If the future of American distance running is as bright as the smile on Galen Rupp’s face, then great things are on the horizon.
Rupp finished second to Geoffrey Kirui in the 121st running of the Boston Marathon Monday, but judging by the look on his face as he spoke about his day, it was hard to tell that he wasn’t the big winner.
T30-year-old Rupp finished his first Boston — and third career marathon — in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 58 seconds, just 21 ticks behind Kirui, himself making his Boston debut.
It was shaping up as an epic finish, with Rupp hanging over Kirui’s left shoulder for miles after they had broken from the lead pack. But the Kenyan pulled away for the win.
The battle didn’t quite live up to the Duel in the Sun waged between Alberto Salazar (who is Rupp’s coach) and Dick Beardsley 35 years ago, but considering the unfiltered sun and heat (temperatures hovered in the high 70s throughout the course), the comparisons were inevitable.
In that 1982 race, Salazar outkicked Beardsley in one of the most memorable finishes in the history of a race full of memorable finishes.
Salazar, who now coaches a stable of distance runners, not only has a great track record in Boston, he also, because of his intimate knowledge of the course, has a great track record of training his students to prepare for Boston.
Rupp, a 10,000-meter standout who is transitioning to full-time marathon duty after the summer season, is the latest.
“Having someone like that who has run this race — it is tremendous having someone like that in your corner,’’ said Rupp. “You know you’re going to be as physically prepared as possible. He knows this course like the back of his hand. He knows what it takes to train athletes to win here and he’s had a lot of athletes have success here.’’
Rupp, who was bidding to become the first US-born winner since Greg Meyer in 1983, said Salazar’s training methods have helped him not only with the physical demands of the sport but the mental aspects as well.
“I think the biggest thing that I’ve taken and learned from him over the years is just that toughness and that desire to never quit and always keep pushing hard,’’ said Rupp. “He pushes us mentally harder than any other coach in the world pushes their athletes.
“He is just constantly putting us in really uncomfortable situations, whether that’s adding extra intervals if we’re having a great workout, continuing to push the pace, asking us to run faster than maybe what we thought we could.
“He just knows how to get you out of your comfort zone, and when you do that in practice on a daily basis, you learn to handle a lot of things.’’
Mastering the demands of the course — the Newton hills were particularly taxing, according to Rupp — is one thing. Keeping yourself in the race mentally when you feel like you can’t take another step is another. Salazar’s training methods paid off in a big way for Rupp, especially after it became apparent the American could keep pace with Kirui down the stretch.
“I could be dying or feel like I’m at my limit, but you somehow find a way to keep pushing and keep driving,’’ said Rupp, who has been eyeing a Boston run since high school. “That’s what his training is all about.
“I’ve been so lucky to have him coaching me for so long. Just been great. You never quit and you always keep fighting until the finish. I think that was the biggest thing that I leaned on here.
“I just never want to let him down or think that I’m not the toughest person out there. So that definitely was in the back of my head the last few miles.’’
Rupp’s second-place finish continues a run of success he has had in his limited marathoning experience.
His first came in the Olympic qualifier in February of 2016, when he finished first in Los Angeles. He followed that up with a bronze medal at the Rio Games in August. Both of those courses were flat, so his time Monday on a route filled with hills, was all the more impressive.
His Boston debut was in jeopardy for a while after a bout of plantar fasciitis, but he found relief in a cortisone shot.
“That really knocked the pain out,’’ said Rupp, who coincidentally has a pet Boston terrier named Bosco, a shout-out to George Costanza’s infamous ATM password. “The plantar felt great.
“There’s always a shred of doubt because you just never know with all the uphills and downhills because it is such a challenging course, [but] I knew pretty early on that it wasn’t going to be an issue.’’
Still flashing that ear-to-ear smile, Rupp said he wouldn’t change a thing about his initial run — except the final result.
“I had an incredible time out there,’’ he said.