Last year, Dathan Ritzenhein was ready to win the Boston Marathon. “I felt like it was the best shape I had ever been,” he says. “I put so much into it mentally, my focus was entirely on it—so I was devastated to have to pull out about 10 days beforehand, when I got injured.”
This year, the 36-year-old, three-time Olympian gets another chance. “For me, this year, it’s like redemption,” he says. “Another shot to be able to come back.”
And, he’s again feeling good about his fitness as he toes the line in Hopkinton tomorrow morning. While Ritzenhein has had a checkered history of injuries in the past, he’s been able to train consistently hard during this marathon buildup.
“I really only had two days that I missed in the last five months, that I didn’t plan on missing,” he says. “Probably one of the best, least-interrupted, five-months periods I’ve had. I feel good about that.”
He does admit to “a little hamstring thing” a few weeks ago, but it was a minor blip that cost him only those two aforementioned days. “I took care of it right away—got therapy,” he says. “I’ve been really learning that, trying not to push through things. Things are always going to happen. I try to be smarter when it initially happens, try not to freak out about it.”
The hamstring tweak pushed his marathon simulator test (16 miles at race effort) back from the normal four weeks out from the race to three weeks out, but Ritzenhein isn’t freaking out about that either. In fact, he’s trusting his gut feeling of fitness more than any workout measurements.
“I don’t really need those indicator workouts anymore; I do everything off of feel,” he says. “As long as my long runs are good, I’m moving well, it feels right—that’s what I focus on. Sometimes it doesn’t matter on race day, what that pace is. If it is a tailwind or headwind, hot or cold—it changes, and on this course it changes; it is rolling all the time. You can’t lock in, say 4:55 pace or something like that; it just doesn’t work. I try to find that effort, and think rhythm, rhythm, rhythm—so it feels good, whether it is 4:50 pace or 5:10 pace.”
Dathan had a similarly good feel going into the February 9th Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon in New Orleans. There, he won in a time of 61:24, despite saying he hadn’t done any workouts that predicted he could break 63:00. “I surprised the heck out of myself with that one, to tell the truth,” he says.
In the ensuring weeks, all the indicators have been trending upward. “All my long runs have been quality hard runs since. Those have felt good,” Ritzenhein says. “And the trend is this: It just keeps getting better and better, and the effort it gets easier—the pace gets faster, but the effort stays the same.
“I ran here 4 years ago, and had very good race [7th place]—but I thought I’d be doing it a lot more,” he says. “Last year, everything was going good, but I didn’t make the ride.”
He’s taking the ride all the way tomorrow, hopefully to the podium.