NEW YORK — The New York Road Runners announced Wednesday that current U.S. Olympian Kim Conley and three-time former Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein will be among the field of elite U.S. runners in the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon on Nov. 6. The two Olympians join U.S. women’s 5,000-meter record holder Molly Huddle, who last month announced that she would make her marathon debut in New York.
The American runners this year will have some extra motivation in the form of a USA Division prize purse. Of the race's $803,000 in total prize money, $116,000 is earmarked for the USA Division, with the top male and female American each receiving $25,000.
Conley readies for debut
Like Huddle, the 30-year-old Conley will also make her debut at the 26.2-mile distance. She’ll be testing herself on a course that she first examined as a spectator riding in the lead car ahead of the field at the 2013 New York City Marathon.
“I’m really excited to race in New York. I’ve run the Dash to the Finish 5K and then got to ride in the lead car [for the marathon] so I’ve always been drawn to the course,” Conley says. “There’s a magnitude to the event and it gave me an appreciation for what a huge undertaking the marathon is.”
Before taking the streets of New York, Conley will hit the track for the 5,000 meters at the Olympics in Rio. She contested the same distance at London in 2012 and set a then-personal best of 15:14.48 in the first round.
The 2014 U.S. champion at 10,000 meters, Conley was considered a favorite to make the Olympic team this year at that distance but during the race another runner stepped on her shoe, pulling it off. She had to sit on the track to put it back on and was unable to catch the lead pack of runners, eventually dropping out. She made up for the disappointment by making the team in the 5,000. However, the switch to the shorter distance in Rio, where she’ll have to run a heat and (if she qualifies) a final—as opposed to only a single race in the 10,000—has forced her to adjust her training.
“My strength is my strength,” Conley says. “A lot of my bread and butter workouts are the longer ones that get you ready for a 10K or a 5K. There’s two rounds of the 5,000—which is 10,000 meters—but you throw in the element of speed. A lot of my workouts in the spring have had a lot of faster work thinking about winding it down at the end. Regardless of the distance, at the world stage, you have to be able to close really fast.”
Conley figures to go head-to-head in New York with Huddle, the Olympic trials champion at 5,000 and 10,000. Conley holds a personal best of 1:09:44 from the 2015 Houston Half Marathon but Huddle holds the upper hand with her 1:07:41 from March’s NYC Half.
“Molly is such a great athlete and good friend,” Conley says. “I always enjoy racing against her and I don’t mind playing the role of underdog. When it comes to the marathon, so much of it is about the distance and I haven’t thought as much about racing Molly because when the day comes, it’ll come to mind in the last couple miles.”
Ten-year anniversary for Ritzenhein
Ritzenhein, 33, returns to the Big Apple a decade after making his marathon debut at the 2006 New York City Marathon, where he finished 11th in 2:14:01.
“That was one of the toughest experiences of my career,” Ritzenhein says. “I had never been depleted like that, with tunnel vision. That first marathon was rough. I came back and ran a little better the second time around but I still feel like I have some unfinished business in New York. I’m excited to be able to go back.”
This year’s race will mark his third in New York—he took seventh in 2010 in 2:12:33—and the 11th marathon of his career. He has finished nine of the previous 10.
Ritzenhein wilted in the heat of February’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles and dropped out 20 miles in after suffering from cramps. His hopes of making his fourth Olympic team were shattered and he elected not to race in the track trials. In June his focus shifted—not just to a fall marathon but to extend his career to 2020.
“Right now, my training since the BAA 10K [on June 26] has been incredible,” Ritzenhein says. “I have times much like everyone and you feel a little bit beat up but I’ve also had incredible training. In general, I’ve been pretty healthy in the last two years without any major injuries. I feel like the way I ran in Boston last year and with the exception of the trials, I’ve been competitive. The fire is still there. If you have the fire, you can keep going. I may never run 12:56 [for 5,000] again but there’s lots of room for improvement in the marathon.”
Ritzenhein was the top American at the 2015 Boston Marathon, which was his first 26.2-mile race in 18 months. Throughout his career, Ritzenhein has struggled with calf, foot and hip injuries. When healthy, he has proven to be one of the strongest American marathoners as he holds a personal best of 2:07:47 from the 2012 Chicago Marathon. In a tactical race and on a slower course like New York’s, Ritzenhein’s strength and experience could put him in the hunt for a win.
No American man has won the New York City Marathon since Meb Keflezighi in 2009. Keflezighi is also the last American to win a World Marathon Major as he claimed the 2014 Boston crown. For Ritzenhein, winning in New York is the ultimate goal for the fall.
“If you win a major marathon like Chicago, New York or Boston, I think that’s almost as big as winning an Olympics,” Ritzenhein says. “I think about that all the time and I visualize it every day in training. It won’t dictate whether it’s a successful day for me, but the way I visualize the race is with me winning.”
Here’s a look at the other Americans in the elite field:
Christo Landry (2:14:30) – 25K American record holder
Matthew Llano (2:12.28) – 2015 U.S. marathon championship runner-up, sixth at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials
Tyler Pennel (2:13:32) – 2014 U.S. marathon champion, fifth at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials
Ryan Vail (2:10:57) – 2013 top American at the New York City Marathon
Janet Bawcom (2:29:45) – 2012 Olympian at 10,000 meters, fifth at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials
Neely Gracey (2:35:00) – Top American at the 2016 Boston Marathon
Sara Hall (2:30:06) – Top American at the 2016 IAAF World Half Marathon Championship, DNF at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials
Kellyn Taylor (2:28:40) – Sixth at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials