- Gary Martin became the 14th high school boy to run a sub-4:00 minute mile on May 14.
- Martin now owns the fastest time ever run in a high school-only race.
- His time of 3:57.98 is the fifth fastest all-time for high school boys, indoors or outdoors.
Jim Ryun first broke 4 minutes in the mile on June 5, 1964 as a 17-year-old. In the subsequent 50 years, only four other high school boys accomplished the same feat. But since 2015, that elite list of names rapidly expanded, as nine more high school boys clocked sub-4:00 miles.
Whether it's due to improved shoe technology, faster tracks, better coaches, accessible training information on the internet, or a combination of all four, high school boys are definitely getting faster. But until last weekend, one constant has remained: Ryun owned the record for the fastest time in a race with only high school runners with his 3:58.3 time from 1965.
That is, until Gary Martin of Archbishop Wood High School in Pennsylvania ran 3:57.98 on May 14 at the Philadelphia Catholic League Outdoor Championships. Garbed in a yellow and black singlet with ‘WOOD’ in big letters across the chest, he crossed the line with his arms raised as the announcer bellowed: “Ladies and gentlemen, you have seen a sub-4:00 mile.”
In the month prior, the high school senior nearly missed the barrier on two occasions—he ran 4:00.95 the Explorers Invitational at La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania on April 13 and 4:01.04 at the Penn Relays on April 29. So what made the difference from those attempts to the Catholic league championships?
Two things, said Martin: self-confidence and aerobic strength. Martin finished a 3,200-meter race on May 6 in 8:41.57, a big personal best and confidence booster. He followed that race with a tempo workout on Tuesday, May 10, running three miles in 14:37, taking 10 minutes rest, and running another two miles in 9:47.
The workout indicated to Martin and his coach, Paul Streleckis, that he was ready. In December last year, Martin’s fastest tempo run was four miles at 5:05 pace. Even just a few weeks ago, he was running tempo workouts at a five-minute mile pace. Last Tuesday, he ran 10 seconds faster per mile than December—and felt strong doing so.
So on Wednesday, May 11, Martin texted his coach, Paul Streleckis, to ask if it was a crazy idea to go for sub-four at the Catholic league championships.
“How’s the track at O’Hara?” asked Martin about the meet host, Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, Pennsylvania.
“The track is fast enough,” replied Streleckis. The chase was on.
Saturday, May 14 was chilly and drizzly. Martin didn’t feel his best, suffering from pre-race nerves and heavy legs on the line. But once the gun went off, he focused on the track in front of him. He was all alone at the front after the initial meters, crossing the quarter-mile split in 59.67 seconds. In previous sub-4:00 attempts, he settled in the second 400, coming through halfway in just under two minutes. But this time, he heard people shout 1:58.
“For whatever reason, I felt really strong,” Martin said. “That was when I realized it was going to happen.” Martin maintained the pace until only the final 400 remained: “I was able to close pretty well for the last lap and go well under.”
There was no clock at the finish line, so Martin didn’t have visual evidence he’d broken the barrier. But he threw his arms up triumphantly anyway, knowing what he achieved. The announcer confirmed suspicions shortly after.
It’s unusual to witness a high schooler chase a sub-4:00 mile in a high school race—especially alone from the front. Most of the successful boys lined up in professional races, aided by pacers. Of the five who went for it in a high school race, only Martin and Ryun didn’t have a rabbit.
“It’s become part of my identity as a runner,” Martin said. “I’ve gotten used to running by myself and staying mentally tough without competition and using that to run fast…I think there’s a special feeling to getting it done in a high school race.”
Now that Martin’s proven he can run sub-4:00 without pacers, he wouldn’t mind running with some pros—and has even discussed some upcoming races with his coach. But it’s easy to forget such an elite runner is in high school and has other priorities. “Some dates conflict with graduation or school events,” he said.
Just because Martin made history didn’t mean he was exempt from aiding his team either. After his historic mile, he won the 800 in 1:51.29 and split 49.1 on the 4 x 400-meter relay, aiding Archbishop Wood’s sixth-place overall team finish at the championships.
“My team is always there to support me. I owe it to them to give my best and contribute.”
Martin, who will run for the University of Virginia this fall, sits third on the outdoor high school mile list behind Alan Webb’s 3:53.43 from 2001 and Ryun’s 3:55.3 from 1965. (Drew Hunter ran 3:57.15 just after graduating high school and turning professional in 2016). Martin’s 3:57.98 is the fifth-fastest high school mile all-time, indoors or outdoors. Colin Sahlman of Newbury Park, California is the only other high school boy to break 4:00 in the mile so far this year with his 3:58.81 run on February 8 at the Dr. Sander Invitational in New York City.
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