By Larry Eder
The marathon is one of the most complicated events to race at the elite level. Experience is key for many, but if one does not have experience, then being around experienced coaching and support is key. With Galen Rupp, you have a guy who trains like a marathoner and is coached by a former WR holder in the marathon (Alberto Salazar). With Meb, you have a guy who has finished 23 of his 24 starts in marathons, and has spent 20 years with the same, fine coach (Bob Larsen). With Jared, you have a thoughtful marathoner with some strong experience, advised and supported by a great coach (Ed Eyestone), wonderful family and supportive team members.
In the first half, runners from Meb to Tyler McCandless, to Fernando Cabada to Sam Chelanga. Nick Arciniaga was up front several times, as he tried to build a bit of a rythym.
Pace was conservative, as the 5k was hit in 15:48, 10k in 31:34, 15k in 47:12, and 20k in 63:02. In the building heat, even that pace caused discomfort and the lead pack dropped to 30, then, to 20, then, to twelve.
On the four loop course (six miles, then a two mile run to finish), Galen Rupp and Meb Kefelzighi stayed in the pack until the half at 1:06:32.
Galen Rupp stayed out of trouble, early on. Galen sat off the right arm of Luke Puskedra. Meb floated around, as is his want. Rupp's coach, Alberto Salazar, had told Galen to stay out of the lead as long as he could. He darts up front, and then, in row two, and really is just getting himself into a groove. This time, not much of a groove, as some things were hurting. At 40, Meb has hurts guys ten years younger do not, but he knows how to minimize them. Keflezighi's attention to detail is key in all he does. His confidence in his Coach, Bob Larsen is also quite important.
Luke Puskedra, ranked third in the field looked good, as did many others. Matt Llano was looking good, as did Nick Arciniaga, who lead much of the early race. Patrick Smythe, Sean Quigley, Tim Ritchie were among the marathoners up in the lead pack.
But those things began to change. That 2:12 pace, in hot weather, took its toll. That there was little or no shade on the sunny, hot day was damaging to all of the field. Everyone felt the pain, some just delt with it better.
Tyler Pennel, he of sub four minute mile speed, decided to break open the race, and break it open he did. His quick mile dropped all of the pretenders. Even some of the non-pretenders, like Jared Ward, knew that they had to keep themselves in control. " It was hot and it was hard. That's it." was how Jared Ward described it. Tyler made his move at 25k.
At just before sixteen miles, Tyler Pennel dropped a 4:47 mile and they were off, with Meb, Galen and Tyler breaking the pack. Pennel looked good running very fast. Galen went after him, as did Meb, as did Jared Ward, who had come up through the pack.
"When Tyler made that move, and Meb and Rupp went with him, I thought that's a hard move. if they can make it, I am not going to catch them. So, I went as fast as I could, and I ran a 4:50 mile, and I am sure that was my fastest mile." noted Jared Web, as the race started to get away from him.
From mile 16 to mile 18, Tyler Pennel, Galen Rupp and Meb Keflezighi ran together. Then, Galen took the lead at the water stop, with Meb in tow and Tyler Pennel went back fast. By nineteen miles, Jared Ward was stalking third place...it was only a matter of time. Tyler Pennel, in only his second marathon, had made a brave move, and would hold onto take fifth.
But it was to be Meb who broke Tyler Pennel, with Galen floating right there. Just after mile 18, with Tyler Pennel falling back, Galen Rupp floated to the front, with no additional percieved effort.
Galen and Meb ran together miles, 19-21. Galen, a couple of times, looked to be in some discomfort. I could not figure out if he dropped his hat on purpose or by mistake. The pace was getting faster, as Meb and Galen tested each other. Now, was the time of reckoning.
Meb was pushing, and Galen was running real close. In Meb's mind, Galen was riding him pretty close. " I told him this was not a track, but a road."
In tough, tight races, there are opposing race plans. Bob Larsen and Meb spoke about getting Meb on the team, and when the time came to test, use his experience. Galen Rupp and Alberto Salazar were much more cautious; stay behind the leaders as long as you could. Obviously those plans clashed, and there are words, but athletes get over it.
In races, there are times when the competition gets hot and heated, and words can be exchanged, and they are. I recall the 1980 Olympic Trials where Craig Virgin road Herb Lindsay for about six laps. Meb and Galen had a disagreement, but that is the confluence of tactics and competition. It happens.
Meb Keflezighi got Galen and Meb away from their competitors, like putting about a minute and three seconds between 18 miles and 21 miles.
Around 22 miles, Galen Rupp, floating along, just did the natural thing and took the lead. As he slightly increased the pace, Galen looked more relaxed and he broke Meb quickly. In Meb's head, Meb was trying to make sure he made the team and that Jared and perhaps others were not going to catch him. That increase was to 4:47, and Meb had to make a decision: take Galen on, or make the team. Meb chose to make the team, and Galen Rupp floated away.
Between miles 22 and 24, Galen Rupp won his marathon.
Checking his position three or four times, anbd obviously hot, Galen Rupp ran 9:43 for two miles between 22-24 miles. Galen looked uncomfortable in the 18-21 miles, but looked fantastic as he ran over the last two miles. I recall Frank Shorter noting in the 1972 Olympic Games marathon, that he felt poorly in the early slogging of the marathon, and better when he broke it open.
I noted last night that Galen would not be here if Coach Alberto Salazar did not think he was ready. But it was hot, and the sun was unrelenting.
Galen Rupp ran hard, yet stayed within himself. Did he face discomfort? Of course. His last mile was just getting through with a uncomfortable experience, but Rupp was winning and feeling uncomfortable is part of the game at this level.
Meb Keflezighi kept his cool, and protected his margin. Jared Ward swept past Tyler Pennel, put some real estate between himself and kept a safe margin of 1:12 over the surging Luke Puskedra.
Rupp won the race in 2:11:12, in his debut. In that debut win, he followed the path of his coach, Alberto Salazar, who won his first marathon only three decades ago. His time was sixth fastest time in Olympic Trials history. Galen was quite ebullent, yet tired, speaking on his victory:
"I am very excited with the way it went. Tremendous honor to represent the United States. It is the greatest honor on earth. I am so hapy to be able to make my devut here and to be able to win was unbelievable. I am so honored to be going to the Olympics."
Meb Keflezighi, making his fourth Olympic team, ran 2:12:20 to take the second position. A tremendous race for the 40 year old super star. Meb noted, " I was cramping a bit early in the race but delft better a little after halfway."
In third, Jared Ward, coached by Ed Eyestone, ran 2:13:00 for the all important third place on the Olympic team. Ed Eyestone, Ward's coach, made two Olympic teams and was quite pleased with Ward's buildup. Jared noted, of his first Olympic team: "With 600 meters to go, I started singing that song and changing the words. I said, "do it for your momma, do it for your wife, do it for your kids, and do it for your life. It was just enough of it and that was the end of it."
Luke Puskedra ran a smart race, finishing fourth place! Tyler Pennel, the man Meb and Galen credit with breaking open the race, took fifth. And Matt Llano, HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite, took sixth, in 2:15:16.
The team for Rio is strong. That Meb and Galen battled it out is no surprise. Jared Ward and Luke Puskedra is the new generation of marathoners showing their presence and Matt Llano joins that group. Some tought DNFs, with Dathan Ritzenhein and Tyler McCandless, but, that again, is part of a race or competition of this level.
Did the heat play a role in today's race? A huge role, but how does one think the weather will be in RIO?
Huge dnf rates today, with 166 men starting and 105 men finishing today.
In taking a day to consider the race once again, I am not surprised by the outcome. Galen did his job, with precision, and should be congratulated. Meb Keflezighi is the most experienced championship marathoner we have in the U.S., and his drive is like few others: he was going to make that team if there was any chance. Jared Ward used the support of his coach, family and friends to encourage his training and focus: coming down from the road of Utah, Jared Ward ran the race of his life to make the U.S. team.
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials marathon, Men, 1. Galen Rupp, Nike Oregon Track Club, 2:11:12, 2. Meb Keflezighi, Skechers, 3. Jared Ward, Saucony, 2:13:00, 4. Luke Puskedra, Nike, 2:14:12, 5. Tyler Pennel, Reebok ZAP Fitness, 2:14:57, 6. Matthew Llano, HOKA One One NAZ, 2:15:16, 7. Shadrack Biwott, Mammoth TC, 2:15:23, 8. Patrick Smythe, NIKE, 2:15:26, 9. Sean Quigley, Saucony, 2:15:52, 10. Nick Arciniaga, Under Armour, 2:16:25, #la2016