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Dathan Ritzenhein Looking To Leave His Mark

He's ready to take on the most competitive field ever at the ING New York City Marathon.

He’s ready to take on the most competitive field ever at the ING New York City Marathon.

He’s medaled at the world cross country championships and set an American Record for 5,000 meters on the track; but let there be no doubt where Dathan Ritzenhein wants to leave his mark on the running world.

“The marathon is where it really belongs for me,” Ritzenhein said. “I will be the best hopefully at that and I hope I can medal in the Olympics and win a major marathon. That is my ultimate goal.”

He’ll have his shot—and his hands full—on November 7 when he lines up for the ING New York City Marathon. Standing in his way is what’s rightfully being called the most competitive men’s field ever assembled in the 41-year history of the race. Defending champion Meb Keflezighi will be back to defend his title, two-time winner Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil would like to become a three-time victor, and marathon world-record holder Haile Gebreselassie of Ethiopia wants to prove to the pundits that he can win on a course that’s not known for being rocket fast. And let’s not forget about rising stars of the sport such as road racing warrior Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia, Canadian upstart Simon Bairu, and Kenyan James Kwambai, whose 2:04:27 personal best makes him the third-fastest marathoner in history.

So, with all this ammunition locked and loaded on the starting line, what kind of fireworks can we expect to see in The Big Apple on November 7?

“I see the course record being broken,” said Ritzenhein, who made his ING New York City Marathon debut in 2006, finishing 11th in 2:14:01. “And I think there will be a lot of carnage because the course is very difficult and it takes a special runner to handle the beating and still be able to hold it together over the last 10K.”

Last year that special runner was Keflezighi, whose physical and mental toughness helped him break free from Kenyan Robert Cheruiyot at the race’s 24-mile mark and carried him to victory in Central Park. And while the defending champion is rightfully the talk of the town heading into this year’s race, Ritzenhein is worth keeping an eye on, too.

Not long after a disappointing 11th-place, 2:10-flat performance at the 2009 London Marathon, Ritzenhein parted ways with coach Brad Hudson and relocated from the running mecca of Eugene, Oregon a hundred miles north to Portland to train with Alberto Salazar and the Oregon Track Club. Less than four months later, the floodgates reopened for Ritzenhein as the former Colorado Buffalo ran a personal best 27:22.28 to place sixth in the 10,000 meters at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in August and followed that up with an American Record of 12:56.27 in the 5,000 meters ten days later in Switzerland.  Then, last October, Ritz took his revamped show to the roads, placing an impressive third at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, running another personal best of 60 minutes on the nose.

“Before I was a 13:16, 27:35, and 1:01:26 guy,” Ritzenhein said. “And I felt like I was a 12:56, 60-minute guy, but until I did them I really wasn’t. Saying it is easy, doing it is another story. My times before probably meant that I should be a 2:09 guy if I could figure it out. But now my times tell me that if I can get it right I can run 2:05. The numbers don’t lie. It is easy to say you can do it, but until I do I am still a 2:10 guy. I hope to change that soon.”

And it could all change as soon as 12 days from now in The Big Apple, where Ritzenhein hopes to make his first big mark at a major marathon. With no pacemakers and a not-so-fast course similar to the cross country venues where he’s traditionally thrived, Ritzenhein believes his uncanny competitiveness, along with a proven ability to overcome undulating terrain, will level the playing field against the likes of clock beaters like Kwambai and Gebrselassie, who have shown an incredible knack for forgetting about the rest of the field while locking into a world-record rhythm.

“I like to run fast but more importantly I like to be competitive,” Ritzenhein said. “I do well on cross country courses because I don’t get distracted easily by all the other factors: turns, hills, mud, weather. Same thing goes for New York City. All the changes don’t bother me too much. That is why I give myself a better shot against someone like Geb at New York; he may be a 2:04 guy and me a 2:05-06 guy on my best day, but I will slow down less on a course like New York, which evens the playing field for me.”

Having already accumulated a myriad of medals, records and wins over the course of his successful career, Ritzenhein recognizes the significance of what popping a big race in The Big Apple on November 7 will do for his long-running legacy.

“Ultimately I want to be known as a great runner who conquered all disciplines, Ritzenhein said. “But the only way to be remembered is in the marathon for me. I hope to take a big step in that direction on Nov. 7th!” [sig:MarioFraioli]