Ritzenhein Ready For 2010 Debut At Cross Country Championships

By David Monti
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

Dathan Ritzenhein is a runner transformed.

The 27 year-old American began his 2009 campaign with solid credentials: track personal bests of 13:16.06 and 27:35.65, for the 5000m and 10,000m, respectively, and a half-marathon best of 61:25.  He was well-respected, had already made two Olympic teams, and won three national titles in cross country and road running.

But after he closed down his competitive season last October, he was simply a different athlete.  He had bettered Bob Kennedy's American record for 5000m, running 12:56.27 in Zürich; notched the highest finish ever by an American at an IAAF World Championships 10,000m, placing sixth in a personal best 27:22.28; and became the first American ever to medal at an IAAF World Half-Marathon Championship, taking the bronze in a personal best 60 minutes-flat.

"For me last year was just a huge turning point, physically but mentally, too," Ritzenhein told reporters on a teleconference yesterday in advance of Saturday's USA Cross Country Championships in Spokane, Wash., where he is the favorite to win his third title.

That turning point came last June when Ritzenhein made the toughest decision of his professional career.  He decided with wife, Kalin, to take daughter Addison and leave his comfortable home on a wooded cul-de-sac in Eugene, Ore., and move 125 miles north to Portland where he would be coached by three-time New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar.  In Eugene Ritzenhein had worked with Brad Hudson.

"I was very excited about it," Ritzenhein said about his coaching change.  "I always knew that was the direction I would take if I split with Brad.  That was always there.  There was a fear of breaking out of that shell.  Alberto's taken me under the wing."

Track and Field: USA Track & Field Championships

Joining Alberto Salazar in Portland has helped transform Dathan Ritzenhein.

As a coach, Salazar is well known for his all-encompassing approach: running, weight training, altitude training, nutrition, anti-gravity treadmill, drills, core work, etc.  Some athletes find his style too intrusive and controlling, but Ritzenhein said he needed somebody who could give him strong guidance, and sometimes make decisions for him.

"I think I've really found the right spot and have a relationship which works really well," he said.  "One of the big problems I had is I needed someone to tell me where it is.  I just trust him now.  That trust is what makes this relationship work so well."

Under Salazar, Ritzenhein has a new training partner, Galen Rupp, and uses a more periodized training program.  His entry into Saturday's cross country meet, his first competition since winning the bronze medal in the World Half-Marathon last October in Birmingham, England, is part of a strength building phase which both athlete and coach hope will lift Ritzenhein to a faster 10,000m time and a stronger marathon performance in the fall.  He's run 2:10:00 and finished ninth in the Beijing Olympics, but feels he has a lot of untapped potential in that event.

"He really wants me to periodize my training," Ritzenhein explained.  "The body needs to recover.  I was constantly a little overtrained."

A top-6 finish for Ritzenhein in Spokane will qualify him for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on March 28.  Ritzenhein has already won a World Cross medal (he won the bronze in the junior race in 2001), and is anxious to get back to that championship. He hasn't raced World Cross since 2005 when he finished a miserable 62nd, plagued by blisters.

IAAF World 1/2 Marathon
One of Dathan Ritzenhein's proud moments in 2009 - winning a bronze medal at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.

"I think at this point we really want to get in and race against the best guys there are," he said.  "For me, after the race in Berlin, we had some other plans, but we took a look back and we said we have to race these other guys on some of these stages.  We want to get in a duke it out with them as much as possible."

One of the keys to Ritzenhein's success has been his marriage to Kalin, with whom he is expecting their second child.  A former teammate at the University of Colorado, she's already moved with him from Boulder to Eugene to Portland, and supports all of his travel for training and competition.  Ritzenhein said that his family, including 3 year-old Addison, is used to it.

"We're family people," he said.  "Sometimes it's a hard balance. Last year, we brought Addy to Europe for a month and they lived out of suitcases.  They just kind of go with the flow.  She loves airplanes she knows how to order room service."  He added: "It gets difficult at times for my wife, who is a saint."

  *   *   *   *   *   *

The USA Cross Country Championships will be broadcast live online at Flotrack.org.  Coverage will begin with the masters women's 8 km at 12:45 p.m. EST (9:45 a.m. PST).  The final race of the day, the men's open 12 km, will set off at 5:00 p.m. EST (2:00 p.m. PST).  The live feed will be at this link:





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