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More Ritz: “I Feel Like A Different Athlete”

Top American marathoner has learned from his previous race experiences.

Written by: Chris Lotsbom
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

It was announced yesterday that IAAF World Half Marathon bronze medalist Dathan Ritzenhein will return to the marathon distance this November, taking to the streets of New York City in an attempt to become the second-straight American winner of the ING New York City Marathon for the first time since 1981/1982 when Alberto Salazar, Ritzenhein’s coach, completed the feat.  

Talking to reporters via conference call from–of all places–a maintenance shed on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon, Ritzenhein said he was eager to return to The Big Apple, aiming to improve upon his last ING New York City Marathon finish–an eleventh place showing in 2006.

Ritzenhein, 27, who placed ninth at the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing, said that he is looking at the November 7th race as a “re-debut” in his career.

“When I come back to the 2010 ING New York City Marathon, I [will] feel like a really different athlete,” said the father of one, soon to be two (his wife is past her due date and will have the couple’s second child, Jude, later this week). “I feel so much more ready, probably not as ignorant as I was about it the first time around, and I have a lot more respect for the event.  But I also learned a lot of the lessons from those first few marathons. Hopefully I can combine those two into a great performance.”

The former American record holder at 5000 meters, Ritzenhein is currently overcoming a metatarsal injury in his right foot which kept him out of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships last March.

Averaging about 85 miles per week in training, Ritzenhein began feeling soreness in the metatarsal bones, located between the bones of the hind- and mid-foot and those of the toes. After many flare ups over his career, Salazar and Ritzenhein decided to have some tests done by the head of biomechanics at Nike, hoping to find a solution to the bothersome and nagging injury.

After a thorough evaluation, Ritzenhein and Salazar feel they have found the solution to what has been, in Salazar’s words, his “Achilles heel” for the past five or six years.  Discovering an abnormal amount of force being placed upon on his third metatarsal, Ritzenhein has added modified inserts in his shoe, which has helped refine his form and made his stride more efficient.

“I was definitely more of a heel striker, so I was definitely getting more up onto my midfoot,” Ritzenhein said. “We went back to try and build it up from the strength side, so [the more balanced, correct form] naturally took over.”

Now that Ritzenhein has fully recovered, his focus is on the return to the 26.2-mile distance from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Central Park.

“I think that New York is a great race for Dathan, because he is a great cross country runner,” said Salazar. “He is great on the hills. New York is not a flat, track-type marathon course.  For whatever reason, there is something about New York that makes it a tough course.  And I think tough courses, for someone like Dathan, is a perfect fit for him.”

Ritzenhein knows a thing or two about toughness.  Training mostly alone, he has developed the mental capacity to persevere through the tough patches in races, especially the longer distance ones like the marathon. And in New York, Ritzenhein will need a great deal of mental toughness if he wants to finish on top of the podium, as marathon world-record holder Haile Gebrsellassie and 2009 ING New York City Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi have already committed to running the race.

But according to Ritzenhein, Salazar, and New York Road Runners President and CEO Mary Wittenberg, he is ready.

“I know that Dathan can win the ING New York City Marathon,” Wittenberg said. “Dathan is clearly one of the best athletes we have ever seen, and I think he is especially suited for New York.”