Windy City Redux

By Mario Fraioli

It’s old news by now but it’s worth spending a few words on the Chicago Marathon this week since many of you have written to ask me what I thought about the race, particularly Galen Rupp’s win and Jordan Hasay’s 2:20:57 performance, the second fastest marathon ever run by an American woman, which was good enough for third place.

Rupp and Hasay, both of whom are less than two years into their marathon careers at this point, have proven themselves adept at competing over 26.2 miles in that short period of time. This trend continued at Chicago, as Rupp won the first marathon major of his career and Hasay put herself on the podium with a time that only Deena Kastor has bested (amongst Americans, anyway). They both executed excellent races. There’s no denying that fact.

But if I’m being honest, neither performance really excited me. And apparently I’m not the only one. “As a fan of my own sport it’s hard to have full excitement and faith when you don’t know all the facts yet,” four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan said in a pre-New York City Marathon teleconference last week. “There’s still an investigation going on, so it’s hard to truly and genuinely get excited about the performances that I’m watching.”

Meb Keflezighi, who said he was happy for Rupp and coach Alberto Salazar, qualified that statement by adding that there “a lot of things that are still going on so it’s hard to comprehend….There’s a lot of speculation going on and I would love to know what’s going on and how far it’s gotten.” Telling words from two of professional running’s biggest voices that captures much of uncertainty and skepticism that exists within the sport.

Now, it’s important to note that neither Rupp, Hasay, nor any other member of the Oregon Project for that matter, has ever failed a drug test. But they are all coached by Salazar, who is under investigation because of his “cutting edge” methods, some of which are questionable at best, illegal at worst, and I believe this needs to be acknowledged when talking/writing about the group’s successes—not that it should necessarily implicate anyone in the group simply for the fact that he or she is a part of it. But, it does make it hard for me (and many others) to get excited when someone from the NOP has a standout performance and the two people the program was built around—namely Salazar and Rupp—haven’t done anything in the last two Olympic cycles to cement your trust or make you want to root for them. As Flanagan said, “it’s really important to consider who you associate with…who you choose to allow [into your professional circle] says a lot about you.”

Salazar and Rupp have both said multiple times that they know the rules, have asked about the rules, and are adamant that they haven’t broken any of them when it comes to the various ways in which they “supplement” their training. There’s something about their responses that always comes across as less than transparent and just never seems to sit right with me.

Rupp and Hasay’s performances in Chicago should go down as two of U.S. marathoning’s most exciting moments—and maybe to some, they will—and perhaps even inspire the next generation of American marathoners—and maybe for some, they might—but if it were Keflezighi, Flanagan, or almost anyone else for that matter who had done what Rupp and Hasay did two Sundays ago, I think the post-race uproar amongst fans, media and other athletes would have been turned up to 11 and exalted in every corner of the running community. Instead, the excitement was far more subdued, more like a golf clap than a “storm the court” type of celebration, and that’s disappointing for everyone involved—fans, athletes and media alike.

+ There were a number of other American performances in Chicago worth getting excited about, including a solid debut by Chris Derrick, who finished ninth in 2:12:50, and Aaron Braun and Andrew Bumbalough coming in 12th and 13th, respectively, in the men’s raceOn the women’s side, the U.S. had five in the top 10, led by Hasay, who was joined by Maegan Krifchin, Alia Gray, Taylor Ward and Becky Wade in 7th through 10th. Amazingly, there was only a two-minute gap between those final four places. Here are the top-

I love the effort that coach Ben Rosario and his HOKA Northern Arizona Elite squad put into connecting with their fans throughout the year, especially in the buildup to major races. Maintaining an active social media presence and posting their training logs online helps put some context behind the team’s performances while creating a long-lasting fanbase and generating continued excitement. Along those lines, I enjoyed the first episode of 183.4, a three-part documentary that follows seven of the team’s members as they train for this year’s Chicago, Frankfurt, and New York City marathons. It’s 45 minutes long but helps you get to know the aforementioned Braun, as well as Scott Fauble, Kellyn Taylor, Matt Llano, Scott Smith, and Steph and Ben Bruce, on a more intimate level. “Because none of us were big stars coming out of college, we’re never really like the favorites or people who are always picked to make the team or to have those big breakthroughs,” Steph Bruce says. “Sometimes we are off the radar a little bit and I think that mentality is what really fuels and fires everyone up on the team. No one is complacent in their goals and what they’re trying to achieve.” Also, if you weren’t following writer Matt Fitzgerald’s daily dispatches from his three-month stint training with NAZ elite leading up to this year’s Chicago Marathon, where he ran a two-minute personal best of 2:39:30 at age 46, I suggest giving those a look too. It’s an impressive and inspiring record of his workouts and accompanying candid thoughts, chock full of valuable insights any non-elite competitive runner can benefit from and implement in his or her own training. If digging through 12 weeks worth of training logs is too tedious, however, I’d recommend the post-race podcastfeaturing both Fitzgerald and Rosario for the high-level takeaways. “If you look at the workload I was doing, it was big,” Fitzgerald admitted. “But it was easy to tolerate for me because of the balance of intensities.”

A version of this post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, writing, media and other topics that interest me. Sign up here to get it sent to your inbox first thing every Tuesday morning.