Kent State student headed to Olympic trials

Nate Ulrich

Melissa Rittenhouse runs a 10km race in Cleveland last year. The doctoral student in exercise physiology has since qualified for the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials. PHOTO PROVIDED BY MELISSA RITTENHOUSE

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Melissa Rittenhouse knows that running a marathon can be brutal, especially when the ground is covered with a sheet of ice. Those were the conditions that Rittenhouse faced in February when she ran through freezing rain and 28-degree temperatures at the Austin Marathon in Texas.

“People did wipe out,” said Rittenhouse, a doctoral student in exercise physiology at Kent State. “I saw a guy fall flat on his back right in front of me.”

Rittenhouse conquered the harsh elements to finish the race in 2 hours, 45 minutes, 13 seconds and qualify for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

“It’s always a mental battle,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen. Either the weather will be bad, or there won’t be a water stop.”

Mental focus is definitely a key attribute that marathon runners need, but training plays a tremendous role as well. Rittenhouse, who ran cross country and track and field at the University of Dayton, said she wakes up at about 5 a.m. to run eight to 10 miles nearly every day.

Rittenhouse said she discovered her passion for marathons when a teammate at Brookside High School in Sheffield dared her to run one. She accepted and finished the Cleveland Marathon, despite little training for long-distance running.

“I remember suffering, walking and jogging, but people along the way were cheering me on,” she said. “Other runners were giving me fruit and drinks and talking to me. I thought it was so cool. I remember thinking I would do another. I didn’t know when, but I knew I would run one again.”

After she graduated from Dayton, Rittenhouse moved to Atlanta for graduate school and took a break from racing. It didn’t take long for her competitive spirit to fire up again.

“The running community was huge there,” she said. “I started to get involved, which was good because they kicked my butt every day, and then I realized I needed to run competitively again. I couldn’t stand being beat day in and day out.”

Rittenhouse’s goal before the 2008 Olympic trial is to reach the USA Track and Field’s “A” standard for women by running a sub-2:39 time on a certified course, which would give her a free trip to the Olympics. Rittenhouse’s best time is 2:44.39.

This will be Rittenhouse’s second Olympic trial after qualifying in 2004. However, there is a new twist: Akron is one of four cities, including New York, Boston and Minneapolis, that U.S. Track & Field officials will choose to host the event. One city will be picked for the men’s trial and another for the women’s trial.

Rittenhouse said racing close to home would be ideal.

“I have family and friends who know I’m working hard all the time, but they never get to see me race. It would be a great opportunity for everybody to see me run.”

Jim Barnett, executive race director for the Road Runner Akron Marathon, is part of group that submitted a bid to host the 2007 U.S. Marathon Championship and the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. USATF is expected to announce the host cities sometime in April, Barnett said.

“The benefits to the city would be huge,” Barnett said. “This fits in with our mission statement, which is to draw national attention to Akron and to galvanize the community.

“The economic impact would be measured by millions of dollars. It would be great for hotels and restaurants in the community.”

The Akron Marathon’s success has played a role in the city being considered as a host, Barnett said. Rittenhouse, who ran in the event as a member of a relay team, said she liked the course.

“Even if Akron is not selected, the prestige of the Akron Marathon is elevated just by being considered,” Barnett said.

Information about the upcoming Akron Marathon in September can be found at

Contact College of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Nate Ulrich at [email protected].