Gary Martin On Breaking Four Minutes For The Mile, Being A Face Of The Next Generation Of Stars

Archbishop Wood High School (PA) senior Gary Martin joins the podcast. Earlier this month, Gary made headlines by becoming the 14th US high school boy to break four minutes for the mile by running 3:57.98 at the Pennsylvania Catholic League Championship. He is the fifth-fastest high school miler of all-time indoors or outdoors but he is the fastest high schooler to ever do it against high school only competition. He solo’ed the race and beat Jim Ryun’s 3:58.6 miles record, which stood since 1965. In this episode, you’ll get to know Gary better, what motivates him and what’s got him most excited about his potential and his future at the University of Virginia. We also take a bunch of your listener questions submitted from Instagram.

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CITIUS MAG: Before you went all-in on running, what did your high school athletic experience look like?

GARY MARTIN: It was kind of a mixture of baseball, soccer and basketball and none of them that seriously. It was fun with all of them. I was always the best at soccer. As I was getting older and not playing as much, I thought, ‘I like baseball the most this time so let me give this a shot.’ Even then, I never took it that seriously. When you’re on a high school baseball team, as it is with track, you have to go to every practice and fully commit yourself. I never wanted to make that commitment so I wasn’t too serious about it. I like playing baseball, basketball and soccer with friends. I was always pretty good at them but never incredible.

CITIUS MAG: What made you decide to take track so seriously?

GARY MARTIN: Really it was a mixture of having a little bit of a taste of success and the people around me. My freshman year of track, I started taking it more seriously but still not that seriously. It was one of those things where if we had a day off and the coach said to go run on your own, I’d be like, ‘Yeah, OK. I’m not running today.’ I went to practice and put in the work. Part of that was because I liked hanging out with the guys on the team. Being around that culture and liking the guys I was with. I wanted to go to practice every day because I wanted to hang out with them so that pushed me to run. In my freshman year, I also had some success running 2:06 in the 800 and 54 in the 400. I was like, ‘Hey, this is the most success I’ve had in any sport.’ I never thought of playing a sport in college but I looked at college recruiting standards and thought maybe I can make it onto Division II school or walk on at a Division I school. If I commit myself, maybe I can have some success.

CITIUS MAG: Being a senior now, COVID canceled a big chunk of your high school athletic career. When there weren’t any competitions on the calendar and you resort to remote learning, what was the hardest part of it all?

GARY MARTIN: I think the hardest part was maintaining that discipline and consistency to have a structure and schedule. It’s easy to fall into bad habits and not go out and run every day. That was the hard part. Honestly, it’s crazy that happened because I had so much free time at the start of me taking this sport seriously so it taught me the importance of discipline and the importance of having a set schedule and working hard. I think it would’ve been harder to learn that without COVID by having a lot of school work and races and everything balancing. Maybe I wouldn’t be as disciplined as I am now by running on my own and going out. It was hard to balance but I think it made me stronger and benefited me in the long run.

CITIUS MAG: What were you looking for in a college?

GARY MARTIN: Home is definitely important. Personally, I liked the idea of being closer to home and being just a car ride away. I’m super close to my family. Having my family be able to visit means a lot. Academics was big. I can’t say there’s one specific major I’m interested in. Obviously, I’ve always done pretty well academically so I wanted to go to a school that has a good reputation for academics and where I could get a good degree. Besides that, it was all about finding the best fit by visiting the campus, meeting the kids on the team, meeting with the coaches and figuring out what type of culture and people I wanted to be around for the next four years?

CITIUS MAG: So what sold you on Vin Lananna, coach Trevor Dunbar and the University of Virginia?

GARY MARTIN: It’s funny because when people ask me why I chose Virginia, the first thing I say is just ‘Vin Lananna.’ If you look at his resume, it’s hard not to be impressed with everything he’s done. The truth is, it comes down to more than just that. I built a really great relationship with both Vin and Trevor. I felt like I have a lot of trust in them and clicked with their coaching style. I sat down with Vin and his training style and workouts are pretty similar to what I’m doing now so I felt like that was a good fit. What really sold me was that I took my visit at the end of August. I wasn’t finalized but I was leaning toward making a decision. The kids just sold me on the school. It felt like a family and like what I have at Archbishop Wood and what I fell in love with about the sport. They were the type of people I wanted to be with for the next four years.

CITIUS MAG: When you look at the all-time list now and you see your name among the likes of Alan Webb and Jim Ryun – that’s someone who is widely considered the greatest high school athlete ever. You just did something better than he did. Has that settled in yet?

GARY MARTIN: It’s still settling in. It’s funny because the ‘greatest high school athlete’ thing is something my coach would love to pull out. He’s always dropping facts about runners and Jim Ryun was always a big one. Right after I ran it, there was so much commotion with people coming up to me and talking to me that for the first half-hour after the race, it didn’t settle in. I went on a cooldown by myself and it started to set in. Honestly, I started to tear up a little bit because it’s incredible to think of where I’ve come from. I knew I was in shape to run sub-four. I thought I could do it. It’s a big difference between actually going out there and doing it and just thinking you can do it. I realized the company that I’m in and it’s pretty surreal.

CITIUS MAG: When you crossed the finish line, there was very little doubt because you had three seconds to know that you were under the four-minute mark. You see the “3” ahead of you on the clock. Can you describe what that feeling felt like?

GARY MARTIN: It’s funny because there wasn’t any clock at the race. I wasn’t sure. We don’t have clocks at the PCL Championship. Coach Cockenberg of St. Joe’s Prep was yelling out splits. I could hear I was going to be well under it. He was yelling splits the whole time so from 1000m on, I was confident I had it. Crossing that finish line, the feeling was, ‘Hey, I finally did it. I got it.’ Hearing him yell 3:57.98 was pretty incredible.

CITIUS MAG: What was the celebration like after that? I know you had to go back to school but was there a Wawa stop?

GARY MARTIN: I ran two more races and then went with my girlfriend to Wawa and got a Wawa quesadilla, drove home and went back out to play two hours of basketball.

CITIUS MAG: What was the full order? We’re going to brand this as ‘The Gary Martin’ order at Wawa.

GARY MARTIN: OK, I’ll start off with the quesadilla. It was cheddar and pepper jack cheese, beef, avocado and – normally, I’d do salsa and caramelized onions but the Wawa I was at was out. It was good. It’s better with caramelized onions and salsa but still a quality meal. My first thought process was, ‘I just ran three races and I have to go back to my school until 11 p.m. I need some caffeine.’ So I got a plain iced latte. No sugar. No flavor. Pretty good. Good stuff.

CITIUS MAG: What’s it like being one of the faces of this wave of high school stars that we get to follow over the next few years and in the lead-up to the 2024 and 2028 Olympics?

GARY MARTIN: It’s super fun and it’s crazy. Obviously, when I started taking running seriously, it was a dream but it was never something I seriously thought would happen. Even now, it’s kind of crazy to me that I’m up there as one of the names. I’m almost afraid to act like I am because people would call me crazy. When someone says it to me, I feel like it’s something that should be said with hushed lips. It’s super cool that I’m one of those guys and it makes me excited about the future of the sport. To see what guys in school are doing now…All four of the Newbury Park top guys are incredible. Three of them are juniors so they’re going to be really good. What Cade Flatt has been doing is really great, as well as Will Sumner. That’s just on the guy’s side. I know there are more names but those are the ones that come to the top of my head. The future is bright. On the girl’s side, we’ve got the trio of stars in the 800 with Sophia Gorriaran, Roisin Willis and Juliette Whittaker. There’s a ton of talent in the United States right now and it’s going to be exciting to see what everyone is able to do.


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Chris Chavez

Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.