100 Days Until The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials: Catching Up With Dathan Ritzenhein, Desi Linden And Jared Ward

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Ritz hasn’t run a single 100-mile week in 2015; Ward says he’s been dealt a “royal flush.”

Linden: “It’s awesome to call myself an Olympian but I don’t think I really lived up to the label the last time around.”

By Jonathan Gault
November 5, 2015

The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon — to be held on February 13, 2016, in Los Angeles — is a mere 100 days away. To mark the occasion, USATF made three of the nation’s top marathoners available on a conference call Thursday morning as well as LA Marathon CEO Tracey Russell, who said that the course is nearly finalized and that more details should be coming soon.

“We are very close to having our turn-by-turn, it just got certified this past weekend,” Russell said. “So will be soon unveiling that and make that available to the media.”

Currently, there’s a general outline of the course map available on LATrials.com and Russell said the plan is to follow that, with the start/finish taking place in the L.A. Live complex downtown and the course running down Figueroa Street to Exposition Park and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The main attractions of the call, however, were 2012 Olympians Dathan Ritzenhein and Desi Linden and 2015 U.S. marathon champ Jared Ward, each of whom is approaching the 2016 Trials in a different way.

1. For Ritz, it doesn’t get any bigger than the Olympic marathon

Ritzenhein is looking to join the small group of American runners to make four Olympic teams and desperately wants to do it at his preferred 26.2-mile distance. Only one of his previous appearances was in the marathon (he ran the 10,000 in 2004, the marathon in 2008 and the 10,000 in 2012 after taking an agonizing fourth at the Marathon Trials).

Ritz leading the way in Boston earlier this year

Ritz leading the way in Boston earlier this year

“I love racing in general but there’s something about the Olympic marathon,” Ritzenhein said. The Olympic marathon, that’s what you think about when you think of the Olympics. It was the pinnacle of the early modern Olympics and even the ancient Olympics. You think of that marathon, it’s just something that sticks out in your mind and everybody watches it and it’s just one of the biggest events in the world. The excitement that goes into it, it captivates you. So I want to be part of that.”

Ritzenhein said that his training has been “completely different” since relocating from Portland to Michigan and that he does far less volume in marathon training than he used to but more quality. Rather than logging hundreds of miles per week, Ritz focuses on maximizing the miles he does run. He hasn’t cracked 100 miles in a week in all of 2015 (he averaged 87 mpw in his Boston Marathon buildup, including 20 mpw on the Alter-G) but supplements that with additional cross training. He also runs more of his runs at a harder pace — he averages between 5:15 and 5:25 per mile for his 20-mile long runs.  The most important thing for Ritzenhein, who turns 33 next month, is to feel comfortable, both in training and at home. To that end, he will take more time to recover between hard efforts harder on long runs and wants to spend as much time as possible with his children, eight-year-old Addison and five-year-old Jude.

“I really just don’t like being away from my family for long periods of time,” Ritzenhein said. “You have to be happy wherever you’re going to be and if you’re not happy, mentally you’re not in it, the physical part of the training won’t happen either.”

Ritzenhein said that if the weather is truly terrible in Michigan this winter that he will likely head down to Florida or Colorado Springs to avoid it, but he is hoping to stay local. Ritz spent his entire buildup prior to taking seventh at April’s Boston Marathon in Michigan, utilizing Grand Valley State University’s 300-meter indoor track for interval sessions.

Ritz in 2015
DateRaceResult
1/6/2015Campaccio 10K XC1st (29:08)
1/10/2015Great Edinburgh 4K XC3rd (12:27)
2/7/2015US Champs 12K XC3rd (36:51)
2/22/2015Gasparilla Half1st (63:17)
3/16/2015NYC Half6th (62:07)
4/20/2015Boston Marathon7th (2:11:20)
8/15/2015Rockford 5k1st (14:39)
8/22/2015Crim 10-Miler3rd (47:16)
9/7/2015US 20K Champs3rd (59:27)
9/20/2015US 5K Champs3rd (14:03)
10/4/2015US 10-Mile Champs3rd (46:53)

It will be a mature Ritzenhein who steps to the line in LA in three months’ time. After racing just once in 2014 due to sports hernia and ankle injuries, Ritz used 2015 as mental preparation more than anything, excelling at a variety of distances on the roads.

“I just tried to race a whole lot of different distances, from 4k cross country all the way up to the marathon – just trying to get myself into that competitive mindset because there’s a great, great field of young runners and veterans in the Trials,” Ritzenhein said.

Ritzenhein said that he’s grateful to even have the opportunity to potentially make his fourth Olympic team. Ritz was a part of the fabled high school Class of 2001, along with Alan Webb and Ryan Hall. Webb has retired from competitive running, choosing to focus his efforts on the triathlon, while Hall has completed one marathon since the 2012 Trials — a 2:17:50 in Boston last year. Despite numerous injury struggles in his career, Ritzenhein is still chugging along and even though he’ll be favored to take one of the three spots to Rio, he won’t be devastated if he misses out, as he did in 2012.

“I never thought that I would run under 2:10 in 2012 and not make the team,” Ritzenhein said. “I know to never underestimate anybody. I underestimated Abdi [Abdirahman] and he came out and made the team. If you do that, you’re bound to get caught off guard…Me and Meb [Keflezighi] sometimes on paper look like clear-cut favorites, but there are so many good guys.”

2. The memories of the 2012 Olympic marathon still motivate Desi Linden

Linden, Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg will be three of the favorites in LA next year

Linden, Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg will be three of the favorites in LA next year

On January 14, 2012, Desi Linden won the right to represent the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games by finishing second at the Marathon Trials in Houston. But when the Olympic Marathon rolled around seven months later in London, she wasn’t fully healthy and made it less than three miles before pulling out due to a hip injury. That race has served as the dividing point in the now-32-year-old Linden’s career.

“I feel like I kind of hit reset after 2012 and just erased that first part of my career,” Linden said. “This [Olympic cycle], to me, is like starting over. I’ve been building up and trying to gradually progress to try and become an Olympian. I look at this as it would be pretty much like having my first Olympic experience and making my first Olympic team because, quite frankly, it’s awesome to call myself an Olympian but I don’t think I really lived up to the label the last time around.”

Linden said that she’s thought about that race in London every day since and that it’s served as a driving force in her career. It’s led to some pretty terrific results, as Linden was the top American in last fall’s New York City Marathon (fifth in 2:28:11) and April’s Boston Marathon (fourth in 2:25:39), where she defeated rival Shalane Flanagan for the first time after leading for much of the race. Though Linden said it’s definitely a goal of hers to beat Flanagan again and win the Trials — she’s never won a national title of any kind — the primary focus is making the team and delivering her best race in Rio.

“I would love to get that [win in LA] and check it off my list [of things] that I’ve accomplished but ultimately the goal is to be on the team,” Linden said. “If it’s something late in the race and I feel I’m sacrificing a top-three finish for the win, I’m going to be cautious.”

3. Despite a breakout 2015, Jared Ward has stuck to the plan that allowed him to be successful at Brigham Young

The 27-year-old Ward graduated from BYU in April but still rents the same house in Provo that he did as a student with wife Erica and children Paul and Ellie. He’s still coached by Ed Eyestone, the man who guided Ward to five All-American honors as a Cougar. He even makes it into the classroom a few times a week to teach a statistics class — he wrote his master’s thesis on optimal race strategy in the marathon.

Ward put together a nice career at BYU but his running has really taken off since turning pro last year

Ward put together a nice career at BYU but his running has really taken off since turning pro last year

Ward ran some outstanding times at BYU on the track (13:34/28:36 PBs) but has really blossomed after shifting to the roads upon the completion of his NCAA eligibility in 2014. Last fall, he was second at the U.S. Marathon Champs at the Twin Cities Marathon, running 2:14:00, and followed that up with a fourth-place showing at the .US 12k Champs six weeks later. 2015 has gone even better for the 27-year-old Ward, as he ran a tremendous 61:42 for second in his debut half marathon in Houston in January before claiming the U.S. Marathon title in LA in March in 2:12:56. He also added titles at the US 25k Champs in May and the 20k Champs in September, positioning himself as one of the top contenders for the third and final spot on the Olympic team.

“I really attribute it [my progression] to the people around me,” Ward said. “I’ve just been so blessed to have incredible supportive coaches at my side, a supportive wife, a good family and really all the facilities and everything I need to stay healthy and train at a high level. I’ve often joked that anyone could have at least the success that I’ve had, if not more, if they were dealt the royal flush that it feels that I’ve been dealt.”

Ward said it was hard to gauge where he stands in the current U.S. marathon hierarchy but that he is optimistic heading into the trials in a city in which he has already experienced marathon success.

“I hope to just be able to get in there and shake it up with these guys and give myself a chance,” Ward said. And realistically, I think that’s the best that most of us can do. Show up on race day and see if it’s meant to be.”


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