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Catching Up With Dathan Ritzenhein

Published by
RunnerSpace.com/Pro   Oct 9th 2013, 4:54pm

With the Chicago Marathon this coming Sunday, we caught up with American distance standout Dathan Ritzenhein. Since his days at Rockford High School (MI), Ritzenhein has captured the hearts and minds of U.S. distance running fans. His tenacious, fighting spirit, his "all-in" attitude and constant big-time performances simply inspire.

After a successful 2013 track season, which saw him place second at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 10,000m and lead part of the 10k final at the IAAF World Championships, Ritzenhein spent the past two months focusing solely on the Chicago Marathon and what he hopes to accomplish in the Windy City. 

Ritz is ready to run. His mind is strong, his body is healthy and fans should be insanely excited as he toes the start line Sunday morning.

Scott Bush (SB): With Chicago right around the corner how are you feeling? How is training going?

Dathan Ritzenhein (DR): I am into the taper now and that feels really good after two months of heavy training! Having put in another whole year of healthy training makes me very excited for the race. 

SB: As an experienced veteran of the marathon, how are you viewing this go around in Chicago? What are your goals?

DR: I really just want to keep getting better. Last year, I took a huge step forward by running 2:07:47, but I was also ninth place. I want to be more competitive than that. Last year, I was much more conservative than I plan to be this year. I don't want to run like an idiot and go over my head, but I know I am capable of competing with this field. I hope it is fast and I can run another big PR but mostly I just want to finish as high as possible.

SB: How has training changed, if at all, compared to past marathon build-ups?

DR: I try not to think of my preparation for this marathon as just the two months leading up to the race. I have had a great year, much better than last year, and that was a huge foundation for me going into the last two months.

My workouts were better, my racing was more aggressive, and my mileage was higher. So even before the specific marathon training started, I was much farther ahead of 2012. As for the last two months of specific training, I have done a lot more pace changing tempo runs and more focus on consistent running as opposed to intervals. 

SB: Your good friend Jason Hartmann mentioned he's rabbiting in Chicago. Will he be guiding you through the streets of the Windy City?

DR: Last year I had Jason take me through 20k and this year he will be taking the whole group through the early part of the race. I trust him more than anyone else when it comes to pacing.

I have been training with Jason since I was 13 years old. I am so comfortable running behind him that it puts my mind at ease. He is one of my closest friends and just having him out there helps me settle in and conserve as much energy as possible in the early stages of the race.

SB: You had a nice summer of racing, finishing second in the 10k at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, then tenth place at the IAAF World Championships. How do you view your track season and how does it help you prepare for a fall marathon?

DR: It is easy when you have success in the marathon to just keep with it. After Chicago last year I could have turned around and made good money by running a spring marathon, but I wanted to do what is best for my career over the next few years. I focused through the summer on track to keep my speed and mechanics good. There are only so many years you can run two marathons per year before you break down.

I knew that from 2014-16 I would be focusing on the marathon and I didn't want to do too many. I had a great year, running 13:09 for 5k, being up in the race in the World Championships, and even running a couple 3ks, which I hadn't done in six years before this! I think it set me up well for the coming years. 

SB: While you did race at Worlds, you had to regroup after Moscow and start focusing on marathon training. What changes when shifting from 10k track work to marathon work?

DR: The biggest change was that the mileage increased and I didn't do as many intervals. Right before Moscow, I was running some very fast speed work and so I didn't need to do too much fast work in the last two months. I would go very hard every 7-10 days for a long session at marathon goal pace. They were very hard workouts and it would take me a bit to recover, so I had very easy workouts and very hard ones. The long runs also got much longer. I went from 20 mile runs to 25. Usually 2-3 days a week were 23-25 miles total.

SB: There's been quite a bit of talk recently about the value of pro runners in road races. Just recently you took part in a Twitter Q&A session with the Chicago Marathon. What did you learn from that experience and what do you feel is the obligation of professional runners when it comes to attracting fans to the sport?

DR: The Twitter chat we did last week before the Chicago Marathon was incredible! For an hour straight I barely put a dent in the questions asked by fans and people running the race. Those out there who think elite athletes don't bring value to an event don't have a clue. The Chicago Marathon or the NYRR work tirelessly to connect the elite athletes to the masses. That is why in the Chicago Marathon I had more fans yelling at me on the course than I have ever had. If I go for a run in Central Park, I have people yelling "Yeah Ritz"! That doesn't just happen; they work to build that connection.

We have to do our part as well and being visible and available is a big part of what makes those races so special. Look at what they do in Eugene. The fan experience at the Track Town events around the big meets is amazing. You just have to work at it. But, if you are an elite athlete and you don't reach out to your fans and just wait for them to come to you, you won't get as much return on the investment. 

SB: You're one of the top runners heading into Chicago, but there is another American debuting at the distance, that being Matt Tegenkamp. How do you view your rivalry with Matt, who you've raced for years, heading into marathon weekend?

DR: Matt and I have raced each other for 15 years. I have been doing the marathon for many years and this is his first time, but sometimes the first one is the best because you don't know what you are in for. There is no way to prepare for what the last 10k feels like. But I don't think of Matt any differently than any other competitor. When the race is on, he is just another person I don't want to lose to. No different than Moses Mosop or Tadesse.

SB: In this marathon build-up, did you head back to Portland for much of the training? Who's been your primary training partner the past few weeks?

DR: I spent the last five weeks in Park City, Utah living in a lodge at 8100ft. I have been all by myself, but that is okay because I can push myself in the longer training. The fast stuff is when I need Mo, Galen and Matt. When I am out on a long tempo at race pace, I can grind it out and it makes me mentally strong. I have been going back to Portland every 7-10 days for long hard sessions.

The rest of the time I have done nothing but train twice a day, lift weights, do drills, therapy, and think about the race. I train, eat, sleep and repeat. I talk to my wife and kids to keep me sane, my coach about workouts, but other than that it is just me thinking about the race. Vacation starts on October 14th, but until then I have one thing on my mind.

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