A Rebuilt Galen Rupp Says His 2023 Chicago Marathon Buildup Is His Best in Years

Rupp has not finished a marathon since July 2022 but says he is finally healthy and pain-free

CHICAGO — In 2022, Galen Rupp was not himself. He believed he could fight through the back injury that interrupted his buildup for the World Championship marathon and led to him dropping out of the New York City Marathon before halfway. Those illusions were shattered after New York. Rupp could not run the workouts he wanted. On bad days, even walking around the house was painful. It had been a mistake to run New York. Something had to change.

“You can’t just be surviving everything,” Rupp said. “At some point, that has to switch to thriving…and for a long time I was really just surviving and getting through workouts. You can’t do that as an elite athlete…Mike [Smith, Rupp’s coach] and I really had to take a long look at everything that I was doing. And first and foremost, he really told me: we’ve gotta get healthy first.”

That meant no spring marathon and a long break from racing, which was difficult for the uber-competitive Rupp. He has finished just one race since July 2022; Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon will be Rupp’s first race in almost seven months, one of the longest breaks of his career.

“The one positive about it is that I’ve had a lot of weeks of good volume going back months,” Rupp said.

Ahead of New York last year, Rupp tried to convince himself he was ready for a good race after a subpar buildup. Now, in the cold light of day, he can see he was a shell of himself. The back injury had caused Rupp to make adjustments to his form, and the results were not pretty.

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“When you’re doing things a little funky or off, it really starts to ingrain in there,” Rupp said. “A lot of this past year has been trying to undo a lot of that…I hate going back and looking at videos of myself running last year.”

Revamped Running Form for Rupp

Kevin Morris photo of Rupp in Chicago 2021 © 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Rupp did not want to go into specifics about what he has changed and admitted that his revamped running form remains a work in progress. But he has spent long hours with biomechanics specialists to undo his mistakes and develop good habits, and Rupp is happy with his progress.

“I think you’ll be able to see a difference [on Sunday],” he said.

Rupp has spent the last several weeks away from his family at altitude in Flagstaff so that he could train under Smith in person. He feels this marathon buildup has been his best in several years, and said he was able to do everything he wanted to do in terms of hitting paces in practice. Most importantly, there has been no pain.

Rupp has a strong history in Chicago, winning the race in 2017 — the only American male victory in the last 20 years — and finishing second in 2021. The heavy favorite is Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum, who has run two of the fastest times in history to win his first two marathons in Valencia (2:01:58) and London (2:01:25). Kiptum has said he wants to challenge Dennis Kimetto‘s course record of 2:03:45 on Sunday — and perhaps go even faster. Don’t expect Rupp to go with him.

“A couple years ago, I didn’t go out with the leaders,” Rupp said. “I caught back up to them. [A little after] halfway, I was back up and ended up finishing 2nd. There’s been plenty of races over the years where my pride wants me to say yeah, I’m just gonna go regardless. But there’s a difference between being aggressive and just being stupid…the time that matters is the finish line, not where you are 10k in or halfway.”

Rupp was also asked about the fact that no American man has so far hit the 2024 Olympic standard of 2:08:10. The question brought a smile to his face. Rupp has broken 2:07 three times in his career. He did not appear to be worried about entering February’s Olympic Trials without the standard.

“I think there’s a good chance that changes after this weekend,” Rupp said.

Can Rupp Make 5th Olympic Team? What About LA 2028?

Should Rupp qualify for Paris, it would be his fifth Olympic team — tied with Abdi Abdirahman for the most by an American runner. But the 37-year-old Rupp has no plans to stop after next year.

Rupp with Chicago race director Carey Pinkowski at the Shamrock Shuffle 8K in March © Bank of America/Kevin Morris

“I certainly think that I can keep doing this for a long time,” Rupp said. “It all comes down to health and the way that I’m moving. But when I’m healthy and running well, there’s no doubt in my mind that I can keep doing this for several more years at least. I think ultimately LA [2028] would be pretty sweet, to be able to run there. Just having the Olympics in your home country would be unbelievable. My kids would be older, I think they’d be able to experience that.”

Rupp would be 42 years old by the time the LA Games start. For a professional runner, that’s old — but not too old. Meb Keflezighi was 41 when he ran in the 2016 Olympic marathon. Abdirahman was 44 when he competed at the 2021 Olympics.

But that is all dependent on Rupp’s health, and he’s the first to admit that has been a major problem over the last two years. He believes that he has emerged from the worst of it, but there have been false dawns before — Rupp felt he was making progress after his 19th-place, 2:09:36 run at the 2022 Worlds, only to hit one of his lowest lows in New York four months later.

What is the reality? As always, the clock does not lie. Wherever Rupp is, in his comeback, in his career, we’ll find out Sunday morning in Chicago.

Full Galen Rupp interview before 2023 Chicago Marathon

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