Now he’s back to the roads. The two-time Olympic medalist raced the USATF 15K Championships on March 5, and he’ll race the NYC Half Marathon on Sunday, March 20.
These shorter events are the first two races in his preparation for the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, where Rupp will race the marathon on July 17. It’s the first time the event will be held on U.S. soil, and it has particular significance for Rupp: The championships will be in his home state, in the same city where he made his first Olympic team in 2008 while he was an undergraduate at the University of Oregon.
Rupp spoke to Runner’s World on March 7, in advance of the NYC Half, and he discussed his recent training, his plans for the season, and what it felt like watching two of his records fall on the track in the past few weeks. He also discussed one big goal still on his radar: the American record in the marathon.
He’s optimistic after coming back from a tough race
Rupp made his season debut at the Gate River Run, which served as the USATF 15K Championships, on March 5 in Jacksonville, Florida. He had an uncharacteristically tough race, finishing seventh in 43:31 after leading for much of the 9.3 miles. He was 21 seconds behind winner Nico Montañez.
Rupp said he was dealing with a familiar pain at a spot in his lower back/upper glute, which resurfaced during the race. “Unfortunately it kind of came back a little bit there, but I’ve been getting a lot of treatment, taking care of it and I'm still super optimistic,” he said. “It’s happened before, at the Peachtree race last year and the Great North Run, and I bounced back pretty quick.”
Rupp said that the pain has come and gone for the last several months. Despite the nagging problem, he said he is fit and has done several confidence-building workouts, including a recent 10 x 1-mile session and several key long runs.
He wasn’t surprised that Grant Fisher broke his American records
Earlier this month, Grant Fisher of the Bowerman Track Club shattered the American record in the 10,000 meters, running 26:33.84 at a race in San Juan Capistrano, California. The previous record (26:44.36), was set by Rupp in 2014. Three weeks earlier, Fisher also broke the American record in the indoor 5,000 meters, another mark previously held by Rupp, who called Fisher’s 10,000 a “tremendous performance.”
“[Fisher] ran unbelievable and I mean, I was shocked when I heard the time, but hats off to him. Obviously, he’s been on a tear this winter,” Rupp said. “I can’t say I’m surprised just because you look at the way he’s been running.
“It’s awesome to see an American that really has an unbelievable potential to medal not only this summer but probably in years to come at a lot of these global championships at 10K,” he continued. “It’s going to be fun to watch for sure.”
He’s focused on maintaining overall health this season
After his second-place finish at the Chicago Marathon in 2:06:35, just nine weeks after the Olympic marathon last August, Rupp and his coach Mike Smith thought about putting three marathons on his schedule in 2022. But considering recent ups and downs with his health, they ultimately decided to put the focus on quality over quantity this year.
“As much as I wanted to do three, you can start playing with fire a little bit,” Rupp said. “Even though it goes well one time, that doesn’t mean that that’s the norm, you know? And so, we really wanted to look at what is going to be the best thing for my health overall, and performance, obviously, is the big thing, too.”
Rupp is targeting the marathon podium at the World Championships this summer. He also wants to run a fall marathon, but he hasn’t decided which one yet.
During his winter training, Rupp and Smith have focused on speedwork while he has been gearing up for the NYC Half.
Training solo has made him tougher
Since Chicago last fall, Rupp has been training at home in Portland, Oregon, while Smith, who also coaches the cross-country and track teams at Northern Arizona University, remains in Flagstaff. The duo communicate daily on workouts and mileage, but most of Rupp’s training is done solo. It’s a situation Rupp has grown accustomed to over the years—even when he was part of the now-defunct Nike Oregon Project, former training partners would often be preparing for different races on different training schedules.
Running alone day in and day out can be difficult at times, Rupp conceded, but it has also increased his mental strength.
“It certainly does make you tough on those days when you’re grinding out a lot of 1,000-meter repeats on your own, and it’s pouring rain outside,” he said. “You get through that, you definitely appreciate it a lot more. You get used to pushing yourself a lot, there’s a lot of confidence that comes from that, too.”
On the days when he’s struggling by himself, Rupp hones in on the mental gains he’s making in addition to the physical workout.
“Physically, sometimes those [splits] might not be what you want them to be, but it’s that much more important for your mind that you keep pushing through those hard times and learn to deal with that,” he said. “No matter how you’re feeling physically, you can still get through a tremendous amount of pain and discomfort, and that all serves you so much when you get into a racing environment.”
He’s targeting the American record in the marathon
At Chicago, Rupp ran within a minute of the American record (2:05:38) set by Khalid Khannouchi in 2002. While Rupp is hesitant to state a race in which he hopes to break the record, improving on the mark remains a primary goal.
“A lot of it depends on your buildup and training and the course and weather,” he said, explaining that by comparison, a record on the track can be easier to set up with optimal conditions. “A marathon is a little more tricky, and I do think it’s a little bit of a dangerous game to always put your eggs in that one basket and say, ‘I’m going to do it here.’ It depends on the opportunity, because you are kind of limited in the races that you run.”
While many factors need to come together in order to create optimal conditions to break the American record, Rupp says he wants to be ready to take advantage of the chances that present themselves.
“I think there will certainly be opportunities for me to do that and really go after it, but it’s always more important for me to win, be competitive in the marathons that I run,” he said. “The fields are always pretty great and usually it’s going to require something pretty close, if not something that is breaking the American record, to win those races.”
He’s had to make adjustments with age—and he’s okay with that
By the time he competes at the World Championships in Eugene this summer, the four-time Olympian will be 36. While balancing some lingering pains, Rupp has been trying to be patient, understanding that his body doesn’t recover as easily as it did in his 20s.
“Sometimes when you stress, you have a tendency to look back at training you did in the past and say, ‘Well, if I can just replicate that, I’ll run exactly the same,’” he said. “And that’s not the case. We’re not static beings. Everything is changing all the time.”
Smith, Rupp said, has been great at telling him to back off for a day or two and try a workout later, a lesson that’s been hard for Rupp to learn.
But he has also drawn confidence from his cardiovascular system, his core engine. “It gets better with time,” he said. “I think you see a lot of great marathoners running great into their late 30s and early 40s. I just need to make sure that I’m moving well and my body is healthy, but we’ll get there.”