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Galen Rupp Wants to Win Olympic Gold, Jacob Riley Aiming for Top 6

U.S. Olympic marathoners Rupp and Riley share their training, plans and goals leading to the Tokyo Games.

When Galen Rupp won last February’s Olympic Marathon Trials in 2:09:20, it changed almost nothing in his life. Rupp has been America’s best distance runner for a decade-plus, and his victory was widely expected. Of the last 12 months, he says, “I’ve just been training hard the way I always do.”

When Jacob Riley finished second in the Trials in a personal best 2:10:02, it changed everything. As he notes, “I’m no longer living in someone else’s basement.” A self-described “B lister” previously, Riley now has a new shoe contract, financial stability, and a chance to extend and improve his running career.

Yesterday, both runners faced the media (via Zoom) for the first time since the Atlanta Marathon Trials last February 28. Rupp appeared relaxed, happy, more confident and more expressive than ever before in his long career, which stretches all the way back to 2003 when he won the gold medal in the World Junior Championships 5000-meter race.

Riley sounded cautious about Covid travel, excited for the change in his economic status, and realistic about his chances in the Tokyo Olympic Marathon. That event will actually be held in Sapporo (which is about 650 miles north, and 10 degrees cooler than Tokyo). The race date is August 8.

Rupp wins Trials
Galen Rupp reacts as he crosses the finish line to win the Men’s U.S. Olympic marathon team trials Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

A Relaxed Rupp

Rupp has competed in every Olympics since 2008, and in five World Championships (2007 to 2015.) His crowning achievements have been a silver medal in the London Olympic 10,000 behind only Mo Farah, and a bronze medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics Marathon behind Eliud Kipchoge and Feyisa Lilesa. Rupp has also won his only two U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, in Los Angeles in 2016, and in Atlanta last February. He lives in Portland, OR, has a marathon best of 2:06:07 (Prague, 2018), and will turn 35 in May.

Rupp, on the past year

“It’s been a crazy Covid year, probably the same for me as for many others. I feel we were very lucky to get in the Atlanta Trials just a week or so before things started shutting down. I’m mainly just staying at home with my family, probably more than I ever have in my career without travel to events. I’m training hard the way I always have. I’m hoping maybe I’ll be able to do some spring races soon.”

On possible spring races

“I had been hoping to run a marathon at the end of this month, but Covid travel restrictions made that impossible. I’m definitely looking forward to some spring races. I think it’s important. You have to get back to dealing with the travel, the hotel, the racing situations. You want to get a few of those behind you, so you can be sharp this summer.”

Galen Rupp, Eliud Kipchoge and Ghirmay Ghebreslassie in the Men's Marathon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games August 21, 2016.
Galen Rupp, Eliud Kipchoge and Ghirmay Ghebreslassie in the Men’s Marathon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games August 21, 2016. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

On his training under new coach Mike Smith since late 2019

“I couldn’t be happier with the way things went at the Marathon Trials and this year too. Mike can’t travel to see my workouts, but I text him afterwards, and we talk about any soreness I might have, and whether or not I should be running faster or slower.

“The training is different than I used to do, and that’s good. I believe if you don’t change up the training stimulus, then you could get stuck in place. With Mike, the intervals are longer and the rests are shorter. I used to run 400s that were nearly all out, every one, with the rests I needed to recover. Now I might do sessions of mile-repeats or two-mile repeats with short intervals. They start out feeling easier than fast 400s, but the volume gets to you in the end. There’s more than one way to climb a mountain.”

On his Olympic goals

“I’m out to win — no ifs, ands. or buts about it. I know it’s not an easy task. I know there are a lot of great marathoners out there. I can’t wait to go up against them and see what I can do. I was very pleased with the way I ran in Atlanta. I’m optimistic about where I am now physically versus a couple of years ago with a bad Achilles problem. I’ve got an Olympic silver medal and a bronze medal. Now it’s time to go for the gold.”

Jake Riley after finishing 3rd in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon
Jake Riley after finishing 2nd in the 2020 Men’s U.S. Olympic marathon team trials Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Riley’s New Reality

Riley’s career includes fewer highlights than Rupp’s, partially because he has been injury prone. In college he competed for Stanford, garnering All American honors eight times, but no major individual victories. He ran 2:13:16 at the Chicago Marathon in 2014 before losing several years to injury. In October, 2019, Riley  reduced his marathon best to 2:10:36 (Chicago), and then ran 2:10:02 on the super-tough Atlanta Trials course to place second behind Rupp. He is 33, living in Boulder, CO, and coached by Lee Troop, a three-time Olympic marathoner for Australia.

Riley, on the past year

“I’ve settled into the new normal. It maybe took me a little longer than others to get back into the regular rhythm of my training after the Trials. I had some hamstring issues along the say. Everything seems good in this new year. I’m looking forward to getting into the big Olympic Marathon buildup in a couple of months. I can feel the butterflies of excitement in my stomach.”

How second place in the Marathon Trials changed things

“The Trials were a game changer for me. I’m not living in someone else’s basement any more. I don’t have to check my bank balance every time I make a withdrawal. I’ve got a new contract with On shoes where I am meeting with the company president and involved in their design process. We have other deals on the table, but Covid slowed some down, and Lee Troop has warned me not to do too many, which he thinks he did in his career. I’m not going to sign with a sports drink company just because they’ll give me free product.”

Jake Riley running on track in On shoes.
Jake Riley training in Boulder, CO summer 2020. Photo: Brian Metzler

On possible spring races

“I might run a half marathon in Nebraska at the end of April. It would be more like a race-day prep than an all-out race. We’ll see. I’m a little averse to traveling until I can get my vaccinations. Lee puts a lot of emphasis on track racing. He’d probably like to get me into a 5,000 or 10,000, maybe in the May-June period. I have a love-hate relationship with the track. I’ve had Achilles problems in the past. I only had one half-marathon tuneup before Atlanta. I think I could get ready for Tokyo with good workouts at home.”

On his Olympic goals

“I admire Jared Ward a lot. We’re the same age, and I think we’re the same kind of runner in many ways. Jared set a high bar with his sixth in Rio, but that’s what I’m looking at. Maybe it’s a stretch goal with all the 2:02 and 2:03 guys out there, but in the Olympics you can often pick off runners the second half. I’d like to run a negative split, and do that. My biggest concern is the heat and humidity. I’m a guy from the Northwest. I don’t have a history of running well in heat. I might have to go to Virginia or Kentucky for some heat training, or to the environmental chamber at the Olympic Center in Colorado Springs.”