Ricks shoots at qualifying for Olympic marathon Trials
When 500+ runners test their endurance Saturday in the 24th annual Rock Canyon Half-Marathon in Pueblo, defending champion Justin Ricks won’t be among them. Instead, the Pueblo West distance machine will be taking aim at a much bigger target the following day.
Ricks is entered in the California International Marathon, which will take place on a point-to-point course from the city of Folsom to the state capitol in Sacramento. But unlike most of the capped field of 7,500 registered runners who will be just hoping to finish the 26.2-mile distance or improve their times, Justin will be trying to qualify for a men’s Olympic Trials marathon berth that will determine the U.S. marathoners in the 2012 Olympics in London.
To qualify for the trials, Ricks must record a time of 2 hours and 19 minutes or faster. Considering that he finished his only previous marathon, Colorado’s American Discovery Trail, in 2:32 in 2009 and has never before run the distance on roads, one might think the task is unattainable.
But not if you know a little about Ricks and what the 30-year-old has already accomplished.
The Colorado Springs native was a standout at Wasson High School, where he took a second and third in the 3,200-meter run and runner-up honors in both the state cross country meet as a junior and in the mile run (4:31 time) as a senior. He ran a year at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs before getting sidetracked from running, marrying his college sweetheart, joining the working world and becoming the father of two kids.
Five years and 80 pounds gained later, Ricks had had enough of carrying 245 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame and being out of shape. So he and his wife, Denise, who ran at Pueblo East High, decided to make a lifestyle change by starting to eat healthy and getting back into running and exercise.
As the junk food was ditched and the running miles eventually piled up near 100 miles per week, the pounds melted off, and Ricks began entering endurance trail runs in 2008, when he won the Greenland Trail 50K in a course-record time of 3:23:11 and took 13th place in the U.S. 50-mile championships near Seattle in 7:43:39. The sterling performances continued last year when he won the above-mentioned ADT Marathon, set a course record in the Greenland 25K division in 1:36:27, finished first in the 59-mile TransRockies Run3 in 7:10:45, placed fifth in the Pikes Peak Marathon in 4:11:12 and scorched the Rock Canyon field with a time of 1:09:34.
He had hoped to qualify for the Olympic marathon trials last January but suffered a stress fracture 12 days before the Houston Marathon, which is where the Trials will be held in January 2012.
Now, he feels he’s ready for a shot at 2:19, saying that it’s possible because “I’m in much better shape now” than he was a year ago. Despite being a district manager for Rent-a-Center, he’s been squeezing in 100-mile running weeks regularly and occasionally more in his 10 or 11 runs a week and does a steady speedwork regimen of mile repeats at a pace between five minutes and 5:05. He points out that the training is something he simply enjoys doing.
“I really like running and I just like to train,” he noted.
To help get prepped for a marathon on the roads, he’s been sprinkling in some short-distance races throughout the year. For instance he won the Colorado Springs Classic 10K in July in 31:09, finished fifth overall in the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon in October in 1:10:17 (being the first American finisher), and just last Thursday blitzed the 256-runner field in the YMCA Turkey Trot in 16:29.
Should he fail to qualify in the California International Marathon, Justin still has until a month before the Trials to do so.
But with the way he is running now, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t crack 2:19 barring injury, illness or poor weather conditions.
Entries have been pouring in for Saturday’s Rock Canyon Half-Marathon as distance runners try to cap their year with a scenic challenge. The 9 a.m. race, which is Pueblo’s second largest behind The Pueblo Chieftain-sponsored Spring Runoff, starts and finishes at City Park and is based at the pavilion. A 3-hour time limit will be in effect for runners to receive course and finish line support. Proceeds from the race traditionally are used to support local high school cross country teams, the Pueblo Nature Center, the Southern Colorado Trail Builders and other local groups.
Pueblo native Danny Pate could very well be returning to the Tour de France in 2011 after switching teams and signing with HTC Columbia back in September. The Colorado Springs resident rode the Tour in 2008 and 2009 with Garmin Transitions but wasn’t part of the team’s top nine cyclists who rode in France this year.
• Saturday – Rock Canyon Half-Marathon, 9 a.m., Pueblo City Park (email@example.com).
• Dec. 18 – It’s a Wonderful Run (SCR Prediction Series run), 4M, 9 a.m., 2922 Rice (firstname.lastname@example.org).
• Jan. 15 – Joy Walk & Run, 5K, Lake Minnequa (email@example.com).
• Feb. 12 – Valentine’s Twosome, 1.6M each partner, 9 am, Pueblo City Park (firstname.lastname@example.org).
• Feb. 20 – Spring Runoff Tuneup (SCR Prediction Series run), 10K, 9 am, Pueblo City Park.
• March 6 – Spring Runoff, 2M, 5K, 10K, 10M & 1M fun run, 9 am, Dutch Clark Stadium (email@example.com).