Penn’s Station: Rupprecht Steeple Win the First Stop

June 14th, 2011 in Articles by 1 Comment

Paul Rupprecht battled iron deficiency and injuries and ran under the radar during his collegiate career at the University of Maine – but he emerged as one of New Balance Boston’s most promising athletes by winning the Penn Relays Open Steeplechase Championships this spring. He’s about to embark on a whirlwind racing tour of Europe, and recently spoke with Faster Than Forty co-founder Rick Miller.

FTF: What is your general background? Where are you from?

PR: I grew up in Yonkers, New York. My mother was a nursery school teacher, and my dad was a New York City police officer and former Marine. If I had to describe my family with any one word, I would call them tough. Once, my mother was traveling in Europe when she was younger, and a guy tried to mug her… My mom beat him up – so tough is a good word.

FTF: How’d you get into running?

PR: If we are speaking the truth, I absolutely hated running as a kid. I loved – and was pretty good at – all sports, but I despised any time that I had to run. I had two sisters growing up, and they too were heavily involved with sports. I remember being a sophomore in high school, and a little chubby from too many Doritos, and my oldest sister Joann asked me if I wanted to go on a run with her because her normal running friend bailed. I remember looking at her and laughing, and I said, “That sounds like the dumbest thing you have ever said to me.”

However, I finally caved and went on a 3-mile run with her. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and we started going every day for about a week. One day she decided she wasn’t going to go, but I had gotten in a bit of a routine and I decided to go by myself. As most people close to me know, I have a bit of an addictive personality, and once I start something that I like, I do it until I absolutely hate it. So every day for the rest of that summer, I just started running as hard as I could for 3 miles. I loved it! That fall, when I went back to school, I decided to talk to the cross-country coach and told him I was interested in running. I showed up to the first couple of practices and was killing the guys on the team. So I realized that this could be my sport, and it just grew from there.

FTF: How’d you end up at University of Maine with Mark Lech? What are you doing professionally now?

PR: My top choice for college was Villanova, and my former national-champion high school teammate received a full scholarship there, so I thought it would be great to go. Problem was that I didn’t get in, and even if I did, I probably could not have afforded it anyway. So, one day, I picked up the phone and just called Mark Lech up at Maine and told him that I already enrolled and would really like to run for the team. He was very happy to have me, and after looking up results of the team for the past couple of years, I knew I had found a good group to train with. After red-shirting for a fifth year at UMaine, I graduated in 2006 with a degree in Kinesiology and Physical Education.  Right now, I am working part-time as an after-school physical education teacher in Massachusetts. In the fall, I will be starting a full-time teaching position at a private school in Boston.

FTF: Not many people know much about UMaine track — although with Riley Masters’ successes and your growing resume, maybe more people will in the near future. What should we know about running for the Black Bears… most challenging workouts, funny traditions, team dynamic, etc.?

PR: Not many people know about Maine track? How could that be? I mean, the university is so close to everything! (Our closest meet away from UMaine was 3.5 hours away at the University of New Hampshire.)

Maine has had a few great track athletes, but Riley has clearly stamped [us] on the map. I loved my time at UMaine and would not have traded that for anything in the world. I had the best friends and teammates you could find. Running for the Black Bears is definitely not for the weak at heart. The weather in Orono can be something that tests your mental stability and commitment to running. With winters that generally last from the end of October until May, you are forced to run on the crowned roads and bundled up from head to toe. I remember one workout that Mark had us do, which was a staple for him back in the day at Northeastern too: the 4-minute mile in 5 minutes. It was 4 x 400 meters with 20 seconds rest in between. It was terrible. The only good thing about the workout was it only took 5 minutes.

I don’t think there were too many traditions, minus the time at training camp that ended with the annual talent show. One tradition that I was very sad to hear ended was the Murray Keatinge Cross-Country Invitational. As any visiting team can attest to, no other big invitational provided you with a Maine lobster dinner after their race.

Most of the time in the winter, we would watch UMaine Men’s Basketball. One year, a handful of track guys made the basketball media guide because of how often we attended the games and how intense of fans we were. Our team was very supportive of the other athletes at Maine. We loved sports, but most of all, we loved UMaine sports.

FTF: What were your notable PRs or top finishes in college?

PR: I was never really happy with any of my PRs in college. I spent a good deal of time injured, and then I came right back into racing without much training under my belt. My sophomore year, I ran my PRs at the time while running 12 miles a week. I had such knee issues, that I could not go for easy runs or anything other than short quick workouts. It was extremely frustrating.

By the end of college, my PRs were:

  • 800 meters – 1:54
  • 1,000 meters – 2:27
  • 1,500 meters – 3:52
  • One mile – 4:12
  • 3,000 meters – 8:43

I would say that my best performance in college was 2003 Indoor New Englands, when I was 2nd in the 1,000 meters. Once I was able to get consistent with training and being healthy after college, I noticed my PRs drop pretty quickly. Now, my PR’s are:

  • 800 meters – 1:51
  • 1,500 meters – 3:49
  • 3,000 meters – 8:16
  • 3,000-meter steeplechase – 8:59

To be honest, I feel like I am just starting to understand how I need to train, and it is an amazing discovery.

FTF: You made a name for yourself winning the Penn Relays Open Division Steeplechase Championship this year. Can you describe that race for us? Would you describe this as the biggest win of your career so far?

PR: It is pretty funny to hear you say “Penn Relays Champ.” I know that I am, but it just makes me smile every time that I hear it. I would definitely call that the biggest win of my career, so far. The Penn Relays is a meet that is so historic and prestigious.

I was not feeling great that day, or even during the race for quite some time, but that is quite normal for me. The race went out pretty quick, and I shuffled myself right to the back knowing that it is the Penn Relays and most people fall victim to the steeple fans there and get caught up in the moment. If you watch the race at all, you can’t even see me after two laps; it’s quite funny. As a side note, I always have in the back of my mind some advice that Mark Lech gave me when I first adopted the steeplechase. Mark told me that there are two events that if you go out too hard, you can never recover from, and they are the Marathon and the steeple. So after a few laps of staying out of trouble, I did my customary gradual move up on the field and was just picking people off one by one, nice and evenly and not wasting much energy. Eventually, I saw that I was about 10 meters behind the lead group, so I made a tiny surge and caught up and just tucked in for a little while. With three laps to go, I remember thinking to myself, “Okay Paul, you are here now; just hang out for a while and don’t be afraid of this.”

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Author: FasterThanForty

One Comment

Paul is one of the best teammates and roommates you could ask for. I wish him well on his running career

Jeff Caron


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