By Kevin Gray
Current Editor’s Note: Reposting an interview with Tim Ritchie that first appeared in the May/June 2012 issue issue of Level Renner. Seems appropriate since Tim was just named the 2013 Male Athlete of the Year for the USATF-NE. At least we think he was. Haven’t seen anything official and there’s since been word of a rogue snapchat stating another athlete won.
Rolling along effortlessly at 6:10 pace (for Tim, not me) along the Charles River, I get to know Tim Ritchie. On an unseasonably warm morning in late March, he reminds me of what consistency, passion, and intelligence can do for a runner. As a native of Worcester and graduate of Boston College, Tim’s first love was baseball, though he was self admittedly “awful.” “My favorite part was running the bases and the warm-ups, which I should have taken as an early hint,” he recalls. Following in the footsteps of his two older brothers who ran cross country, Tim started to develop a passion for the camaraderie, training, and racing that come with our sport, quickly finding himself hooked. Although talented and a hard worker, Tim ran modest times in high school (4:35 for the mile and a top 5 finish at the Massachusetts State Meet) that were not fast enough to earn a scholarship. “BC doesn’t have scholarships, and if they did, I probably would not have made the team.”
Tim’s road to success has been one of long, steady improvements as his big picture approach to training is starting to pay dividends. We started to see Tim cash in on this training in the winter and spring of 2011 as he catapulted himself onto the national scene while earning a reputation as a grinder, a true blue collar runner. Exactly what The Level likes.
I would often see his solid results (top 10 at BAA ½ Marathon twice) when perusing the internet, but after clicking onto Flotrack this past January to check out the mile at BU’s Terrier Classic, I did a bit of a double-take after seeing him run 3:58:49. Less than four hundred Americans have ever broken 4:00 for the mile, and to do it on a 200 meter indoor track in January is quite an accomplishment. To then double back in the 3000 an hour later in 8:05 is why I’m writing this article.
As we head into Watertown along the Charles River, Tim lets me know that the Terrier mile was meant to be more of a “hard workout,” not really an attempt at sub 4:00, and he was more stoked that his athletes (Tim in an assistant coach at BC) had run well earlier in the day. This served as a positive distraction, busying himself worrying about others, and before he knew it, it was time for his race. The one downside to this historic day was that his parents were not in attendance at the meet, but through the beauty of the internet, they were able to watch.
Currently coached by former Arkansas standout Matt Kerr, who Tim credits with taking him to the next level, both men subscribe to the “strength equals speed” approach, focusing on lots of tempos/ progression runs and a solid long runs rather than hard track intervals. Arriving halfway through Tim’s time at BC, he speaks very highly of Coach Kerr’s approach: “I believe that he is an innovative, intuitive and caring coach who has given his time and energy to my running over and above anything that I could have expected.” With the Olympic Trials quickly approaching in June, Tim’s goal is to qualify in the 10K rather than the 1500. The intent is to use his January sub 4:00 performance as a springboard into the 25 lapper.
Back to our run on the Charles: after a few miles, I looked at his wrist and noticed that he was not wearing a GPS, sticking with the old fashioned stopwatch. About my observation, he responds a bit circuitously, “Often times Coach Kerr will find an open field and have us run intervals around the perimeter, running off of effort and not being overly concerned about pace.” The strength over splits approach is working for Ritchie. In addition to his indoor results, a recent 3rd place finish (44:41; 4:48 pace) at the Gate River Run (which serves as the US 15K championship) affirmed his place on the elite runners map. In five short years, Tim has gone from a 4:35 schoolboy miler to an elite who will take a crack at qualifying for the Olympic Trials at the Payton Jordan Invitational this spring.
As our jaunt progresses, we come to what I thought was the end of the loop where I would usually head back to Boston. Here, Tim’s face lights up with delight: “This is the best part of the loop, nice dirt trails and boardwalks.” I have to admit, after close to 10 years of running on the Charles, I thought I knew every section, but I’m giddy with delight as only a runner who finds a new trail can be. As we run along towards Waltham, I’m a bit surprised to hear Tim mention that he takes Sundays completely off to recover, does his longrun on Saturday, and does not run doubles. He will max-out with a weekly total around 70-80 miles in six days with the majority of it done at a quality pace. I start to process this in my head and again appreciate the simplicity of his training. Seventy miles may not be viewed by some as high mileage, but it’s working for Tim. I inquire about any potential sponsorship deals, and Tim is again very happy with the current support he receives from the BAA and does not feel that he has run fast enough yet to receive an offer: “I am very happy with my situation at the BAA, and they have been overly supportive of my running and racing goals. Long term goal would be to find sponsorship, if I found a situation I thought would maximize my running, but I do not think it is all that crucial at the moment. I think it demonstrates that you do not need money to run all that fast, you just need a strong work ethic and an attitude of gratitude.”
As we reach a stone pillar at the far end of some baseball fields, Tim reaches out and touches it and with a smile says “five miles” as we turn around and head back to his apartment in Brighton’s Oak Square. I chuckle to myself, as laid back as Tim appears, he needs to touch that pillar marking five miles, just as I would do, runners being the creatures of habit that they are. We begin to talk of the balance that Tim’s life requires, with full time-training, coaching at BC, working part time at the South End Athletic Company along with daily mass and a social life. Although he will occasionally get out to train with BAA or BC runners, Tim does the majority of his runs solo, sticking to the Charles River, Newton Hills, or BC Reservoir, which have all become his favorite routes. “Training is definitely a priority,” he says, “And the understanding after graduation was to give it my all for two years, and so far, so good.”
The conversation on our run home turns to life outside of running and another pillar of Tim’s life, his strong faith. I question how he has developed such a strong faith, and he tells me that his parents laid a strong foundation, but it was the friendships that he developed at his time at Boston College that have really fostered it. From some background research for this article, I learned that Tim encompasses this passion into all aspects of his life, helping run Campus Retreats for college students in the Boston area (yes, even BU students). He teaches the idea that faith is similar to athletics and running in general, where there may be days when you don’t want to run for any number of reasons, but if you show up and lace up, you will improve. We all have crosses to bear in life, but Tim’s feeling is that through tenacity, consistency, and passion, those crosses can be carried.
The pace drops as we re-enter Watertown. We are lucky to catch the traffic light and manage not to break stride. As we race through the intersection, I’m struck not by a car but by what a humble, gracious guy Tim Ritchie is. He mentions to me on numerous occasions how flattered he is that Level Renner is doing a piece on him. The only time he actually talks about himself (without me directly asking something) is an anecdote from high school while racing against Chris Barnicle (see future Level Renner article). When I press him for the major influences regarding his steady improvement, he speaks of a large group of supportive family, friends, Coach Kerr and Jesus Christ who he feels “has truly given me the gift, the strength, and opportunity to train hard, run fast, and love every moment of it.”
[Retro Editor’s Note: Ritchie ran 28:44 at the Stanford Invitational on April 6 to meet the Olympic Trials “B” qualifying standard. Let’s hope he gets the “A” standard at Payton Jordan. Ritchie recently participated in the BAA Invitational Mile. You can read his race report on www.levelrenner.com.]
Kevin Gray is a regular columnist for Level Renner and a self-proclaimed running geek. Reach him at [email protected]
***As was stated at the beginning, this article originally appeared in the May/June 2012 issue of Level Renner. Get your free subscription today (box in upper right portion of screen).