The Top Marathons Ignored Him. Then He Set a Record That Changed His Life.

When Nathan Martin took the beginning line of the Marathon Project, a one-time, elite-only race in Chandler, Arizona, in December 2020, he had no intention of breaking data. The 33-year-old Michigan native labored as substitute instructor and highschool monitor coach to assist himself, and in his spare time, he was attempting to construct a skilled operating profession. Despite years of marathon coaching and notching aggressive occasions at a number of races, marquee occasions ignored him. His most important purpose at Chandler: Get the eye of marathon race administrators.

Then Martin crossed the road in 2 hours, 11 minutes, and 5 seconds to complete ninth amongst a stacked area and lop three minutes off his PR. That put him on each race director’s radar. But he additionally—with out realizing it on the time—grew to become the quickest ever U.S.-born Black marathoner, besting Herm Atkins’s 1979 time of two:11:52. That received everybody’s consideration.

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Martin didn’t precisely come out of nowhere. He had been a star at Spring Arbor University, setting NAIA data within the 5K, his major self-discipline, in addition to the marathon, which he competed in on the urging of his coach, Dante Ottolini. It was Ottolini who suggested Martin to stay shut after commencement so the 2 may proceed coaching collectively. Martin noticed regular progress within the ensuing years. He nabbed a twenty third place end on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and tenth place (2:14:35) on the 2017 California International Marathon. And then he bested his time by precisely one second on the similar occasion the next yr.

In 2020, issues heated up much more: He received that yr’s Naples Half Marathon and together with his record-breaking Marathon Project end, Martin vaulted into the world of elite runners.

Three years later, Martin nonetheless holds the title he earned in Arizona. In truth, he not too long ago pushed the file 20 seconds quicker with a fourth-place 2:10:45 end result on the 2023 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, in June—the fifth-fastest marathon run by an American to date this yr.

“In all honesty, I really wasn’t shocked,” Martin tells Men’s Journal. “I knew as long as I had an opportunity and got a good chance that a personal record was very possible.”

We talked to Martin about how he knocked 20 seconds off his marathon time, how his coaching has developed over time, and what problem he’s eyeing subsequent.

Nathan Martin, at left, is the quickest U.S.-born Black marathoner, having overwhelmed Herm Atkins’s 1979 file time.

New York Road Runners

Men’s Journal: How did your method to coaching change after the Marathon Project?

Nathan Martin: My time with my faculty coach [Dante Ottolini, the head coach of cross-country and track and field at Spring Arbor University] got here to an finish with how far he may get me together with his coaching. It got here to the purpose the place I felt I wanted a new coach, a completely different perspective. So I linked with James McKirdy 4 or 5 months in the past and began getting coaching from him and determining completely different approaches.

Initially, it was actually tough. You’d assume, “You’re just running. How is it that different?” But if you get into the query of how do you make any person as quick as they are often, there are a lot of various avenues.

How did you and McKirdy method this race otherwise than earlier ones?

My previous coach was very targeted on time. He needed me to have excessive quantity and to have intense exercises, but it surely was extra vital that I used to be hitting the occasions I wanted to hit.

With McKirdy, we targeted on bulkier exercises the place we weren’t glued to a tempo. Instead, we needed to be utterly managing the workload. So it was, “Let’s try our hardest to get 100-mile weeks in,” whereas my previous coach was like, “Your body doesn’t respond the best with these intense paces, so instead of 100 we’re going to shoot for 80 or worst case, 75.”

I additionally began vitamin and sleep to determine other ways to enhance exterior of the operating I used to be doing.

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Did setting the file on the Marathon Project change issues for you?

It utterly modified a lot. First and foremost, simply the file itself. I wasn’t even conscious that I broke a file [at first]. Afterward, on my Instagram, so many individuals had been saying, “That’s so amazing, congratulations.” I’m a man who’s like, “Great, I won a race. Great, I broke a record.” I sort of give it some thought for a few days after which go about my enterprise. But it meant a lot [to other people], I noticed I actually have to consider this. It impacts me and the way I challenge myself. I can use this accomplishment to achieve extra individuals and do good with it.

This is one other alternative to achieve out to individuals and assist them see their potential and what they will accomplish. It’s an African-American file, so with the ability to attain out to Black athletes and Black runners and get them to see what they’re able to is basically large.

Why did you select to enter Grandma’s Marathon?

McKirdy and I simply needed to verify I received in a marathon the place I’d have the ability to check my abilities and actually showcase my health. New York was a fairly large letdown [Martin finished the 2022 New York Marathon with a time of 2:25:27]. Getting in one other marathon offers me a shot to combat for large issues on the Olympic Trials, and it offers me a likelihood to say to completely different corporations which may need to sponsor me, “These are the kinds of things I’m accomplishing.” Ultimately, it is simply actually good coaching to return off one marathon and go into one other. [Grandma’s] often has a high quality area and a course the place you’ll be able to combat for a PR.

Was setting a new PR your purpose for Grandma’s going into the race?

I needed to be prime 10 and I needed to hit my PR. But I believed, “If I hit it, I hit it, and if not, I’ll move on.” My coaching was sort of up and down main into this race, and there have been some exercises the place I believed, “How in the world am I going to run a marathon?”

But then I’d produce other exercises the place I used to be completely crushing, and I believed I used to be 2:10 or quicker. At Grandma’s, I needed to present myself a likelihood to get a PR, however not pressure it.

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What did you eat for dinner the evening earlier than and breakfast the morning of?

I did a conventional pasta dinner: spaghetti, tomato sauce, and meatballs. I’ve develop into a actually large fan of fruit smoothies, often Bolthouse or Naked, so I’ll take these as typically as I can get them—undoubtedly the evening earlier than races. I get up and I really feel higher. Morning of, I hold it very mild. I’ve some oatmeal and a banana after which, if I keep in mind—and I didn’t keep in mind this time—I take UCAN. Other than that? Gatorade and water.

How did you gas whereas on the course?

I’ve tried a lot of various merchandise in varied marathons. There was a stretch the place I used to be taking a lot of Maurten, however the liquid stuff made me really feel bloated and the gel was unbelievably exhausting to get down. For this marathon, I used GU. I believe it has 35 milligrams of caffeine in it. I took seven all through the course.

How did the race unfold?

I began off in a group of 15. Our first mile wasn’t something loopy, 4:58 perhaps—a little fast however not quicker than what I can maintain on a tremendous day with a group. Then they began taking off, and I made a decision to allow them to go. If I catch you, I catch you, however I’m undoubtedly not going to die with you.

Then it was me and Alex Monroe, an superior man I used to be in a position to join with on race weekend. He was main the best way and I used to be sticking with him, attempting to take the lead after I may to assist draft. But nearly all of that first 10K was him pushing and me drafting. He finally dropped off, and I want he may’ve held on. He was my roommate for the race and a actually superior man. I simply needed him to do properly.

Right round mile 14 or 15, I began feeling drained. I attempted to dam it out and hold pushing via. Around 15 or 16, I began seeing different racers. I believed, “You know what? Skip my pace, skip my goals, let’s just try to catch those people.”

I stored pushing to catch the teams and I made a lot of floor, however I did not catch them till seven or eight miles to go. It was a four- or five-mile chase.

At that time, I did not have a lot left. But I used to be catching as much as the individuals who had been falling again. I’d get to them and race with them for a little bit, catch my power, and assume perhaps if I noticed extra individuals I may catch them. I’d stand up to the teams, and so they had been going method slower than I believed they had been. I’d go proper round them.

I ended up seeing another individual earlier than the end. I used to be like, “Oh my goodness, I have to try to catch this guy.”

There’s this virtually hairpin flip, you go straight up after which curve again downward towards the eventual lead-in to the end. When that occurred, he was both drained or no matter, however I immediately closed a enormous chunk of that hole going across the flip. I’d finished the half marathon there the earlier yr and I knew we had been near the end, so I began kicking.

Three or 4 seconds after I handed him, I’m like, “Wait a minute, where’s the finish?” I had misjudged how far it was, however I could not cease pushing as a result of it would be terrible if he handed me. I simply stored going. It was fairly tough, however I used to be in a position to maintain on and end.

You beforehand referred to as the 2020 Marathon Project the very best race you have ever run. With this end, do you continue to really feel the identical method?

It’s exhausting to say. Both races had been very related in how they performed out. I did not really feel I may go together with the tempo of the leaders. I had a little assist from the individuals I used to be pacing off of. I did a enormous chunk of it on my own, and on the finish, I attempted to catch as many individuals as I may. I suppose we’ll give it to Grandma’s as a result of it produced a quicker time.

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You nonetheless work as a monitor and cross-country coach for Jackson High School in Michigan. Do you get strain to depart that job and decide to your individual operating?

That was a part of why I modified issues with my very own teaching and the way I’m approaching operating. It was attending to the purpose the place I could not assume rationally. I used to be like, “What am I supposed to be doing?” Mentally, 2022 was fairly unhealthy. I felt like I used to be doing issues the fallacious method. I believed, “I need to step back, I need to reassess.” I’ve to do issues as a result of I really feel prefer it’s the very best transfer and works with my philosophy, not as a result of it’s the very best transfer for my PR, or the very best transfer for my monetary scenario.

I undoubtedly assume I’m in a unbelievable spot proper now, and there is nonetheless rising to do and selections to make.

What’s an expertise you’ve had in your teaching profession that made you’re feeling such as you had been actually making a distinction in a pupil’s life?

I take into consideration that stuff on a regular basis—whether or not or not what I’m doing is making an impression. We had an athlete who determined to return out for summer season operating of their sophomore yr. When they began, they put forth good effort, but it surely wasn’t producing a lot. I did not know in the event that they had been going to complete summer season operating, not to mention run cross-country, however certain sufficient they caught it out.

They undoubtedly did not have a lot of confidence of their skills. When I requested what their objectives had been, it was a lot of: “I don’t know.” But slowly and absolutely they began giving a little bit extra. I may inform they had been giving effort, but it surely was extra “I need to get through this,” moderately than actually racing and actually combating. It was like that as much as the final race. They did not bust out some loopy time, however I may inform they actually gave all the things they’d in that race, and it was unbelievable and wonderful to see. It was a kind of moments the place I may inform this expertise modified them.

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Looking forward, what are your operating objectives?

It’s arising on an Olympic yr, and I at all times need to give myself a likelihood to make the staff. That’s what I need to combat for. I’ve to steadiness it with basic life stuff, with teaching, and with race alternatives that pop up—races which may not be helpful for trials however could be helpful for me general. That’s the largest purpose on the finish: Can I give myself this potential remaining shot to make the staff? Not to say that I could not hold operating and have a shot on the subsequent Olympics. But that is in all probability the largest second for it.

Why are the Olympics so vital for you?

It’s the Olympics. It’s the largest stage. Really, it comes right down to inspiring individuals. It actually will get a lot of consideration, and it is one of the best ways to showcase who I’m and what I’m doing. I consider that I’ve a shot to get there. I need to attempt for that and provides myself a likelihood.

At the 2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Orlando, a area of 250 athletes might be winnowed down to only 3 Olympic qualifiers. What do you assume it’ll take so that you can qualify?

Going off the final Olympic Trials in Atlanta, it was actually eye-opening to see how many individuals confirmed up able to push and execute on a very difficult course. I’ve zero doubt it’s going to be a related scenario in Florida.

It’s exhausting to reply. My coach believes I needn’t make any extra health jumps, I needn’t do something loopy, I simply have to execute on the health I’m already at. I’ve excellent confidence in what I’m in a position to accomplish, and I haven’t got to be first. I simply should be within the prime three. I’m assured I can race who I have to race.

But once more, you by no means know.

What’s your subsequent marathon?

My subsequent race would be the New York City Marathon. I knew it was an possibility however I sort of had written it off. [But] pondering of my operating objectives, finally, it isn’t essentially attending to the Olympics regardless that it is fairly shut; it is with the ability to attain out to individuals and be a illustration of operating and what you’ll be able to accomplish with it, displaying people who there are a lot of various paths to take to develop into nice. New York is one other alternative to showcase that. It’s not ultimate for the trials, however I talked to so many individuals about if I could make each these items work, and a lot of individuals reassured me that we are able to make it work regardless that New York is fairly near the trials. We’ll push via and see the way it goes.

I undoubtedly need to method [New York] from a completely different standpoint. There had been a lot of various components final yr, the largest one being the warmth, and I did not do a good job respecting the sphere. I would like to have the ability to race that final 10 miles, so climate, opponents, course, no matter it’s, I’ve to set myself as much as really feel like I can actually try this as a result of I do know if I can race the final 10 miles of the race, I can race anyone within the area and set myself up for a actually good race. I do not need to say that I can hit a PR on the course, however coaching has been going properly. I believe I can have a actually good displaying. If nothing else, I can have a New York City PR.

This interview has been edited for size and readability.

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