Dathan Ritzenhein Returns To Racing

Dathan Ritzenhein at Thursday's media day. Photo: Duncan Larkin

The oft-injured Olympian still has a fire in his belly.

Written by: Duncan Larkin
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Dathan Ritzenhein at Thursday's media day. Photo: Duncan Larkin

NEW YORK — When you see 2:10 marathoner Dathan Ritzenhein, you can tell he’s on a mission. There’s a determined look in his eyes–something that tells everyone around him he’s not done running yet.

Not even close.

He’s here in New York this week to race Saturday’s NYRR Dash to the Finish 5K, an inaugural event that starts at the United Nations and finishes in Central Park, using the same finish line as Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon. Ritzenhein will be joining a competitive field with the likes of Matt Tegenkamp, Ben True, Brett Gotcher, and Lopez Lomong contending for the win. For the 28-year-old Ritzenhein, the race is a comeback of sorts. Due to a series of injuries and surgeries –one which led to a serious infection– Ritzenhein hasn’t raced in over a year. Finally healthy again, he has high hopes to make the U.S. Olympic team in the marathon at the Trials in January in Houston.

“I used to take training for granted,” he said of his time spent laid up after his surgery. “It wasn’t until I was sitting on my couch, not even really able to cross train, that I realized how much running and training hard meant to me. For me, it’s in my identity.”

But the time spent away from running was a silver lining of sorts for him; it let him connect with his family, something that wasn’t possible when he was training full-time.  A father of two (daughter Addison and son Jude), Ritzenhein says he learned the lessons of how important it is to spend quality time with his family.

“It’s kind of funny, but when I was training, I came to this realization that I kind of took my family for granted, so it’s all about finding the right balance.”

Ritzenhein, who once held the U.S. 5,000m record (12:56.27), is healthy again, and said he’s more motivated than ever to get back into the mix. He admits he has unfinished business in the marathon and hasn’t necessarily ruled out returning to the track, especially in the 10,000m where he thinks he can improve on his personal best (27:22.28). “The fire is back in my belly,” he contended. “After two seasons, the hunger is finally there.”

This time around, Ritzenhein says he is applying lessons he’s learned about his body from the past. He’s going to correct things with his training that he did wrong–things that partially led to his numerous injuries. Someone who would push himself to the edge, running over 140 miles a week to prepare for the 26.2-mile distance, Ritzenhein says he’s not that kind of runner now. He has taken his mileage down substantially and has tempered the pace on his workouts in order to not aggravate his injuries.

“I want to just show up healthy,” he said of the upcoming Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston. “That’s the biggest point. I’ve put in the essentials, but haven’t gone too far with my mileage or some of my workouts. If I show up in Houston a little under prepared, but healthy, then I’ll be happy with that. That’s the goal. I just want to get there and be able to race.”

Former Boston and New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar currently coaches Ritzenhein. British multiple record holder, Mo Farah, as well as the American record holder in the 10,000m, Galen Rupp, are part of Ritzenhein’s training group. Ritzenhein says he’s training with them again. “It’s great working out with Mo and Galen. I’m the long-distance guy in the group,” he says, noting that the three of them recently ran 20 miles together.

At the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing, Ritzenhein placed ninth overall, one place ahead of teammate Ryan Hall. He then went on to set his 2:10-flat marathon PR at the 2009 edition of the London Marathon.  At last year’s ING New York City Marathon–Ritzenhein’s last race–he finished in eighth place (second American) with 2:12:33. Afterwards, the Grand Rapids, Michigan native expressed his disappointment with the race.

Though he’s a bit of an unknown factor in the 5K this weekend, Ritzenhein, who was a University of Colorado standout under coach Mark Wetmore, says he’s taking this weekend’s 5K deadly serious. “This race may not mean a lot to some people, but it means a lot to me. I’m going to give it everything I can.”

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