Galen Rupp, a product of CYO and Central Catholic, runs strong in last year’s Chicago Marathon. Rupp, who took second in Chicago, has his sights on the World Marathon Championship in Eugene July 17. (Ken Niezgoda/Catholic Sentinel)
Galen Rupp, a product of CYO and Central Catholic, runs strong in last year’s Chicago Marathon. Rupp, who took second in Chicago, has his sights on the World Marathon Championship in Eugene July 17. (Ken Niezgoda/Catholic Sentinel)
Galen Rupp has lived a storied life. This summer we may get a glimpse of how much of that story remains to be told.

Largely considered one of the greatest-ever American male distance runners, the 36-year-old athlete will compete this summer in his own backyard for the title of world champion, a title that so far has eluded his relentless pursuit. He will run in the World Marathon Championship in Eugene July 17.

The four-time Olympian owns the credentials to be considered a world champion contender. Rupp captured a silver medal in the 10,000 meters at the 2012 London Olympics and a bronze medal in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Rupp is one of only three American males to win an Olympic marathon medal in nearly a century. He is the only American male to win an Olympic medal in the 10,000 meters in more than half a century.

But you don’t win a race on reputation. Rupp would be the first to tell you that training for the marathon is a dynamic process, and success comes from preparation.

“It’s just this constant, evolving challenge or problem you have, you know, because no two years are the same. It’s not a static thing,” said Rupp in a one-on-one interview last fall at the Chicago Marathon.

“You’ve got to be totally all in. It’s like a prize fight. You’re just putting months and months of training in for that one day.”

Rupp’s last nine months of competition have been a mixed bag. The 2016 Olympic marathon bronze medalist took eighth place in last summer’s Tokyo Olympic marathon. He bounced back two months later to finish a strong second in the Chicago Marathon. In March of this year Rupp was unable to finish the New York City Half Marathon, dropping out around the half-way mark.

Age is not necessarily a limiting factor for the 36-year-old: Reigning Olympic champion and world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge is 18 months older than Rupp. The relentless pounding of a 26-mile race, however, tends to exaggerate any flaws in the body. Rupp was able to avoid major injury for the majority of his career, but in 2018 he underwent surgery on his Achilles tendon. Rupp said that while his Achilles has been remarkably pain-free, he has dealt with compensation injuries and pain throughout the recovery process.

Rupp could retire tomorrow with a legacy that ranks him among the best to ever run. However, several major titles remain in his sights: World champion, Olympic gold medalist and American record holder in the marathon. While Rupp’s body is showing the wear, his competitive tenacity and faith remain unscathed.

“You can never count Galen Rupp out,” said Kara Goucher, former U.S. women’s Olympic marathon competitor who served as a commentator during last summer’s Tokyo Olympic marathon.

Rupp appeared on the national running scene at when he was 14. He was a talented prep soccer player, a freshman on the varsity squad at Portland’s Central Catholic High School. Soccer was his first love. His life changed when soccer coach Jim Rilatt mentioned to the school’s new cross-country coach that he had a player who could run forever. Rupp had experience as a runner with Catholic Youth Organization track and field.

That first-year cross country coach was American distance running legend Alberto Salazar. Within months of meeting Salazar, Rupp took second in the nation for 13-14 year-olds at the National Junior Olympic cross-country championships.

He has never looked back.

“Jim was right. This kid was something special,” wrote Salazar in his 2009 book 14 Minutes. “I sensed that he might possess the psychological makeup of a great athlete; the hatred of losing balanced by the pragmatic ability to learn from inevitable losses.”

Rupp went on to break the national high school 3000-meter record. In 2004 he was named Track and Field News high school athlete of the year. Rupp continued to train under Salazar in college, winning a University of Oregon record 14 NCAA All American honors. He became only the third Duck male to win an NCAA individual cross-country title. The other two: Steve Prefontaine and Salazar.

Salazar continued to coach Rupp after college as the runner went on to win multiple national titles and set multiple American records. Over the years the two have shared a friendship, an intense competitive spirit and a passion for their Catholic faith. Rupp regularly prays as he runs, just as Salazar did during his own competitive days.

Seven years ago, Rupp’s faith and career met their greatest challenge. Salazar became the focus of investigations into alleged doping and misconduct. Investigations eventually led to Salazar being banned from coaching. Salazar denies the allegations.

Rupp persisted in his running amidst swirling rumors of doping, which eventually faded as the investigation cleared him and other Salazar-coached runners of any impropriety. The true damage to Rupp was the loss of his coach, mentor, and friend from his daily life.

Injuries and the loss of his mentor have not derailed Rupp’s tenacity. He has earned a reputation throughout his career as a relentless competitor. His personal best marathon time does not even rank him among top 100 marathon runners since 2016, the year Rupp ran his first competitive marathon. Nevertheless, Rupp is a contender in every race he enters, as evidenced by his bronze medal in the Rio Olympics.

In 2019 Rupp started working with Mike Smith, a highly respected coach who has led Northern Arizona University to the last two NCAA Men's Division I Cross Country Championships.

Smith sees Rupp as an athlete who thrives on competition and has the tools to overcome recent obstacles.

“Galen is physically gifted but his greatest talent is his mind. He has a laser focus and an elite set of mental capabilities to work through incredible amounts of stress,” said Smith, adding that he’s learned a lot about who Rupp is as a person since the two teamed up.

“Inside that killer competitor is a deeply kind, caring person, and my experience has shown me that over and over again.”

At the heart of Rupp’s success has been his belief, in himself and in his Catholic Faith.

“I always believed from a young age, when I was a sophomore in high school, there was something deep inside me. I just knew that this was what I was going to do for at least the next foreseeable future,” said Rupp. “There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to run well in college, have a great college career, and that I was going to turn professional after that.”

“It is kind of crazy, looking back sometimes, because there’s a lot of times that it just doesn’t work out. That’s just life and that’s sports. It is kind of amazing that it all worked out. I have to take a few minutes sometimes to think back at the way it did.”

As for his future, Rupp not only plans to compete in the world championships this summer but hopes to run in a fifth Olympic Games in Paris in 2024.

“Running is a selfish sport inherently. There’s a lot of people who give a lot to support you, to help you achieve your dreams,” said Rupp, adding that his faith keeps him grounded.

“It’s always important to realize that there’s a bigger purpose. As much as I love to run, I don’t think God really cares what I do as a runner. I don’t think he cares about results. He cares about doing your best and doing the most with the things he’s given you.”