Gary Martin Reflects On 2024 Indoor Season

By Gary Martin

March 20, 2024


It’s been a little over a year since I have written a blog for Citius Mag. I was coming off of an indoor season that ended with a disappointing last-place finish in the ACC mile final.

Despite that, I stayed positive, trusted in the training, and ended up having a successful outdoor season… until I came down with a season-ending sickness and missed out on my first regional meet. That was probably the most frustrating setback I’ve ever had in my running career, but after a month off of running, I was able to get excited about the cross country season.

The summer miles paid off, and I started my sophomore campaign with a string of my best cross country races ever, culminating with an eighth-place finish at the ACC Championships. I was feeling as fit as ever going into regionals until I came down with another sickness that prevented me from running for a full week before the meet! The results were a disappointing regional then national meet that left me pretty frustrated with my collegiate post-season running for the fourth season in a row.

Despite the way the cross country season ended, I came into indoor with a renewed sense of excitement about being back on the track. I knew I could set a big PR in the mile. I was amped about getting the chance to run my first collegiate 3000m. And our DMR looked like it was going to be one of the best in the country. More than anything, I knew that the end of my cross country season wasn’t an accurate reflection of my fitness – I wanted to prove that.

After a successful block of consistent and healthy training in December and early January, I opened up my season at Penn State with a 3000m. I hadn’t run the distance since high school, when I ran 8:41 for 3200m (about 8:05 for a 3000m conversion), but considering the difference in high school and college training, I thought I’d be due for a nice PR.

Although I know I probably shouldn’t compare myself to others, I couldn’t help but see how fast everyone in the NCAA was running and think that I had to be able run 7:45. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats!

I just missed my goal, finishing in 7:47, but was still thrilled with the result and came away with a 18-second PR! I had opened my previous indoor season feeling a bit underwhelmed with a 1:50 800m, so I was pleased to see that starting the season off from a bit more of a strength perspective was paying dividends.

After the 3000m I had a week off from racing, and then it was time to get into the bulk of the schedule. Our team headed up to Boston and I opened the weekend with my first mile of the season. Going in, I knew it was an elite field so my top priority was just to go out and compete. If I could beat some of the best guys in the country, then the time would come naturally. After making a big move with 400 to go, I got nipped at the line, but was still happy with a second-place finish. And as I had hoped, I came away with a two-second PR and what would end up being a Nationals qualifier in 3:54.

Historically, I haven’t been great at doubling (see my ACC mile final last year!) so I decided to double back the next day with an 800 to try flashing some speed. Since I had run 3:54 the previous day, I got moved up a couple of heats and ended up against a bunch of 1:46 and 1:47 guys. I wanted – and still want! – to get that PR down to 1:46 this year, but coming off the mile and racing on tired legs, I was just trying to hang on in this one. But hang on I did. I finished towards the back but kept it together and managed to run 1:48! It may not have been my fastest time, but I was happy with my ability to bounce back and run the day after an all-out effort.

The next weekend, our DMR squad made a trip to Fayetteville for a chance to punch our tickets to Nationals. Running the 1600 leg against some of the best teams in the country, I knew I’d be up against multiple NCAA champions and some of the country’s best middle-distance runners. Once again, I just wanted to go out and prove that I could compete.

Our first three legs executed really well and I got the baton just about 2.5 seconds back from the leaders. I knew I was in a good, but a dangerous spot. If I got too excited early and made my move too quickly, I’d pay for over the last 600m. As antsy I was to rejoin the pack, I kept my emotions in check and told myself that I would make up the ground over the first 800m, gradually. Winning the race was obviously important, but more than anything I needed to make sure we secured a nationals time. I put in a bit of surge on the fourth lap and found myself reconnected with the pack with just under a half-mile to go.

I felt confident that I was going to be able to close fast enough to secure a qualifying time, but my mind started to shift to a bigger goal with 600m to go. I went from trying to survive and hang onto the pack, to thinking maybe I could actually drop everybody and win this thing. Once again, I was getting antsy, but I knew that I couldn’t go too early. With 200m to go, I found myself trailing Luke Houser and knew I was going to have a chance at winning it. I tried to swing wide on the curve and make my move on the home stretch but was just held off, finishing in second with the sixth fastest DMR of all-time in 9:18.95.

It was a big moment for our team and certainly redemption after we just missed out on qualifying last year. For me personally, it felt like another breakout race as I split a 3:51. I knew I could run that fast, but actually doing it in a big race was a different story. I felt like I was finally putting together the performances when it counted, which was a good sign heading into the postseason.


Austin DeSisto | @austin.desisto

The next week we headed back up to Boston for the ACC Championships where I’d attempt the mile and 3000m double. More than anything, I was focused on getting through the mile prelim as easily as possible and recovering the best I could for the next day. After laying in bed most of the morning, I got to the track an hour and a half before my race and tried to manage my emotions.

Coming in with the fastest seed time in my heat, I felt confident and told myself to act like I was the guy to beat. But if I was the guy to beat, that also meant it would be pretty embarrassing if I got bounced in the prelim… so I was nervous too! When the gun went off I stayed patient, went out a bit slower, but made a strong push at the end and closed my last 400 in 54.2 for the win. Trying to best recover for the final this year, I made sure I ate a snack right after the race, got in a good cooldown, rolled out, filled up on pasta, and then went right back to lying in bed for the rest of the night.

I woke up the next morning feeling pretty recovered but still a bit nervous about the races to come. I was happy to be back in the final and feeling good about my chances, but I knew I was going to have some serious competition and would have to execute to near-perfection. However, I also knew that I had been facing serious competition all year, and had been running well in every race. I didn’t have to pull off a miracle or shock anyone in this race, I just had to keep doing what I had been doing.

Going into the mile, the plan was to run aggressively and execute the same way I had all year. I got out a bit slow and towards the back but worked my way up and found myself in the top-three at the halfway point. I lost touch with Parker Wolfe and let him pull away in the last 400m, but was able to finish strong for second.

Despite wanting to come away with a win, I looked back to last year when I was 10th in the mile and 8th in the 1500m outdoors. I knew I had taken a huge leap forward this year and in a sport where progress isn’t always linear, I’ll always take improvement when I can get it.

A couple of hours later, my practice with doubling at meets was going to be tested, as I would try to put together a strong showing in the 3000m. A few laps into the race I thought to myself “good thing I did well in the mile, cause there was no way I was going to do well in this one!” But despite really hurting, I hung in the race and found myself still connected to the leaders at the mile mark.

I’m not sure what it was, but I found there was a complete shift in my mindset: I went from wallowing in the pain of doubling back to realizing that I could actually score. I didn’t think I was going to have a good kick, but I knew if I could push from 800m out that I could potentially use my strength to place pretty well. As Parker put in a surge, I once again found myself in second, taking peaks at the screen to see if the pack was closing. I wasn’t quite able to squeeze out second, but I did finish well enough to hold on for third.

The 3000m was a huge learning experience for me; not because of race tactics or my fitness, but about how much your mentality matters. I didn’t go into the race super confident, but I was able to shift my mindset in the middle of the race and turn a good weekend into a great weekend, something I was really proud of.

After ACCs, it was time for a good week of training and then to ship back off to Boston (which feels like a second home at this point!) for NCAAs. Between myself in the mile, Conor Murphy in the 800, and our group for the DMR, our team brought seven men and five women – it was really exciting to get to bring such a big group.

Despite the races starting on Friday, we arrived on Monday and had plenty of time to sit around and do nothing! With UVA on spring break, I also had pretty much no school work to do, so my time was spent playing hours of Retro Bowl on my phone, listening to music, and making an impulsive decision to get a haircut two days before the race.

Finally, Friday came and it was go time. After spending all season proving that I was good enough to make it to nationals, I felt like I had the opportunity to prove that I was one of the best guys in the country. Instead of going to the prelim feeling confident that I was the guy to beat, I came into this prelim feeling like the underdog. I knew I was good enough to make the final, but when your heat has an NCAA champion, the NCAA record holder, and multiple other established All-Americans, it’s easy to feel like a bit of a small fish.

I went into the race wanting to make my move from 600m out and run the fastest last 600m of anyone in the field. With 600m to go, I went to the lead and started to push the pace. The goal was to win, but I knew I just needed to place top four to advance, so as a couple guys moved around me on the last lap I stayed calm and just tried to protect my position. Sure enough, I came into the home stretch in fourth and with a couple of glances to my side I knew I was safe.

I was super happy with my race and I felt like I had run a pretty clean race (though Kyle Merber tweeted that I ran like a freshman! Still don’t forgive you, Kyle.) After qualifying for the final, the hard part was done and I was excited to have some fun the next day. But first, I got to watch Wes, Sherm, Alex, and Yasin go after a national title in the DMR. I think I got more nervous watching them run than I had felt in the prelim, but it was super exciting to watch as they ran their way to a third place finish and All-American honors!

Finally, it was time for the NCAA mile final. After working towards it all season, I was going to get my chance to prove that I belonged with the best guys in the country. Naturally, some nerves came with running on the biggest stage.

What if I don’t belong? What if I just can’t hang with these guys?

These were the classic pre-race doubts that I’ve grown accustomed to in my running career, but being on a bigger stage than ever before brought on even bigger nerves. But just like any other race, when the gun goes off, your instincts take over.

Similar to my prelim, the first 800m was a bit of a jog and then the race really started with four laps to go. The only difference? This field was made up of all the best guys in the country, all fighting for the same positioning. It was probably the most physical race I have ever been in right from the gun and had me wishing I hit the upper body in the weight room a little more this season! When the pace quickened, I could feel myself ping-ponging back and forth from the front of the field to the back of the field, just trying to avoid the traffic.

Finally, with 200m to go, I was still in it (along with every single person in the field) and was going to have my chance to prove I belonged there. I told myself to be patient, even as guys started to make their moves, just like I tried to do all season. And finally, with 100m to go, I saw an opening on the inside. I moved from lane two to lane one and started my kick coming around the curve. I felt really good! I had another gear, and I was ready to leave it all out there. And then disaster struck.

My feet got tripped up, I lost my balance, and then I fully face-planted with 70 meters to go.


Justin Britton | @justinbritton

More than anything, I was in disbelief. Did this really just happen? To me? You always think about the possibility of someone going down in a race this bunched and physical, but you never think it’s going to be you. My chance at a top-five, or even top-three finish had suddenly gone out the window and I was instead prying myself off the track, picking my glasses up, and then jogging it in for a last-place finish.

When something bad happens to me, my first instinct is to laugh it off, so that’s what I did. I finished and congratulated my competitors and tried to keep a smile on my face. As I left the track, it still hadn’t really sunk in. I navigated my way through the stands and found my girlfriend, Ellie, who hugged me and comforted me. I then found my coaches, teammates, and family who also offered words of encouragement. The chaos of the meet made it hard for it to really sink in, but the frustration started to come over me on my cooldown.

As I thought about the race, I wasn’t upset with how I ran, or even my performance, but I was more frustrated about what could’ve been. I had built towards that fateful final lap all season, and when I was finally going to get to match up with the best guys in the country, it disappeared in an instant. But the more I started to think about it, I tried to put things into perspective.

I didn’t blow up and have a horrible race. I didn’t miss the final. I qualified for the meet in the first place! I ran 1539m with the best guys in the country and knew that, in a different race, I would have finished right with them. It had been an incredible season with just a bit of an unfortunate end. Not a bad ending because I was sick, unfit, or injured, but just a bit of misfortune (and maybe some sub-par race tactics).

Is there still a bit of frustration? Sure, I’m still going to think back every now and then and feel a bit disappointed. But then I’ll remember that I just made my first NCAA meet as a sophomore after not even coming close as a freshman. Last year I was dead last in the ACC Mile final because I was outmatched, and now I was dead last in the NCAA mile final because of a trip. If I’m going to be last in a race, at least I did it on the right stage. It was just one race in a season with multiple PRs and big performances where I proved to myself and the country that I belong with the best. And besides, I can’t be too frustrated because I know I’ll be back and I know I have bigger performances ahead of me.

But until then, it’s time to start the training cycle over again. Except for the first time in a year, I’m ending the season healthy and feeling like I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m so excited for some serious miles and long workouts over the next few weeks. (And to maybe hit the bench in the weight room!)

I’ll be back on the track real soon at Raleigh Relays, and I’m counting down the days to head back home to Philly for Penn Relays this year. I can’t wait for new challenges this outdoor season and I’m looking forward to returning to NCAAs stronger than ever. But until then, it’s time to have some fun and set some new PRs across the board!

Gary Martin

University of Virginia distance runner. Archbishop Wood alum. High school sub-4 miler. Sixers superfan.