When Dathan Ritzenhein goes to bed on the eve of the NYC Half on March 18, he'll close the curtain on a trying 12 months.
On March 18, 2011, Ritzenhein had what he thought would be a simple surgery on his Achilles' tendon. Post-surgical infection led to a second operation, and complications sidelined him until his return in the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K in New York last November, where he finished third after leading most of the way.
In January, despite a valiant attempt to make the U.S. Olympic marathon team at the trials race in Houston, he finished fourth and failed to qualify, despite running a personal best of 2:09:55. Now he's had to reset his sights on the 10,000-meter trials in June.
"It's shocking how bad things went [last year]," recalls Ritzenhein, 29, already a two-time Olympian. With the yearlong ordeal behind him, though, he sees himself now in a position as good as, if not better than, his situation at this time in 2009, the year he set an American 5000-meter record of 12:56.27 (since broken), placed sixth at the 10,000 meters in the IAAF World Championships, and took the bronze medal at the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships (1:00:00).
"My fitness is maybe even better than it was that spring," he says. Indeed, his personal best in Houston came in only his third race since 2010.
"It gives me confidence because I know where I've been in the past and what it takes to get there," he said.
Racing the NYC Half offers Ritzenhein the same platform as that which launched Mo Farah and Galen Rupp to excellent 2011 summers. Farah, of Great Britain, won last year's NYC Half and Rupp, of the United States, was third. "My coach, Alberto Salazar, knows exactly what they did after that," Ritzenhein notes.
Training under Salazar with Farah, who won gold (5,000 meters) and silver (10,000 meters) at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and Rupp, who was ninth and seventh in the two races, can only help.
"Training partners are almost as important as a coach because they give you that ability to push to the next level," Ritzenhein says. "When you're pushing to the next level with the world champion, it helps physically and mentally."
Ritzenhein dreams of competing in the 10,000 meters with his training partners in the London Olympic stadium next summer, feeding on the fever pitch of excitement as Farah carries the host nation's gold medal hopes. "Being there on that night, and doing well, is going to be a really special moment," Ritzenhein says. "I've got to get there first, but I'm thinking about that moment."
>He also has plans to return to the marathon, perhaps later this year. But the NYC Half comes first, and Ritzenhein is ready to roll. "I've done a lot better job at figuring it out than the marathon," he says.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg