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Marathoning has changed in recent years. Rather than the event track runners turn to when they get older and lose their leg speed, the marathon has become a tool to gain strength and improve performances on the track.
Dathan Ritzenhein returned to the track after years of focusing on the marathon and went on to set the American record for 5000 meters and win a bronze medal at the World Half Marathon Championships. Top female marathoners Shalane Flanagan and Desiree Davila have also experienced track success after stints of marathon training.
A group of young athletes led by Bobby Curtis and Lauren Fleshman partaking in Sunday’s New York City Marathon hope to get the same post-marathon benefit.
Curtis ran a 10,000 meter personal best of 27 minutes, 24.67 seconds at Stanford earlier this year and was fourth at the U.S. Championships in the same event, just missing at spot on the World Championship team. He also posted a 61 minute, 53 second half marathon debut at the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in September.
Curtis sees himself as a full-time marathoner one day but the focus for the 2012 Olympic year remains on the track.
“You can do well on the track, and then marathon preparation can lead to good things on the track,” Curtis said. “I’m definitely trying to make the 10k for the Olympics.”
Fleshman had a slow start to the track season, finishing just eighth at the U.S. Championships in the 5k, but continued to progress throughout the summer season. She won the London Diamond League in an ‘A’ standard time of 15 minutes, 0.57 seconds and went on to place seventh at the World Championships.
Like for Curtis, the marathon for Fleshman is a means to achieve the end of qualifying for the Olympic team in her true love, the 5000 meters.
“I thought if there was a chance to gain some extra strength,” Fleshman said. “Hopefully I get more resilient going into this year’s track season.”
She also cited the accomplishments of other top U.S. women who have “[gone] up to the marathon and come back down to the 5k stronger and harder to beat than they were before” as motivation to tackle the intimidating 26.2 mile distance.
Watch the New York City Marathon on Sunday morning here starting at 9:00 AM Eastern/6:00 AM Pacific.