Just How Good Will Galen Rupp Be In The Marathon?

Ryan Hall’s abrupt retirement two weeks ago was a jarring reminder of just how thin the U.S. men had become in the 26.2 mile distance in recent years. The lack of depth is very concern— oh what’s this? Galen Rupp is here to make us forget about it all!

Hall’s career had been spiraling downward for the last four years— largely caused by extreme fatigue and chronically low testosterone— with each DNF or DNS pushing his 2:04:58 in 2011 further from relevance. But even though his drastic decline warned us that the peak Ryan Hall days were over, the finality of his retirement really hammered home an ugly truth— the U.S. men’s marathon was drifting once more into irrelevance.

Rupp to the rescue. As one superstar exits, arguably the greatest distance runner in American history is here to fill his void, which will hopefully be the start of a marathon career for Rupp that mirrors the success he’s found on the track. 

After a year where no U.S. man broke 2:10 for the first time since 2003, the Olympic silver medalist’s presence pumps a jolt of life into a flatlining event in which an aging star (this is assuming that Meb Keflezighi does in fact age) and an injury-prone one (Ritzenhein) were still Trials’ favorites. But now, even with his inexperience, Rupp’s success from the mile (3:50) to the half marathon (60:30) should have U.S. fans salivating at a stud trying out the marathon with his track speed still mostly intact. 

Rupp’s earlier-than-expected journey into the uncertain world of 2+ hour-long road racing potentially gives the U.S. its next heavy-hitter to take on the best East Africans right after losing one in Hall, and just as current top dogs Keflezighi and Ritzenhein near points in their careers where they are no longer equipped for the task. He’s now my pick to win in Los Angeles based on his advantage in the speed department, and the ease with which he soloed a 61:20 half in December. 

But of course, there is no exact science to projecting how an individual will fare in the marathon, with perhaps the greatest example of the event’s unpredictability being half marathon World record holder Zersenay Tadese’s altogether unspectacular 2:10:41 marathon PR. Not every great distance runner can figure out the brutal race, and assuming Rupp will be the greatest American marathoner of all-time ignores the struggles that others have had with the grueling distance. 

Even so, a totally fun thing to do is to look at the men that surround Rupp on the all-time 10,000m performance list and check out how well they transitioned to the roads after such great success on the oval. The results are….inconsistent. 

First, here’s a look at the five guys immediately ahead of Rupp on the 10K list who have run marathons:  

Lucas Rotich (KEN):

10K PR: 26:43 (2011)

26.2 PR: 2:07:17 (2015)

Sammy Wanjiru (KEN):

10K PR: 26:41 (2005)

26.2 PR: 2:05:10 (2009)

Abdullah Ahmad Hassan (QAT):

10K PR: 26:38 (2003)

26.2 PR: 2:08:36 (2012)

Salah Hissou (MAR):

10K PR: 26:38 (1996)

26.2 PR: 2:12:45 (2004)

Zersenay Tadese (ERI):

10K PR: 26:37 (2006)

26.2 PR: 2:10:41 (2012)

Now, a glance at the five directly behind the American:

Mo Farah (GBR):

10K PR: 26:46 (2011)

26.2 PR: 2:08:21 (2014)

Eliud Kipchoge (KEN):

10K PR: 26:49 (2007)

26.2 PR: 2:04:00 (2015)

Moses Masai (KEN):

10K PR: 26:49 (2007)

26.2 PR: 2:10:36 (2014)

Moses Mosop (KEN):

10K PR: 26:49 (2007)

26.2 PR: 2:03:06 (2011)

Assefa Mezegebu (ETH):

10K PR: 26:49 (2002)

26.2 PR: 2:14:52 (2008)

Obviously, it has to be pointed out that Farah, Hissou, and Hassan each have just one career marathon to their names, so their inclusion doesn’t really tell us much. But from the other seven men on either side of Rupp’s 26:44 10K PR, the results show why Rupp —> 26.2 carries so much hype, and simultaneously, how difficult it is to figure out a 2 hour race. The McMillan Calculator equates Rupp’s 10K to a 2:05:26 marathon, which is exactly why l expect him to glide away at the Trials despite a venture into the unknown of a race longer than 13.1 miles. But as shown above, elite 10K running doesn’t always translate to elite marathoning.   

Projecting how good he’ll be at the marathon must come with the understanding that the distance is entirely unpredictable. But for a guy who is still competitive on the track, and crucially, has never struggled with injury, there’s more reason than not to believe Rupp will ultimately go down as one of the best U.S. marathoners of all-time.

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