Dathan Ritzenhein knows a good race when he see one.
His performance at Sunday's Bank of America Chicago Marathon certainly fits in that category.
Ritzenhein was the top U.S. finisher with a ninth-place finish in 2:07:47, more than two minutes faster than his personal best set in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on Jan. 14, 2012, when he finished fourth in 2:09:55.
"This was a big step in the right direction," said Ritzenhein, now the third fastest American in history behind Khalid Khannouchi and Ryan Hall. "It was an amazing race. I have a lot of room for improvement."
As the Kenyans and Ethiopians took command as expected, Ritzenhein stayed within striking distance. At the halfway point, Ritzenhein was 30 seconds behind the front group.
"I had great pacing through 30K and I felt strong through 35K -- was a very even pace," Ritzenhein said. "The last three miles on Michigan Avenue with the wind in my face was tough. The next step for me is to go out with (the lead pack)."
A three-time U.S. Olympian, Ritzenhein excels at track and cross country as well. While he narrowly missed out making the U.S. Olympic marathon team, he competed for the U.S. in the London Olympics in the 10,000 meters, finishing 13th in the world. Ritzenhein is coached by legendary distance runner Alberto Salazar. He calls it a "huge benefit" having Salazar as his coach.
Ritzenhein looks to continue his speed work, which helps his marathon running. Picking up his training is key too as he gets his running schedule in order for the next year. Salazar joked to him that he is going to install an underwater treadmill in his home in Beaverton, Ore.
Top women's finisher Renee Metivier Baillie delivered one of the best lines during the post marathon press release.
Being a first-time marathoner, she admitted to making rookie mistakes such as missing nearly all of her special water bottles throughout the race. Elite runners have their own water bottles with custom formulas on designated tables. Hydration is key to enduring the 26.2-mile race.
"They all look the same to me," said Metivier Baillie of the water bottles. "I grabbed one and it wasn't mine. I couldn't drink it because I did not know what was in it."
Schaumburg native Patrick Rizzo finished 21st overall in 2:15:44 while Kristen Heckert of Lisle placed 19th at 2:47:56.
Josh Cassidy from Toronto, Canada, won the men's wheelchair race in 1:32:58 while Tatyana McFadden from Champaign, captured the women's race in 1:49:52.
"It was a slower race," McFadden said. "It was pretty windy and cold. You had to get moving pretty quickly to get your muscles warm. There was a brutal stretch (near the end) with immediate head wind. It was a great race, though."