2019 Chicago Marathon Men’s Preview: Galen Rupp Returns to Face Mo Farah & Boston Champ Lawrence Cherono

By Jonathan Gault
October 10, 2019

Like it or not, Alberto Salazar‘s shadow will hang over the 2019 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Two weeks ago, Salazar, 61, was coaching Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay, the two biggest American stars of this year’s Chicago field, in his role as head coach of the Nike Oregon Project. From 2011-17, Salazar coached Mo Farah, who returns to Chicago this year as the defending champion.

On September 30, however, Salazar was handed a four-year ban from the sport by USADA, and his absence is one of the biggest storylines in a Chicago Marathon full of them. How will Rupp — who, in case you forgot, is running his first race since Achilles surgery in October 2018 — run without the guidance of the only coach he’s ever known? Can Farah retain his title and lower the European record of 2:05:11 he set to win here a year ago? Will Hasay break Deena Kastor‘s 2:19:36 American record? How fast will the world’s top female marathoner, Brigid Kosgei, run?

What: 2019 Bank of America Chicago Marathon
When: Sunday, October 13, 7:30 a.m. local (8:30 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.

When it was first announced, the men’s field looked incredible, but it’s since taken several hits with the withdrawals of 2:03 men Getaneh Molla and Herpasa Negasa, in addition to Boston Marathon third-placer Kenneth Kipkemoi and Americans Chris Derrick and Dathan Ritzenhein. But with Farah, Rupp, Boston champ Lawrence Cherono, and 2015 Chicago champ Dickson Chumba, there should still be a competitive battle for the win on Sunday.

There’s plenty to discuss, and LetsRun.com will have boots-on-the-ground coverage from Chicago beginning on Friday. But before then, let’s dig into the elite fields and preview the races, starting with the men below.

The Weather

With a high of 56 degrees and partly cloudy skies, the weather is promising. The only issue? Right now, Dark Sky is forecasting winds of 16-17 mph all morning long. That could put a damper on what would otherwise be a great day for running fast.

MB: OFFICIAL Chicago Marathon Weather Thread

Men’s elite field *Elite field uniforms

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Name Country PB Note
Lawrence Cherono Kenya 2:04:06 6 marathon W’s in last 4 years; biggest was ’19 Boston
Asefa Mengstu Ethiopia 2:04:06 3rd in Dubai, 2nd in Paris earlier this year
Dickson Chumba Kenya 2:04:32 9 top-3’s, 3 W’s (including ’15 Chicago) in WMM’s
Seifu Tura Ethiopia 2:04:44 Wins in Milan & Shanghai last year; DNF’d WMM debut in Tokyo in March
Mo Farah Great Britain 2:05:11 Defending champ ran 2:05 in London for 5th in April
Galen Rupp USA 2:06:07 2017 champ. First race since heel surgery in October ’18
Bedan Karoki Kenya 2:06:48 Best distance is 13.1, but was runner-up in Tokyo in March
Bashir Abdi Belgium 2:07:03 Farah’s training partner ran Belgian record in 2nd marathon in London
Dejene Debela Ethiopia 2:07:10 Two-time Xiamen champ making WMM debut
Scott Smith USA 2:12:21 6th in Boston last year; US 25k runner-up
Jake Riley USA 2:13:16 First marathon since taking 15th at ’16 Olympic Trials
Brian Shrader USA 2:13:30 6th at CIM
Brendan Gregg USA 2:13:37 20th in Boston
Brian Shrader USA 2:13:30
Diego Estrada USA 2:13:56 Broke 28:00 for 10k in May; hasn’t raced marathon since ’17
Andrew Bumbalough USA 2:13:58 First marathon since 5th at ’18 Boston
Matt McDonald USA 2:14:06
Nico Montanez USA 2:14:27
Parker Stinson USA 2:14:29 Now coached by Ritz, he broke US 25k record to win first national title in May
Wilkerson Given USA 2:15:52 Former 8:59 steepler for Furman
Noah Droddy USA 2:16:26 Only 2:19 in Rotterdam after running 62:39 half in buildup. Update on Droddy’s training here.
Ryan Root USA 2:16:40 29:51 on the track this year
Martin Esteban URU 2:16:42 Ran 2:19:22 in September in Buenos Aires
Alan Peterson USA 2:17:15 63:06 half pb
Michael Eaton USA 2:18:00 28:41 10k pb
Jackson Neff USA 2:18:49 Ran 8:36 steeple for Ohio State in 2015
Dan Kremske USA 2:18:52 PR came in his first Chicago in 2013
Brett Lustgarten USA 2:18:19 PR came from 2018 Chicago
Willie Milam USA 2:20:35 Ran 62:26 in half in Houston this year
Alex Monroe USA 2:26:28 13:36/28:17 track pbs
Jerrell Mock USA Debut Former Colorado State star has pbs of 28:11/62:14
Joel Tobin-White AUS Debut 62:03 half pb
Justin Gallegos USA Debut

The Four Major Champs

While there are a total of seven sub-2:07 guys in this race, only four of them have won a World Marathon Major, and those four just happen to be the four biggest threats to win the race. Guys like Asefa Mengstu (2:04:06 pb) and Bedan Karoki (the runner-up in Tokyo in March) shouldn’t be totally ignored, but the champ on Sunday will probably be one of the four guys in the group below.

As for pacemakers, they will be in Chicago again this year and the tentative plan is to have Edwin Koech (60:24/2:07:13 pbs) and Emmanuel Saina (2:05:02) shoot for a sub-2:05 pace. This could change based on the weather and athletes’ requests.

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Galen Rupp — USA, 33 years old, 2:06:07 pb (2018 Prague), 59:47 half
Last three marathons: DNF 2018 Boston, 1st 2018 Prague (2:06:07), 5th 2018 Chicago (2:06:21)

Rupp is fairly secretive to begin with, but usually we can get a sense of how his buildup is progressing in the weeks leading up to a marathon. Either Salazar will give an interview to Ken Goe, or Rupp will run a tuneup race and put down a marker.

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There’s been none of that ahead of Chicago; it’s anyone’s guess as to what kind of shape Rupp is in right now. There was a YouTube video about the progress of his rehab in April, and he gave a (surprisingly) lengthy interview with Runner’s World in June in which he said he was up to 85 miles per week on solid ground, with another 20-40 per week on an underwater treadmill. And we learned, through Rupp’s NOP teammate Hasay, that Rupp spent part of this marathon segment in Park City — interesting because he has largely eschewed altitude in recent buildups.

But there’s plenty we don’t know. The full title of that YouTube video was “Rebuilding Rupp- Episode 1”; there was no Episode 2. He said in the RW interview that he “definitely” wanted to do some road races over the summer and typically runs a tuneup before each marathon, but he hasn’t raced since Chicago last year. There is reason for concern.

And yet, Rupp remains on the start list. With the Olympic standard no longer an issue, it doesn’t make sense to race in Chicago if he’s not back to 100%. Assuming he does indeed start, he should contend for the win. Because, in case you forgot, Galen Rupp is a very good marathoner.

And Rupp isn’t just good; he’s consistent. Outside of 2018 Boston — where Rupp gets a pass because of the weather — his worst marathon, 5th in Chicago last year in 2:06:21, is still far better than any other American is capable of. Of the other five marathons he’s finished, he’s won three of them (including Chicago in 2017), taken second in Boston in 2017 behind Geoffrey Kirui, and finished 3rd at the 2016 Olympics.

Even at his best, however, Rupp wouldn’t be the favorite here. Why didn’t he run a tuneup race? Salazar has coached Rupp since 2002 and they have one of the closest coach-athlete relationships in the sport; how will Rupp handle his first race without Salazar? Rupp is also just 1-22 in his career against his former training partner Farah. There are too many questions to back Rupp for the win on Sunday.

MB: Does Rupp toe the line on Sunday?

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Mo Farah — Great Britain, 36 years old, 2:05:11 pb (2018 Chicago), 59:07 half
Last three marathons: 3rd 2018 London (2:06:21), 1st 2018 Chicago (2:05:11), 5th 2019 London (2:05:39)
Tuneup race: 59:07 win at Great North Run on September 8

Farah is three races into his “serious” marathon career (ignoring his debut in London in 2014, which was mostly for fun and a fat appearance check) and the returns have been very good. 3rd and 5th in London is nothing to sneeze at given its status at the world’s most competitive marathon, and he beat a good field to win Chicago last year.

Farah may be even fitter now than he was in 2018. As he has for the last seven years, Farah ran the Great North Run last month, and as he has for the last six, he won it. Even more impressive was the time: 59:07, the fastest of his career and 20 seconds faster than he ran last year.

Farah winning again on Sunday would not be a surprise. But at this point, he may be looking for more than that. The marathon has exploded: within the past 13 months, four men have run 2:02 or faster. Farah’s pb is just 2:05:11. He will want to close that gap. Personal bests aren’t everything, of course. Farah could have run faster in Chicago last year, but was content to play sit-and-kick until the final four miles. Afterward, he said “low 2:04 or high 2:03 is possible.”

Could he run that on Sunday? Maybe, if the forecasted wind dies down. But the wind could actually help Farah, who is at his best tucking in and finishing fast. No matter what style of race unfolds, Farah should be a factor in the final miles.

Cherono after winning Boston in April

Lawrence Cherono — Kenya, 31 years old, 2:04:06 pb (2018 Amsterdam), 61:58 half
Last three marathons: 7th 2018 London (2:09:25), 1st 2018 Amsterdam (2:04:06), 1st 2019 Boston (2:07:57)

With course records in Amsterdam and Honolulu, it seemed only a matter of time before Cherono won a major, and victory came quickly. After taking 7th in London last year, he prevailed in a three-way kick to win Boston this year in 2:07:57, the fastest winning time there in eight years. Cherono has won four of his last five marathons (and six of his last nine) and is tied with the less-accomplished Asefa Mengstu for the fastest pb in the field.

Dickson Chumba — Kenya, 32 years old, 2:04:32 pb (2014 Chicago), 60:39 half
Last three marathons: 1st 2018 Tokyo (2:05:30), DNF 2018 Chicago, 3rd 2019 Tokyo (2:08:44)

Chumba has nine top-3 finishes in majors and three victories, but because all of those podium finishes came in either Tokyo or Chicago — often the two most forgettable majors — he doesn’t have the name recognition that those accomplishments usually connote. In his most recent podium, 3rd in Tokyo in March, he finished two minutes behind 2nd (Bedan Karoki, also racing Chicago) and a further two minutes behind 1st.

That said, aside from last year’s DNF, he has a very strong track record in Chicago, taking 3rd, 1st, and 2nd in his three finishes. He should be in the mix, but may be slightly outclassed by the likes of Farah and Cherono.

Other Guys With an Outside Shot at Winning

  • Asefa Mengstu, Ethiopia, 34 years old: Mengstu is tied with Cherono for the fastest pb in the field (2:04:06), has run 2:04 in Dubai in each of the past two years, and he has won lesser marathons like Bloemfontein, Cape Town (twice), and Seoul. But in his lone WMM appearance in 2017, he was just 7th in London, and he’s never broken 2:07 outside of Dubai. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him crack the podium, but winning would represent a major breakthrough.
  • Seifu Tura, Ethiopia, 24 years old: Similar to Mengstu, Tura has run fast in Dubai (2:04:44 last year), has won some minor marathons (Milan and Shanghai), but has yet to prove himself in a major. His 59:16 half marathon pb in Buenos Aires on August 25 was a good sign.
  • Bedan Karoki, Kenya, 29 years old: Karoki is best-known for his exploits in the half, where he owns a 58:42 pb. He was only 9th in Chicago last year, but he’s run some strong marathons in the past, including 3rd and 5th in London in 2017 and 2018 and a runner-up showing in Tokyo in March. After running 59:05 for 13.1 in Buenos Aires in August, he looks fit.

The Non-Rupp Americans

Outside of Rupp, no American in this field has broken 2:12 and only one has broken 2:13. It’s a blob of guys looking for the same thing: a breakout performance that signals to the world that they’re a serious contender to make the Olympic team four months from now, similar to what Luke Puskedra did in Chicago in 2015 by going from 2:15 to 2:10 in one race.

Chicago has contracted two pacers from the HOKA NAZ Elite team, Matt Baxter and Sid Vaughn, to pace the Americans and though their final pace instructions will be determined at the technical meeting once the weather forecast is clearer, their coach Ben Rosario told LetsRun he believes they’ll be running somewhere in the 65:00-65:30 range for the first half.

If that is indeed the case, Chicago could end up as something of a poor man’s Dubai for the second-tier Americans: go out faster than your PR pace (in some cases, significantly faster) and try to hold on. With nine guys in this race clustered in the 2:12:21-2:14:29 range, odds are one of them has a big day and runs 2:10 or 2:11. The question is, who?

NAZ Elite’s Scott Smith has the fastest PR of the group at 2:12:21, and Rosario says that his buildup for Chicago has been very similar to the one he put in before running that PR in Frankfurt two years ago, running many of the same workouts since the courses are both flat and fast. There’s only one difference: “Objectively, he’s just better [in 2019],” Rosario said. “He’s just fitter.”

Andrew Bumbalough of the Bowerman Track Club was set to run Chicago last year, but wound up a late withdrawal after a femur injury. Since returning to training in March, however, he’s logged a lot of miles — he’s been consistently over 100 “Jerry miles” per week since the summer and well into the 120s (130+ real miles) in the peak of his buildup.

Bumbalough has yet to run faster than 2:13:58 in any of his three marathons, but there is room for improvement. He took his debut in Tokyo in 2017 very cautiously, and one of his other marathons was the severe weather year in Boston, where he finished an impressive 5th. Chicago should offer a chance to run fast, and that’s what Bumbalough plans on doing.

“I absolutely want to PR and I feel like I’m in position to run a personal best by a lot,” Bumbalough said.

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That’s a common sentiment among Americans in this field. Dathan Ritzenhein, who is coaching Parker Stinson, believes that Stinson is in position to “chop quite a few minutes off his PR.” Stinson stayed at Ritzenhein’s house for the last two weeks before the race, and Ritz joked that it’s been like having a third child — his wife, Kalin, cooks for him, and Ritz is even driving Stinson to Chicago in the family minivan. Ritz was originally slated to run Chicago too, but was forced to withdraw with some foot issues; now he’s pouring all his energy into supporting Stinson.

One of the biggest things Ritzenhein has preached is patience. Stinson has the talent to become a good marathoner — earlier this year, he ran an American record of 1:13:48 to win the US 25k champs, coming through the half marathon in 62:02 — but in his two marathons, he’s gone out hard and died. At CIM in 2017, Stinson went out in 64:41 and faded to 2:18:07; at Chicago last year, he went out in 65:12 and slowed to 2:14:29. Ritzenhein doesn’t want to completely tame Stinson’s aggressiveness, but believes that if Stinson can channel that aggressiveness into the second half of the race rather than the first, he could see better results.

“You can only change someone so much,” Ritzenhein said. “You have to let them be who they are.”

(Editor’s Note: When Ritzenhein agreed to talk about Stinson, he said he didn’t want to talk about the NOP doping scandal during the interview).

There’s a good shot that at least one American runs 2:10 or 2:11, assuming the weather cooperates. Maybe it’s Smith or Bumbalough or Stinson, or maybe it’s a guy like Noah DroddyBrian Shrader, or Nico Montanez. Maybe it’s someone else entirely. We’ll see on Sunday.

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