By Dathan Ritzenhein
Dathan Ritzenhein has competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the marathon race, and in the 2012 London Olympics in the 10,000m. This year, he will be taking the block at the 2016 NYC Marathon along with other Olympic runners, and is hoping for the top honors at the Central Park podium. We asked Dathan about his Olympic experience, and what it means to Go for Gold.
You have been to the Olympics multiple times and also run marathons and races all over the world. Does it feel different somehow to compete at the Olympics, since it is such a historic global event?
The Olympics is definitely a different experience than other races. There is so much pride on the line, and wearing the USA on your jersey is special. It is a truly global event that can define a career for many athletes. I always loved seeing all the athletes in the Olympic Village from other sports, and trying to figure out what sport they did. I loved that athletes came in all shapes and sizes, the commonality was the love of competition and getting the most out of yourself.
What is a little known, behind-the-scenes fact about being at the Olympics?
Little known to most people is that the Opening Ceremonies is amazing for about an hour, but the other four hours aren’t! I did the ceremonies twice, but the last time I didn’t because it was exhausting just before competition. You stand on your feet in a line for so long, and then once again in the stadium. So much goes into the spectacle, and I would recommend any first time Olympian do it, but it isn’t all fun and games.
What does a typical day of training look like for you?
Training is a full-time job, and many people don’t realize that. I usually get up around 7:00 am, and get breakfast and coffee before my first training session. On fast workout days, I usually spend 3+ hours at the track or course. I get in 15-20 miles in that morning session with drills and strides. Easy days are usually 10-12 miles with drills and strides. Then I spend another 30 minutes doing mobility and stretching after my morning session. I usually go home and get something to eat. I then have massage, PT, or chiropractic five days a week for 60-90 mins in the middle of the day. I try to come home then and lay down for an hour. I get up and go for my second training session, usually 30-60 mins on my alterG treadmill, or cross training on the stationary bike or Bionic Runner. I am in the gym four days a week doing strength work. We eat dinner and try to be in bed by around 9:30-10:00. Most days are the same, except long run days and one other day a week that I don’t train in the afternoon.
How do you make sure that you stay focused and in the right headspace?
Setting goals is what makes the difference mentally. I try to focus on that one goal, and when I don’t feel like working out, I just remember that it is a pretty awesome job! I do try to take regular rest days scheduled in the training, not only to stay healthy physically, but mentally. Sometimes one day off every couple weeks can recharge the brain and keep you motivated.
What do you eat throughout the day? Before & after your workout?
I usually get up in the morning and get two cups of coffee and homemade whole wheat bread my wife makes. That or Kodiak Cake pancakes! After training, I try to get protein in right away and drink Generation UCAN to rehydrate. For lunch, a go-to for me is always eggs and fruit, in the summer I love making smoothies. Before my second workout I have another cup of coffee (I have kids!), and a Generation UCAN bar (Peanut Butter is my favorite). My wife is a great cook and has a huge garden, so I eat most of my vegetables at night and some lean meat. I always snack too when I am training, so we usually make a big bowl of popcorn at night.
Do you meditate? Or how do you center yourself & make sure you reach your goals?
I pray twice a day, and I usually do that before bed. I don’t sit and meditate, but usually when I run I get a mantra in my head. Something that helps me when the races and workouts get hard. I can fall back on that, and it is something I have said over and over, so it is calming.
Any advice for someone looking to take their athletic training to the next level?
Have a goal, a plan, and a team. To get to the next level, you need something to look towards, a way to get there, and people to help you along the way. Without those three things, everything that happens is accidental.
How do you let loose, when you are working so hard every day?
I love just spending time with my family. They have lived this lifestyle for a long time, and it is natural to my kids and wife. We try to do normal family things and just enjoy being with each other. We moved home to Grand Rapids, MI to be closer to family, and everyone lives within five miles, it is great.
And just released this week - we will be seeing you run at the NYC Marathon this year! Why is this marathon so close to your heart?
I can’t wait to come back to the TCS NYC Marathon this year, I ran my first marathon there 10 years ago this year! Marathon weekend is special in NYC, I think I have been there all but twice in the past 11 years, and it is electric, but it has been six years since I last raced there. The city has always been good to me between the Half Marathon, Healthy Kidney 10k, and Olympic Trials, but I really want to make my mark in the biggest show.
After two years competing on the international level on the track, Dathan Ritzenhein made his marathon debut at the 2006 New York City Marathon, finishing in 11th place. Dathan then went on to a second-place finish at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, earning him a spot on his second Olympic team. At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon, Dathan was the first American across the line, finishing ninth overall. The following year, Dathan finished third at the World Half Marathon Championships, becoming the first American to take home a medal from the event.
Dathan’s running accomplishments span across a decade. In 2015, he was the first American finisher at the Boston Marathon, placing seventh overall. He then followed up his Boston finish with a podium finish at the U.S. 20km Road Championships, coming in third. Dathan earned multiple Big 12 accolades while at the University of Colorado at Boulder, notably the individual title at the 2003 NCAA Cross Country Championships and a second-place finish in the 5000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor championships. Following the 2004 Athens Olympics, he waived his remaining collegiate eligibility in order to run professionally.
Find Dathan at Twitter @djritzenhein.