Five picks for the future of American road racing
American marathoner Ryan Hall has retired. As an announcement published in The New York Times on Friday made clear, the 33-year-old California native made his decision after chronic fatigue and low testosterone levels contributed to disappointing race performances in recent years.
Though some might bemoan the fact that Hall never won a major international marathon, his performances speak for themselves. No American has ever run a faster 26.2 miles than Ryan Hall did at Boston in 2011, where he clocked an absurd 2:04:58. He holds the U.S. national record in the half-marathon (59:43) and is the only American to have broken the illustrious one-hour barrier in the distance.
With Hall off into the West Coast sunset, the future of American marathoning doesn’t look particularly bright. The two favorites in next February’s U.S. Olympic Trials, Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein, are 40- and 33-years-old, respectively.
We love Meb and Dathan, but they are not likely to be around much longer and (at this stage it’s fair to say) are no longer capable of producing the kind of performances Hall gave us in his prime.
Is there any American who can? Here are our top five picks. Our fingers are crossed.
#1. Galen Rupp
No surprise at the top spot. In terms of raw potential, no one has a better chance at besting Hall than Oregon-native Galen Rupp. The 29-year-old’s 10,000-meter American record of 26:44:36 is faster than anyone in the world has run since 2011. There’s no question that Rupp is better in the 10,000 than he is in the 5,000, so it wouldn’t be too nuts to hope that his potential could increase with the distance of the race. At 1:00:30, Rupp’s half-marathon PR is the fastest of anyone on this list. When will we see what he can do in the full marathon? Who knows. It could be as soon as February's Olympic Team Trials Marathon.
#2. Diego Estrada
Diego Estrada, 26, was born in Mexico but gained U.S. citizenship in 2011. Though he represented Mexico in the 10,000-meters on the track in the 2012 Olympics, he’s since refocused his sights on an Olympic spot for the U.S., running the fastest half marathon time by an American (60:51) in 2015. “When it comes to the marathon, I get super excited and anxious,” he tells Outside. He'll debut in the distance at the Olympic Team Trials. He feels he’s capable of running “in the 2:06 to 2:08 realm” within his first three or four marathons. Why? “The longer I go, the better I feel,” he says. Classic marathoner speak.
#3. Ben True
This could be the year Ben True, 30, breaks 13:00 in the 5K, something only six other Americans have ever accomplished (and Hall never got close to doing). True’s 10K PR is also substantially quicker than Hall’s, even though, with a time of 27:41, the 10,000 is generally considered a weak spot on True’s resume. True tells Outside that he plans on stepping up in distance eventually, and the best reason to be optimistic about his potential? He’s a killer on the roads. In April 2015, he won the Boston Athletic Association 5K in an American road record of 13:22. In May, he took first place in the Healthy Kidney 10K, the most competitive 10K road race on U.S. soil, vanquishing former marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang and multiple-time winner of the NYC Marathon Geoffrey Mutai.
#4. Chris Derrick
Plenty of great marathoners come from strong cross-country backgrounds, and Chris Derrick, 25, has the pedigree. A 14-time All-American for Stanford University (including four in cross-country), he’s since dominated the post-collegiate ranks, winning the past three USA Cross-Country Championships (2013-15). He’s also a guy that’s specializing in the long-distance track races, consistently finishing near the top in the 10,000-meters, and with a recent debut in the half marathon (63:41; Jacksonville, Florida, 2016), he doesn’t seem that far from a marathon debut, though he’s cagey to commit. On the distance, he tells Outside, “I’m good at long runs. The event seems cool.”
#5. A Runner from Kenya
A steady stream of Kenyan distance runners have gained citizenship in the last few years, and they’ve settled around the country in training hotbeds like Boston, California, and Colorado. Sam Chelanga, 30, leads the pack with a sub-61 half marathon and a penchant for road races. The Mammoth Track Club has Shadrack Biwott and Josphat Boit, both of whom have half marathon bests in the mid-61s and marathon experience to boot. Finally, the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, led by 2:11-man Elkanah Kibet, has a full roster of road warriors hungry for results.