Dathan Ritzenhein After OAC’s American Record Weekend – “We’re Doing Stuff We Thought We Were Going to Be Doing Four Years from Now”

By Weldon Johnson
January 31, 2023

Dathan Ritzenhein, the head coach of the On Athletics Club (OAC), chatted with LetsRun.com in New York on Saturday after an amazing weekend.

2019 NCAA 1500m champion and 2020 Olympian Yared Nuguse got the ball rolling at the Terrier Classic at Boston University on Friday night by running 7:28.24 to break Galen Rupp’s indoor American record for 3,000m (7:30.16), as teammate Mario Garcia Romo (4th at last year’s Worlds in the 1500) was third in 7:34.74.

A couple of hours later, teammate Joe Klecker joined the sub-13:00 club, running 12:54.99, to become the third-fastest American at 5,000m indoors (and #4 overall) in a thrilling race won by Woody Kincaid.

Dathan Ritzenhein and Yared Nuguse after Nuguse's American Record at 3000 Dathan Ritzenhein and Yared Nuguse after Nuguse’s American Record at 3000 (Kevin Morris photo)

The next day, the women’s team took to the track at the Dr. Sander Invite in New York and Olympian Alicia Monson won the mile (4:23.55) as teammate Sinta Vissa set an Italian record in fourth (4:28.71). Then Sage Hurta-Klecker finished second to Ajee’ Wilson in the 1000m in the race of the day at the Armory as both came up short of the American record.

After the action in New York, Ritzenhein talked to LetsRun.com co-founder Weldon Johnson about the team’s successful weekend and strong first 2.5 years of existence. Highlights below edited for brevity and clarity.

Full video interview at the bottom of the article.

Weldon Johnson (Wejo): American record in 3k to kick it off. Did that shock you? 

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Dathan Ritzenhein: It was a little bonkers. I thought [he could run] 7:30 to 7:32. So it was better than I thought it would be, but I knew he was in really good shape. But yeah, 7:28 is fast.

Wejo: Apparently he was telling Alicia [he’d run] 7:35.

Dathan: Yared, I don’t know what goes on in his head sometimes, but, the guy’s so good. He’s a good competitor too. He started doing the unzipping thing. And I didn’t know what was going on, I was a little worried, but he was great. And, Mario [García Romo] was a couple seconds faster that I thought he would be. A really good race, big pb for him. And then, Joe [Klecker] I mean, what can I say? That was the most I’ve ever seen Joe get out of himself. So that was pretty awesome.

Wejo: 12:54, right? That’s really good. My brother texted me 12:51 [for Woody Kincaid’s winning time]. I thought it was a joke. Woody’s kick is out of this world. But Joe made the race.

I mean he was super focused on this race and so I said as soon as Ollie [Hoare]’s gone [as the pacemaker], you’re just gonna have to go and hammer.

And he did. He just started hitting, you know, 30 point every single lap. And I was clicking off splits and over the last few laps I’m just seeing 23 or 53. 23, 53. I was like, oh my God. For about two minutes, I was like, if they both break the American record in one night, I’m gonna lose my brain. But, he was hurting really bad.

When he came through two times [to go], second to last lap. I was like, ‘He looks like he’s really going for it.’

I tried to pick him up off the track afterwards, man he was like a dead body. It was pretty cool to see him go to that place.

Klecker exhausted after 5000 (Kevin Morris Photo) Klecker exhausted after 5000 (Kevin Morris photo)

Wejo: Coming in, what did you think he could run?

I thought he would break 13. I thought just under, 12:58 or something like that. But he’d snagged my pb (12:56.27), so it was better than I thought it would be.

Wejo: [Laughing] Super shoes. Super shoes. I don’t want to diminish the performances, but how much a difference do you think the track and the shoes make?

I never ran on BU’s track, so I have nothing to say about those, I guess. I don’t know. But I think the shoes do help for sure, but it’s just less at the level that these guys are at for sure than you see at like a collegiate or high school level. I mean, they’re so efficient, so powerful that it’s less and makes more difference the longer it goes.

Honestly, there might be a lot of people that disagree with me, but I think at this level, it’s only one second in the 1500 with the best guys. 5k might be five or six seconds at this level. I think when you get up to [the] college [level] it’s definitely more, but these [pro] guys are just already efficient machines and so I think it’s harder to get that kind of gain or something like that.

Dr. Sander Invite – Where Alicia Monson Won the Mile, Sage Hurta-Klecker Comes Up Short in 1000m Record Attempt

Wejo: Fast forward to today, Alicia wins the mile. Thoughts on that race.

Alicia Monson leads Katelyn Tuohy in mile at Dr. Sander (Kevin Morris photo) Alicia Monson leads Katelyn Tuohy in mile at Dr. Sander (Kevin Morris photo)

Honestly, I didn’t know if she was like super excited to do it or not, but I was like we need to get a good workout in and so let’s go here and do the mile and come back and we’ll do a bunch of the 3k at 10k pace. I said don’t go out too fast, [but] the pace went out really fast. But she just grinded it out and it was good for her just to be in a race like that.

She’s never really been in races like that in miles, so it’s good for her. We’re trying to work on the closing [speed] that if she’s gonna do the 5K more [she’ll need]. We still aren’t hundred percent on that. Like maybe she does the 5k this year [instead of the 10]. She’s been really good at 3k and 5k distances as well, so I just think it was important for her and I think she could have run faster too.

But she ran 90 miles last week and she’s all in for Millrose feeling good. So I was really happy with that.

Josette [Norris], her hamstring was tight on Wednesday, and I was like, let’s come here [and see]. She did her pre-meet stuff, and things seemed to be okay, but I was like, you know what let’s just wait two weeks and do it [at Millrose].

And then Sinta [Vissa] actually got a national record for Italy. She was a little disappointed. I think she’d got detached a little bit. But I think for her and Sage, we haven’t really done anything really hard, like what we just did with the [rest of] team [in workouts], some sustained effort. So I think this is gonna go a long ways for Millrose for both of them.

And then Sage, I mean it’s a hard record for a reason, I guess.

Wejo: Everyone sort of assumed it was going to [be broken]. I don’t know why.

Ritzenhein after winning bronze at the 2009 World Half

I just think it’s an awkward time [of the year]. Like most of these girls do better the more they race and it was just step right out and do it.

Maybe if you’ve done like three or four 800s over the winter, maybe it would be easier, but Sage gets better every race in that discipline. She looked good coming off it and she’s been running 70 miles a week. She’s been training a lot.

We’ve really gone in on trying to prepare her for the 1500.

Wejo: Is that the thinking this year, the 1500?

No, not necessarily, but just eventually. I mean she’s so good this year in the eight. I think we’ll stick there probably, but we’ll see. I don’t know.

Wejo: So you race them all in a mile: You got Alicia, Sage, Josette, [and Sinta], who wins?

That’d be a tough one. I don’t know. I think we could put in a wicked DMR or a four-by-mile on the women’s side. I will say Josette has a very good skillset. Like she surprised me a lot. She ran 3:59, but she also ran 14:51. So over the last couple months, everything she’s done has kind of surprised me. So, I think eventually she’ll go to the 5k. But she’s quick too. She’s definitely more aerobic than I thought she would be.

But Alicia in the right race, I think Alicia can run 4:20 or close to a 4:21. If she’s just paced out in a good [even pace]. Like today was just too fast probably for her to get out 63 or something like that. Probably for her, that’s not the way she’s going to do that.

She’s gonna have to run it very straight across the board. But she was great. It was really good to practice holding off people and stuff. So I think it sets her up good for Millrose.

Wejo: Great news I heard this weekend is Yared said you guys are going to Madrid to race?

Yared and Mario are. They’re heading straight from Millrose over and they’re going to do the 1500 there. Exciting.

Millrose is the big race for most of us, but I think we’ll go Madrid for those guys, Ollie [Hoare] down under.

Wejo: How did Madrid come about?

Mario didn’t need to race indoors. Like he’s already ranked seventh in the world, [and] has the [Worlds auto qualifying] standard, all those things. But Yared, I wanted to get his ranking up so that there’s a chance to get in some big Diamond league races, and so he just needs a couple [good world ranking] scores.

And so that’s a really good opportunity and now he’s in really good shape. So it kind of checks a couple boxes now.

And then we’ll have people in the 10k [in March], but March and April will be pretty quiet for us.

Wejo: It seems like some groups don’t race that much, but you’re more in the get out there and race [camp].

I like it. Not every race has to be like the end of the world. So like even this one with Sage, like we didn’t really do anything specific for it, but it gives us a good chance to see where we’re at.

I don’t want them to look at the schedule and it’s [only] end of August World Champs, we got to do something. We can’t just train for the next eight months. And so we almost have two full years in here if you’re really focused on this period of time.

I think it’s very useful to do indoors.

Wejo: I think your athletes, the performances are showing it works. And I’m in the media, but as a brand, you’re out there. People are seeing you guys, I think it’s good in that perspective.

Dathan in Boston

Yeah, and for them, it’s gonna give you confidence no matter what. Like people can say all they want about the tracks and the super shoes and all that shit, but Joe goes and runs 12:54. I don’t care what you put on his feet or what track it’s on, that’s gonna give you confidence going into the next year and so that’s what we try to do for them is build them off of each year.

Not everybody’s gonna make a jump to 7:28, but I mean for Joe, that’s a big jump and that’s gonna give him the confidence. Joe, he went out in 7:47 [for 3000], that’s really fast. So now he knows he can do it.

Wejo: Here’s the question for you, which was better? 7:28 or 12:54? Who’s your athlete of the week?

I mean 7:28, that sounds pretty fast. I guess if they had both broken the record, that would be a really hard time [deciding between them]. But, I mean, Yared, you gotta give a guy an American record [the nod]. But Joe, literally, I had to pick the guy off the track and I set him up and I think he’s fine. And I walked away. Someone yells at me, I turn around and he’s face down on the track again. And so if a guy does that, man. Sometimes, it’s not always the times that matter. It’s like what they put out there on the track and he really wanted it. And so I think the people got behind that. And that’s the cool part.

How Does He Rate the Group’s Success?

Wejo: And the group as a whole, how many people you got now?

We are at 13 right now, so including Hellen [Obiri]. I don’t wanna say we’re getting close to the max, but we’re getting there. We’re not going to grow as quick.

Wejo: And when you guys started, you had what?


Wejo: You’re what, two and a half years in now. Is it going as well as you could expect?

No, we’re doing stuff we thought we were going to be doing four years from now. They’re just incredibly talented athletes that train really hard and have a really good group atmosphere and they push each other every day.

And I think they just jumped up a level that I guess if I look back two and a half years ago, I never would’ve thought it. So they have blown me away every day.

Wejo: Me too. You’re doing a good job. I think you might have something to do with it.

Thanks. I appreciate.

Video with Ritz

Weldon Johnson is one of the co-founders of LetsRun.com. Best known for pacing Paula Radcliffe to her 2002 world record in the marathon, he represented Team USA at the Pan Am Games and World Half Marathon Championships. A walk-on runner at Yale, one of the most popular articles on LetsRun is his article “Why I Sucked in College.” He can be reached at wejo@letsrun.com.

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