It wouldn't be that crazy
A few months after Mo Farah won Olympic gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the 2012 Games, his coach, Alberto Salazar, suggested that Great Britain’s star runner might attempt an even more ambitious feat in Rio 2016."My guess is that he will do a 10/marathon double," Salazar told the BBC in October 2012.
Noting that Farah will be 33-years-old in the summer of 2016, Salazar said that going up in distance could be a savvy tactical move. In running, the advantage of raw foot speed is, generally speaking, inversely proportional to the distance of the race, and speed typically decreases with age. While Farah was almost certain to try and defend his Olympic 10,000-meters title in Rio, the marathon, so Salazar thought, might make more sense as a second race.
"The exception will be if his track running is continuing to go so good that we feel, you know what, maybe he's tried a marathon, but if he's still on top in the 5,000 meters, why would he go to marathon?” Salazar said at the time.
As it turned out, that second scenario was spot on. Farah debuted in the marathon in London in 2014. He ran a respectable 2:08:21, but finished eighth and was no threat to the world’s top talent. Meanwhile, as he proved yet again in Beijing last summer, he seems invincible in both the 5,000 and 10,000. Don’t bet on seeing Farah run the marathon in Rio.
But, Mobot aside, there’s a chance that we could see another Salazar star attempt the marathon and 10,000 meters double in Rio: American Galen Rupp.
In December, Rupp won a low-key half marathon in Portland. (How low-key? The second place finisher was one minute slower per mile than Rupp.) His time–1:01:20–easily qualified him for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which will take place in Los Angeles on February 13.
Unsurprisingly, this stoked the curiosity of the U.S. running community. Why would Rupp, winner of seven consecutive U.S. 10,000-meters national championship races, participate in a December half-marathon with a field of amateurs if he wasn’t at least considering the Trials in February?
It could very well have just been for fun.Maybe Rupp wanted to spice up one of his tempo runs on the rainy streets of Portland. But also he didn’t rule out the possibility that he might race his first ever marathon in February.
“I’m keeping my options open,” he told The Oregonian after the race.
It wouldn’t be that crazy.
The scenario Salazar once predicted for Farah now feels more applicable to Rupp. While the American remains strong in the 10,000 (along with his seven straight U.S. titles, he ran an American record of 26:44.36 in mid-2014), his 5,000 PR was set back in 2012 and he “only” finished third in the distance at last year’s U.S. championships. Rupp was always a slightly better 10,000-meters runner, even during his college years. At this stage in his career, bidding adieu to the 5,000 makes a lot more sense for Rupp than it does for Farah.
But is it even feasible, in 2016, that an athlete can be competitive in both the 10,000 and the marathon at the same Olympics? (The last American to try was Dan Browne in Athens in 2004, where he finished 12th and 65th, respectively.)
On the one hand, the athletics schedule in Rio is favorable. There’s a week between the men’s 10,000 (August 13) and the marathon (August 21), which should be ample time to recover, especially since championship track races are often slow and tactical–hence less draining for the athlete. Also, unlike in the 5,000, there are no heats in the 10,000.
On the other hand, the professional running scene has become larger and more competitive since the era when top-tier runners attempted the marathon double, hence there’s more pressure to specialize in an event. The last, and only, person to win an Olympic marathon and 10,000 meters was legendary Czech runner Emil Zátopek, who did it in 1952. (He also won the 5,000 at the ’52 Olympics but, well, I rest my case.) Ethiopia’s Mamo Wolde and Finland’s Lasse Viren both came close to equaling Zátopek’s feat, but it’s been over forty years since they were in their prime.
If Rupp does decide to run the marathon trials and ends up making the team (he would need to finish in the top three), the question would be if he could train to peak at the 10,000 meters in Rio, but also be capable of running his fastest marathon a week later.
“I think it’s possible, especially if the 10,000 comes first,” former Olympian and famed running coach Jack Daniels told me.
Coach Daniels explained that, at an elite level, the training for the 10k and the marathon isn’t all that different. He said that while having good finishing speed was certainly more essential for the 10,000 meters, the weekly mileage load for professional marathoners can vary dramatically from athlete to athlete and at the lower end of the spectrum, marathoners’ mileage was likely to be close to that of 10,000-meter runners.
When I reached out to another running guru, coach Greg McMillan, he also felt that doubling in the 10K and marathon would be doable from a training standpoint.
As he put it in an email:
The training wouldn’t vary too much. Most world-class 10K runners do high volume anyway and regular long runs so I suspect they would focus mostly on the 10K training and simply insert a few longer long runs, some marathon pace efforts and a few more tempo runs. Keys would be to dial in the fueling, become efficient at marathon pace and have the durability to keep the musculoskeletal system happy for later in the race. Someone who has experience with road racing (and has run a marathon or two) would definitely be able to get ready for both, especially in this day and time where recovery methods are so advanced.”
So the short answer is yes, Rupp could conceivably go for the double in Rio.
As long as he packs his foam roller.