There are runners who do well on flat courses, others who perform their best on difficult layouts. There are those whose wheelhouse is in paced races, and others who show form in pure competition. Then there’s the weather to consider. Some runners embrace the heat, some who shiver in the cold. Rain bothers some, wind blows against everyone, and God knows who says, “bring on the humidity”. But the old adage “horses for courses” still rings true through all the years.
Finally, it’s one thing to get yourself fit then find a race to show that fitness off. It’s quite another to have a special day circled on the calendar and know that’s the day you have to be ready, knowing that everyone else is trying to do exactly the same thing, because that’s when the stakes are their highest.
Those runners who have the ability to peak for a red-letter day regardless of the course, irrespective of the conditions, those are the truly special ones.
Back in the day, Frank Shorter was the archetype of the peaker, twice a winner at the Olympic Trials Marathon, twice an Olympic medalist (1972 & 1976). These days, it’s Galen Rupp, who matched Shorter at yesterday’s Trials Marathon in Atlanta, adding it to his 2016 win in Los Angeles.
Between LA ‘16 and Atlanta ‘20, however, Rupp has been on a physical and emotional roller coaster that mirrored the bumpy Atlanta Trials course. It’s been a particularly testing last 18 months as he’s had to battle a body no longer responding to the calls made of it, until surgery to correct a congenital heel deformity was required in late 2018.
But he has also had to deal with the withering criticism and harsh assessments made of him and his former career-long coach who was officially sanctioned by the sports overseers for transgressions in drug protocols, though Rupp himself was never officially accused. There were signs out along the Atlanta course yesterday ripping Rupp for being a “drug cheat”.
Yet even with all that going against him, and having to find a new coach for the first time in his career late last year, one that doesn’t even live in the same city, and after not finishing a marathon since Chicago 2018, Rupp made the Atlanta Olympic Trials Marathon look like a walk in Centennial Park, a man racing against boys. Of all the favorites going into these Trials, men and women alike, the only one to make the 2020 team was Galen Rupp.
In 2016 in LA, he was the only man in the field wearing the unknown prototype shoes that have dominated running news these last several years. In Atlanta, the fancy shoes were everywhere. His new coach didn’t want him to start pushing till the course bottomed out between 19 and 20 miles, but Galen pressed ahead at 15 just the same, testing his opponents along the lines of what Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op said about any confrontation in the book Red Harvest.
“Plans are all right sometimes, and sometimes just stirring things up is all right if you’re tough enough to survive, and keep your eyes open so you’ll see what you want when it comes to the top.”
Say what you will about the guy, believe what you must, question his… whatever. But at some point I have to salute a tough, resolute runner who has come to the top in all conditions, on all kinds of courses, under the harshest light when only the goods matter.
Galen Rupp wasn’t the only resolute runner in yesterday’s Olympic Trials Marathons in Atlanta. Both fields were littered with them. He was only the best of the lot.