Where Your Dreams Become Reality
The Week That Was August 24 - August 30, 2009
A Closer Look At Ritzenhein's 12:56
While we'll argue below that the record run shouldn't have been that shocking to distance aficionados, in reality the run was unbelievably surprising. Once the race was over, we placed a call to a mid-30s ex-elite (who has a PR of sub-3:40 in the 1,500) who was at work.
The call went like this:
In reality, the record run may have been shocking. But from both a long-term and short term perspective, it shouldn't have been. We tell you why below.
The Record Was Due To Be Broken
Remember, Ritz Was Once THE Great Hope Of US Distance Running
In the long term, people need to remember that until Alan Webb's 3:53 mile at the end of his high school career, Ritz was viewed by far as the greatest hope we had in this country in decades, certainly since the start of Foot Locker Cross-Country (formerly Kinney) in 1979.
Ritz is one of just two US-born runners to win Foot Locker Cross-Country (FLCC) twice (for non-US visitors, FLCC is the US high school cross-country championships). Winning as a junior is next to impossible for boys, but Ritz did it. As a junior, the seniors right behind Ritz at FLCC were very good. In 2nd place, 4 seconds behind Ritz, was eventual NCAA 1,500 champ Don Sage. In 3rd, some 5 seconds back, was eventual NCAA 5k runner-up and 2008 Olympian Ian Dobson. Eventual NCAA cross-country champion Josh Rohatinsky was 4th (7 seconds behind) and future 13:04 guy Matt Tegenkamp was 5th (18 seconds back).
As a senior, Ritz destroyed what we say has to be the greatest Foot Locker class in history.
Ritz made a mockery of the race as he won by 20 seconds.
In 2nd? 20 seconds back was Alan Webb, who would go on to run 3:53 in the mile that spring to break Jim Ryun's 37-year-old record and would go on to break the US mile record in 2007.
In third? None other than future US half marathon record holder Ryan Hall (59:43), who is also the record holder for the full marathon (2:06:17) if you count only US-born athletes.
So Ritz beat the US mile record holder and US half marathon and US-born marathon record holder and he beat them by 20 full seconds over 5k. Then he went on to get 3rd at World Cross in the junior race. That's simply unreal. About as unreal as Bob Kennedy winning NCAA cross-country as a true frosh at Indiana.
Obviously Ritz was quite a talent. Please don't tell us that Webb and Hall aren't good XC runners, as Webb was 11th at NCAAs as a frosh and Ryan Hall was NCAA runner-up as a junior.
Ritz's success as a junior caused the LetsRun.com co-founders to develop a seious man-crush on Ritz. He was THE hope for America. Admittedly, since his marathon debut in 2006, Ritz had largely been forgotten as his Foot Locker classmates form 2000 stole the thunder, with Webb having an unreal 2007 and Hall having a great 2007 and 2008.
But Ritz once was way bigger than Hall and Webb, and his 12:56 in reality just gets him back to where many thought he'd be when he was in the junior ranks.
Remember, when Ritzenhein made his 10,000 debut in 2004, LetsRun.com co-founder wrote a glowing piece on Ritz, where he remarked:
"Ritz will go under 27:00 before it's all said and done. I'm saying that now so in a few years I can gloat and say, 'I told you so.'"
Well, Rojo was basically correct. Admittedly, Ritz hasn't broken 27:00 yet, but he's done something that he himself probably thought would be harder to do - break 13:00.
The whole saga proves one of the great axioms of running: "Talent never goes away."
Was Ritz's 27:22 In The Heat In Berlin Worth A Sub-27?
So clearly, the fact that Ritz ran near 13:00 isn't that surprising. Is it surprising that Ritz actually broke 13:00 and ran 12:56, when he's considerd to be more of a marathon/10k type guy? Yes, a little.
But the fact of the matter is Ritz really hasn't proven himself to be an elite marathoner. From talking to insiders, his workouts leading up to London this spring were phenomenal and indicated a sub- 13:10/27:20/2:08ish type of fitness. But he only ran 2:10.00.
So maybe we'll find out that he is more of 5k/10k type than 10k/marathon. Although truth be told, we are hoping that he ends up being an amazing marathoner who just happened to pop the race of his life and run 12:56.
Ritz Talks About His 12:56.27
Lessons To Be Learned From The 12:56
1. Marathon/Over-Distance Training Pays Big Dividends - We think Ritz's breakthrough at the shorter distance, just months after training for the London marathon where he faded to a 2:10:00, is yet again proof that endurance over-distance training pays big dividends for all runners.
Not that it's anywhere near the level of Ritz's performance, but LetsRun.com co-founder Weldon Johnson dropped his 10k time from the 29:50s to 28:06 after marathon training. Paula Radcliffe became unbeatable when she started training for the marathon. Alan Webb ran a 27:34 10k in 2006, the year before he set he world on fire with world leaders in the 1,500 and mile and a world #2 or #3 in the 800.
But one needs to realize that the Berlin race was basically Ritz's first track race that he was properly prepared for in 2009. And we always say that the best workout is a race, so the fact that he'd improve off of Berlin isn't outrageous.
The only amazing thing was that he got the 5k record. But we give him and coach Alberto Salazar a ton of credit for just putting him out there in the Golden League and letting it rip at a distance that wasn't thought to be his best.
Contrast that to Matt Tegenkamp, who hardly ever seems to race. We've been thinking all summer that he might be in sub-13:00 shape considering that he ran 13:07 in his European opener on July 18th and the fact that he ran 13:04.90 in 2006. But Tegenkamp hasn't given sub-13:00 a crack (although he's expected too very soon).
But what's the point of training if you aren't going to race?
And speaking of races, we think Ritz should run a 10k right now. Nike certainly has the money to set it up. But when you are hot and in shape, you need to go get the American record.
3. Changing Coaches/Environment Can Do Wonders - Immediately after Ritz's run, a lot of credit was given to Ritz's new coach Alberto Salazar.
From a physiological perspective, there is next to nothing a coach can do in 2 months to take a runner from 13:16 to 12:56 and some cynics have thrown drug accusations out there, which we don't believe but understand are bound to arise in the year 2009.
But we do think Salazar deserves a lot of credit in the sense that the coaching change gave Ritz a new outlook, a renewed love of running. Not that he was totally going through the motions before, but Ritz has said several times recently that he is more committed now as he really has enjoyed the move as he loves having workout partners once again. Equally important, Alberto, a former elite himself, has told Ritz that he can compete with the best - he can run 2:05 - and that in turn has psychologically given Ritz a new lease on life.
After years of doing a certain system, we think almost all runners would benefit from a shift in training as it provides a different stimulus. Throw in a huge psychological boost from Salazar and 12:56 results.
To his credit, we think Salazar deserves a ton of accolades as well for praising the groundwork that Ritz's former coach, Brad Hudson gave Ritz with comments like, "Brad Hudson made the cake. I'm just putting the frosting on it." A very class move.
And Salazar is right. Physiolgically, Ritz's 12:56 is primarily a result of Hudson's regime, as there is very litle a coach can do in 2 months with an athlete except fine tune them. But without the move, there is no chance Ritz runs 12:56.
4. High Low/Training Helps - We have always been big believers in high/low training and Ritz's 12:56 proves it helps, as we don't think he was sleeping in an altitude tent prior to Salazar.
5. Ritz, Please Don't Let This Result Turn You Into A Track Runner - While we said earlier that Ritz isn't a proven marathoner, we think it would be a big mistake for him to give up on the marathon or stray away for long. It was a bit disappointing for us to hear him say he might focus more on the track now after his 12:56.
Certainly that's the natural reaction many would make, but to us, the marathon training is what got him good.
And let's be honest, a big part of the reason why Ritz was 3rd in Zürich was the fact that half the field tried to run 12:40 and blew up.
We think it's doubtful that we'll every see an American-born male of Caucasian descent medal in the 5k or 10k in our lifetime. With the marathon, a lot more can go wrong, making the race more of a dice roll, and thus one's chances are better there. Plus, watching an American stay in the lead pack at New York or London before finishing 5th is way more exciting than watching an American get dropped at 5k in a 10k and finish 5th in a 10,000 at the Olympics.
Anna Willard's Sub-4:00/Let's Don't Forget About Rowbury
Willard's 3:59.38 makes her the third-fastest woman in US history and the 69th-fastest in world history.
Crazy to think that in the first 233 years of America's existence, only two American women broke 4:00 in the 1,500 outdoors (Jacobs did it once indoors while on drugs). And then in 2009, three women have broken 4:00.
And to think that the best 1,500 meter runner of 2009 in the US isn't even one of them. We're sure there might be some doubt this year as to who deserves the #1 ranking in the US, but to us. it's clear - Shannon Rowbury.
Rowbury won USAs and she won a bronze at World Champs - end of story. One can say, "But what if Burka hadn't fallen and Rodriguez hadn't been DQed, would you still rank her #1 if she was 5th at Worlds?" We might, as she was the top finisher at both Worlds and USAs, but we don't deal in hypotheticals. There is nothing that any other American can do this year to get the #1 ranking away from Rowbury.
Well, we take that back; if Barringer, who didn't run the 1,500 at Worlds, ran an American record, we might change our minds, but we imagine her season is over.
Who Needs Doping Tests? - Let LetsRunners Sniff Them Out
Hunter-Galvan's case is particularly sickening, as she used her comeback from a family car accident to generate publicity and community support, which in turn led to a lawyer, Bill Nash, taking her case pro bono to get her named to the 2008 Olympic team which New Zealand tried to exclude her from (we wonder if NZ insiders had a hunch she was a doper).
Human nature at times reveals itself to be very disgusting. Cheating while people try to help you pro bono ... it doesn't get much worse than that.
The question we have is this: When did Hunter-Galvan start cheating? We like drug cheats to be honest but aren't sure that Hunter-Galvan is telling the whole truth here. She acts like she only started cheating in the last year or two.
However, the letsrun.com messageboarders, who (while much aligned by the corporate giants in running) are the smartest students of the sport, first pointed the finger at Hunter-Galvan as being a cheat as early at 2005 as her results seemed to defy logic.
Just as it was clear to us at LetsRun.com that Regina Jacobs was a cheat at age 39 when she ran 3:59 for the 1,500, message board poster "dallas white rock" was suspicious of Hunter Galvan in 2005 when he wrote,
a great race today and pr'd in 2:33.55. That is her third marathon in
14 weeks, sprinkled with many other road races in between. Doesn't
anybody out there think that something isn't right? How can she recover
so much quicker than any other woman out there. World Champs Sept 1,
San Antonio Marathon Nov 5, Dallas White Rock Dec.11.
Drug tests are great and all but they often have a narrow window of effectiveness. In reality, true students of the sport often are better at sniffing out drug cheats than the drug testers themselves.
We're pleased to learn that like in the case of the Russians, the IAAF is going after certain suspicious people. We honestly think the IAAF should hire a statistician to come up with a list of suspected cheats who get more scrutiny.
So now we want to know if Hunter-Galvan was a cheat in 2005?
She seemingly says not, but Greece's Fani Halkia, who won Olympic 400 hurdles gold in 2004 but tested positive in 2008 also says she wasn't a cheat early in her career, but we don't believe her as she dropped from 56.40 to 52.77 in one year.
Caster Semenya Returns Home To Hero's Welcome
You can read about all what happened below, but we really liked the following excerpt from ESPN.com's Mary Bukheit's column, entitled "Caster Semenya Is Being Treated Unfairly."
Shaquille O'Neal is a veritable giant, genetically unlike almost any man we know, but we don't ask if he's human. Instead, we call him an athletic freak. A superman. Michael Phelps' torso-to-leg proportions, combined with his large paddle-like hands, make him a marine machine. Yet we call it a gift, not a laughable genetic blunder. Jockeys with 27-inch waists and small shoulders might lack the physical stature we've come to expect of men. Still, we don't call them womanly. We deem them built to race horses.
There's an undeniable double standard at work in sports. As long as women have competed (and as long as evolving attire has allowed us to see their bodies), people have depreciated and humiliated some of the best female athletes by calling them manly. Their enigmatic strength and athleticism is countered with derisive criticism and gender judgments. Society wants women to be toned, not muscular. That's weird. It hopes women are athletic, but not too competitive. That's not cute.
With women's sports, it's a matter of who is the best female athlete. Not having to add that adjective is a big part of men's sports popularity because men's sports isn't really men's sports - it's just sports. If you added women into men's sports, the results obviously wouldn't change.
More: Video Of Caster Semenya's Homecoming *ESPN's Mary Buckheit: "Caster Semenya is being treated unfairly." *Guardian: "Caster Semenya is a hero - but in South Africa being different can be deadly for a woman." *AP: "South African villagers praise world champion." *South African Column: Finding The Words For Caster Semenya *South Africa To Name Stadium After Semenya
Recommended Reads From Last Week
1) Amazing ESPN "Outside The Lines" Article On Flo Jo, Husband Al Joyner And Their Daughter Mary Unless you're a speed reader, it might take you an hour to read, but it is a powerful story.
Remembering The Last Week With The Quotes Of The Day - Day By Day:
Monday: "Although I told my coach Jon Drummond I've stopped writing goals down
because Usain keeps breaking them before I do! But the bottom line is,
if I stay healthy and train hard, I believe I can get myself to that
- So great, it deserves a 2nd day up top.