Rupp’s Houston Race, a Tune-Up for Orlando
By Jay Holder
Galen Rupp made it clear that he did not come to Houston this past weekend to do anything other than focus on February. After finishing 14th place in 1:02:37 with four American runners ahead of him in Sunday’s Aramco Houston Half Marathon, he didn’t seem the least bit concerned.
“I was hoping to run a little bit faster, but all in all it was a good effort,” said the two-time Olympic Team Trials - Marathon winner on Sunday afternoon.
Rupp, 37, has been one of the country’s best distance runners for the last four Olympic cycles. He won the silver medal in the 10,000m at the 2012 London Games and a bronze medal in the marathon in 2016 Rio Games. If he lands on the podium at the marathon trials in Orlando next month, he will join Alyson Felix and Abdi Abdrihaman as the only American track and field athletes to make five Olympic teams.
But the Road to Paris may be Rupp’s rockiest Olympic journey yet. After the 2020 Tokyo Games marathon where he was the top American finisher in eighth place, Rupp battled back injuries that caused him to miss significant amounts of training. While he was able to run in the 2022 World Athletics Championships marathon in his home state of Oregon, he was disappointed with his 19th place finish. Later that year, he dropped out of the TCS New York City Marathon.
Now, Rupp says his back injuries are behind him thanks to strength work and biomechanic adjustments he’s made with his coach Mike Smith. At the 2023 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, he seemed to be returning to form. Rupp finished eighth in 2:08:48, a far cry from his 2017 victory in the race, but the third fastest time run by an American all year and his fastest finish since 2018.
“It's been a tough last couple of years. But the good thing today is that I feel healthy,” Rupp said after Sunday’s race in Houston. “I don't have any pain. My back is feeling good. We came off Chicago healthy and we want to build on that and keep going.”
Coming into the half marathon, there was speculation that Rupp could unlock a third spot on Team USA by clocking a close to one-hour flat finishing time. It’s a barrier only Rupp, Ryan Hall and Leonard Korir have broken for the Americans. At Friday’s pre-race press conference, Rupp quickly put the expectations to rest.
“I’d be lying if I said I was in the greatest half-marathon shape coming to this. I’ve been training for a marathon,” said Rupp who still trains in Portland, OR. “It’s been a really big build-up; it’s been going really well. To run a super-fast half, it’s probably better to come in from 10K and have more of that track background.”
Rupp said he and Smith saw Houston as an opportunity to get in a hard effort and a lot of volume. So, as he has been known to do throughout his entire career, Rupp was on the hotel treadmill shortly after crossing the finish line to do a post-race workout.
“We just wanted to take advantage of the day,” he said, “We really wanted to get in a good race day simulation which is something you can’t really mimic in practice.”
With three weeks remaining until Trials, Rupp says he might back off more than he has prior to previous trials. Like some other contenders, he won’t make any trips to Orlando to see the course or acclimate to the climate and he said he’s not spending any time worrying about the conditions on race day. It was hot and humid when he won the Los Angeles Trials in 2016 and cold and windy when he won in Atlanta in 2020.
“It isn't a paced race. It's a fast course in Orlando. I think the weather is gonna be pretty good,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good guys that are gonna be running, but you have to expect everyone to be on their ‘A’ game in an Olympic year.”