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CHICAGO—Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon boasts a huge elite field of 48 men and 21 women (including pacemakers) representing 11 nations. Included in the field are 27 Americans who are running with their own goals in mind, and they discussed them with Race Results Weekly here yesterday.
Dathan Ritzenhein, 30, Beaverton, Ore. (Nike); PB 2:07:47
Ritzenhein is here to be competitive in the overall race, and try to improve on his 2:07:47 personal best from last year’s Chicago race. He said yesterday that he had spent most of the summer training alone after finishing 10th at the IAAF World Championships 10,000m in Moscow in August.
“This last two months everything’s really been on my own,” he told reporters of his training. “Everybody else has kind of gone on vacation after the world championships, unfortunately. I kind of like it because it gets me into a mindset where, it’s like the later stages of the marathon were sometimes people could be 20-30 seconds ahead of you and you have to really grind it out. You have to be able to pull yourself back.”
Ritzenhein, who is coached by Alberto Salazar, was on pace here last year to break 2:07, but slowed in the final 10-K. He said his training indicated that he could hold a 3:00/km pace during the race which would produce a 2:06:35 finish time, but he can’t afford to make any mistakes, especially running too fast in the first half.
“I think I can run that,” he said. “It’s going to take the right race for me. So, for me to go out three minutes a ‘K’ and then actually pick it up is better, but I also don’t want to be by myself, either.”
Ritzenhein has his own pacemaker, former Rockford, Mich., high school teammate Jason Hartmann, so he won’t have to run alone if he finds the first-half pace too fast. The three-time Olympian said that he did not want to run sub-62 minutes as he had heard some of the athletes had suggested.
“It will be a process tomorrow to talk sense into the lead group to go out slower, I think, than they may want to,” he said. “I think it makes for a more exciting race. That’s how they ran last year; they ran the course record going out in just under 63 minutes. So, that would be ideal for me. Sixty-three minutes gives me the opportunity if I’m feeling really well to go faster.” He added: “62:45 to 63 minutes would be perfect for me.”
Matt Tegenkamp, 31, Portland, Ore. (Nike); Debut Marathon
A two-time Olympian, Tegenkamp is making his marathon debut here. Coached by Jerry Schumacher, the former Wisconsin Badger said via his Twitter account that his aim was to run “as far below 2:10 as possible.” Should he break 2:09:41, his will be the fastest-ever U.S. marathon debut. He said yesterday that he was just taking it one day at a time.
“Right now I’m pretty calm,” Tegenkamp told reporters. “It’s definitely going to be a big task on Sunday. I said I wasn’t going to pay attention to what Sunday would bring until I arrived in Chicago. As we keep moving forward in the days, there will be more and more butterflies building.” He added: “I’m really looking forward to tackling the new challenge.”
Like Ritzenhein, a former Wisconsin teammate and now Nike training partner Chris Solinsky will pace him. The plan is for Solinsky, the former USA 10,000m record-holder, to go to half-way in under 65 minutes. Tegenkamp said that his preparation and experience should carry him to a successful debut.
“There are lots of unknowns in the marathon,” Tegenkamp said. “One think that I’m not going to be worried about will be weather or poor fitness. Training’s been going great. I certainly think that my background in track and field has made me a very strong athlete, and I had a lot of years of learning how to suffer through really hard events. Sunday will be no different; I’ll be out there to compete.”
At the warm and very humid U.S. 20K Championships in New Haven on Sept. 2, Tegenkamp ran a strategic race, winning in 60:10. On the same course last year in much better conditions, he ran 58:30, which is equivalent to a 2:10:03 marathon by one reliable conversion formula. That mark seems to be Tegenkamp’s benchmark for this race.
“I really don’t want to put any limitations on what I can offer,” he said. “I definitely really need to be patient through the first half, and at that point, from 13 to 18 (miles) will be the period of time I figure out what kind of race it’s going to be.” He continued: “Anything 2:10 or faster.”
Melissa Johnson-White, 32, Lake Orion, Mich. (Hansons-Brooks); 2:32:55 PB.
Johnson-White ran Chicago in both 2009 and 2010, running 2:32:55 and 2:35:02, respectively. Her 2009 time remains her personal best, and she hopes to lower that at Sunday’s race.
“The biggest goal is to run a smart race on Sunday,” she said. “I’m looking to get another PR (personal record), and I think the best way to do that is go to out smart in the first half and really be racing the last half-marathon, especially the last 10K. My goal is to definitely try to turn it on the last 6 miles.”
Sunday’s race will be Johnson-White’s first and only marathon this year. Leading up to the race, she has focused only on training; her last race was a 15th place finish at the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in Duluth, Minn., on June 22. She ran 1:14:10 there, about 2 minutes off of her personal best. She said that she’d like nothing more than to have a breakout performance here.
“I’m kind of stuck in this 2-minute range that I really want to break through that barrier, that wall, there,” she explained. “I’ve been feeling great. I feel like my workouts are going better than they ever have, so I’m hoping I haven’t quite hit that plateau yet, and that there’s still a lot more room for improvement.”
Johnson-White trains under the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in Rochester Hills, Mich., and enjoys both support from her teammates –like Desi Davila, Dot McMahon and Neely Spence Gracey– but also her husband, former U.S. 25K champion Chad Johnson. Johnson is now retired as an elite athlete, but makes time to run with his wife when he’s not working his job at Whole Foods Market.
“I’m really lucky that he retired from it for himself, but he’s run almost every second run I’ve had this season, and it’s really great to have someone who is that close to you out there,” Johnson-White said. “It helps with motivation and just helps give us some time to spend together. And, if we can do that, just helping me with my career, that’s awesome.”
Clara Santucci, 26, Morgantown, W.V. (Mizuno); 2:29:54 PB
Santucci, the former Clara Grandt who competed for West Virginia University, ran a solid 2:33:25 at the Ottawa Marathon last May, good for ninth place. Most recently she was 12th at the USA 20-K Championships in New Haven, Conn., last Sept. 2, and won the Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race 10-K on Sept. 29, in 32:54 (downhill). This will be her first marathon in Chicago.
“I’d like to run a best time,” Santucci told Race Results Weekly. “I’m in shape for it. I think it’s going to be great weather, and a fast course. I think I’m just taking the experience from what I’ve already done in my career and just putting it all into this race.”
Santucci doesn’t race often. Last year, she ran only one marathon, finishing seventh at the U.S. Olympic Trial Marathon in Houston in 2:30:46. She has run eight races this year, according to the Race Results Weekly athlete performance database, and said she is very confident going into Sunday’s race.
“You know, I don’t think I have any worries,” she said with a laugh. Probably the biggest thing I’d be worried about would be if I couldn’t find my bottles. That would be a big worry. I’m pretty positive about everything right now.”