Podcast: Episode 6 with Dathan Ritzenhein


“I’m happy with what I did on the track, what I did at shorter distances. I’m good with that. I’m good with who I am, with where I’ve been, all of those things, mistakes I’ve made along the way—I’m OK with that. In the marathon though, I just know that my back is against the wall and I feel like I still have something to prove to myself still. These last two marathons aren’t going to define what I’ve done—the rest of my career, I’m happy with that, I can put that in my back pocket—but I want to make that fourth Olympic team.”

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Three-time Olympian and former American 5,000m record holder Dathan Ritzenhein comes on the podcast to discuss a wide range of topics, including the upcoming Boston Marathon, training with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, the changes he’s made to his training in order to stay healthy at 35 years of age, and why he’s still competing despite dozens of injuries over the years, including 15 stress fractures, three surgeries, a ruptured plantar fascia, and myriad other issues.

“I’ve been doing this twice a day since I was 13 or 14, and so not that it’s all I know, but it’s what I know,” he told me. “I have plans post-running but I still genuinely enjoy training and I think that’s one thing a lot of people get sick of—they get sick of training. They like the lifestyle, they like running, they like going to races, and I love all those things too, but I like the challenge and I like the way I feel when I train. It’s just a passion—if you don’t have it, it won’t matter and when it’s gone, I’ll probably know pretty quick. But I still have it, I still have goals, and when you have goals and you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not a job. It’s not hard.”

Also in this conversation, Ritzenhein and I discuss the arc of his career, including training hard from a young age and how that may have contributed to his many injuries over the years, what he would change as a young athlete knowing what he knows now, the deepest he’s ever dug in a race, and the importance of having a solid support system when he’s training hard.

“The ability is there and I know it,” Ritzenhein says. “A lot of the time I feel as good as ever…and I’m not going to be making the same mistakes I made in 2016 and think that I can do it on my own. I have to have this team to help me get there. And that’s part of the reason [I signed with Hansons-Brooks] and why I’m so focused on [Boston] right now.

Finally, we also cover the memorable summer of 2009 when he finished sixth at world championships in the 10,000m, broke the American record in the 5,000m, and ran 60-flat to finish third in the world half-marathon championships, the complexities of training for and racing the marathon, what he’s learned coaching other athletes, and a heck of a lot more.

Related links, references, and resources:

— Follow Dathan on Twitter and Instagram.

— “Early in a race, you hear Dathan breathing like a stuck pig all the way across the track, but he can run at the point of exhaustion virtually for a full race.” Brad Prins, Ritzenhein’s coach at Rockford High, in a 2001 Sports Illustrated article.

Can Dathan Ritzenhein make the 2020 Olympic team? “Meb has been one of my biggest inspirations,” Ritzenhein said recently. “He told me you’ve got to stick with it. You’ve got to believe in yourself even when others doubt you. You’ve got to stay in the game, and keep fighting hard.” 

The Perfect Stride. Interesting look at Ritzenhein’s first year with the Nike Oregon Project and coach Alberto Salazar, changing his running form, and trying to close the gap between himself and the best in the world.

The Turning Point. “Ritzenhein is the defending champ, an aerobic monster who grew up beside the Hush Puppy shoe factory in Rockford, Michigan,” Amby Burfoot wrote for Runner’s World. “He stands 5’6″, weighs 112 pounds, and looks like a bench warmer on the chess team. But Ritz, as he is known, hasn’t lost a cross-country race in two years.”

— “Alan [Webb] was so good that I was just out of my mind nervous going into it.” Ritzenhein running away from Alan Webb and Ryan Hall at the 2000 Footlocker Cross-Country Championships in one of the mostly hotly anticipated scholastic races of all-time. (Look at the pain on Ritzenhein’s face just after he crossed the finish line.)

— Ritzenhein’s epic battle with Ryan Hall at the 2003 NCAA Cross Country Championships. “There’s been five good times [in a race] where I’ve felt like, ‘Am I’m going to die?’ and that was one of them,” he told me during our conversation. “That was probably the worst, for sure.”

— Get coached by Dathan or buy a personalized training plan.

This episode of the morning shakeout podcast was edited by John Isaac at BaresRecords.com.

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