Here’s a look at key elites and locals running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
By Bob Richards
Wesley Korir isn’t just a runner. He’s a stunner.
A surprising victory at Boston in April was a “major” first for rising Kenyan star, and he’s hoping for a podium-topping run on Oct. 7 at the 35th Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
Korir, 29, lives and trains in Louisville, Ky., loves Chicago and will run its prestigious marathon for the fifth consecutive year. He was fourth-fastest finisher as an entry-paying non-elite in 2008 before going sixth, fourth and second in 2011, when he set his PR of 2:06:15. He also won the Los Angeles Marathon in 2009 and 2010.
But it was the Boston shocker in intense heat that put Korir in the limelight. He was way back with six miles to go, moved up steadily and won in the last mile over fellow Kenyan Levy Matebo in 2:12:40.
“At Mile 20, somebody shouted that I was sixth. Then I moved into fifth, and I thought that if I finished fifth in the Boston Marathon, that would be great,” Korir told the Boston Athletic Association. “Then I got fourth. Then I moved into third, and I thought, ‘I’m going to finish on the podium.’ It just happened. One by one, it just happened.”
The next happening could come in Chicago.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Wesley back to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon for the fifth year in a row, no doubt with a little more fanfare this year after his well-earned victory at the Boston Marathon,” Executive Race Director Carey Pinkowski says. “Wesley has proven that he is one of the best marathon runners in the world, but I am far more impressed by his humble nature and perseverance. He literally started his marathon career with the masses and now he’s at the pinnacle of the sport.”
Is Korir ready?
“I come to the Bank of Chicago Marathon this year full of confidence, that no matter who is in the field, they will have to beat me to win it,” he says.
Korir might also surprise you with his food choices. He loves deep-dish pizza and submarine sandwiches. He’s coming to the right place.
Dathan Ritzenheim, a native of Rockford, Mich., made an important stop in London this summer and placed a respectable 13th in the 10,000 meters at the Olympic Games with in 27:45. Now, he’s in full preparation for one of his other lifetime goals, running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Ritzenheim, 29, has big-time qualifications. He was the top American in the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and this past January, he ran a PR 2:09:55 in Houston at the U.S. Marathon Trials. However, Ritzenheim took fourth in the race, one agonizing spot away from making the team in the 26.2-mile event.
“I am extremely excited to return to the Midwest to run the 2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon,” Ritzenheim says. “Growing up just across Lake Michigan, everyone in western Michigan set their sights on fast times at Chicago, and hopefully, I can do the same. I feel stronger than ever, and I can’t wait to test myself on the streets of Chicago.”
With stellar track speed, Chicago should be a good fit for Ritzenheim, says Pinkowski, who added that the race “was built for a guy like Dathan. It’s a track-like course and he runs with great rhythm and speed.”
Ritzenheim, coached by Alberto Salazar, had his best year thus far in 2009, running 27:22.28 for 10,000 meters and 12:56.27 for 5,000, which was the U.S. record for 2009-2010. That same year, he also ran a 1:00:00 for a bronze medal at the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships.
Stepping up fast, Lucy Kabuu , 28, of Kenya, is the No. 3 women’s marathon runner in the world this year and No. 14 all-time before this year’s fall races after a 2:19:34 at Dubai. After taking time to recover from an injury and start a family, the January marathon was Kabuu’s first. Her debut was second fastest all-time to Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe. Kabuu finished fifth at the London Marathon in April.
She is a two-time Olympian with top 10 finishes in the 10,000 meters in 2004 and 2008.
Kenyan Florence Kiplagat, 25, also relatively new to the marathon, ranks No. 18 overall after running 2:19:44 last year at Berlin. Her pedigree includes Kenya’s women’s 10,000 record of 30:11.53; the 2009 IAAF World Cross Country (long course) title; and the 2010 IAAF World Half Marathon championship. She was fourth in April at the London Marathon.
“Lucy and Florence are two of the most exciting athletes in the sport,” Pinkowski says. “They are both relatively new to the marathon, which, combined with what they have accomplished on the track and in cross-country, promises a very bright future indeed.”
This will be the first Chicago appearance for Caroline Rotich, 28, of Kenya. She comes off a fourth-place 2:24:26 this year in the Boston heat. She also ran a 2:29:46 in 2010 at New York.
Now living in Boulder, Colo., Patrick Rizzo, 29, a graduate of Schaumburg High School and North Central College in Naperville, is no stranger to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon or the local running scene. His credentials are superb, having run a 2:13:42 at January’s Olympic Trials.
“It will be my fourth time running Chicago – fifth if you count me as a pacer in 2011,” Rizzo says. “I will be aiming at 2:11, but mainly vying for the ‘top American’ honors.”
Rizzo’s motivation comes from his personal drive and those around him.
“The thing that makes me tick is constantly striving to improve myself both on and off the race course,” Rizzo says. “I have two nephews and a niece that I try to set a good example for, both in fitness and in life. Too often, we see kids nowadays that are overweight at a young age. Running is a healthy lifestyle option that I hope to use to spread my influence. I recently wrote a letter to my alma mater, North Central College, where I told the team, ‘running, in and of itself, will not change the world. We all CAN, however, use the influence we gain THROUGH our running to try to make the world a better place for ourselves and others.’ ”
Ireland native Thomas Frazer, 30, of Lake Forest will race in his fourth Chicago Marathon this year, hoping to run a 2:17, which would shatter his PR of 2:19:42, accomplished here a year ago.
“This will be my fourth Chicago Marathon,” said Frazer, a former Butler University star. “My first was in 2006 when it was 30 degrees, my second was 2007 when it reached 90 degrees. I have finished 16th and 17th in the Chicago Marathon.
Frazer has significant experience in large races and has his sights set on more major events.
“As a junior (runner), I ran for Ireland in the World Cross Country and the European Championships,” Frazer says. “As a student I competed for Ireland in the World Student Games. My goal is to qualify for the Commonwealth Games in 2014, which will take place in Scotland.”
Jim Akita, 32, of Elmhurst, has a PR of 2:24:51, run in 2006 in Chicago. The head cross-country and track coach at Elmhurst College hasn’t firmed his game plan.
“I am running it, but I’m not sure if I am racing or just helping a friend out,” Akita said. “I am beginning my training for the California International in December. Regardless, I’ll be out there.”
Akita can run in hot conditions. He was the top Illinois finisher and 67th male finisher with a 2:38:27 in April at sun-baked Boston.
Rob Wiley, 37, of Gurnee has a PR of 2:25:24 that was good for 29th overall at the 2010 Twin Cities Marathon, but at Boston in 2011, he fractured a hip and was sidelined. He is very matter-of-fact about his goal for Oct. 7: “Bring my PR back to Chicago,” he says.
Wiley took a huge step forward in March with a 2:28:00, good for third overall at the Napa (California) Marathon, his first race since the Boston mishap. He followed up with the overall title at the Lakefront 10-Miler in April.
“I have had three solid marathons over the past three years but have been unable to put together a complete race where everything goes right,” Wiley says. “In all three, I gave up significant time over the last few miles. In Chicago, I’m looking to run a smart but aggressive race and bring my PR back home.
“I love to chase big goals. I always dreamed about qualifying for the Olympic Trials and I may have missed my window, but I would love to keep chipping away at it to see how close I can get at 37.”
Eric Wallor of Palatine has his mind on the big picture. He is shooting for a 2:25 on Oct. 7.
“My goal is to qualify for the 2016 USA Marathon Olympic Trials, said Wallor, 29, who ran his 26.2-mile PR of 2:29:40 at the 2011 St. Louis Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. “I also find running gives me a peace of mind and can put me in another place mentally.”
Kristen Heckert, 25, of Sugar Grove, has been gearing up to break her PR of 2:51:04, established last year as Chicago’s 39th woman overall. Heckert, who teaches algebra and trigonometry and coaches cross-country at Plainfield South High School, ran a 17:48 5K in May and has been ramping up with occasional racing, including third overall at the Elmhurst 4 on the 4th.
“My marathon goal is to PR, so it’s 2:50 or under,” Heckert said. “I love to run. It is one of my passions, but teaching has to be what really makes me tick, along with coaching. My motivation has to be my family and the love, care and respect they have for everyone.”
As a working single mom, training at a high level is a challenge for Columba Montes, 33, of Chicago, but it’s one she tackles with gusto. Her PR is 2:51, set in Chicago in 2009, and she’ll try to eclipse it on Oct. 7.
“I’d like to do it (set a PR) because I want to be an example for all single mothers and especially for my girls,” Montes says. “My time for training is not easy because I am working Monday through Friday. I have to do it early in the morning and sometimes in the evening.”
Last year, Amy Haney of Libertyville ran a PR 2:50:31 at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, which was good for 36th woman overall. This year, it will be different. Her goal is to simply finish.
“2012 has been a unique year,” Haney, 39, said. “In March, my husband and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. To train for that, I put running on the back burner. Following the amazing climb experience, I poured myself into my work, gained 10 pounds and forgot I owned running shoes. Out of the blue, we were into July when I realized that if I didn’t dust off my running shoes immediately, Chicago’s performance was going to be an all-time worst. It will be an interesting couple of months, but I am excited to be back in training.”
Tammy Lifka, 42, of Glen Ellyn, took time off from marathon training in June, changing her emphasis to speed for six weeks, and in August, won the overall 5,000-meter title at the USATF Masters Track and Field Championships in Lisle. She’s back in full marathon mode, adding miles as she tries to improve on her PR of 2:53, clocked at the 2011 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn.
“It will be a good stepping stone race for the California International Marathon in December that I plan on doing,” Lifka said. “Chicago will allow me to customize my training for my future goals and set my goals long-term.”
Injuries are behind Shannon Teunissen, 29, of Belvidere, and she has had a strong season at shorter distances as she focuses on her first marathon since she was healthy in 2009. Her PR of 3:07 came at the Rockford Marathon in 2008, but she expects to erase it after her first-place finishes at the Soldier Field 10-Mile and the MELD 8K in Rockford and a third at Wisconsin’s SummitFest Half-Marathon.
“My goal is to get to the starting line healthy, get through it and break three hours,” Teunissen said. “I think 2:55 would be my time goal for how I feel now, but depending on the heat and how I feel, I might stick with trying to break three hours.”