 2nd Tokyo title in Jan.
Abel Kirui Kenya 2:05:04 ’16 champ; 4th in London
Kenneth Kipkemoi Kenya 2:05:44 Set PR to win Rotterdam in April
Galen Rupp USA 2:06:07 Reigning champ ran PR to win Prague in May
Bernard Kipyego Kenya 2:06:19 3rd last year but just 10th in Seoul in March
Mo Farah Great Britain 2:06:21 Ran PR to finish 3rd in London
Geoffrey Kirui Kenya 2:06:27 World champ was 2nd in Boston
Suguru Osako Japan 2:07:19 3rd at ’17 Boston, then ran PR in Fukuoka
Bedan Karoki Kenya 2:07:41 Fantastic half marathoner hasn’t quite yet broken out at 26.2; 5th in London
Ryo Kiname Japan 2:08:08 7th in Tokyo in Feb.
Yuki Kawauchi Japan 2:08:14 Pulled massive upset in Boston but won’t have crazy weather this time
Mohamed Reda Morocco 2:09:18 11th in Tokyo in Feb.
Luke Puskedra USA 2:10:24 4th at ’16 Olympic Trials but has struggled since then
Stephen Sambu Kenya 2:11:07 5th here the last two years
Elkanah Kibet USA 2:11:31 8th in Boston in April
Tyler McCandless USA 2:12:28 Ran PR to finish 2nd at CIM in Dec.
Aaron Braun USA 2:12:54 12th last year, then DNF in Rotterdam in April
Kiya Dandena USA 2:12:56 Ran PR to finish 3rd at CIM in Dec.
Patrick Rizzo USA 2:13:42 PR is from 6 years ago
Andrew Bumbalough USA 2:13:58 13th last year, then 5th in Boston
Parker Stinson USA 2:18:07
He’s talking about breaking 2:11 (was on 2:10 pace thru 20 miles at CIM before blowing up)
Augustine Choge Kenya Debut His range (1:44 800, 59:26 HM) is already incredible; does it extend to the marathon?

Now it’s time to break down the contenders. We start with “the defending champ” before going to “guys that have won majors”, then to “Mo Farah” and “potential breakout stars,” before ending by taking a look at the Japanese record attempt and the Americans not named Galen Rupp.

The Defending Champ

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Galen Rupp — USA, 32 years old, 2:06:07 pb (2018 Prague), 59:47 half
Last three marathons: 1st 2017 Chicago (2:09:20), DNF 2018 Boston, 1st 2018 Prague (2:06:07)
Tuneup race: 46:24 for 3rd at Tilburg 10-Miler on September 2

Six races into his marathon career, it’s clear that Rupp is a tremendous fit at the 26.2-mile distance. Of those six races, five went extremely well. The only one that didn’t was this year’s Boston Marathon, and Rupp gets a pass on that one considering 63% of the men’s elite field dropped out due to the brutal conditions.

Rupp is, of course, the defending champion in Chicago, but this is a much different race than it was a year ago. The first major difference? Rupp’s competition is significantly better in 2018 than it was in 2017. Check out our comparison of the 2017 and 2018 elite fields:

2017 2018
Sub-2:08 men 7 11
Sub-2:07 men 7 9
Sub-2:06 men 5 5
Sub-2:05 men 3 3
Sub-2:04 men 2 0
Reigning major champs (counting Dubai) 1 5

And those stats are a little misleading. Of the seven sub-2:08 men in last year’s race, only three had run their PR within two years of the race. The two best guys (on paper) in last year’s race — Dennis Kimetto (2:02:57 pb) and Stanley Biwott (2:03:51 pb)– were nowhere close to their peak form and both ended up dropping out.

Contrast that to this year. Of the 11 sub-2:08 men in this year’s race, seven of them have run their PR within the last two years, and that doesn’t include Dickson Chumba, who won Tokyo in February. Five of the sub-2:08 guys in this year’s field set their PRs this year, meaning there are a lot of guys in good form which just wasn’t the case last year.

Last year, only five men were left in the lead pack when Rupp made his winning move at 35k, even though they were only on 2:11 pace at that point. And it’s not like the weather wasn’t nearly ideal – it didn’t get above 65 during the race. Rupp closed extremely well to become the first US winner in 15 years, but the fact is that many of his opponents didn’t run anywhere close to their potential.

That brings us to our next point: Chicago didn’t have pacemakers from 2015-2017, but they brought them back for this year’s race. That doesn’t necessarily hurt Rupp — his desire to chase Khalid Khannouchi‘s 2:05:38 American record was one of the driving forces behind the change — but only one of Rupp’s six career marathons featured pacemakers, and the field in that race (2018 Prague) was not nearly as strong as the one he’ll face in Chicago. Considering Rupp is one of the star attractions, we imagine he’ll have a say in how fast the pacers go out on Sunday, but is he going to be able to hang on to 2:04 pace for 26.2 miles? Because that is what it might take to beat some of the guys in this field.

Finally, Rupp has not had a perfect buildup. Last year, Rupp raved about his buildup, saying it was “the best prepared for the marathon I’ve ever been.” This time around has not been as smooth. Rupp battled an Achilles issue before his tuneup race, the Tilburg 10-Miler, on September 2, and his coach Alberto Salazar admitted that he was “a little disappointed” as he ran 46:23 (a minute behind winner Rodgers Kwemoi) and Salazar was hoping for 46:00.

In that interview, Salazar said that the Achilles issue hadn’t prevented Rupp from continuing to train, but it did cause him to scratch from the Copenhagen Half Marathon two weeks later on September 16. Clearly it’s been a problem for Rupp; exactly how big that problem is remains unclear. Rupp has shown in the past he can run well off of less-than-perfect buildups — he was second in Boston last year despite battling a case of plantar fasciitis throughout the buildup — but that may not be enough against this field. Remember, the guy who beat him in that race in Boston, Geoffrey Kirui, is racing Chicago as well.

Other Guys That Have Won Majors

Kirui outdueled Rupp in Boston last year Kirui outdueled Rupp in Boston last year

Geoffrey Kirui — Kenya, 25 years old, 2:06:27 pb (2016 Amsterdam), 59:38 half
Last three marathons: 1st 2017 Boston (2:09:37), 1st 2017 Worlds (2:08:27), 2nd 2018 Boston (2:18:23)

If we had to pick a favorite, Kirui would be it. He finished last year as our World #1 thanks to wins in Boston and at Worlds and looked set to win his third straight major in Boston this spring despite horrific conditions. Remember, Kirui, whose jacket billowed so much in the wind that it looked as if he could be blown up into the air at any moment, led by 1:31 with less than 4.5 miles to go in Boston. Even though he wound up misjudging his effort (he ran his final mile in 7:18), Kirui still wound up second, far better than any of the other Africans in the elite field (Stephen Sambu in 14th was the only other African pro who even finished the race).

Kirui, as he did before Boston this year, split this buildup between his training base in Keringet and Kaptagat, where he trained with Patrick Sang‘s group for three weeks in late August/early September.

“In general, when he’s in Keringet, he [coaches] himself, but when he’s in Kaptagat, he is completely following the schedule of Patrick Sang,” says Kirui’s agent Valentijn Trouw. “But even in Keringet, he is doing more or less the same kind of buildup that the group in Kaptagat is doing.”

What Kirui is doing appears to be working. The big question now is whether he can translate his success to a marathon with pacemakers. He’s raced two marathons with pacemakers, finishing 3rd in Rotterdam (2:07:23) and 7th in Amsterdam (2:06:27) in 2016. Clearly he’s been better in non-rabbitted marathons, but Rotterdam and Amsterdam were also his first two career marathons. Kirui is at another level now and looks due for a sizeable PR in Chicago.

MB: Forget Farah and Rupp, Geoffrey Kirui should be the favorite to win at Chicago.

Dickson Chumba — Kenya, 31 years old, 2:04:32 pb (2014 Chicago), 60:39 half
Last three marathons: 3rd 2017 Tokyo (2:06:25), 2nd 2017 Toronto (2:09:11), 1st 2018 Tokyo (2:05:30)

Abel Kirui — Kenya, 36 years old, 2:05:04 pb (2009 Rotterdam), 60:11 half
Last three marathons: 
4th 2017 London (2:07:45), 2nd 2017 Chicago (2:09:48), 4th 2018 London (2:07:07)

We’re lumping these guys together because they have a lot in common. Both are very consistent, both have run well in majors (Chumba has three wins and eight straight top-five finishes in majors, Kirui has three wins and five straight top-five finishes in majors), and both are former Chicago champs (Chumba in ’15, Kirui in ’16). Both men are also coming off strong spring marathons (a win in Tokyo for Chumba, a 4th in London for Kirui).

The one concern is age. Kirui is 36, while Chumba turns 32 at the end of the month; Chicago will be Kirui’s 22nd marathon and Chumba’s 18th. As we noted, both ran well their last time out, but Father Time comes for everyone at some point.

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Yuki Kawauchi — Japan, 31 years old, 2:08:14 pb (2013 Seoul), 62:18 half
Last three marathons:
9th Gold Coast Marathon (July 1; 2:14:51), 1st New Caledonia International Marathon (Aug. 26; 2:18:18), 2nd Wakkanai Heiwa Marathon (Sept. 2; 2:24:55)
Tuneup race: 67:31 for 7th at Ichinoseki International Half Marathon on September 23

It’s awesome that Yuki Kawauchi, the ultimate blue-collar runner, actually won the 2018 Boston Marathon. But unless a tornado or ice storm rolls into Chicago this weekend, he’s not winning on Sunday. He can suffer more than anyone in the field, but to win Chicago with rabbits, you have to be fast, and Kawauchi has never broken 2:08. In fact, he’s never even broken 2:11 in a fall marathon, a fact Kawauchi’s interpreter Brett Larner attributes to the hot summers in Tokyo. Assuming the weather stays normal as forecast in Chicago, his odds of winning are likely well under one percent.

That said, Kawauchi is putting together a season that will likely never be replicated. Let us know the next time someone runs nine marathons (and two ultras) in the same year they win a WMM (Chicago is #9; he’s also signed up for Venice in three weeks’ time). Or the next time that someone’s winning time at a WMM is their fourth-slowest marathon of the year (so far). If anything, watching Kawauchi get spanked in Chicago will underscore just how remarkable his victory in Boston actually was.

Mo Farah (when you win four Olympic golds, you get your own category)

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Mo Farah — Great Britain, 35 years old, 2:06:21 pb (2018 London), 59:22 half
Last two marathons: 
8th 2014 London (2:08:21), 3rd 2018 London (2:06:21)
Tuneup race: 59:27 for 1st at Great North Run on September 9

Everyone knows how good Farah was on the track; we don’t need to regurgitate his sterling resume here. We’re more interested in Farah as a marathoner.

Farah’s run two marathons so far in his career and while both were run in London, the races were very different.

Farah debuted in 2014 under the tutelage of Alberto Salazar with a cautious 2:08:21 as he didn’t run in the lead pack. Marathon #2, Farah’s first as a full-time marathoner, came in April 2018, and Farah, now running under the tutelage of Gary Lough (Paula Radcliffe‘s husband), threw caution to the wind. Farah was thrown into a tough spot, racing the greatest marathoner in history with the pressure of a nation on his shoulders, but he responded beautifully. Despite going out in a ridiculous 61:00 for his first half and experiencing some trouble grabbing drinks, Farah held on for an impressive 2:06:21 on a warm day during which few men looked comfortable. Farah had spoken beforehand about his commitment to the marathon, that he wasn’t in it just to pick up a few paydays before retiring, and his run in London was proof of that. He was tough and adaptable, two traits that will be important if he is to find consistent success over 26.2 miles.

We’ll hear from Farah about his buildup on Friday, but his tuneup race, a fifth consecutive win at the Great North Run in 59:27, showed that he’s in good shape. And Chicago should be an easier race than London — Farah won’t have to worry about Kipchoge, and the opening half should be far more manageable (Farah will have an eye on Sondre Nordstad Moen‘s 2:05:48 European record, which is well within reach). Farah will still have to run a great race to defeat this field, but everything is set up for him to have a great race on Sunday.

Potential Breakout Stars

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Mosinet Geremew — Ethiopia, 26 years old, 2:04:00 pb (2018 Dubai), 59:11 half
Last three marathons: 
2nd 2017 Xiamen (2:10:20), 3rd 2017 Berlin (2:06:12), 1st 2018 Dubai (2:04:00)
Tuneup race: 59:48 for 1st at Buenos Aires Half on August 26

Birhanu Legese — Ethiopia, 24 years old, 2:04:15 pb (2018 Dubai), 59:20 half
Last marathon: 
6th 2018 Dubai (2:04:15)

Both Geremew and Legese were part of the insane 2018 Dubai Marathon that saw six men run between 2:04:00 and 2:04:15. Geremew, running his third career marathon, won the race in course-record time, while Legese’s 2:04:15 was the third-fastest debut in history. Sometimes athletes can struggle to replicate the times they put up in Dubai, but both Geremew and Legese have star potential. Geremew looked great in setting the course record at the Buenos Aires Half Marathon last month (59:48), taking down half marathon stud Bedan Karoki in the process.

Legese, meanwhile, could be the next great marathoner in the stable of Getaneh Tessema, who also coached two-time London (and 2012 Chicago) champ Tsegaye Kebede and 2012 Olympic champion Tiki Gelana. Legese has excelled in the half, running 59:46 or faster three times in his career, and had a killer debut. What can he do in marathon #2?

Greatest range ever?

Augustine Choge — Kenya, 31 years old, debut, 59:26 half

Here are Augustine Choge’s PRs:

800: 1:44.86
1500: 3:29.47
3000: 7:28.00
5000: 12:53.66
Half marathon: 59:26

Even without running a marathon, he’s in the conversation for greatest range ever. 1:44 AND 59:26? Are you kidding?

Of course, you could argue that he doesn’t even have the best range in this race. Remember, Mo Farah has run 3:28 for 1500 and 2:06 for the marathon.

Choge is already the first man in history to break 1:45 in the 800 and 60:00 in the half marathon. So when it was announced he was running Chicago, we asked the messageboard what is the fastest marathon by a guy who has also broken 1:45 in the 800.

The answer appears to be Rui Silva of Portugal, who has run 1:44.91 and 2:12:16. (Interestingly, Silva also ran what we believe to be the fastest final 800 in a 1500 when he split 1:46.3 to take bronze in the 2004 Olympic final).

Considering Silva’s half marathon pb was only 62:40, we imagine Choge will run much faster than 2:12:16 on Sunday.

Can Suguru Osako become the second man to break the Japanese record in 2018?

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One of the cool things about Japan hosting the 2020 Olympics is Project Exceed. Launched in 2015 by Japan’s National Corporate Federation (most Japanese pros run for corporate teams), the idea was to promote Japanese marathoning ahead of the 2020 Games by offering a 100 million yen bonus ($879,913 at current exchange rates) to anyone who could break the Japanese marathon record.

Yuta Shitara cashed in, taking down Toshinari Takaoka‘s 16-year-old record by clocking 2:06:11 in Tokyo in February. The Nike Oregon Project’s Suguru Osako will be the next to take a shot at it in Chicago on Sunday (the same 100 million yen bonus is still on the line if he can lower Shitara’s record). Osako’s first two career marathons last year went very well (3rd in Boston in 2:10:28, then 3rd in Fukuoka in 2:07:19) and he comes into Chicago fresh off a 61:00 solo effort at the Redmond (Washington) Half Marathon on September 3, a 13-second PR.

History is working against him, however. As Brett Larner points out, 16 Japanese men have broken 2:08, but only one (Takaoka) has done it more than once. For more on Osako and the other Japanese men in Chicago, check out Larner’s excellent race preview here.

What about the Americans not named Rupp?

Rupp will garner the lion’s share of the attention among the Americans in Chicago, and for good reason: when it comes to the marathon, American men just aren’t that competitive on the world stage right now.

Over the past 15 months, we’ve seen American women do the following:

-Earn the bronze medal at Worlds
-Run 2:20:57 (#2 all-time U.S.)
-Win New York
-Win Boston

Those four feats were accomplished by four different women. But on the men’s side, only Rupp is among the best in the world. We bet you can’t name the fastest American of 2018 not named Rupp. Scroll down for the answer.







Okay, so how many of you said Nico Montanez? (You can put your hand down, Nico) That’s right, the 25-year-old Montanez, who ran 2:14:27 at Grandma’s Marathon in June, is the only other U.S. man under 2:15 this year. That stat should change after Chicago — and probably would not be true if the weather in Boston had been close to normal — but the stats don’t get much better if you go back further. Since the start of 2017, only two Americans have broken 2:12 — Rupp and Tim Ritchie, who just snuck under with a 2:11:55 at CIM last year. Since Meb Keflezighi won Boston in April 2014, Rupp is the only American to have broken 2:10. Going strictly by time, it’s not great.

America has never been a men’s marathon superpower, but it’s somewhat concerning that only one guy has broken 2:10 in the last four and a half years. That probably won’t change as the American field in Chicago isn’t that strong after Rupp, but there are a few guys who could make some noise. Let’s run through them:

  • Andrew Bumbalough (2:13:58 pb): Bumbi has placed higher every time out in the marathon, taking 25th in his debut in Tokyo last year before finishing 13th in Chicago and 5th in Boston this year. His current PR won’t scare anyone, but the 13:12/27:56 man could knock a minute or two off that time with a good run on Sunday.
  • Luke Puskedra (2:10:24 pb): He’s run the fastest of anyone not named Rupp since Meb’s win in Boston, clocking 2:10:24 in Chicago three years ago, but he’s struggled mightily since placing 4th at the 2016 Olympic Trials. He’s run 2:14, 2:20, and 2:17 in his last three marathons and hasn’t placed higher than 14th in any of his four races this year (he was 14th at the US 20k champs last month).
  • Elkanah Kibet (2:11:31 pb): The Kenyan-born Kibet tantalized with his 2:11:31 debut at 2015 Chicago, but he hasn’t run within two minutes of that time since then. He was 8th in Boston this spring and was 1:47 ahead of Puskedra at the US 20k champs last month.
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But the guy who has been generating the most chatter on the messageboard is the one with the slowest personal best: Parker Stinson. A 26-year-old Oregon alum, Stinson turned heads last December when he came through the half in 64:41 in his debut marathon at CIM (his half PR at the time was 63:17). Stinson was still on 2:10 pace through 35k but faded badly, walking at times over the final miles as he wound up running 2:18:07. We still came away impressed with the effort as it’s rare for an American to go for it like that, especially in his debut.

Since then, Stinson, who is coached by Brad Hudson in Boulder, has lowered his half PR to 62:38 and last month finished second at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly Half in 63:01. But what got the messageboard buzzing is what Stinson did 10 days before Philly — a 35k run at altitude during which he averaged 5:12 per mile (that’s a 2:16 marathon had he kept it up for another 7.2k).

MB: Parker Stinson Monster Pre-Chicago 35k workout

Stinson has also been talking a big game.

“2:11 is for sure the goal,” Stinson said on the Citius Mag Podcast. “If I run 2:10:59, I will be so, so happy. But things have gone really well. I think I’m in better shape than that but that’s not fair to change my goal because when I started, [2:11] was my goal. And so that’s still my goal and you know, hopefully, all it means since I’m in better shape [is] that I don’t need everything perfect. Maybe if it’s a little windy or maybe if I get stuck in a weird group or by myself, hopefully I’ve worked hard enough that I’ve got a little bit [of] room for error.”

Americans have talked a big game in Chicago before, however. Stinson reminds us of Matt Llano in 2014, who ran a 61:47 half in Houston and then said his goal was to break 2:10 in his debut in Chicago and perhaps challenge Ryan Hall‘s US debut record (2:08:24). Llano ran 2:17 in Chicago and today, his PR is 2:12:28.

That said, clicking off 5:12s for 35k a month out from the race is no joke and indicates that Stinson could deliver something special in Chicago (though as CIM showed, that final 7k can be challenging). Hopefully he didn’t leave his best marathon effort in practice.

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