Archbishop Wood senior Gary Martin didn’t run the PIAA 3,200 meters during the May 27 and 28 state track and field championships at Shippensburg.
Had he done so, the record time to beat would have been 8:54.87 … set at last year’s state championships by Archbishop Wood junior Gary Martin.
The Virginia-bound Martin again took two golds at this spring’s PIAA meet. Martin successfully defended his 1,600-meter title in Shippensburg by shaving nearly six seconds from the 11-year-old Pennsylvania record. Martin’s clocking of 4:01.56 was barely two seconds slower than the national record held by future Olympian Alan Webb.
Yet his victory in the 800 meter, where Martin dueled with second-place finisher Carter Fitzgerald of CB West, might have meant more.
“I felt confident going into the 1,600. I was able to pull ahead about halfway through the race and it was a good time,” Martin remembered. “I came back on Saturday and ran the 4x800. I did not feel good after that. It was not our best race as a team.”
All Martin wanted to do post-race was lay in the tent. “The thought of ‘I don’t know how I am going to run this next race’ definitely sat with me for a few minutes,” he admitted. “It took a lot of my energy to rally. I got up, warmed up and told myself that this was my last race representing Archbishop Wood. I wanted to give it all I’ve got. I went out there and battled.”
Martin “has the state records in the 3,200, the 1,600 and the mile. He has two state cross country championships,” pointed out Wood track coach Paul Streleckis. “The 800 was the one event that he did not have a state championship in. Last year, he tried to triple the 3,200, 1,600 and he fell a little short in the 800.
“Carter Fitzgerald is an outstanding runner. When Carter came after him on the home stretch, I really thought it was going to be a problem,” Streleckis continued. “Gary responded and I think that was his gutsiest race.”
“I see myself getting better so I know my workouts are working,” Martin mused. “I don’t think I was capable of doing what I did in states this time last year.” The double golds in states prove the mental, not just physical, leaps that Martin made this season.
Martin frequently dominated local and regional meets. But he had to learn to compete at national meets when he raced comparable runners.
In early big meets “maybe I got into my own head a little bit,” he speculated. “I wasn’t as confident and I changed the way I ran. I wasn’t as aggressive in my running. This year, I’ve realized that I need to approach every race with the same amount of confidence, to have faith in my abilities and know what I am capable of.”
He is capable of making national headlines. On an overcast day at the May 14 Philadelphia Catholic League championships, Warminster’s Martin clocked a 3:57.98 mile. He became only the 14th American high schooler to break the four-minute barrier and just the third in history to do so outdoors. A 3:57 mile turns “future Olympian” from pipe dream into possibility.
“Obviously breaking that 4:00 barrier was an incredible feeling and doing it pretty much at home with my teammates, friends and competitors who I’ve run against for four years,” Martin shared, “was pretty cool.”
“God blessed him with a lot of ability, but then you have to go out and use that ability. I think he has done that to the maximum potential that you can expect an athlete to do,” Streleckis observed. “What separates him? One, he is fearless. A lot of kids have apprehension about pushing limits. He has never hesitated to do that. Another thing is that he stays very level. He is very good about eating properly and sleeping properly. Things like that have helped to keep him healthy so he can run consistently.”
Martin ran in a high school only competition and without a “rabbit” to pace him – making him and track legend Jim Ryun the only two prepsters to turn in a sub-4:00 mile under those conditions. Each of Martin’s quarter-mile splits was under 1:00 during the historic run.
“When you are running 4:40, you can make some really big gains and chop seven or eight seconds,” Streleckis noted. “When you are getting to that 3:57 range, you have to fight for every second. He is still only 18 years old. He’ll get stronger and he’ll improve on his 400 speed.”
“Most of my races, I’m in the front and when I’m in the front, I’m trying to be in tune with myself and how I feel,” Martin shared. “Looking at a clocker, hearing splits, thinking about my pace and how I am feeling. If I am in the middle of a pack, it’s paying attention to the people around me and what they are doing. That way, I am able to read and respond to other people’s move or recognize when I want to make a move to push the pace.”
Astoundingly, Martin is fairly new to track. “He didn’t practice over his freshman summer, which we always joke about,” Streleckis said. Martin had a good/not great first cross country season. But that winter, he shaved his indoor time from 4:38 to 4:22 in a month and a half and finished fourth in the indoor mile in states.
“I was looking forward to the outdoor season, I had big things planned and then everything got shut down because of COVID,” Martin remembered. “Even then, I didn’t think I would be where I am now, but that was when I first thought I could do something with the sport.”
Martin is not finished “doing something with his sport.” He graduates from Wood as arguably the most decorated mid-distance runner in Pennsylvania history … and with his fastest still yet to come.