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The reed-thin, clean cut, baby-faced Rupp—son of Greg and Jamie Rupp—had to be bribed with McDonald’s as a child to complete runs with his mom, a middle school track coach at the time. A varsity soccer player as a freshman at Central Catholic High School in Portland, Ore., in the fall of 2000, Jamie prodded her son to introduce himself to the new cross-country coach at a fall sports school barbecue. That coach was Alberto Salazar.
As luck would have it, Rupp’s head soccer coach had trained one of Salazar’s sons on his club team, and the two friends chatted about Rupp’s natural running ability. They worked out a system where Rupp trained with the soccer team six days a week and spent the seventh day working out with the cross-country team; after only a few months, Rupp’s running talent eclipsed his soccer abilities. After graduating from high school in 2004, Rupp trained with the Oregon Project full time. When Salazar urged him to consider college, Rupp enrolled at the University of Oregon, Salazar’s alma mater, in 2005. Salazar remained Rupp’s coach during college, where he blossomed into one of the most decorated distance runners in NCAA history, earning 14 All-American titles, five NCAA titles and the collegiate record in the 10,000m.
Salazar instituted rest days and time completely off from running at a young age so his prodigy wouldn’t burn out. In Salazar’s competitive days, a post-marathon win “recovery” week would include a total of 70 miles with no intervals. Salazar has since learned how aggressive training without breaks damages the adrenal system, causing inadequate responses to training stimuli. Currently, Rupp gets two weeks off twice a year; breaks are followed by one month of stress-free jogging with gradual progression of weekly mileage.
“Having consistency in training is really important. Look at a lot of the Africans—they have one coach who’s with them throughout their careers. Having that consistency in training throughout my career has been huge for me,” Rupp says.
Through careful, closely monitored progression, Rupp has finally hit 100-mile training weeks over the past year. “Alberto’s always said he never wanted to give me everything all at once,” Rupp says. “That’s the best advice I ever got for training—keep at it little by little. If I’m going to peak at a certain age, around 30 or so, there’s no rush to do all the work right away.”