2016 Beach To Beacon Preview: Ben True, Eric Jenkins & Dathan Ritzenhein Look to Bounce Back from Olympic Trials Heartbreak, Mary Keitany Is Set to Dominate and the Return of Tariku Bekele – 6 Takeaways from the Press Conference

By Jonathan Gault
August 5, 2016

CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — There are no more full track and field meets until the 2016 Summer Olympics begin next week (though there is the Sir Walter Miler tonight at 8 p.m.), but there will be some top-tier road racing tomorrow as several domestic and international stars will run along the Maine coast at the 19th TD Beach to Beacon 10K. Race president Mike Stone and race director Dave McGillivray said in today’s press conference that the competition here is as good as in Rio, and while that’s not true, there are several American stars here who would not look out of place in a Team USA singlet. The men’s race, in particular, is loaded as Ben True, Eric JenkinsDathan Ritzenhein and Sam Chelanga will each look to become the first American champion in race history. They’ll have their hands full, however, with Kenya’s William Malel Sitonik, who ran 26:54 on the track in May (the #3 time in the world this year), finishing just behind Mo Farah at the Pre Classic.

An American victory in the men’s race would qualify as a surprise; an American victory in the women’s race is downright impossible as Kenyans Mary Keitany and Caroline Chepkoech — both of whom broke the old course record at the Bix 7 last week in Iowa (Keitany won by two seconds in 35:18) — are in fine form. That’s too much for the likes of Jordan HasayEmily Sisson and Sara Hall to handle. Keitany’s pace in that race (5:02/mile) comes out to 31:20 for 10k. Once you factor in the shorter distance and the flatter course (though there are still some hills at Beach to Beacon), Lineth Chepkirui‘s 2010 course record of 30:59 is in jeopardy.

I was able to speak to several of the top elites prior to tomorrow’s race. Here’s the scoop from the Pine Tree State.

Your 2016 Beach to Beacon elite field Your 2016 Beach to Beacon elite field

Race details

What: 2016 TD Beach to Beacon 10K

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Where: Cape Elizabeth, Maine

When: Saturday, 8:00 a.m. ET

Prize money: More than $90,000 total. $10,000 to male and female overall winner down to $500 for 10th male and female; $5,000 for top American male and female down to $500 for fifth American male and female.

Course records ($2,500 bonus): 27:28 (men; Gilbert Okari, 2003) and 30:59 (women; Lineth Chepkurui, 2010)

2015 LRC coverage

Men’s elite field (2015 finish in parentheses)

Name Country Road PB Comment
Micah Kogo (5) Kenya 27:01:00 ’11 and ’13 champ and ’08 Olympic bronze medallist
William Malel Sitonik Kenya Gave Mo Farah a run for his money at Pre Classic, running 26:54; 4th at Kenyan Trials
James Mwangi Macharia Kenya  2:08 marathoner ran 27:38 at Pre this year.
Daniel Salel (3) Kenya 27:41:00 3rd at BAA 10K + 2nd at Peachtree
Tariku Bekele Ethiopia 28:29:00 ’12 Olympic bronze medallist has not finished a race since 2014
Markos Geneti Ethiopia 29:38:00 Has not finished a race since April 2015
Eric Jenkins (4) USA 28:50:00 4th in 5k at Olympic Trials; coming off big 3:35 1500 pb on 7/29
Ben True USA 28:13:00 Maine native was 3rd in ’14; 5th in 5k at Olympic Trials
Dathan Ritzenhein USA 28:08:00 Ran well for 4th at BAA 10K in June
Abdi Abdirahman (7) USA 28:11:00 8th at BAA 10K, 4th at Peachtree
Sam Chelanga USA 28:11:00 Won 4-mile road race at TrackTown Summer Series last week
Riley Masters (9) USA 29:55:00 5th in 4-mile road race at TrackTown Summer Series last week
Maverick Darling USA  13:27 pb, ran 29:03 on track this year.
Joe Bosshard USA 29:40:00  28:41.56 10,000 track pb.
Brendan Gregg USA 29:35:00  Has run 13:43 and 28:56 this year.
Morgan Pearson USA  13:36 in May.

Women’s elite field (2015 finish in parentheses)

Name Country Road PB Comment
Wude Ayalew (1) Ethiopia 31:07:00 Defending champ ran 32:33 on roads in Bangalore in May
Mary Keitany Kenya 30:45:00 After failing to make Olympic marathon team, set CR at Bix 7 last week
Gladys Yator Kenya 31:40:00 5th at Bix
Caroline Chepoech Kenya 31:58:00 22-year-old was 5th at Kenyan Olympic Trials; 2 secs behind Keitany at Bix
Lily Partridge Great Britain 33:03:00
Emily Sisson USA 31:57:00 2-time NCAA champ was 10th in 10k at Olympic Trials
Jordan Hasay USA 31:39:00 9th in Olympic Trials 10k; 2nd in 4-mile road race at TrackTown Summer Series last week
Sara Hall USA 32:14:00 14th in 5k at Olympic Trials; will run NYC Marathon in fall
Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton USA 31:52:00 US 25k champ was 8th in Olympic Trials 10k
Emma Bates USA 33:54:00 2014 NCAA champ at Boise State
Ashley Higginson USA 33:48:00 9th in Olympic Trials steeple; 2nd in TrackTown Summer Series steeple last week
Kaitlin Gregg Goodman USA 33:56:00  25-year old has 15:29/32:20 track pbs.
Elaina Balouris USA 32:40:00 Made Team USA for World XC last year
Maddie Van Beek USA  9;47 steeple this year

6 Takeaways from the Press Conference

Keitany repeated at the NYC Marathon in November Keitany repeated at the NYC Marathon in November

1. Mary Keitany tried to hide her disappointment, but she still appeared salty over being left off the Kenyan Olympic marathon team

Keitany is the second fastest woman of all time (2:18:37 pb), has won the last two New York City Marathons and was second in London last year. But she had an off day at 2016 London, finishing ninth after a fall, and Athletics Kenya controversially selected Paris Marathon champ Visiline Jepkesho (2:24:44 pb), whose only experience in a World Marathon Major was a 20th place finish at Worlds last year. Helah Kiprop (Tokyo champ, silver at Worlds) and Jemima Sumgong (London champ) were also selected, though few can complain about those choices.

I asked Keitany if she thought Athletics Kenya needs to change its selection policy. She laughed uncomfortably, and looked away, then spoke after a long pause.

“I don’t want to say anything about the Olympics. I wish them well… You don’t want to complain because [there are many good marathoners in Kenya]…It’s okay.”

Keitany added that she was happy to have had her shot four years ago in London, where she finished fourth.

After this race, Keitany will return to Kenya and up her mileage to prepare for a fall marathon. She hasn’t announced her choice yet, but as the two-time defending champ in New York, it seems like a no-brainer that she’ll be back in the Big Apple.

2. Finally healthy again, Tariku Bekele races for the first time since February 2015

Four years ago yesterday, Bekele was taking a lap of honor around the Olympic Stadium after finishing third behind Mo Farah and Galen Rupp in the 10,000-meter final in London. Things haven’t gone as smoothly since then for the 2008 World Indoor 3k champ. He has battled calf and Achilles problems for a long time, which left him sidelined for almost all of 2015 (he tried to run the Tokyo Marathon and DNF’d) and the first half of 2016. Bekele finally got over them three months ago and after resuming training, he’s ready to test his fitness.

“I don’t know my shape,” Bekele said. “This is my first race. I will see tomorrow.”

Bekele, 29, said he does not plan to return to the track and after Beach to Beacon, he’ll run a half marathon but his aim is to run a marathon, likely in late 2016 or early 2017.

I also asked Bekele about his agent Federico Rosa, who was recently arrested in Kenya and charged with doping athletes, most prominently three-time Boston Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo. Rosa has denied the charges and earlier this week a court in Kenya released his passport to allow him to attend the Olympics in Rio, with the caveat that he return to court later this month. Bekele stood by his manager, shifting blame to the athletes.

“I hear that is not his problem — it’s the athletes’ problem. Now he’s free…I believe him. He’s been a good manager for me.”

True broke the U.S. road 5k record (13:22) last year in Boston True broke the U.S. road 5k record (13:22) last year in Boston

3. Ben True is looking to rebuild his confidence after a disappointing Trials

True was favored by many to make Team USA in either the 5,000 or 10,000, but he struggled with the heat in the 10k and could not kick well enough in the 5k, finishing fifth. True is still trying to pick up the pieces of his shattered dream in his second race post-Trials.

“I’m still running, so I guess that’s good, right?” said True with a chuckle. “It’s tough when you have a goal for many years of wanting to compete at the highest level and not being able to do that. It definitely takes a little while to get over that. Obviously, the sting will probably last with me for a very long time.”

True was sixth in the London Diamond League 5k two weeks ago in 13:16, but said that self-doubt infected his race, something he’s trying to eliminate going forward.

“[I’m] just trying to get back to how I normally race and road racing is the usually the easiest way for me to do that,” True said.

True has arguably been the U.S.’s best road racer over the past few years, and he was third here two years ago, trailing only Kenyan stud Bedan Karoki and his countryman Stephen Kibet, who would go on to win the 2015 edition. A win on Saturday would be extra meaningful as True would not only be the first American champ but would do so in his home state of Maine.

Afterwards, True will get on a plane for Flagstaff, where his wife, Olympic triathlete Sarah (she was fourth at London 2012) is in the final stages of her training. From there, they’ll travel to Rio, where he’ll stay with Sarah in a hotel on Copacabana Beach. True admitted it would be hard to be there as a spectator and not an athlete, but said that he’s embraced his role as his wife’s biggest fan.

“It’s all for her right now,” True said. “I’m just there for a support role. I kind of have to suck up my own pride and do that.”

4. Kenya’s William Sitonik is the favorite, but don’t expect any big moves from the 26:54 man in his first career road race

Like True, Sitonik missed out on a bid at his own Olympic Trials (he was fourth in the 10,000 in Eldoret, though he probably would have had to win to make the team as Geoffrey Kamworor and Karoki both received wildcard entries after dropping out). So instead, he flew to New England to try his hand at road racing, something he’s never done before. Given his result at the Trials (28:23 at 7,000 feet in sunny 70-degree temps) and his run earlier this year at Pre, Sitonik should be the man to beat, but he plans to key off some of the other guys in the field as he’s still learning the ropes on the roads.

The Trials didn't go well, but Ritz has moved on The Trials didn’t go well, but Ritz has moved on

5. Dathan Ritzenhein is in road PR shape; look for some surges from 33-year-old

Ritz ran 28:12 for 4th at the BAA 10K in June and put in six weeks of hard training after that, which has left him feeling very fit for tomorrow’s race. That doesn’t necessarily mean Ritz will take down his 28:08 PR from 2007 as this course is slightly slower than the one in Boston, but he should be vying for top American honors with True and Eric Jenkins.

A road race like Beach to Beacon favors Ritzenhein more than a track 10,000 at this point in his career, as he can throw in some hard moves when he feels like shaking things up. That’s more difficult to do in a championship 10k.

“My strength in the race lies in, probably, hard sections of the race, and I train for that,” Ritzenhein said. “My training, what I’ll do is I’ll do a lot of really hard injections of long, sustained pace. Like a mile hard and come back into it at more of a tempo pace and then another mile hard.”

With that in mind, Ritzenhein feels as if he doesn’t need a hard pace from the gun to succeed but he knows that he can’t let it come down to a kick with the track guys.

“I don’t want Sitonik or Jenkins or Ben with me with 200 meters to go,” Ritzenhein said.

Ritz will take a week off after this one before beginning his buildup for the NYC Marathon in November. Though Ritz has been healthy for the majority of 2016, after his last six weeks, he doesn’t want to take a risk and keep pushing the envelope all the way to New York.

“I need about 10-12 weeks,” Ritzenhein said. “I can’t stay healthy too much longer than that!”

Overall, what I gathered from 10 minutes with Ritz is that, mentally, he’s in a great place. Returning to Michigan in 2014 and taking control of his own coaching has allowed him to stay close to family and friends and spend quality time with wife Kalin and his two children, Addison and Jude. When he spoke on Friday morning, he was relaxed, friendly and confident; there was no trace of the heartbreak he suffered after dropping out of the Olympic Marathon Trials in February. I don’t know if peace of mind is worth an extra second or two on the roads, but it certainly can’t hurt.

Faster days: Chelanga setting the Terre Haute CR in 2009 Faster days: Chelanga setting the Terre Haute CR in 2009

6. Sam Chelanga still has unfinished business on the track; he was also full of praise for the TrackTown Summer Series’ team format

Chelanga won the very first event of the inaugural TrackTown Summer Series last week, claiming the title in the men’s 4-mile road race. Chelanga, who was on Team New York, was a big fan of the team format, and not just because of the $1,000 bonus awarded to each member of the winning team.

“I would say it wasn’t the money,” Chelanga said. “$1,000, it’s a lot of money, but it’s not enough to make people go crazy like, ‘We have to win.’ Some people were [on teams in] third or fourth and they were still cheering; it wasn’t just the two teams that [were] neck-and-neck.

“You could see when we went out at dinner. All of a sudden, all of the teams, everybody came together and got a pizza and everybody talks. Like the Philly team, they trash talk. On a typical day, people would be sitting down. They wouldn’t go for pizza — what would we talk about? Usually you go to meets and there’s distance, there’s sprinters. But this meet, I actually got to hang out with some sprinters and jumpers I didn’t even know.”

It’s great that the athletes on each team get along with each other and support each other. But getting people who aren’t on the team to become invested in the outcome — we refer to these people as fans — will be the real test of the Summer Series’ viability. That was an area in which the first meet struggled.

Looking ahead, Chelanga’s next big goal will be to make the team for World XC next year. Chelanga, who became a U.S. citizen last year, has never made a U.S. team, and was an XC stud in college — a two-time NCAA champ who still holds the course record at Terre Haute. As for the summer, he said he is planning to stick with the 10,000.

“I feel like I need closure with my current challenge,” Chelanga said. “For me, the 10k, I feel like I wasn’t myself. The 5k, I was just like ‘Eh, whatever.’ It’s one of those things, I think it’s important. I’m gonna try and figure out what I could have done better this year on the track.”

Chelanga pointed out that he’s been injured in every year of his professional career except this one but still harbors hope of returning to the form he flashed in college at Liberty, where he won the NCAA title and set the NCAA record (27:08) in 2010.

“What I would love is to just get close to what I used to run — 27:30, no problem — and where I’m confident and I believe in my training and everything. And once I get that, I can come up with a plan.”

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