UPDATE: Dathan Ritzenhein pulled out of the Olympic marathon trials on Saturday in Los Angeles. If he’s going to compete in Rio de Janeiro it will have to be in 10,000 meters.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Dathan Ritzenhein is on a quest to join an elite club.
The long-distance runner from West Michigan is hoping to qualify for his fourth Olympic Games — something only 30 U.S. track and field athletes have ever managed.
“Making four teams would be… that would be incredible,” Ritzenhein said. “That’s really what’s kind of kept me going over the last couple of years, is just to really make that fourth team. That’s the one thing I really want to do. And there’s been so few people to do it. … To be able to put my name on that list would be just incredible.”
Ritzenhein has qualified for three previous Olympics — Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012 — but he faces some more challenges this time around as he trains for the 2016 games in Rio. For the first time, he’s trying to make it as his own coach. And at 33, though he’s still a world-class runner, he is considered one of the “old guys” in the field.
“Like any other sport, you get little older and it’s harder to recover,” he said. “I can run as good as I ever have in workouts and in races, but the recovery is hard.”
A lifetime of millage has taken its toll on his about 120-pound frame.
“I get a lot of work done on my body. It takes a lot of grease to keep the wheels spinning nowadays,” he said. “I get worked on five days a week now and it really helps. It’s an investment in my body, I guess.”
He works with a physical therapist and uses an AlterG Treadmill.
“It’s a special treadmill to take some weight off,” he explained.
As he trains, he lets his body overrule the push from his mind.
“I listen to the body and that’s biggest thing. Before, I was like, if the coach told me to do it, you would do it no matter what. If something starts hurting, you go over the line,” he explained. “Now, I’ve got to be honest with myself and say today I need another rest day or today I’m feeling good, let’s get the most out of this day.”
For inspiration, he turns to a favorite quote from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think can’t — you’re right.”
“So if you don’t believe it, you’re not going to do it,” Ritzenhein said.
He has been training in his hometown of Rockford for about the last two years, which he said has “revived” him.
“I just didn’t like being on the road all the time,” he said. “I lived six months of the year on the road in training camps, going to altitude, training in Europe. It just got old. And I have two kids and I wanted them to be part of the family. We wanted to come back to West Michigan for a long time, but finally it was just like, got to do it if we’re going to do it. So we came home and it’s been great.”
Unfortunately, West Michigan winters often make for conditions that aren’t ideal for training.
“It makes it hard some days when it’s a snowy and it’s cold outside, but I think it helps make you tougher, too. You know, ’cause I think it makes you soft when everything’s really easy,” Ritzenhein said.
He also works out indoors at Grand Valley State University, where he also works with student athletes.
“Just to be around the young athletes that still have the energy and stuff like that — you lose that a little bit in the professional world a little bit. It becomes about a job,” he said. “It’s been something that’s been great for my own training, but it’s something that I want to do afterwards, too — more coaching.”
But for now, he’s focusing on the U.S. Olympic team trials in Los Angeles on Saturday.
“I want to make that team and hopefully I put all the eggs in that basket. You deal with either the great celebration or the heartache when it comes,” he said.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio run from Aug. 5 to Aug. 21.