By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State junior Eric Rupe still has a year left in his outdoor track career and several more decades left in his running career, but he may have already peaked in the 5K.
And that’s fine with him.
At last weekend’s Raleigh Relays at North Carolina State, Rupe broke YSU’s 5,000-meter record by 14 seconds, finishing in 14:22.27 to edge Virginia Tech freshman Neil Gourley (14:23.81).
“Right now, I’ll be satisfied if that was my PR [personal record] for life, because I never thought I’d run that fast,” said Rupe, a Maplewood High graduate. “My mind was blown after that one.”
Rupe was coming off a strong indoor season, having won both the 3K and the 5K at the Horizon League championships, and thought he’d have a chance at breaking YSU’s outdoor 5K mark.
Just not by that much.
“I kept looking at the clock [during the race] and I knew I was pretty close to the school record,” said Rupe, who ran the race in a light rain at 10 p.m. “The last couple laps, I was like, ‘Eh, I should be close.’ And then I ended up getting it by 14 seconds.
“I think I was more shocked than anyone.”
Rupe probably won’t run another 5K until the conference meet, “but that’s usually a tactical race, not one where you run fast,” he said. He’ll spend the rest of the outdoor season focusing on the steeplechase, which is the perfect race for distance runners who want to add an extra layer of suffering to their competitions.
“The amount of tiredness you feel in that race is crazy,” he said. “When you’re running a race and you’re dead, the last thing you want to do is jump. And you have to do that 35 times throughout the race, plus the water pits, so it’s tough.”
So ... why do it?
“It is somewhat fun,” he said, laughing. “It keeps your mind somewhat off the race because every 80 meters, you got a barrier, so your mind doesn’t have time to wander.”
Steeplechase is also viewed as an easier path to the NCAA nationals than the conventional distance events, Rupe said.
“The thing you’ve got to remember is, half the guys that run distance are not coordinated enough or athletic enough to do it in the first place, so that eliminates them from the equation,” he said. “So if you can jump over the barrier, you’ve got one thing going for you.”
Problem is, one misstep and you’re in trouble. Rupe’s older sister, Ro, tore her ACL in the event (she had to have part of her hamstring removed to replace the ACL, compromising her running career) and his older brother, Craig, broke both his arms after falling, then had a runner step on him with his spikes, leaving permanent scars on his calf. Both ran collegiately at Akron.
“So the family history’s not good,” Rupe said, laughing. “You hit those barriers, it’s not like hurdles where they fall down.
“They don’t move. They move you.”
Rupe’s father, Ted, was a very good steeplechaser at Akron, qualifying for the 1978 NCAA nationals in Eugene, Ore., and finishing in 8:54. But Ted and his wife, Michelle, have suggested that, given Craig’s and Ro’s injuries, maybe he should try another event.
“But I have about as much chance of him listening to me as I would have getting him into MENSA,” said Ted, who coached Eric in high school and who often jokes that Eric is guaranteed to do the exact opposite of whatever he asks.
Rupe said this week has been his best week of training so far, so he knows he can run even faster than he did last weekend. He’ll run the steeplechase for the first time this season at next weekend’s Tennessee Relays.
“Hopefully, I can get some bigger things down the road,” he said.