A Race For Redemption: Top Americans Set To Tackle Boston Marathon

Jason Hartmann (left) and Nick Arciniaga will lead the U.S. charge in Boston on Monday. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Nick Arciniaga and Jason Hartmann are hoping to bounce back from disappointing Olympic Trials races. 

BOSTON — The top two American men that will toe the start line of the 116th Boston Marathon on Monday share a similar hope for redemption.

After disappointing finishes at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January, Nick Arciniaga, 28, of Flagstaff, Ariz., and Jason Hartmann, 31, of Boulder, Colo., hope that Monday’s Boston Marathon can provide a respite from the pressure-cooker environment of a championship race. Arciniaga, who finished eighth at the Trials, and Hartmann, who crossed the line in 32nd, are excited for the opportunity to run fast times in a field stacked with Africans whose resumes boast 2:04 to 2:06 finishes, not to mention defending champion Geoffrey Mutai, who ran a world-best 2:03:02 at last year’s race.

With warm weather predicted for race day, both men, whose 26.2-mile personal bests hover just over the 2:11 mark, say they plan to run controlled for at least the first half of the race.

“If they go out at world-record pace again, there’s no way I’m going to be capable of running with them, so I’ve just got to hope that they don’t go out too hard,” says Arciniaga, a member of Team USA-Arizona, an elite distance running group coached by Greg McMillan, in Flagstaff. “I’ve got to run a smart, even pace. My goal is to go out at 1:04:30 for the first half.”

The top American finisher and tenth overall at the 2008 Boston Marathon in 2:16:13, Arciniaga learned how to race well on the punishing course, and says he’s strategized how to attack the hills, use the energy from the crowds, and pace himself intelligently over the downhill first half of the race.

“[The 2008 race] made me realize I can run the second half of the race as well as I need to; I caught half the field over the second half of the course,” he says. “In ‘08, it was a different class of field than it is now. The winner then ran 2:07, and you’ve got 2:03-2:05 guys here in the top ten positions in this field. It’s going to be quite the different race now than it was then.”

Arciniaga, who suffered from a maladjusted hip socket last fall that inhibited his preparation for the trials, is confident about feeling ready to race due to a more traditional build-up than what he had going into the Trials race in Houston. He revealed that he and coach McMillan targeted late-race muscle fatigue for the build-up to Boston. “Each of the times I’ve run 2:11, I’ve gone out in 2:09 pace and just ended up blowing up the last 10K, so we’ve been focusing on working on the last 10K,” Arciniaga says. “When I’m tired and fatigued, we’ve worked on getting me to run faster than what’s comfortable.”

For Hartmann, who was coached by elite Australian marathoner Lee Troop until he very recently opted to coach himself, a key area of his training focus has been tackling downhills. “I’ve run a lot of downhills in Colorado, as well as running down some canyon roads, which is a little extreme,” said the 2009 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon winner. “Fortunately, I’m a bit of an extremist when it comes to preparing.”

Being a relevant contender in a sport when both international and American men keep getting faster requires a level of extremism, and Hartmann’s willing to try what he must in order to evolve. Compare the 2007 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, where Hartmann finished 10th in 2:15:27, to the 2012 race, where a 2:16:44 earned Hartmann a distressing 32nd place finish, and one can understand why Hartmann, an assistant coach at Niwot High School in Niwot, Colo., wouldn’t consider showing up in Boston–an event he considers a bucket-list race–without feeling the fittest he’s ever felt.

After the Trials race in Houston in January, Hartmann took an entire week off from running and was consoled by close friend Dathan Ritzenhein, who finished fourth in the most heart-breaking position of them all in Houston, just seconds shy of an Olympic berth. “Dathan was a great help to me. His kids were, too; they didn’t care if I got first or last, I was still just Uncle Jason to them,” Hartmann says. “Dathan’s attitude definitely allowed me to kick start getting back in the mix.”

This year’s Boston race will be an experiment of sorts for Hartmann that’s redolent of Ryan Hall, whose faith-guided voyage of self-discovery began in October 2010, when he decided to coach himself. “Running is a business, and sometimes you lose sight of that and you can lose some of the purity and the reason why you run, so for me, I wanted to define the reasons why I run,” Hartmann says. “For me, I needed to find the passion in my own running again and find why I do it instead of allowing someone else to dictate what I do.”

Whether it’s Hall’s philosophy of running with joy, or Hartmann’s newfound declaration to run free, both Hartmann and Arciniaga will start the Boston Marathon with something to prove, but nothing to lose.

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