By Jonathan Gault
October 5, 2018
CHICAGO — Plenty has changed since the last time LetsRun.com was in Chicago a year ago. Back then, Galen Rupp was a 2:09 marathoner; now he’s a major winner (the defending champion, in fact) and a 2:06 guy looking to go even faster at Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon. One of his biggest rivals in that race, Mo Farah, was barely beginning his transition to the marathon. In fact, the very structure of the race itself was different — last year marked the third (and final) year of Chicago’s no-pacemakers strategy. Now they’re back as Rupp and Farah chase the American and British records, respectively.
Whether it’s the return of pacemakers, Rupp vs. Farah, or the impressive elite field lined up alongside them, there was a buzz in the Chicago Hilton this morning that the race just didn’t have before Rupp’s victory a year ago. And it was reflected by the press corps (much larger than 2017; even finding a good seat for the press conference presented a challenge), which includes three reporters from major British papers (The Telegraph, The Guardian, and The Daily Mail) here specifically to report on Farah.
I couldn’t talk to everyone at today’s media availability. Gwen Jorgensen was one athlete I missed, though I was not alone in that respect as she skipped the cluster interviews (Jorgensen did speak briefly during the formal press conference but no one in the formal press conference took questions from reporters). But I was able to grab one-on-ones with Galen Rupp, Mo Farah, Augustine Choge, Parker Stinson, and Laura Thweatt. We’ve got a separate article on Rupp and Farah here: (LRC Galen Rupp & Mo Farah Want to Beat Each Other In Chicago, But This Is No Grudge Match). Here’s what else I learned in Chicago.
1) Meet the guy who has trained with David Rudisha AND Eliud Kipchoge
Rupp and Farah are the headliners, but my favorite interview of the day was Augustine Choge, who is making his marathon debut in Chicago. Choge’s range is phenomenal — he’s run 1:44 for 800 and 59:26 for the half marathon — and his list of training partners is equally impressive. Back when he was ka mid-d guy, he would occasionally train with David Rudisha. Now he trains with another GOAT, Eliud Kipchoge, who is the very reason Choge took up the marathon in the first place. Back in 2015, Kipchoge asked Choge to run some workouts with him and liked what he saw.
“He saw that I had a potential and he asked me, why don’t you try marathon?” Choge said.
Moving up has been a gradual process for Choge — he was still good enough on the track to earn bronze in the 3k at World Indoors in 2016. But his half marathons got progressively better — from 63:25 in his debut in Philly in 2016 to 60:01 in New Delhi to 59:26 in Ras Al Khaimah last year — which convinced him he was ready to try the full in 2018.
Choge’s PRs are fast across the board — in addition to 1:44 and 59:26, he’s run 3:29 for 1500, 7:28 for 3000, and 12:53 for 5000 — but says that his best PR might still be in front of him.
“If I can break 2:06, that will be my greatest achievement,” Choge said. “It will be my greatest because marathon isn’t that easy.”
I had one more question for Choge. Who is tougher to train with: Rudisha or Kipchoge?
Choge said that he can hang with Kipchoge in the track sessions but that Kipchoge generally drops him in long runs. But when it came to Rudisha vs. Kipchoge, Choge withheld judgment, only saying that the marathon is the tougher event.
“To train for marathon is a bit harder because it’s more mileage and mileage and mileage,” Choge said. “It takes hours and hours.”
2) Parker Stinson: “If I run 2:10, it changes my life. If I run 2:14, it doesn’t.”
26-year-old American Parker Stinson (who admitted he is a fan of LetsRun.com) earned a lot of admirers for going out hard and blowing up massively at last year’s California International Marathon. On 2:10 pace through 22 miles, Stinson cratered over the final 5.2 to come home in 2:18:07 in his marathon debut. Once again this weekend, Stinson is going to try to do something big in Chicago. His goal is to break 2:11. Many would view that as a bold proclamation considering it’s been three years since an American not named Galen Rupp has run that fast, but Stinson, who ran a PR of 62:38 for the half in Pittsburgh in May, doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t feel like saying I’m trying to break 2:11 is talking a big game,” Stinson said. “I just want to try to finish the job that I started at CIM.”
Stinson, a 2015 Oregon grad, believes he has the fitness to run 2:10 or faster, and he views the race in Chicago in simple terms.
“I just got nothing to lose though, either man,” Stinson said. “If I run 2:10, it changes my life. If I run 2:14, it doesn’t. So what’s the point of running 2:12? It doesn’t change my life.”
There is just one problem: Stinson may be one of the only men in the field targeting 2:10.
“Perfect world, I would love to go out in 65:00,” Stinson said. “That’s honestly been my biggest concern coming into this weekend is both of my options before the race seem drastic. Front pack’s way too fast, and I’ve heard the American contingent is going to try to go through in 66:00 or right under, which I think that’s a great pace, but that’s not how I want to run.”
So how does Stinson want to run?
“It seems to me like people don’t want to run the full marathon,” Stinson said, careful not to offend any specific athlete. “They go, ‘I’m gonna get fit and have a great last 10k, I’m gonna have a great last 5k.’ They kind of have this idea of how to go.
“It’s just a race, what’s the problem? If you fuel correctly and you’ve done the work, why can’t you run the whole distance? So I think people — no one in particular — I just think people, they’re too afraid of the distance…
“A lot of [the East Africans and Japanese will] go out so fast in the half and they will die miserably. And then one time it holds and now they change their life. And so whether I do it or not, I’m trying to have that mindset because it seems like that’s the only way that someone like me has a chance to break 2:11 or break 2:10. I don’t think I’m gonna be able to just be relaxed, be ‘Oh, I feel amazing and that time will come.’ If I do that, I think I run 2:13 or 2:14.
3) Geoffrey Kirui says he’s 100%, will continue to support his hometown runners in Keringet
I didn’t shoot video of my interview with Kirui, but I spoke to the reigning world champ and he said he is “100%” heading into Sunday’s race. As he did before Boston this year, Kirui trained in his hometown of Keringet for most of his buildup but spent a few weeks in Patrick Sang‘s camp in Kaptagat to work on his speed and gauge his fitness. I asked Kirui why he could not do speed work at home, and he explained, “we have no good track, so I have to go there.”
If that is the case then, I asked, why train in Keringet at all? Well in Kenya, many of the top athletes end up as the de facto leaders of their own training group, with other athletes looking to them for advice. Kirui does not want to abandon the runners of Keringet and said that he plans to stay there as long as he can.
“In Keringet I have some upcoming athletes [and] I am really helping them in many ways,” Kirui said. “So I am not willing to go there (Kaptagat) full-time.”
Kirui said that there was some rain in Keringet during his buildup, which he did not enjoy, but said that the warm, humid conditions in the forecast won’t bother him on Sunday. And while Kirui has enjoyed success in non-rabbitted races recently (1st and 2nd in Boston the last two years, 1st at Worlds), he is all right with the pacemakers in Chicago.
“All races, whether there are are pacemakers or no, I’m ready,” Kirui said.
4) Laura Thweatt is hoping to break into the top tier of U.S. marathoners, okay with running with the guys on Sunday
Thweatt ran 2:25:38 in London last year and said her buildup for Chicago was similar to that one and she is looking to run fast.
Thweatt’s PR puts her in no-man’s-land (no other woman in the elite field else has a PR between 2:20:59 and 2:29:06) but she said that the fact that Chicago is a mass-start race will help in that respect as she may have some men to run with.
“Just to have company around you, at least early, so you don’t have to do as much of the thinking, I think will be really nice, whether it’s some women in the elite field or whether it’s more men,” Thweatt said.
Thweatt’s 2:25:38 puts her #9 on the all-time U.S. list, but that PR will likely have to come down if she is to contend for a spot at Tokyo 2020 — five of the women ahead of her on the list are still active (a sixth, Kara Goucher, has not officially retired but hasn’t raced a marathon since the 2016 Olympic Trials). Thweatt said that the recent major marathon wins by Shalane Flanagan and Des Linden have created a “tidal wave of self-belief” among American female distance runners. Thweatt hopes to ride that tidal wave to a new level.
“When you see what Shalane has done, you see what Desi has done, you’ve seen Jordan [Hasay] and Amy [Cragg] and the barriers they continue to break through, there’s no reason I can’t do that,” Thweatt said. “I believe in myself and I know I have the drive. We all work really hard. To see them doing that just inspires me and gives me the confidence that I can also do that and that I can also be in the conversation when the time comes.”
More from today’s press event: LRC Galen Rupp & Mo Farah Want to Beat Each Other In Chicago, But This Is No Grudge Match