It’s a fast field.
The Boston Athletic Association has assembled a fleet of the elite for Sunday’s 10K race through the streets of Boston, and Dathan Ritzenhein knows that. The 34-year-old American distance runner has more than a decade of accomplishments on the track and the roads, but he’ll toe the start line at Boston Common alongside some formidable competition, including defending champion Daniel Chebii of Kenya (who won in 27 minutes 55 seconds and who has a personal best of 27:35), 2015 winner Daniel Salel (27:41 PB), and two-time winner Stephen Sambu (27:25 PB), as well as a Boston favorite, Olympian, Boston Marathon winner, and fellow American Meb Keflezighi (27:58 PB). An American man has never won the BAA 10K.
“I’m probably the fifth- or sixth-fastest going in,’’ said Ritzenhein, a three-time Olympian, (twice at 10,000 meters in 2004 and 2012, and once in the marathon in 2008, when he finished ninth and first American). Ritzenhein ran his first BAA 10K last year, finishing fourth, the first American.
“I loved being there right downtown,’’ he said. “I love Boston. I got that Marathon fever.’’
Ritzenhein has been a prominent runner since high school, when he won the Foot Locker cross-country championship, through his college years at Colorado (four-time All-America honors), and into a distinguished professional career. He is a former US record-holder at 5,000 meters. His marathon PB of 2:07:47 from the 2012 Chicago Marathon makes him the third-fastest American in history.
For the last two years he has been relatively quiet. No longer sponsored by Nike, which began supporting him in 2004, Ritzenhein is running independently.
This year, then, counts as a bit of a comeback. After dropping out of the New York City Marathon in November when he suffered a partial tear of his plantar fascia, Ritzenhein has picked himself up again. He won his last two races, including a personal-best 28:06 for the 10K in Manchester, England, a few weeks ago.
“I’m real excited to come back [to Boston],’’ he said. “I feel really good and I’m going in with good confidence.’’
With victories in the US 25K championship in May, and the Great Manchester Run in June, Ritzenhein has some reason to be confident. And he can keep all the credit for himself.
After five years of running with the Nike Oregon Project under the coaching of Alberto Salazar, Ritzenhein returned to his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2014.
He moved, he said, to be closer to family — his wife is also from the area and all the grandparents of his two children are 10 minutes away — and as for coaching, he does that himself.
“Just being able to listen to my body has been important,’’ said Ritzenhein, who has struggled with injuries throughout his career, interspersing accomplishments with heartaches. “I do run my training [plans] through my advisers, but at the end of the day I do all the workouts myself. I run on dirt roads, in straight lines.’’
But there has been no averting the headlines Ritzenhein has been entangled in after published reports chronicled a US Anti-Doping Agency investigation of Salazar’s coaching practices, particularly his use of supplements and medications, including L-Carnitine. Ritzenhein’s name comes up frequently because he spoke frankly with the investigators about the supplements that were given to him.
“It’s been difficult emotionally, it’s been tough at times,’’ Ritzenhein said. “I really do feel I’ve cooperated with everything, right from the start I’ve cooperated with everything. I feel like my conscience is clear, I feel good about it. That’s all I can do.’’
There is a clutch of top contenders in the women’s race, as well. Course record-holder and 2014 winner Bizunesh Deba of Ethiopia, seventh at this year’s Boston Marathon, joins 2015 champion Mary Wacera of Kenya, Ethiopian Buze Diriba, the reigning BAA 5K champion who ran 14:54 to win in April in the fastest 5K in the world this year, and 2014 BAA 10K runner-up Betsy Saina. Saina, a Kenyan, has the fastest personal best in the field, 30:46.