3 DAYS BEFORE the Philadelphia Catholic League Championships, Gary Martin (Archbishop Wood, Warminster, Pennsylvania) looked at the weather forecast and decided to make a run at the history books.
After a much-publicized quest to break 4:00 for the mile this year, the 18-year-old senior would instead try to fly under the radar at the local meet in his quest to join a very select fraternity. After the rain subsided on Saturday afternoon, May 14, and taking advantage of still air, Martin circled four laps of the track at Cardinal O’Hara High in Springfield in 3:57.98, becoming the 14th schoolboy to go sub-4:00. Perhaps more significantly, he’s now the fastest to ever do it against HS-only competition.
The previous fastest clocking in an all-prep race was the 3:58.3 run by Jim Ryun to win the Kansas State Meet in ’65. “The company that I’m in is pretty incredible,” says Martin, who now trails only Alan Webb (3:53.43), Ryun (3:55.3), Hobbs Kessler (3:57.66 indoors) and Drew Hunter (3:57.81 indoors) — who made their marks in races which included pros — on the all-time list. “The 14 guys who have broken 4:00 is a historic group of names. To be surrounded by that group of people only builds my self-confidence.”
Two weeks earlier, in a highly publicized race at the Penn Relays, Martin came up just over a second short, clocking 4:01.04 on a windy afternoon. That was just shy of the 4:00.95 PR he’d run at a local invitational on April 13. “I enjoy the publicity and I think I perform well under pressure, so I liked all the hype going into Penn Relays,” Martin says. “It was a little windy and I knew that if I got the right day I wouldn’t need competition to do it.”
So after those close calls, the league meet presented a perfect opportunity. “Going into the week, I talked to my coach and the original plan was that I was gonna run the mile, the 800, the 3200 and the 4×4 to try to get our team points,” he says. “But we decided not to do the 32 because it was like 10 minutes before the 4×4 and after all that I probably wouldn’t be able to run that well and we needed me to run fast for our team to do well.”
On the Wednesday before the meet, Paul Matuszak, a local 2:22 marathoner Martin sometimes trains with, pointed out the weather forecast was looking ideal. “That’s when the wheels started turning it a bit and I started thinking about giving it a chance,” Martin explains. “I talked to my coach about it and we decided to keep it low key. I didn’t tell anyone I was gonna go for it until the morning of, I told a couple of my teammates.”
He set out on an aggressive, but controlled tempo and by halfway (1:58.47 with 800 to go) everything seemed in place. His coach, Paul Streleckis, standing at the opposite side of the track, called out a 2:27 split at the 1000m mark and at that point Martin knew he had it in the bag. “I felt strong and I knew I just had to finish the deal,” he says. “I knew I had at least a 60-second last lap in me.
As in most of his races, Martin executed an evenly paced effort, with 409m in 59.67, then 400s of 58.80, 59.88 and 59.63. “He has a very good internal clock, so he’s very good at hitting splits,” Streleckis says. “Even splits is the best way to go when you’re trying to break a record, and that’s what we’ve been working towards.”
After winning that race by nearly 20 seconds, Martin had very little time to process the magnitude of his achievement. Within the hour he lined up for the 800, winning a close race in 1:51.29. “I still had a ton of adrenaline from the mile, but it was a mixture of feeling like I wanted to throw up and my legs feeling incredible,” he says.
“Once I hit the track the adrenaline went away and I started to feel it in my legs, but I was able to rally and hold on and I put down a pretty fast time.”
Then an hour later he was back for 4×4 duty, anchoring Wood with a 49.14 split, his fastest ever, to come within 0.002 of the victory. That evening he finished his historic day with two-hours worth of 3-on-3 basketball at a fundraiser for childhood cancer at his high school, where he’s a student council VP. (“My other coach and I we just kinda shake our heads,” Streleckis says of the recreational hoops. “But to me that’s a very good thing that he’s enjoying his high school time with his friends.”)
Martin’s latest accomplishment adds to an already impressive résumé, including a pair of state XC titles, a 4:03.53 PR as a junior and the New Balance Indoor title this past March. He won that race with a then-PR 4:02.34, using a big kick to hold off three other boys who went sub-4:03. Already this spring he’s lowered his PRs in the 800 (1:49.68) and 3200 (8:41.57, worth 8:44.60 for 2M).
Beyond states and New Balance Outdoors, Streleckis and the Virginia-bound Martin are still mulling over other opportunities. “A lot of things are starting to pop up,” the coach says of the invitations to race, including against some pro fields. They’re also considering chasing the 1500 qualifying standard (3:37.00) for the USATF Outdoor Championships.
And now that he has the sub-4 monkey off his back, Martin wants to push his mile PR even lower. “Everyone was asking, ‘When are you gonna break 4:00?’” he says. “So I’m happy to have gotten that out of the way and I can just focus on getting faster and faster.” ◻︎