Richard Ringer is Germany's best long-distance runner, and the holder of many titles – in the 5,000 and 10,000-m disciplines as well as cross-country. In the middle of the Corona pandemic, however, Ringer decided to switch to marathon distances. Now he has to keep going for a whole 42.195 km instead of 10,000 m. His next goal is the Olympic Games in Japan.
Many sportsmen and women have seen their ambitions thwarted by the Corona pandemic. Training facilities have been shut down and contests cancelled, and income flows have dried up. All-round uncertainty has reigned, with no-one knowing when things will start to move forward again. It was in the midst of this uncertainty that Richard Ringer, business controller at Rolls-Royce Power Systems, decided on a change of discipline. “As a runner, I wasn't as severely affected by the restrictions as some of my sporting colleagues. I can basically run anytime, anywhere, and need neither a track nor a sports hall,” he explained. The switchover to marathons did not come unexpectedly. “I'd had marathons on my radar for some time and it felt like the right moment to make the change. As a matter of fact, many long-distance runners switch to marathon running mid-career.”
Qualifying for the Olympics
But is the transition from 10,000 m to 42.195 km really so easy to make? “It's going surprisingly well. I was expecting more of a struggle,” said Ringer, who has now taken part in two marathon races. “My first marathon was in autumn 2020 and it was pretty tough. I really had to grit my teeth and my finishing time fell well short of my expectations!” he smiled. “But in April I ran the Siena marathon in Italy and that was brilliant. I achieved the fourth best time in German history! And even the day after, I felt top fit and raring to go.” Ringer's finish time gained him entry into Germany's Olympic Team and thus the chance to compete in Sapporo, Japan.
Rio versus Tokyo
Richard Ringer already knows what it's like to wait at an Olympic starting line – he was a contestant in the 5,000 m race in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. What impressed him then was the sporting spirit in the Olympic Village, the exciting mix of cultures with athletes from all over the world, and the fervour of the fans. All those ingredients will be missing in Japan. So does he think that this year's Olympic Games are even worth it? His answer is unequivocal: “Of course I'll miss the pomp and the spectacle, but I'm a sportsman and the fact is that a race for which I've been preparing carefully for a long time is taking place on 8 August 2021. For me, it'll still be the highlight of the year.”
A marathon with a difference
At this year's Olympics, almost nothing will be the same: Ringer's destination will not be Tokyo, the main Olympic venue. He'll be travelling directly to Sapporo, where he will be accommodated in a hotel. There will be no Olympic village. The marathon itself will take place largely out of the public eye, with spectators not likely to be permitted. The athletes will not run across the city as usual, but around circuits, the largest of which will be 22.195 m, with two smaller circuits of 10,000 m. Richard could turn that to his advantage, however, since the 10,000 m discipline was his specialty. “My 10,000 m background has given me a capacity to sprint that not every marathon runner possesses,” he explained.
“Running a marathon has a much bigger psychological aspect than running long-distance along a track,” explained Ringer. Obviously, what counts first and foremost for any marathon runner is making it to the finishing line, but other difficulties have to be factored in as well. Ringer divides the race into 5-km stretches, for each of which he sets his own time targets. The marathon runner's battle begins at around 30 or 35 kilometers, when a heaviness in the legs sets in. “It starts to be more about your mental strength, and you have to stay completely focused.”
The main source of motivation for Ringer is his normal everyday life. “My big advantage is that my employer and co-workers are ready to free me up,” said Ringer. With a part-time job in business controlling, he has a steady income that allows him to concentrate on his running. “When I'm not competing, I'm in the office. That can be for a matter of months or a matter of hours. But when I'm there, my mind is completely on the job. And being at work with my colleagues give me a great sense of equilibrium. I experience a kind of calmness and lightness of touch there that I can put into my running,” he explained. That's why the question of whether the Olympics would actually happen in 2021 or not never really worried him. He simply kept to his training schedule for a race on 8 August. At worst, he would be able to run a marathon elsewhere.
So Ringer stays focused on the 8 August. His aim is a good finishing time in Sapporo. And he'll be back at work in August doing business controlling, but with a fresh set of plans – one of the big city marathons, where he'll be running down the straight rather than a circuit, with friends and spectators there to cheer him on. Then follows the next Olympic Games in Paris in 2024. Richard Ringer has a full agenda.