Galen Rupp, the best male American marathoner of the past six years, has been largely absent from the spring racing scene. On March 5, he finished seventh at the Gate River Run USATF 15K championships. Two weeks later, he dropped out of the NYC Half Marathon after the 5K mark. Rupp hasn’t raced since.
In a phone call with Runner’s World on July 5, only 12 days out from the men’s marathon at the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, Rupp, 36, explained that he has been suffering from lower back pain for about a year. But he only got a diagnosis—a herniated disc and a pinched nerve—a couple of months ago. Since then, he’s been aggressively rehabbing with physical therapy and working on his core stability, to strengthen the muscles around the problem area.
He also had COVID in June, which required a week of easier running, although his symptoms were mild. Rupp said he’s fit, taking confidence from a 20-mile workout on July 1 that simulated race effort, and he’s excited for the marathon in July. Here are five highlights from that conversation:
His training has been “bumpy,” but the body of work is there.
Rupp said he’s been having back pain since the 2021 Peachtree Road Race 10K in Atlanta, where he finished eighth. But it eased during his buildup to the Chicago Marathon last October, where he ran 2:06:35 for second place, two months after he placed eighth in the Olympic marathon.
After the pain flared again during his two races in March, he went in for an MRI. “It’s good I was able to find something concrete,” he said. “I was kicking myself for not getting some imaging done sooner. But better late than never.”
Rupp didn’t miss many workouts during the past year, instead sometimes taking an extra recovery day after a hard workout. “I was in a lot of pain for a long time,” he said, “But I never really had to miss stuff. I might not have been able to hit the workouts as I would have wanted all the time. I had to be more careful with the shorter speedwork. But I was able to run and get through most of it, for better or worse, for a long time.”
His most recent long workout gives him confidence.
After weeks of PT and extra bodywork sessions, his training was starting to come around. Then COVID hit his family—after they had avoided it for the first two years of the pandemic.
He treated his July 1 workout—about 24 miles including warmup and cooldown—as a race effort, although Rupp declined to talk about his pace. His coach, Mike Smith, emphasized to him the importance of making the run like a race effort. Smith, Rupp said, was “thrilled” with the workout.
“I hit it hard, I can tell you that for sure,” Rupp said. “I think it was a really good sign—there’s nothing better than doing those long tempo runs, when you’re running hard for a really long time, to get you ready for a marathon.”
Rupp said he was frustrated not to be able to get an actual race in between New York and worlds, but he needed as much uninterrupted training time as possible. There’s weren’t many options, either, as good tuneups for a July marathon.
Rupp also draws confidence from his innate abilities. “You don’t want to have to rely on talent, but sometimes it’s good to have in your back pocket, I guess, when you might not have been able to hit everything that you would have wanted,” he said.
The moment is not lost on him.
Rupp went to the University of Oregon before turning pro in 2009, and he is well acquainted with the marathon course from his time in Eugene. Running at the World Championships in what is close to his hometown (Rupp lives two hours north in Portland, Oregon) is “incredible, really,” he said. “I could not be more excited to be running down there. It’s my favorite place in the world to compete. I’ve got a lot of fond memories down there. Hoping I can make another one in a couple of weeks.”
His one regret is that the marathon course will not finish at the rebuilt Hayward Field. Instead, the marathon starts and finishes across the Willamette River outside of the university’s football facility, Autzen Stadium. “I I was a little disappointed that we weren’t finishing in there, but I’m sure it’s logistically [impossible],” he said. “It will still be cool to start and finish outside of Autzen.”
A good day? He’ll be competing for the win.
Rupp has every intention of mixing it up with the leaders. “It’s been a wild last couple of months for me from a training perspective, but I’m really excited,” he said. “I made it through the other end, I feel like. We’ll see. I never want to rule anything out. Winning would be great. I believe I can be there in contention with a lot of these guys.
“Certainly the goal is to go in there and compete for the win,” he continued. “That’s what it’s always been ever since I found out Eugene was going to have the championships—it will be a pretty incredible day if I can pull it off. There’s some unbelievable athletes that are going to be there. It’s going to be really difficult.”
After Worlds, barring an injury, Rupp will definitely run a fall marathon, he said.
Rupp will not be the next track coach at Oregon.
The university announced last month that it is parting ways with Robert Johnson, the longtime head track coach at Oregon. Rupp is not interested in the job (although his coach, Smith, is mentioned as a possible candidate for the position).
“I’m still kind of focused on my career right now,” Rupp said. “I think it would be really fun to coach some day. I’ll leave it at that. I love the U of O. I’m sure they’re going to get somebody great in there.”