Dathan Ritzenhein and Kara Goucher

March 14, 2012 at 11:00am EST | by Barbara Huebner

Sunday's NYC Half will feature a professional athlete field that includes 17 Olympians, plus 11 men with personal best times under 1:02:00, and 11 women with personal best times under 1:10:00. Among them are Americans Dathan Ritzenhein and Kara Goucher, who were featured on an NYC Half conference call yesterday with reporters from around the country. Both athletes will be competing in their first races since the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in mid-January. There, Goucher placed third in the women's race to secure her spot on the U.S team for London, while Ritzenhein, a 2008 Olympic marathoner, finished a disappointed fourth in the men's race to miss the team by one spot. He has since turned his attention to making the team on the track. Goucher called in from her home in Portland, OR, while Ritzenhein phoned in from the NIKE campus in Beaverton, OR. Both were contending with a late-season snowstorm.

Some highlights of the call:

Ritzenhein on the U.S. Olympic marathon trials:

The Olympic Trials is a difficult race because really there's probably three people that are really happy and then after that a lot of people who are upset. For me, with having a very rough year, it was an emotional experience because I thought it would kind of be rectified after the race. I trained really well, I trained really hard and I raced well but it was a very good, competitive day. Unfortunately, missing out on an Olympic team by eight seconds in the marathon, that's like fractions of a second in a track race. You can just kind of watch it slip away in that last little bit. That was hard for me. It was the year before that made it so tough. After the initial disappointment, I had to move on. It took a little bit of time to wrap my head around the fact of not doing the Olympic Games marathon. I envisioned that and thought about that and I had to adapt and move on to try to make the team in the 10K.

The first two weeks after the trials, I thought that I was past it. I had a little bit of post-marathon fatigue over the few weeks after the trials and there were a few weeks where I thought that I would be in a place where I knew I had made my team. I came out of training easy and started training hard again. It took until three weeks ago when I started to feel like I was past it and thinking forward about the track.

On comparing their experience to four years ago:

It's very different for me this time around. A big part of that is that I'm doing a different event, but I have a different coach this time around and a different training philosophy. Also, in '08 I was on the track so I was pretty confident I was going to make the team, but I didn't know until the end of June, July, where now I have sort of the luxury of knowing and I can really just hunker down and focus purely on the training and not necessarily worry about hitting the standard or being ready at the right time in the lead-up, and just get ready.

For me, I've completely flip-flopped from 2008. After the trials in 2008, Kara said [to me], “Man, you must be so happy and so relaxed—you made the team eight months out.” And I was. I gotta tell you, it was such a different feeling. Going in and having to make the team now five or six weeks beforehand on the track, I think there's a lot more pressure maybe because you don't have that time to kind of completely shift focus. You want to think about doing well at the Olympic Games, but you have to get there, too. And for me, I'm coming down [in distance] and running on the track, which is completely different from last time around. The training's a lot different, the build-up, the racing's a lot different. It's a completely different scenario for me as well.

Ritzenhein on the transition back to the track:

I'm looking forward to it now that I've kind of wrapped my head around it. The intensity is a big difference. I kind of had to switch my mental mindset a little bit because the workouts you're doing in the marathon are so long; they're very hard but you build into it. I started doing some workouts now in the last couple weeks where you gotta hit the pace right away. It's hard right from the get-go, shorter and more intense. It's a good change for me and I'm looking forward to really being able to work in with the guys in our group here, Mo [Farah] and Galen [Rupp] and really getting in some fast, hard stuff.

The hardest thing for me is trying to get used to the intensity again. You go into a very hard place in the marathon, no doubt about it, but just it happens over such a long period of time. It's like a frog in water. If it's boiling hot, it jumps out. And if it's not, it will just sit there and cook itself. That's kind of how the marathon is, you just sit there and simmer until it's boiling hot. But on the track, right from the get-go your lungs are on fire, your legs are on a fire, you get that real lactic build-up. That's something I'm trying to get used to again. It's a kind of shock to the system. I can definitely tell it's been a few years. I won't say my speed has diminished, but it's not there right now. I have some work to do, but it's exciting, too, to be able to work on something and change it up as well.

Ritzenhein on doubling in the 10K and 5K at the Olympic Trials:

Fortunately for me the 10K is first. It would just be icing on the cake to try to make the 5K as well. I think the 10K is a better race for me but I also broke the American record in the 5K so I know that I'm very good at that as well so hopefully I'll do well and make the 10K and have that option. But it's always good to have it. Even if something happened in the 10K I can still come back in the 5K as well even if I don't want to run it.

Goucher on the challenge of not getting stale:

You definitely could get stale or get a little sloppy with yourself because you do have so much time. That's why we kind of broke it up where we took a couple months now to cycle down and do some faster stuff. We had to recover from the marathon itself but then we did some faster stuff and got our turnover back a little bit. I'll run the [NYC] Half now and then starting April 1 is the real long drive and that's four months dedicated to being the best marathoner I can be. I will still do a couple races; I'm eyeing the half-marathon championships in Duluth [in mid-June] and possibly doing the 10K in the track trials, just to get out there and remember what it's like and get those juices flowing. Because if you do just disappear and train, for me anyway, I need to keep reminding myself what it's like and put myself in those situations. I do think it's important to have little benchmarks along the way.

Ritzenhein on going after the 5000-meter and 10,000-meter standards:

I don't want to be overconfident but I don't think getting the standards will be particularly difficult. For me the challenge is going to be more getting back to being confident and being very fast. It takes me a while to become very confident where my speed is; I'm always confident in my strength and endurance. It's just something that comes naturally for me. But it takes me awhile to develop that on the track. Once it gets there, it's a good feeling. I definitely need races and the hard workouts along the way I think for the mental part as much as the physical part. For me being a 12:56 guy and being like a 13:15 guy, that's a huge difference. I have the time to get there but for me it's going to be a lot of hard workouts and a lot of hard races. That's something that I need, though. It's been sparse racing for the last two years. I think I've raced probably six times in the last two years. I'm going to hopefully be out there a lot.

Goucher on her first impression of the London marathon course:

My coach and Shalane and I went. We were only there for about 36 hours but we ran the full marathon while we were there. I think it's going to be a very exciting race. The course goes throughout the city and highlights some pretty impressive sights. It's a challenging course and there are some places where people are going to roll and there are some places that are a little challenging. I'm glad I saw it. It's always good to see it and then you can visualize it. So it was a good trip. For me, the thing that is going to be the most challenging is that it's going to be difficult to get really comfortable. The first couple of miles are actually going to be flying fast, then you go through a section where you just hit a lot of turns, and I think it breaks your rhythm. Then you come back for the final couple miles of the course where once again it's just going to be roaring fast. It's a combination of a lot fast running the then tedious lots of turns and breaking your rhythm and then fast again. You do that three times and it's going to wear on you after a while.