My Interview with Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein: Training, Structural Fitness, and…Power Cleans

by Jason Fitzgerald

Dathan Ritzenhein graduated high school with six National Championship titles.

He left the University of Colorado with four All-America titles, a national title at cross country, and the school record  in the 10,000m in 27:38.50.

Dathan Ritzenhein Interview

Since turning pro, Dathan’s competed in the marathon at the 2008 Olympics, the 10k at the 2004 Olympics, set the former American record in the 5k at 12:56.27, and won the 2005 and 2008 USA 12k Cross Country Championships.

He’s run 27:22 for 10k and 2:09:55 for the marathon. Dathan’s half-marathon time is 60 flat and he’s run 8:11 for two miles on the track.

And that’s just a sampling of his achievements.

Dathan Ritzenhein has been one of the best runners in the United States for over a decade. As someone who’s been successful at events ranging from 3k to the marathon, his insights on training strategy really interest me.

Dathan was gracious enough to answer several questions for the Strength Running community on how to train effectively, balance your aerobic vs. structural fitness, and get the best use of your training time.

The Dathan Ritzenhein Interview

Jason: Dathan, you’ve been able to successfully juggle 5k and 10k training with marathon training. How have you been able to balance these very different types of training at the same time?

Dathan Ritzenhein: I haven’t always been successful but I think if you are never too far from fundamental base training it shouldn’t be too difficult to build up for a marathon or step down to the track. Three months of specific work is about all that is needed for someone who is already in good base fitness. So deciding what the goal, whether it is a 5k or marathon, as long as you are already in good shape is the most important thing. 

Jason: So true, and one of the reasons why I always encourage runners to consistently run even if no goal race is planned.

Switching gears a bit: you’ve talked about regular weight sessions that have enabled you to stay healthy and get stronger while putting in a good training block. Can you give us an example of a typical gym workout? How often do you lift and how do you schedule these workouts?

Dathan: We usually work out three times a week in the gym. I will also do various strength work on a daily basis, exercises which address specific weaknesses. We do a lot of single leg lifting and balance which are adapted from traditional lifts. Things such as dead lifts and power cleans. Usually I would say we concentrate on about 1/3 core, 1/3 balance, and 1/3 power. All the exercises end up being heavily core based even if they are single leg power cleans or squats. 

Jason: I love that you do dead lifts – most distance runners think it’s an exercise reserved for body builders but it has a lot of benefit for us runners.

So you’ve been running since you were barely a teenager and you probably have a lot of lessons to pass down. If you could talk to your past self, what wisdom would you pass down to the high school, college, and early professional Dathan?

Dathan: I spent so much time devoted solely to aerobic fitness, which I would not change, but I would have spent more time on my form and strength at an earlier age. The most important thing to being a good runner is developing your aerobic capacity but the longer you neglect the structure of your body the easier it is to get injured. I think the reason is because you accumulate a lifetime of mileage which doesn’t go away and so aerobically you get fit much faster than you do structurally as you get older. 

Jason: Great point; that’s something I can surely relate to with my previous injury history. Well-rounded fitness is definitely important.

Finally, let’s talk about our time-crunched readers. What training advice would you give the recreational or amateur runner who only has 3-5 hours to train every week? In other words, what are the 2-3 main areas that time-pressed runners should focus on?

Dathan: If time is limited, I would train with intensity. Work out hard on hard days and on easy days go lighter and focus those days on strength work, flexibility, and recovery. The more time you can get running is better but don’t neglect the things that seem small. 

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A HUGE thank you to Dathan for taking the time to answer these questions and helping out the Strength Running community. We’ll definitely be cheering for him in the New York City half-marathon on March 18 and in London at the Olympics this summer!

Dathan trains at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, OR and undergoes athletic and nutrition testing at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute in Barrington, IL.

You can follow him on Twitter here and read his blog on Competitor here.

Training Lessons from our Interview with Dathan

Instead of just ending here, I thought it would be helpful to take a few actionable lessons from our quick conversation with Ritz. So what themes, training lessons, and guidance can we glean from this interview?

1. Don’t ignore your structure. Aerobic fitness is what makes you fast, but if you can’t run because you’re injured it doesn’t do you much good. Further reading:

2. Strength is about more than how much you can lift. It’s the ability to move gracefully, balance on one leg, and have the coordination to run efficiently when running fast. Further reading:

3. To run fast, you have to run fast. Dathan points out that if you have limited time for training, you have to put an emphasis on intensity. While aerobic development should be one of your primary goals, focus on speed when pressed for time. Further reading:

No matter what distance you’re training for – a marathon or a 5k – you can apply these lessons to your running and see dramatic improvements in how you feel.

Thanks again to Dathan for the great interview! Do you have any questions about the interview? Let me know in the comments and I’ll reply to each one!

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Ann Marie

Great interview & really interesting that he said he does roughly 1/3 core, 1/3 power & 1/3 balance in the strength area. I think a lot of runners completely neglect the balance part (something I definitely need to get better about!) – but if you think about it, it makes sense to spend some non-running training time on one foot, seeing as that’s what running is. I recently saw this video from Jay Johnson showing some proprioceptive exercises: http://www.coachjayjohnson.com/2009/02/training-video-alphabet-and-leg-cycle/

Jason

Great point Ann Marie. And I’ve seen that video from Jay – it’s a good one!

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