Photo by eviltomthai/Flickr
After finishing ninth in the 2008 Olympic marathon, Dathan Ritzenhein was fourth, and first man out, in Saturday's Olympic marathon trials in Houston. It was his seventh career marathon, all seven of which have been mild disappointments: excellent races for an American, but underwhelming given Ritzenhein's talent and performances at shorter distances. (He won a bronze medal at the 2009 world half marathon championships and has bests of 12:56 for 5,000 meters and 27:22 for 10,000 meters; both are internationally competitive times.) Ritzenhein narrowly PR'd on Saturday in 2:09:55, but that time is still more than six minutes slower than Patrick Makau's world marathon record of 2:03:38.
I spoke with Ritzenhein's coach Alberto Salazar earlier this week. Neither seem sure why Ritzenhein continues to under-perform, but they don't plan to expend any more energy finding out. He'll next try to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team at 10,000 meters.
He just gets this cramping in his hamstring everytime he runs a marathon at a fast pace. I'm not quite sure what causes it.
But the main thing, as I've told Dathan, is that he's run seven marathons now, and none of them have been great. For a guy like Dathan, of his caliber, to have a PR of 2:09:55, and basically to have run between 2:10 and 2:12...well, some people just aren't meant to run the marathon. It's not even that I'm scared to say that I did something wrong, or the training wasn't right—look, it isn't that complicated.
I think he can run a great 10K, and I know he can go all the way up to the half marathon. The marathon just may not be what he's suited for. Better to know, and now we can go concentrate on the 10K. And I know he can be right there in a 10K. Galen [Rupp] is going to be there, he's run the times, and Mo [Farah] knows what it takes. If you're there in that last mile, anything can happen.
Another thing is, when he made a commitment to the marathon, he hadn't run those fast track times. But everybody had told him that he'd be a great marathoner. Abut why? Well, because he's tough, and he's won cross country championships. So you make this guess, and it's good to try it for awhile. But I asked him, 'If you had run those track times, would you have made this complete move to the marathon?' And he said 'No.'