IMPROVING RAPIDLY DURING his junior season to 4:03.53, and then as a senior last school year dethroning the great Jim Ryun as the fastest all-time miler in a preps-only race, Gary Martin (Wood, Warminster, Pennsylvania) caught the attention of Virginia’s Vin Lananna.
Lananna, a coach well versed over decades in sizing up champion milers, picked up the recruiting phone. “I think he and I just connected from the first conversation,” says the UVA director whose reputation precedes him from tenures at Dartmouth, Stanford and Oregon. “At least that’s my perception. He may have a completely different perception of it, but I think we connected really well and he’s as much a great young man and a leader as he is a runner.”
In early September of ’21, Martin made his college choice. “I am incredibly excited to announce my commitment to the University of Virginia,” he tweeted. “A huge thank you goes out to my family, friends, teammates, coaches, and everyone else who has supported me throughout this process. See you all in Charlottesville and #GoHoos!”
A banner senior season followed, featuring wins at the New Balance Nationals both indoors and out, a Penn Relays victory and that history-making run deep under the symbolic 4:00 threshold as part of a triple at his league meet.
Martin, easily identifiable on sight for his curly dark locks and Clark Kent spectacles, topped even ’22 HS Athlete Of The Year and 3:56.24 man Colin Sahlman in the mile’s All-America ratings.
Interviewed by runnerspace.com after closing out his season with a tactical New Balance Outdoor win on the Penn track, Martin attributed it all to “a mix of things. Just as I got older I started to run more miles, got smarter with training and became a stronger runner. And then mentally, I think I’ve learned how to race competitively and just get out in a race and attack it and run against the field.
“So it’s been definitely a combination of things. I think I went from kind of just scratching my potential and not really working that hard to really putting the work in, and I’ve learned a lot from that.”
In Martin’s collaboration with Wood coach Paul Streleckis, Lananna saw a program designed for him “to perform at the highest level”: “I think they did a great job, they had a great partnership.”
In that runnerspace interview, Martin asserted, “I feel like this is only just the start of my running career. I mean, it’s weird cuz from when I started running seriously two years ago so much has changed and I feel like I’ve accomplished so much but it still just really feels like the beginning.
“I feel like I’ve got so much more to give to this sport and I’m super-excited to see what I can do when I get to college.”
This fall Martin stepped up boldly for a yearling miler, all the way to 10K cross country. He ran as No. 7 man for Virginia at the Southeast Regional and was the Cavalier’s No. 6 (163rd) at the big Nationals dance.
“You know my background,” Lananna says. “For years I have bounced between running our milers and not running our milers in cross country. The decision for him to run this fall was made by him. I would have been fine with him training with our fall conditioning program, but he didn’t want any part of that. He wanted to be in the cross country thing, jump right in. And he did, and did a great job.
“More importantly than what he ran, or what place he was or any of that,” Lananna says, Martin did not train “at a lot of volume. He did an appropriate amount of volume to run a mile, but really not an appropriate amount of volume to run 5000 meters or be a killer in cross country.
“But to his credit, he worked hard over the summer, put the volume in, made the transition on his own, and he was committed to be one of our top 7. That was his goal and he checked that box.
“I think in the end, that’s going to translate to big things going forward.”
[Note: Between the cross country post-season, the horrific shooting tragedy on the Virginia campus and the Thanksgiving holiday, Virginia was unable to make Martin directly available for this story. We look forward to interviewing him in the future.]