The Olympian will use the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon as a tuneup for next month’s Chicago Marathon.
When three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein was beset with injuries last year, he said, “That stopped me in my tracks.”
“You think about retiring,” he added.
After recovering from two surgeries on his left foot, retirement now is far from his mind, and Ritzenhein will take another huge step in his comeback this Sunday when he competes at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.
“I’ve concentrated on the track this summer,” said Ritzenhein, who finished 13th in the 10,000 meters at the London Olympics. “Now, I want to hit the pavement one last time before running in the Chicago Marathon.”
Ritzenhein’s summer consisted of racing on the track after finishing fourth at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January — “the worst place you can get,” he said. After bouncing back from that disappointment, he made the U.S. team in the 10,000 at the Olympic Trials in June. He was disappointed in his strategy at the Olympics, misjudging the pace and never really putting himself into contention. “I had been off the track for three years and missed all of last year with those couple of surgeries,” he said. “I showed some rust in my tactics in being able to run at the highest level. It was erratic pacing.”
Since the Olympics, Ritzenhein has been working hard in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his training partners Mo Farah of Britain, the gold medalist in the 5,000 and 10,000 at London, and Galen Rupp, the runner-up in the 10,000 at the Olympics. All three are under the guidance of coach Alberto Salazar, a three-time winner of the New York City Marathon (1980-82) and the former American record-holder at the distance. “Those are really good guys to train with,” Ritzenhein said. “They help me with my speed.”
This year, Ritzenhein feels physically fit and is anxiously looking forward to the Philadelphia race and breaking the 60-minute barrier, which also happens to be his best time for the half marathon, a mark he set at the 2009 world championships, where he finished third.
“I feel good,” he said. “My workouts have been great. The course is fast, so maybe I can (go under 60:00). I will give a hard effort. I needed time after London to build up my volume again. I needed to get my mileage up again, to about 100 or 110 miles a week. I needed time to get in some heavy training.”
He will need to use that speed and strength against a tough field that includes Kenya’s Simon Biwott, who won this year’s Paris Marathon in 2:05:12 and has a half-marathon best of 59:44.
Eritrea’s Yared Asmeron, fourth at the 2007 World Championships with a half-marathon best of 60:28, and Scott Bauhs of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., owner of the fastest time by an American this year at 61:30, set in Houston this past January.
The Philadelphia race, now in its 35th year and renowned throughout the world, is known for its record performances, having been the scene of five world records, three U.S. marks and numerous all-comer’s records. The course is extremely picturesque, traversing City Hall, Market Street, Schuylkill River, Falls Bridge and ending in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“I believe Dathan has the talent to challenge anyone,” Matt Turnbull, manager of the professional athlete fields for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series. “When he’s injury free, he’s a top runner. The future is great for him.”
Last year’s injuries slowed Ritzenhein’s progress, causing him to miss a considerable amount of time. “I didn’t run for six months,” Ritzenhein said. “After the surgeries, infections set in and delayed the wounds from healing. I couldn’t do anything when I was injured. I spent a lot of time on the couch. That was the hardest time.”
“Now, I feel I can go under 60 minutes,” he said. “But having [a few] weeks since the London Olympics, I might be a little tired. Still, I’ve been healthy for a whole year, which hasn’t happened in a long time.”