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November 3, 2016

Dathan Ritzenhein

New York, New York

ANTOINE FONVILLE: Dathan, how is the marathon different than ten years ago?

DATHAN RITZENHEIN: All right, Antoine. Let's see. The marathon, hopefully, this time will be a lot better than it was ten years ago because it was brutal.

It was my first time, and I was really inexperienced and probably pretty naive and thinking it always sounds a lot easier until you get out there. It was really tough the last 10K, but I got ten marathons in me now and ten more years, so lots of miles. The miles build up in the system over the years. So the more you run, the easier it gets.

Now, hopefully going in, it will be a lot -- I'll have the strength in the last 10K. So that's my goal.

Q. What's your hardest marathon workout for your marathon buildup?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: My hardest marathon workout, it varies a little bit from each one. For this time anyway, probably the hardest one -- really the hardest one was the Great North Run. It was the one race that I really used to kind of gauge my fitness more than anything.

Doing that race, 60:12 for a half marathon, that was the hardest effort I put out during that time. You very rarely go all the way to the well training .

Outside of that, I did a workout, let's see, two weeks after the Great North Run where I did a 15-mile tempo run, and I alternated miles between 4:45 to pace and then 5:05 pace going back and forth. So I averaged like 4:57 for 15 miles going back and forth. That was my biggest, longest hard workout that I did.

Q. Literally mile on, mile off?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: Mile on, mile a little off. It ended up being about 20 seconds or so, just trying to change the pace a lot and trying to go just where I was really comfortable and then where I would start to feel it a little bit.

Q. Was the total 15, or did you go a little up front, little afterwards?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: I warmed up and cooled down. It was a 21-mile day, but hard running, it was 15 miles.

Q. And you did that once?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: I did that once. That was the longest tempo that I did.

Q. Anybody help you in the middle? Not too many people can do that.
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: I do pretty much everything alone. In all my long stuff, all my hard long runs and all my longer tempo runs and stuff like that, I had my stepdad ride the bike with me. He would give me fluids and stuff like that. He wouldn't pace me at all, but someone there at least listening to me breathe hard.

Q. Was it deliberate that he didn't pace you?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: Yeah, I find it hard if someone -- I just like to be able to do my pace and not worry about tucking it in at all. I find, especially with the marathon, there are so many times where it really doesn't matter, you're going to be by yourself pushing, especially in the later parts of the races. At some point, whether you're leading or falling off the back, you have to be able to dictate the pace yourself and what you're comfortable of.

With someone on the bike, it's always very hard. They can't go on autopilot like you can running. So just having him there is more important.

Q. So this was a road run. Was it flat, undulating?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: It was a pretty flat rail trail basically. It would kind of be like uphill for a couple miles just slightly and then downhill -- I'd go out and back.

Q. Sealed surface?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: Yes. So I would do most of my longer workouts, I would do on the pavement, and some of the longer hard runs, not all of them. All of my other intervals and easy days, I'd mostly do on dirt roads.

Q. When was this?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: It was two weeks after the Great North Run, so about six weeks ago.

Q. Where was it?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: That was in Grand Rapids or Rockford.

Q. Dathan, being self-coached for 2 1/2 years, what are some of the biggest challenges but also positives that come from that training?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: I think some of the biggest challenges, it's gotten a little bit easier now, and it's always easier when I'm farther out. Then I always start to second guess things a little bit more as they get closer in. I think that's the biggest thing is not having a sounding board when you get closer. I obsessively look over training logs from previous years, trying to see what I'd done before, how I felt when I was doing them.

Whereas if you have a coach doing that, you'd maybe talk back and forth a little bit more about that. So I talk in my own head a little bit more, I guess. So that's probably the biggest challenge is trying to get rid of the junk that comes into my own head. Sometimes it's good, what I'm telling myself is right, and trying to figure out what's the garbage that I'm just trying to convince myself of.

Q. Do you bounce anything off any other athletes or friends?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: Not a whole lot for this one. I think -- I did earlier on with Jason Hartmann a little bit. This one, I ended up being fitter than I thought I would be early on. So more than anything, I just tried to taper it down a little bit and not do too much. I felt like I didn't do anything harder in the last five weeks than I'd already done. So that was kind of a big difference. I felt like I looked back at some of my old stuff, and maybe I'd done a little bit too much in the two, three weeks beforehand. So that was probably the biggest difference.

Q. So you feel fresh now on arrival? Ish, right?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: You feel fresh-ish. Now your mind starts racing because you're only training half of what you'd normally be training. You have a lot more time to think about it. I have been doing double runs the last ten days. It's another time you can go out and get rid of some energy. I've had to kick out the afternoon coffee so I don't have too much of an abundance of energy.

Q. You mentioned earlier you were young and naive when you first won. That seems like a long time ago. Do you feel like a different runner, different person since then?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: So much has happened since then. I think in 2006 I barely had started doing anything. So it was -- I guess it seems a lot easier when you haven't done it. Five minute pace, things like that, don't sound that hard, but once you get to 20 miles, it's a different world, different story. So you can do a lot of hard training, but you never really touch that even in the training for the marathon.

That's, I think, one of the good things is now having experienced that a lot of times. A lot of bad experiences, a lot of good ones, a lot of times going out really hard and dying hard, and a lot of times coming home strong. But just experience in general over ten years. Yeah, I feel completely different really. A lot less hair, a lot more miles.

Q. After the Great North Run, you said that you felt like you were in the best shape you've been in in a really long time. Do you feel like you're approaching this race any differently than in the past marathons?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: Yeah, a little bit. Just maybe the biggest difference for me, I guess, I feel like I'm coming in having put in a really good period of basically six months of training. I've been -- quite a few times, I've been coming in good on three months of training but light after that. So I feel like it's a little bit different for me. In that capacity, I was able to maybe not go quite as high in training like total volume. I do a little bit -- like total volume was the same maybe, but the peak weeks weren't quite as high just because I had a longer period of time to spread it over. That would be a big difference.

Q. What would you be most happy with at the end of the day on Sunday?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: I really -- a successful race for me, I mean, I really think I'd like to be on the podium and have a good chance to win it. I meant to put myself in that position. There's some very good upfront runners in this race, but it's also not quite as deep as some years either.

I think getting on the podium might be easier than some other years, but winning is no easier than any other year. Stanley Biwott, Desisa, Ghebreslassie. Those guys are such good runners. I'm going to have to be -- it doesn't matter what they do in the race. I'm going to have to be as ready as I can possibly be. If I put it all out there and have a good race, those are the goals. If I'm in the contention for it, that will be a good result for me.

Q. How long was that tempo run you were talking about earlier?

Q. About six weeks ago?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: Yeah, about six weeks ago. That was the longest one I had done. That was the hardest workout outside of the Great North Run that I'd done. There was a lot of pace changing stuff. That was another thing that I'd done very differently. You asked earlier what I'd done differently. I haven't done hardly any steady tempo runs. I've done one, and everything else has been a lot of pace changing, a lot of surging.

Then my longer long runs, I've had some pretty steady long runs, but they were hard. So that's probably a big difference.

Q. And those pace changes, obviously, are what you're going to see probably this Sunday, and the course is more of a cross country race anyway, right?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: Yeah, you turn corners a lot. There's a lot of little ups and downs. There's a lot of big ups and downs. Sometimes it goes out super slow. Occasionally, it's gone out fast but rarely. There's usually a point at the race where it's very hard. A lot of times in 16 to 20 mile range where there's a big move. You kind of have to throw the watch out. That's why I wanted to be ready for everything.

I wanted to be comfortable running a 4:20 pace and be comfortable running a 5:10 pace . Splits are so erratic here. In the past, I've done a lot of tempo runs where you get locked onto a pace and just tick, tick, tick. I really haven't done that. So I hope I've done enough steady work too, but I know that I've done enough pace changing. I don't feel like I'm not prepared for that, that's for sure.

Q. Was that the first marathon you ever DNF'd?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: It was. It was the second race I ever DNF'd in and the first marathon I have ever done that.

Q. You're a veteran of ten?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: I've ran ten, finished nine. This will be ten.

Q. What was the last one you finished?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: Before that was Boston in 2015.

Q. How long have you been self coached? Tell me about that decision.
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: It's been two years now. Moved back to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I'm from, where my wife's from. That's where our kids -- all of our family lives within five, ten minutes. It's been really good for me.

From a training standpoint, I did a lot of my training for probably half the year by myself beforehand. So it wasn't a very hard change from that point of view, but just being confident in the decisions that I was making, that was maybe more tough. So it's gotten better over time as I've made more mistakes probably. It's gotten a little bit easier from that standpoint.

I think the challenge of self-coaching is really about being honest with yourself and trying -- for me, it's about trying not to overdo it. So I just listen to my body a lot. I skip double runs if I don't feel good. I cut an extra mile off of work.

I don't ever struggle with the motivation part. That's been good for me. But at the same time, when you get out to 16, 18 miles, no one's with you anyway. So I have to be comfortable with doing that. I've had someone on the bike with me in the long sessions, but otherwise, I've been by myself. Otherwise, I've been by myself a lot. It's a lot of time to self-reflect, but it's a lot of time to rely on -- I use the people around me to help in my daily life and recovery form my training. I've got great physiotherapists and a great support group. At the end of the day, it's on my shoulders. I've got to be out there doing it, but I've grown accustomed to it.

Q. Is anyone else doing it? I remember Ryan Hall, when he went solo.
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: Jason Hartmann, my good friend, did it successfully for a few years. He was fourth in Boston twice, coached and self-coached. He's someone I've relied on for looking at training as well. Not as much for this one, just because, like I said earlier, I maybe had a lot more time. So I've looked back over my logs over and over and over again.

Yeah, you know, not a ton of people do it. Not a lot of young people do it.

Q. Ten years, ten marathons?

Q. What's the number one thing you've learned?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: It never gets any easier. Sometimes you surprise yourself too. I think that's the biggest thing. I had a few times where I've gone in and wasn't quite sure, and I had great marathons. I had a few times where I went in and was very confident, and it went horrible. It never gets any easier, though. At the end of the day, you have to spend a lot of time focusing, visualizing, and stuff like that.

It gets hard in that last 10K no matter what, even if you're feeling good. So it's really the gut check time. You have to be able to go back -- I like to reflect a lot on my training. I like to go back over -- in the last couple weeks, you start to second guess whether you've done enough things, and I like to go back and look at the things I've done because it helps give me confidence going in, knowing I couldn't have done all these things if I wasn't ready to go.

Q. If you could tell yourself now -- your ten years ago self -- give yourself some advice about your first marathon, what would you say now to yourself?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: I think probably the biggest thing was nutritionally for sure was a huge thing. I didn't understand a whole lot going in about the fluids going in, the nutrition in the training going up to it. So that was probably -- that's probably a big thing that I underestimated because that was horrible. I've never hit the wall like I have there. I've struggled at the end of marathons before but never like the first one where I could literally barely put a foot in front. It was all I could do to keep going forward. I had tunnel vision.

So I haven't had that again. I've had -- struggled at the end at times, but never full on hit the wall out of glycogen depletion. That was the worst.

Q. What did you run this morning?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: This morning I got in nine miles. I did a light little workout, a couple 300s to shake the plane ride out.

Q. You must have run past the finish line coming the other way?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: I ran up to the reservoir, came back down, did my drills and light little intervals down there, and jogged back up and down again.

Q. When you run past the finish line, do you get a little rush, a little chill?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: I don't even look at it to tell you the truth because so much is going on. There's people going everywhere, and I don't want to run into someone else. The only time is when I was running back after doing it this morning, doing the workout this morning, and I ran by the 400 meters to go sign that's up now, and I hadn't seen that before. So I took a look over my shoulder just to see what it looked like. You still can't see the finish line at 400 to go. It turns that curve.

But I've been watching the video of the seven-minute express video of the race that's in fast forward basically every day for the last two months. So I think I got the course down.

Q. What do you get from watching that fast forward video that often?
DATHAN RITZENHEIN: A lot of it is, if you watch old race video, you're looking backwards, and you're never looking backwards in the race. You're always looking forward. So it's just a sense of comfort of knowing -- there's something about knowing you're turning left, you're turning right, does it look a little up, does it look a little down. Even if it's going so fast, something about that helps me be able to visualize myself at that point in the race. So it makes it a little bit easier just to know where I'm going.

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