Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hanging with the 'Ritz' in the NYC



NEW YORK, NY (26 April 2007)--The Pacific Northwest is set to make one of America’s premier distance runners its own, as 2004 Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein will make the move from Boulder, Colorado to Eugene, Oregon as he prepares for the 2007 World Track & Field Championships, and the US Olympic Trials in both track & field and the marathon.

Ritzenhein made his mark in international distance running circles in 2001 as a high school senior when he placed a surprising third in the IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships in Ostend, Belgium, behind Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele. He was part of perhaps one of the greatest American high school classes in distance running, joining Virginia’s Alan Webb, who broke Jim Ryun’s national high school record in the mile, and California’s Ryan Hall, who recently ran 2:08:24 in his maiden effort at the Flora London Marathon.

During his years residing in Boulder, he won the 2003 NCAA Cross Country title while attending the University of Colorado; made the 2004 Olympic team in the 10000, won a USA national cross country title in 2005, and competed on three other World Cross Country teams.

“Ritz” made the announcement in New York to a group of media members attending the Nike Fall/Holiday 2007 Running Summit on Tuesday at their showroom, and to a bevy of reporters at the New York Athletic Club attending a press function Wednesday hosted by the New York Road Runners announcing his participation in next month’s Healthy Kidney 10k race through the streets of Central Park, where the US Olympic Team Trials-Men’s Marathon will be held in November.

The 24-year old University of Colorado grad, who will match up against Australia’s Craig Mottram in New York next month, is finally healthy after injuring his left foot that forced him out of the USA Men’s 8-kilometer road championships in March in the Big Apple.

While recovering from the foot injury, he commuted from Boulder to Nike headquarters in Oregon to train using the Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill, which allows athletes to run without the stresses and pressures of gravity.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought over the last few years about moving to sea level,” Ritzenhein said. “It will help me a lot that both my coach Brad Hudson, and Jason Hartmann, will also make the move to Eugene.”

Both Hudson and Hartmann have a history in Eugene, as both competed for the Ducks, with each of them earning All-American honors while at the University of Oregon.

He also cited the access of facilities in Eugene, including its myriad of soft-surfaced trails, and Hayward Field, where next year’s Olympic Track & Field Trials will be held. The Nike-sponsored athlete will only have to drive 90 minutes north on Interstate 5 to access the company’s facilities and resources in Beaverton, including former American marathon record holder Alberto Salazar.

A related factor in the move to Eugene is that while Boulder was great for training at altitude, he felt that he tended to train slower at altitude, and was prone to injuries in the Colorado city with the lack of soft-surfaced trails as opposed to Eugene.

While he’ll make his home in Eugene, he, Hartmann & coach Hudson will make occasional trips to Boulder for altitude training camps.

Reflecting on last year’s performance on the track, where he had an epic battle with Alan Webb over 10k at Stanford in setting a personal best of 27:35.65; and a third place finish at the USA national championships in Indianapolis in a personal best 13:16.61, he felt that having the opportunity to come down from Boulder to train at sea level in the weeks leading up to those meets proved beneficial.

In talking about last year’s ING New York City Marathon, where he finished 11th in his debut performance, running 2:14:01, Ritzenhein said he felt more than ready for the race, as he had a buildup of 14 weeks worth of marathon-specific training; however he felt that he made some rookie mistakes, including not drinking more liquids early, and taking gels during the race.

Ritz is one of a handful of American runners who hold the all-important “A” standard for this summer’s world track & field championships in Osaka, Japan in both the 5000 and 10000 meters, which opens his options on which race to run in June’s national championships in Indianapolis.

Commenting on Ryan Hall, the former Stanford star and member of the star-studded high school class of 2001, who recently ran 2:08:24 at Sunday’s Flora London Marathon, Ritzenhein said that, “You’ll never know what you’ll get when you race him”.

Based on his time in London, Hall will be one of the men to beat in November at the Olympic Trials, which will start at Rockefeller Center, then go into a series of loops around Central Park, then finish at the traditional NYC Marathon spot in front of Tavern on the Green restaurant. However, he does not discount a group of 8-12 men that could make an impact on the Trials, including 2004 Olympic marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi, and fellow Olympians Alan Culpepper and Abdi Abdirahman.

When asked about a handful of potential marathon trials entrants who will be allowed to compete in November on the basis of running track times of 13:40 for 5000 and 28:45 over 10000, he said that, “Unless you experience the marathon, you can’t really prepare to race it,” noting his own mistakes at the New York City Marathon.

Ritzenhein, and his wife Kalin, a former University of Colorado and Rockford High School (Michigan) runner, are expecting their first child in late-September, which he jokingly said was convenient, as it falls after the world championships in Osaka, and before the final buildup to November’s Olympic marathon trials.

In talking about the newest member of the Ritz clan to reporters at the Nike summit, he kept referring to the child as “he”, even though the Ritzenheins won’t know the sex of the baby until next week. At dinner Tuesday, I jokingly chided him on his use of the word “he” during the Nike interview session, to which he replied, “A lot of my distance running buddies who have kids have girls.”

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