A week into my recovery from the Boston Marathon, I am starting to feel like a human being again! After not going the full 26.2 miles and crossing the finish line for four years, I think I forgot what the immediate aftermath feels like. A week later, walking down stairs is finally tolerable again.

My body is starting to feel normal but, like many athletes, I was immediately looking for answers to a race that didn’t go the way I hoped. I ended up 19th place in a time of 2:16.19. I was looking for a much faster and higher finish but that was the best I could do that day.

While I never felt great from the start, I managed to stay within 20 seconds on the leaders through 30k and on 2:10 pace through 20 miles. Unfortunately, as so many runners know, the marathon doesn’t start until 20 miles and my body was in serious trouble at that point.

I began to have cramping problems at around 19 miles and I was forced to stop twice in the last few miles. The truth is I probably should have stopped earlier and tried to get my cramping hamstrings and adductors under control, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to restart if I stopped. After dropping out of my last two marathons, that was simply not an option—even if I had to walk it in.

Dathan Ritzenhein Boston Marathon 2019 finish
photo: Justin Britton

One of my most painful memories is of dropping out of the 2016 NYC marathon when I tore my plantar fascia at mile 19. The memory that haunted me was not so much the pain of the injury or the fact that I couldn’t go on. It was the moment I got back to the recovery area and my kids were waiting for me. That was the moment that is etched in my brain. With the ruptured plantar, I could not have continued that race even if I wanted to—but to see them waiting for me, and not understanding why Dad couldn’t finish, was devastating. I did not want to them thinking their Dad had just quit.

This marathon, as long as I was physically capable, I was finishing—no matter what the time. As I was coming in the last few miles, I knew my kids would be waiting for me. That kept away any thought of not getting across that line. Sure enough there they were.

While I was disappointed with my finish, I knew I had accomplished three of the goals I set out for in this race:

Goal one was to get to the start line healthy. I had to pull out of Boston last year with just a week to go. I hurt my back in the last longer session of the training and it was horrible to get so close and not make the start line. I dialed it back and tried to remain healthy.

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Blood, sweat and a lot of tears went into this! Feeling so blessed to be here for tomorrow’s @bostonmarathon! Tomorrow means something very special to me. I will give everything I have out there! I wouldn’t be here for this chance at redemption without the support of my family, friends, sponsors, training partners, coaches and fans. I’ll be holding that close to my heart when times get tough out there. To the 30,000 others running tomorrow, find what drive you when you need to dig deep. Best of luck to everyone racing. Let’s make this one special!

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The second goal I accomplished was to finish. It had been four years since I had completed a marathon—when I placed 7th in the 2015 Boston Marathon. If my body was able, I was finishing this one, no matter what.

And, lastly, I came away from the race healthy. Although, in the first day or two I joked with my therapists that it was too early to tell if I was hurt as everything was too sore to know if anything was broken.

As the soreness from the race has faded this last week and I know that my body is healthy I find myself wanting to get back out there right away. Planned breaks are not easy for me so I have to pull myself back and continue to recover for another week before I start the process of rebuilding the body for the next marathon training cycle. But I simply can’t just turn my brain off and wait for two weeks to think about what comes next. My mind is always looking for answers and ways to improve.

I gave it a few days to take the emotion away before my coach and I talked about what happened. It was important to take a few days to cool off our disappointment and to be able to think logically about what needs to change.

Nothing you come up with in the moments after the race will be clear thinking. Judgment will be clouded in either excitement for disappointment right after a race. So many times I have finished a great race and been amped to go on as if nothing should be changed. Sometimes you do well despite what you did in training, and if it didn’t stop you in your tracks, you might not be so lucky next time.

Likewise I have had disappointing races that I finished and wanted to throw out everything! But just because race day didn’t go as you envisioned it, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t do some things right.

I start self-reflection of any performance by first going to what worked. It is much more positive to look at the things that you did right in your training and race versus ripping apart everything that went wrong. Those successful things are foundations that you will still have to maintain if you want to make any changes work for the future.

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After identifying what worked then move to what did not work. Ask others with an outside perspective what they think. Your training partners, coaches, family and friends might be able to identify things that you didn’t see in your own training or race. For example, I asked my close friend Jason Hartmann his thoughts as we have trained together over the years and he knows me well.” They might lack context for some decisions that were made, but their feedback can help you think critically about your choices and if it affected the results you had on race day. Be open to criticism and be sure to own mistakes that you made.

As we move into the next training cycle, my coach and I plan to sit down and review in greater depth my past successful marathons to identify specific changes we need to implement.

For me, the race may have achieved three goals but I left a lot on the table. Top 10 in a world marathon major or sub 2:11:30 is still the big target. I’ll need to hit those marks before the Olympic Trials next February 29th 2020, to be eligible to run in the Olympic Marathon in Tokyo. I need to change my focus from Boston to accomplish those goals this fall.

So for now I’ll continue my recovery but when I resume my training I’ll take those lessons learned from this beating and be renewed, refreshed and ready to get back in the ring for another round.