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Ritz On Running: The Pros Are Just Like Us

If Dathan Ritzenhein’s 25-year career has taught him anything, it’s that no matter where you’re at with running, we’re all in this together.

Ritz on Running is a new semi-monthly column by American distance runner Dathan Ritzenhein that dives into the world of elite running through training tips, race course analysis, hot topic discussions and exclusive interviews with other pros. You can find him here every second and fourth Tuesday of the month.

Many of you may know me as “Ritz,” but for those of you who don’t, my name is Dathan Ritzenhein. I’m a 3x Olympian, multiple National Champion, former American record holder and part of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project. I live and breathe running.

I am blessed to have been in this sport for 25 years. While I have had a lot of success in my career, I have also had my fair share of struggles. Through all the ups and downs I don’t live with regrets, however, I sure wish I could have made the journey a little less bumpy. One key piece I have learned over the years is that whether you are a weekend warrior, competitive age-group runner, semi-elite or professional, figuring out what works best for you is what matters.

My goal is to use this column to share some of my experience and bring the elite running world to you. For competitive athletes, there is so much that can be learned from what the professionals do. Sometimes they can be small tricks of the trade, but other times it is just sifting through the mounds of BS that we come across daily.

If you’re good at something like running, people will often say that you make it look easy. I can guarantee you that it is not. While talent is absolutely essential to being one of the best in the world, you can maximize your own ability no matter your genetics. That is what makes running amazing.

No matter your level, you share many of the same experiences as the pros. You may not be on the start line of the Olympic finals, but like the elites, you can cross the finish line on Bolyston Street, turn off Columbus Circle into Central Park or run up the middle of Michigan Ave. You can participate in many other iconic experiences that lead to the same goals—setting your own personal records. Getting the most out of yourself is the same thing professionals do, we just do it on national and international stages.

Looking back at my career, I can’t believe I’m about to start my 16th year as a pro distance runner. Admittedly, I’ve screwed up and failed a lot more than I have succeeded. I’ve been in the trenches, and it can be ugly. If you look down my list of accomplishments, those triumphs, fast times, records, medals and teams don’t show the dozen or so stress fractures, multiple surgeries, teams missed, accusations made, contracts lost, money spent, etc. Unfortunately, there is no road map that shows you how to get there. You can have great coaches, abundant resources and all the support in the world, but sometimes bad days, hard runs and continuous injuries still happen.

Through all this, I’ve pushed on and feel I still have more in the tank. But that’s really what distance running is, putting your shoes on day-after-day, even when it is tough. Most of the time we don’t cruise along feeling incredible, but that daily grind and toll is what makes success possible, and we as runners love that part as much as the racing. Like anyone else who looks back on those magical PRs, they can feel like out of body experiences. Unfortunately the daily training and hard work usually doesn’t feel like that, but it makes it worth it on race day when we stand side-by-side with others who have gone through the same struggle.

Some of my columns will be based on my own experiences over the years. I’ll be sharing training logs, workouts, mantras and race course analysis which can help you gain insight and tips into what can help you become a better athlete. Other weeks I will cover upcoming or recently completed events. I hope these will give you inspiration and vision if you are on that same start line at some point. You’ll also find interviews with other elites from high schoolers to Masters.

There is no one way to be successful in running, but it’s amazing what you can learn from other’s successes and failures. If I can bring you closer to the experience of the elite athlete, my hope is that you gain knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for this sport and your own running.

If there is a topic, person or event that you really want to see covered in this space, I’d love to hear from you. Give me a shout out on Instagram or Twitter.