the boys race
Dathan Burns it to the Wick in the Florida Heat
By Stephen ("steveu") Underwood
The heat was on from the start at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships
Boys Nationals Finals, what with uncomfortably warm and sunny mid-70s conditions
greeting the 32 runners at the Oak Trails course in Orlando.
But it was left, as usual, to one gritty 112-pounder from frigid Rockford,
Michigan to put the burn on the elite field.
While a 4:47 opening mile left almost everyone in contention, Dathan
Ritzenhein accelerated to a 4:33 (9:20 overall) that strung everybody out.
Virginia's Alan Webb and California's Ryan Hall gave game chase, but trailed
by 3 and 13 seconds at that point.
Ritz was almost gassed coming down the final stretch, but by then he had Webb
and Hall nearly 20 seconds in arrears. When he crossed the finish line in 14:35,
the senior had his second national CC title in the bag. Confirming that he not
only got the best result but probably put out the most effort, he collapsed as
he so often does at the finish, then needed a good, long chunk of time before he
was recovered enough to talk to the media and hundreds of others who wanted his
"I was going to see how it went (early in the race) and then go from
there," he said to those wondering why it wasn't a sub-4:30 pace from the
start. He went, all right. But with the pain of the effort, he didn't feel
confident of the final outcome until he crossed the finish line. His thoughts
during the final stretch: "God, this hurts!"
Webb followed in 14:55, while Hall made it three under 15 with his 14:59. The
latter gained several seconds on the former in the last mile, but couldn't
quite come all the way up.
Charlie Milloen, the New York Federation champ, was then a very impressive
fourth in 15:05, but then the West closed out the team victory with four of the
next five spots. Erik Heinonen (Ore.), Seth Pilkington (Utah) and Chandler
Goodwin (Utah) went 5-6-7 in 15:07, 15:09 and 15:13 respectively.
Michigan then joined Utah with two top-ten finishers, as Tim Moore grabbed 8th
in 15:13, but Seth Watkins of Montana became the West's fifth scorer with his
15:16 in 9th. Kentucky's Bobby Curtis rounded out the top ten also in 15:16,
just edging out Rod Koborsi, Joe Thorne and Bobby Lockhart.
"I was very disappointed," said Webb, who obviously wanted the win
as bad as Ritz. "I thought I could hang with him. He had a good day and I
just didn't step up. We started out slow and he surged real hard. I was
planning a more even race."
Though Webb obviously moved up from his 8th last year here, he
said, "I didn't improve. I was the second-best returnee and I was number
two again … I wanted to move up with him at the two-mile mark, but he was just
Said Hall, the FL mile champ who was in his first national CC race, "I
felt good the first mile, but even in the second mile it didn't seem like my
legs had the usual pop. I think I kind of peaked earlier in the season."
As far as trying to catch Webb at the end, he added, "I was trying to
make a move, but he had too much on me. I was hurting the last mile and didn't
have a lot left either."
It was Ritz who was having to catch people early in the race. He was almost
in last after the first 200 meters. While observers are always assuming he will
take off at the same torrid pace in a championship race as he has in many of his
course-record runs, his priority is always the competition and running smart.
"In big races, that's usually what happens, unless there's a
rabbit," he said. "I wanted to push the last two miles. Both Alan and
Ryan have a lot of speed and I didn't want it to come down to a kick."
He did say that he thought the 4:47-4:33 splits would have been "the
other way around" but, as always, Dathan's incredible ability to make the
mid-race break served him well. "We do a lot of speed work in sets,"
he revealed. "One set easy, one set hard, and so on."
Ritz admitted it was one of his most painful races. "This and the 5K on
the track last spring," he said. "At the 2-mile mark I really started
feeling the heat. And then around 600 to go it got really bad. I definitely
slowed down a lot. I knew Alan and Ryan were still back there, but I didn't
know how far back."
"But it's just as great as the first time," he concluded.
"Foot Locker and Adidas do such a great job. It feels like the
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