(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In the moments before the starting gun fired, runners anxiously completed stride after stride, doing anything they could to avoid the tense feeling of anxiety and pre-race jitters flowing through their nerves. At the CVS Health Downtown 5K, they double- and triple-checked their shoelaces and watches, as if doing so would help time pass more quickly.
In stark contrast to the group was Dathan Ritzenhein, looking supremely relaxed. A three-time Olympian, Ritzenhein appeared at ease before the starting gun, clad in his purple Nike singlet. He bounced around effortlessly, coming over to the press truck to exchange pleasantries a minute or so before the National Anthem boomed over the loudspeakers. In a sea of anxiety and pre-race commotion, “Ritz” appeared serene.
Don’t be fooled: Ritzenhein was more than ready to race. Leading the field through the mile in 4:30 and two miles in 8:55, he’d ultimately finish third in 14:03, a very strong showing for the marathon specialist. Only miler David Torrence and steeplechaser Dan Huling would beat him to the line.
RELATED: Photos: 2015 CVS Health Downtown 5K
Ritzenhein’s demeanor before the race—serving as the U.S. 5K Championships—could be seen as a representation of his outlook going forward, especially as he readies for the build-up for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials next February in Los Angeles. At 32, the Rockford, Mich., native has been through this process three times before: he knows what it takes to earn a ticket to The Games, and how to not let the pressure get the best of him.
While the task is tall, Ritzenhein is confident and feels a new-found spark. After battling a string of injuries throughout his career while training in Boulder, Colo., and Portland, Ore., Ritzenhein with wife Kalin and two children, Jude and Addison, has returned to his home state of Michigan. The move has helped rejuvenate his legs in a sense, bringing him back to his roots and why he fell in love with running in the first place.
“I’m really just enjoying training. I really enjoy training right now,” Ritzenhein told Race Results Weekly, emphasizing the word ‘really’ while standing atop the awards stage after the race. “I’ve been having so much fun in Michigan, the family is having a blast, both of our families. It’s great and has put me in a good spot, too.”
Clutching his finisher’s medal in his right hand and a water in his left, Ritzenhein smiles in between answers. He’s relaxed and confident. He speaks from the heart.
In years past, Ritzenhein sometimes appeared intimidating and deep in the zone, especially while wearing the all black Nike Oregon Project “skull” uniform. His game face was one of intensity and focus, and his times were eye-popping (60:00 for the half-marathon, 12:56.27 and 27:22.28 for 5000m and 10,000m, respectively, on the track). Now the father of two seems more relaxed, though still possesses a fire to perform to the very best of his abilities.
“I had a little bit of, I was waning on motivation a little bit and being able to be back home has just revived me,” he explained. “It’s been really cool.”
Ritzenhein has had a solid marathon career to date, notching a personal best of 2:07:47 at the 2012 Chicago Marathon and finishing 9th at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon. At the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, he finished a devastating fourth, forcing him to go back to the track and qualify for London 2012 in the 10,000m instead.
For 2016 his eyes are on the marathon, plain and simple. He currently has the second fastest entry time of all qualifiers—the 2:09:45 he ran at the Chicago Marathon in 2013—only behind 2004 Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi (2:08:37, Boston, 2014).
At the moment, Ritzenhein is in a slightly awkward spot. He is not racing a fall marathon, and it’s too early to begin his hard build-up for the February 13, Marathon Trials. Not having raced a track season, Ritzenhein has chosen to dabble at different distances on the roads recently. He finished third at both the HealthPlus Crim 10 Mile Road Race in August, and at the Faxon Law New Haven Road Race [U.S. 20K Championships] earlier this month.
Healthy and upbeat, the Colorado alum cherishes each and every opportunity to toe the line. Racing shorter distances has helped stoke the fire and desire deep inside his wiry frame.
“It’s a strange time. For me its a little different, as usually I’d be coming off a World Championships or Olympics this time of year. So not doing that and not getting ready for a fall marathon is different. But I’m happy,” he said. “You know, just to be able to race, I just feel blessed and happy that I’ve raced a lot this year. It’s good, it’s important — you have to know how to race no matter what. In the marathon a lot of people think it’s just surviving. You still have to have that competitive instinct and I think that it’s important to be able to do these other distances.”