By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
January 17, 2014
HOUSTON — On a perfect weather day for a marathon last October in Minneapolis, Patrick Rizzo was running on empty.
Struck by the flu two weeks before the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, which hosted the USA marathon championships, his body began to shut down 29 kilometers (18 miles into the race). Rizzo, 30, had flooded his body with water to help combat dehydration during his illness, but his electrolytes were low. His left hamstring began to cramp badly.
“I had had a great start to the race; I was very fit before the race,” Rizzo recalled in an interview with Race Results Weekly here today. He continued: “I will fully admit that I am a total weakling when I have a sore throat. All I could drink was ice water, so for about two weeks beforehand all I was drinking was water, no electrolytes going in.”
Rizzo, who finished 13th at the 2012 USA Olympic Marathon Trials here in a personal best 2:13:42, had been contending for victory. He hit halfway in 1:06:58, and was in the lead pack with eventual winner Nick Arciniaga. Like Arciniaga, Rizzo had come to Minneapolis to stick his nose in the race and try to win a national title, but his body had other ideas.
“I made it to about the 18 mile mark when I depleted my muscles of all electrolytes.” He added: “Just before the 18 mile mark my hamstring completely locked up.”
He decided to drop out, but with no ready transport back to the finish, he ended up jogging it in. He shuffled from the 24 mile mark to the finish in about 13 minutes, ending up 18th in 2:20:08, the second slowest marathon of his career. He said he fell once because he simply couldn’t straighten his leg.
“I was looking for Medical and never found Medical,” he said. “It was a long way home from there.”
Rizzo, who grew up in Schaumburg, Ill., is used to long struggles. When he was 15 years-old, he was fitted with braces for his teeth, and inexplicably went deaf in both ears. He spent two years in profound deafness because a severe allergic reaction to the metal in the braces which caused the deafness went undiscovered. When the braces came off when he was 17, he regained only his full hearing in his right ear.
During his deaf period, Rizzo had to abandon the sport he had done for eight years and which defined him: wrestling. He said that the other students in his school treated him differently after he lost his hearing, and he found himself isolated. He said one true friend, Scott Bodziak, stuck with him. Bodziak, a professional pilot who lives in Chicago, remains close with Rizzo today.
“By far, that was the low point in my life,” Rizzo revealed. He added: “When you’re in high school too, kids aren’t really exceptionally understanding. I have really one friend who stayed with me during the entire ordeal (Bodziak). I had a lot of friends from before who didn’t know what to do with me.”
For Sunday’s Chevron Houston Marathon here, Rizzo said he’s ready. He said that his motivation is to get a high placing, not necessarily to run fast. Defending champion Bazu Worku told reporters here today that he hoped to break Ethiopian compatriot Tariku Jufar‘s 2012 event record of 2:06:51, a time Rizzo readily admits is out of his reach. Still, he said, he can be successful.
“This is the kind of field, much like Twin Cities, where I should be able to mix it up here,” Rizzo reasoned. “It depends on what the international field does –we have a lot of very capable athletes here– but I don’t see myself as somebody who among this field is a complete outsider. I think I would be stupid if I count myself out.”
On the heels of a decidedly down year for American marathoning (only one American, Dathan Ritzenhein, broke 2:12 last year), Rizzo sees an opening to rise in the ranks. This will be his 11th marathon and he wants to make a statement.
“There’s a little bit of blood on the lips you can taste and you need to make the kill,” he said.