I want to take a moment to apologize to for some comments I made to Runner’s World this week about the World XC Championships. I understand there has been some backlash and I really regret how my comments came off.
I was asked if I was sad to not be attending the World XC Championships. I thoughtlessly said that the race was no longer significant, and that was why I was not running it. That comment came off as careless and wrong. I know that, especially to the athletes who are competing there, it can be a very important step in international development. I experienced that at one point in my career; winning a bronze medal in 2001 in the junior race really changed my perspective on what was possible. I would never want to minimize the importance that it can hold to other athletes.
What I really wanted to say was that, at this point in my career, it isn’t the right choice for me to go there this spring. The World XC Championships is still an incredibly deep field of runners and you have to be very sharp to be competitive. It is going to be a long year for me; I want to have a great track season and still be ready to run a great marathon in October. That means I need to be in a phase of training right now that is much more geared toward being ready for a half-marathon. Having run the World XC Championships multiple times, I know you need to be sharp. I recall going out faster in that race than any other race I have run and still being buried!
World XC is an amazing race with great loyal fans. That makes it one of the most amazing experiences out there for an athlete to be part of. That is one reason why it’s unfortunate that it’s now held only every two years and that, reportedly, there is no longer much interest from bidders to host the event. So to the athletes competing and the fans who were upset, I apologize for my earlier comments and wish our team USA the best of luck!
by Dathan Ritzenhein | Feb 24, 2013 | | Comments Off
I was so excited to announce last week that I would be returning to the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon! It may seem like a long way off, it is still eight months away, but I wanted to be able to focus my whole year around that race. By making Chicago my main goal, it does not mean it’s the only thing that matters, but instead it means I want to make sure I peak at the right moment. Physically I want to do the right training throughout the year so that I have a great 2013 but also so that I am at my best come October.
The good news is that I have a road map of last year. In 2012 I was focused on making it to the Olympic Games. I wouldn’t say that Chicago was an after-thought but I had a lot on my mind before I could even turn my attention to that race. I think it helped to keep me distracted but there are a few things I want to do differently throughout the year. I want to keep a little more specific endurance training in and maybe a few more 20+ mile runs throughout the year, but I know not to change too much either. For me, just getting to the line healthy is the biggest goal. If I can just stack another year of training on top of what I gained last year, it will be a better race than in 2012.
One thing that I won’t change too much is my racing schedule. I hated how much pressure the Olympic year brought, but looking back, physically it was a good racing plan. The mix of distances was good for me and it helped me to periodize my training so that I didn’t get too stale. Having a previous years base will help me as well, but I need to make sure I am always doing the fundamental training that it takes to keep fitness all year long. I think for the majority of the season you should never be too far away from racing any one distance. That is why I will try to hopefully race many times throughout the year at varying distances. It will allow me to push harder than I can in workouts, but still let me get right back into training.
Obviously the workouts will get better throughout the year and they will get harder as the peak season approaches but never forgetting to keep those occasional really long runs and tempos is important. In a normal base time of year, like now, I do them all the time but as the track season ramps up they become less frequent. Similarly, I will try to have my racing follow the same approach. Longer races early, then short intense track throughout the summer then back into a brief but intense couple months of marathon specific training.
I know this worked well last year and I am glad I have October 13th set in stone; now I can tackle the rest of the year!
I have been 1st three times at the USA XC Championships. Until last weekend I had been 3rd,4th,5th but never 2nd. I was hoping to skip right over second but congratulations to Chris Derrick on his win. It was a hard fought battle and I think it made for an exciting race.
The plan going into the race was to sit back and wait for the last two laps. It was very windy so I had planned to sit back further in the pack. However, the muddy and rough terrain made it difficult. The pace was so slow early on that it was hard to move around with so many runners in the lead pack. It basically turned into a 4k XC race. Usually cross country races string out a little faster and on such a narrow course it was pretty rough. The crowd was great and so when I pushed it with two laps to go it really helped to have all the support. With a mile to go, Chris opened up a 10m gap on the downhill of the course and I had to really hammer it to catch back up, so for the last 800m I was wrecked from that hard push. I held it together ok but I could tell I had not done the really intense workouts I needed to be doing in order to push it hard with two laps to go.
Having been my first race since the marathon, I was not sure how I would feel. I had trained well but only had been doing workouts for about seven weeks so I had not done anything really impressive leading into the race, just good solid workouts. I felt a little stale but I think the first race after a long break is always like that. Like usual having a race always wakes the system up. After a day or two of feeling a little tired, I feel ready to go now and am looking forward to getting in the really hard workouts I need for the next few weeks to be more ready for my next race.
My next race was going to be the two mile at The Millrose Games but I think the best thing for me right now is to get in a good chunk of hard training. It was going to be a bit of a push to be ready for a two mile race anyway and I haven’t been in spikes yet (I ran the XC champs in flats with a spike plate). To run a fast two mile against the likes of Bernard Lagat I would have to be really sharp! I have definitely noticed with age that my endurance comes fast but my speed takes longer to come around, not that that is an excuse, somehow Lagat does it at almost 40 which amazes me!
So time to hit it hard again and get ready for my next big race!
The other night I made the commitment to race the USA Cross Country Championships! I am so excited to get back out on the turf and race. It has been nearly four months since I ran 2:07:47 in the Chicago Marathon, and this will be a great first race back.
2012 was a long year. I started racing in January and didn’t miss a beat until October, so my body and mind needed the break to recover and then get back into shape. Training has gone well and I can’t think of a better opportunity to get back into racing and start 2013 where I left off last fall. Cross country has always been a passion of mine so getting back onto the mud and grass was an easy choice. I don’t know what it is about cross country but it just feels natural. Some runners hate it, but I have always felt comfortable and that is one reason I always come back every couple years to the USA Cross Country Championships. I hope this year I will have a great opportunity to try and add a fourth title to my name and I look forward to the challenge from the young blood in the race as well as those who I have raced against for the last 15 years.
Cross country is racing in its purest form and it always brings me back to the pure love of competition. I don’t look at the clock and check my splits or worry about the weather. You get out there and just go, trying to push it to the max. I have had some battle royals with great runners as well as some total blow outs and that excitement is something I love. The strategy in cross country is so much more than on the track or road. On the track you just try not to get dropped and kick at the end. One the road you can focus on time and splits. But in cross country things can change all the time, and you need to know your body and be ready mentally prepared to run on your own. It doesn’t matter if you have dropped everyone or you are being dropped, you have to be able to push yourself.
After my good break and build up back to fitness I feel refreshed, fit and ready to start the year off with a bang. I know the challenges that are always right around the corner so I am going to enjoy this one!
In order to be a successful racer, you need not only physical strength, but you also need mental strength. It takes a lot of training to run 26.2 miles but it also takes mental fortitude to push yourself, digging deep after you have already run hard for 20 miles. Training your brain to stay focused for 2+ hours is something you can practice daily.
One technique I practice each run is trying to stay relaxed. When fatigue starts to set in, the natural reaction is to tense up and fight through it. Looking at the finish of a race, most people clench their teeth and become tight. During practice, try being as relaxed as possible- during interval workouts, long runs and even on easy days. This will not feel natural but by allowing the body to relax you will actually run faster. In your next really hard speed workout, when you feel like you are topped out, try doing the next interval focusing on being fluid and relaxed, you will be amazed that you can actually run faster. In due time, this technique will become second nature and it will allow you to focus more in the race and still have great kick.
Another way I am able to stay focused during a race is by pushing myself to the limit. Most people never go to max intensity. Your body needs to learn to hurt, otherwise it will shut down at the end of a race. Every few workouts I try to push my body to the line. This can’t be done every workout otherwise you will risk injury and running yourself into the ground. But small amounts of pain teaches your body to endure and push through, just like in a race. Being able to focus when your brain is telling you to slow down isn’t easy, so having those key killer workouts will help.
Another way to maintain focus on race day is by minimizing errors and surprises. The week before a big race I try to not eat or drink anything new. I watch the weather forecast and prepare for every possible race day weather that may come my way, from wind or rain, to heat and snow, I don’t like to be unprepared. I like to visualize every situation in practice, that way if it ends up being bad weather, you won’t be concerned. We can’t control things like weather, but you can be prepared for them.
My final tip for staying focused is to carry on all your racing and warm up gear on the airplane or train. This way you are sure to never have it lost. All professional athletes do this and it is something that anyone can do to put their minds at ease. Runners have very little equipment, so the last thing you want to do is lose it. When you are unprepared or surprises pop up before race day, they can be very distracting, and can take away positive energy you need for the starting line. The last thing you want to do is have to go and buy a new pair of shoes the day before your race.
When training for a race everyone knows to prepare physically by logging mile after mile, but by adding the mental component to your regime, you are sure to gain an extra edge over your comeptitors the last few miles of the race.
by Dathan Ritzenhein | Dec 19, 2012 | | Comments Off
The holiday season is the best time of the year to stock up on all your favorite running gear. Each year the latest and greatest items come out that help make you run faster, longer and recover quicker. If you are new to the sport, many of these items can really aid in your running experience. Not everyone can get an alter-g treadmill or normatec boots, but here are a few of my favorite things for any type of runner:
- The Stick, it’s found at thestick.com or your local running store. For $30-$50 it is an essential. Its a self massage tool for your muscles. They range from length to flexibility, and are small enough to fit in your luggage when traveling to your next race. I always bring it with me for even a short trip.
- Nike Air Pegasus, they can be found at many Nike.com, all the big retail stores and your local running store. They are a lightweight, neutral shoe with the latest mesh upper technology. I love these shoes for my day in and day out training. It is a great deal for the money and most athletes can wear this shoe.
- Compression Socks, these can be found at nike.com, or most running stores. I always wear them when I travel to prevent swelling, and I also like to wear them when I run because it helps keep my lower extremities warm and it reduces friction and creating less fatigue on your muscles.
- Foam Roller, these can be found at amazon.com in all different shapes, colors and sizes. These are great for deep self massage and warming up your muscles. I have a small one that I can travel with, and a larger one for home use.
- Nike GPS watch, his can be found at most sports retail stores. It retails from $149.99-169.99. This watch can track your pace, heart rate, route and more. Its great for getting a lot of information about your run, quickly. I also like that it has a USB port built into the strap so you just plug it in to record all your data.
- Stretching Rope, these can be found almost anywhere, but just make sure they are at least 5 feet long to give you enough room to get a full range of motion. I use this mostly post run to aid in recovery maintain flexibility. You don’t need a fancy one, just getting a good length of rope is fine. GO to runnersworld.com to get some good tips on a stretching rope routine.
- A running log is another essential. Many runners use a simple notebook but if you wants some extra tips and reminders, check out Matt Fitzgerald’s running log. It is a great buy especially for a beginning runner who is looking for some simple tips as well.
These few things are not only great gifts for all runners at any level, they all aim to aid in improving your running. Each day I use most if not all of these items. Running is a great sport where the cost to participate is fairly low. There is no gym fee, no court times, no uniforms that need to be purchased and fairly minimal equipment. Thats the beauty of running. Merry Christmas!
by Dathan Ritzenhein | Dec 11, 2012 | | Comments Off
Reflection and setting new goals are two things that are always on my mind as the year comes to an end and a new one begins. Being able to look back at your training, races, and bumps along the road can be very helpful to avoid making the same mistake twice.
As a professional athlete I find it very helpful to keep a detailed log of every run, workout, race and lift session. Its also important to include all the little things in your log, such as sore muscles, sickness, travel and injury. This tally of your daily training can be your most helpful resource when setting new goals. It not only allows you to reflect on all the training that led up to the best race of your life, but also allows you to look back and see what might have led you to injury or overtraining. It might seem tedious to log your runs and workouts daily, but when planning for the future, its essential.
When establishing your new goals, its important to remember that success is never a result of one thing, it comes from doing as many things right as possible and avoiding mistakes. This is where your log comes in to play. It is essential to come up with a plan, but try to keep it flexible. A big trap runners can fall into is being addicted to your plan. It is very easy to get caught up in the numbers. Trying to hit an arbitrary number for your weekly mileage, or insisting on getting in a workout on a certain day, are some examples of the factors that lead to injury, overtraining, and bad performance. I can look back at almost all my injuries and identify how they could have been avoided. So keep a detailed log about every part of your training! You can study it and try to avoid the same pitfalls in the future, or maybe catch it in time to avoid something big.
Another helpful thing to do is work backwards. Identify your goal and start planning your racing and training working from the goal back to day one of training. By doing this you might find that you have to adjust your goal, but thats okay; better to realize you have to adjust your goal to something attainable in the short term instead of getting in completely over your head. I’m not saying that big goals aren’t important. I think it is actually good to have lifetime goals that might be too big to handle or that you might never attain, because you never accomplish everything you set out to do, but making sure consistent progress is made, helps to keep the fire alive. So have those long term goals that seem like only dreams, but work toward them by setting short term goals that always keep you moving forward.
I have still only accomplished a fraction of my goals, but even with all the setbacks and disappointments, I have still been able to keep my motivation because I try not to look at the things I haven’t yet accomplished and instead I try to think about the next logical step. So put that log on your nightstand, and work backwards avoiding those mistakes and you will keep moving toward those “big goals”!
by Dathan Ritzenhein | Nov 24, 2012 | | Comments Off
I often get the question, “how has your recovery been after a marathon?” I find it interesting because it can be so different after each race. Recovery has different stages, and being ready to train again does not always mean you are fully recovered. A lot of factors go in recovering post marathon, how fast you ran, the course, and your training build up are all factors in how to plan your recovery. Also, the type of recovery can also be dependent on the individual. Whether it be active or sedentary, recovery is extremely important.
For the 2012 Olympic Trials marathon, I had just come back into form following a year off. After just missing the team, I realized I needed to get fit for one more shot at making the team on the track. I was coming off an extended period of rest prior to that marathon segment, which allowed me to be able to walk away from the marathon fairly unscathed, therefore making my recovery period completely different than some marathons. I didn’t have time for an extended rest period, so I opted for an active recovery period. I went home and jumped right back into easy jogging. In contrast, after this years Chicago marathon, I felt I needed a larger break completely void of all running and exercise. The race was hard and fast from the start, therefore taking much more out of me. 2:07:47 is a lot faster than I ran at the trials so the beating on my body was more significant. I also had a full years grind leading up to this race, so I felt I needed a complete mental and physical break. After two complete weeks off I was fully rejuvenated, and felt I was ready to jump back in the swing of things, but I am still taking things slow, helping me get back into training 100%.
Recovery does not always need to be two weeks off of running or exercise to allow for your body to return to normal. Recovery can be active or sedentary. After my first marathon in NYC, I was shocked to see elite athletes going out for a jog the morning after the marathon. At the time I thought they were crazy. But the more marathons I have run I’ve learned that a post marathon easy morning run can actually speed the recovery process, especially if you are planning to race soon. By getting your blood pumping quickly, it actually aids in flushing a lot of the heaviness that the marathon can leave in the legs. However, if your body has walked a fine line getting to race day, a long recovery period is probably best for both mental and physical recovery. It needs to be based on how hard you ran and trained, the length of your training block, and most importantly, how you feel. Whether it one day or two weeks completely changes from race to race.
Most importantly enjoy your break, and make sure you are ready when you get back into it!
With the Chicago Marathon in the rearview mirror almost a month, I am getting back into training so it is about time I give a recap of the race. It was a huge relief to finally run a good marathon! I was thrilled to walk away with a new 2 minute PR, finally, a step in the right direction.
After putting together a full year of healthy training, we came at this race with a completely different approach. I have been very confident in my past marathon build ups, and I have felt good going into the races, but I was still cautious for this marathon. This time around, I did more speed work and had a much shorter specific build up, but a longer period of total training in this marathon.
When we found out that the leaders wanted to go out in 62:15 for the first half, I decided it was too much of a risk for me to try and go from a PR of 2:09:55 to attempt 2:04:30 pace. So, I knew I had to run my own race. Luckily, I had my good friend Jason Hartmann there to help me out. There were a few reasons I wanted Jason to be the first rabbit. I have known him since I was a freshman in high school. We have trained together more than any other person I have trained with, and I trust him completely. Another contributing factor for choosing Jason, is that he is a human metrodome. I have never known anyone who is as attuned to pace as him. At the technical meeting we decided to go out at 63:30 pace instead of 64 minutes. I told him to try and hit every kilometer at 3:00. I was amazed that we nailed every one from 2:58 to 3:02.
Once we settled into the pace after three miles, we steadily clicked off every K and by eight miles we were only five seconds behind the lead pack which ended up going out much slower than they intended. Jason asked me if I wanted to catch the pack and after a seconds thought I decided, no, just keep on the pace. Part of me wanted to catch up to the pack, but I knew it would get very fast and I wanted to stick to the plan. Jason took me halfway and then the second pacer took over. Jason had set such a great consistent pace that the second pacer was able to maintain all the way to 30k. I just tucked in and tried to focus on relaxing. After he dropped off, I was all on my own at that point, so I had to focus on catching people.
I was very comfortable until 35k when I started to slow a little bit. I had been on 2:06:40 pace at that point and then my last five miles slowed to from 4:50 to 5:02 pace. I still passed quite a few people who were fading, but I really had to focus at that point. I held on well but coming up Michigan Ave. with the wind in my face for the last three miles definitely slowed me down. I felt strong, but I definitely need another year of training to be able to hold that 4:49-50 pace for another four miles. Overall, I was extremely happy to finally put together a strong finish and now I finally have made the jump to being a successful marathoner; it took me until my seventh attempt!
So what now? Getting back into shape is step one. After two weeks off, I have some work to do, but I needed it after the long year. Now, I am itching to get back and keep the momentum going. I feel like after another healthy year, I can take another stab at lowering my 2:07:47. Maybe my next marathon isn’t as fast of a course or as good of weather so I will focus on getting on the podium and the fast times will come. If I can do that, stay healthy and improve my speed again at the shorter distances, I know I can make another step in the right direction.
The Bank of America Chicago Marathon was on Sunday, and I was happy to run a big lifetime best of 2:07:47; which (finally!) gives me a faster PR than my coach, Alberto Salazar! I hope to write more about the race itself in the near future, but since my thoughts have turned to fully recovering from this effort and getting ready for 2013, I’ll pass along some tips on the “after” to go along with my recent posts about the “before” and “during”.
One important lesson I’ve learned is that I need to let my body dictate my recovery and the return to training. But that doesn’t mean it’s a passive process. Far from it. What you do immediately following the race, and in subsequent days, can greatly speed up how soon you’ll be back out there on the roads.
Recovery is just as important as the other elements of training. You may have crossed the finish line, but that only means the race to nurse your tired body and aching muscles back to health has begun.
It’s usually not possible to do a true cool down after a marathon, but I normally do my best to keep moving a bit to keep from getting too stiff.
As tempting as it is to sit, I know that any amount I can run or walk will be better for me in the long run (pun intended!). With media, drug testing and reuniting with family, not to mention the fatigue and pain from the race, it’s tempting to do nothing. But even some light dynamic stretches to get the blood flowing and start the tissue repair process will pay dividends in the days and weeks to come. This time I picked up a fairly gnarly blister under my big toe, so I wasn’t able to jog, but just walking from the finish line to the recovery tent, and within the hotel helped start the recovery process.
Ice, Ice, Ice!
The evening following the race, I try to take an ice bath to reduce inflammation and soreness and promote muscle recovery and healing. For tips on how to properly ice after a long run, watch this video by Competitor’s Sage Rountree.
Fuel Your Recovery
With the help of that Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI), I’ve not only figured out the fueling issues I had during marathons, but I’ve also learned valuable information about my recovery nutrition.
Here are the three components I keep in mind as part of my race recovery plan:
• Restore carbs to replace used glycogen (carbs stored in the liver) and store more glycogen
• To help repair muscle tissue, consume ~20 g of protein as soon as possible after the race (G Series Recover, which was available at the Chicago Marathon finish line, is a good option)
• Rehydrate with 16-24 oz of fluid with sodium for every pound of body weight lost during the race
Running might seem like a simple activity, but there is so much that goes into the preparation for, execution of, and recovery from a race such as a marathon. Everyone is different, and what works for me may not work for you; the key is to educate yourself, develop a plan, and then update and improve on that plan based on what did or did not work in each race. Hopefully you can take some of the tips I’ve given you and integrate them into your own strategy.