Brenda Martinez: Middle Distance Warrior
September 21st, 2014
With 200 meters to go in the women’s 800 meter finals at the 2013 World Championships, the world class field was tightly bunched. At least 6 athletes had a chance to capture a coveted global medal. USA’s Brenda Martinez found herself smack dab in the middle of that furious scramble for a spot on the podium. “The stadium was so loud. At that point it was anyone’s race. I was just kicking for my life. Everything went by so fast,” explains Martinez. “In the last 100 meters I was in 6th place. I just didn’t know what was going to go on. At that point, I thought ‘I’m just going to finish as hard as I can.’ It didn’t matter as long as I did the best that I could.” The final homestretch was a war zone as Eunice Som and Maria Savinova raced pass a spent Alysia MontaÅˆo for the first two medals. And when Montano drifted away from the rail, it gave Martinez just the space she needed to squeeze by for the bronze – the first 800m medal of any color captured by an American woman in a world championship. “The last 50 meters was fantastic. It just played out perfectly,” declares Martinez. I felt like that was just rare. I don’t know if that would ever happen to me again.”
It would happen again – in Belgium earlier this month. If “luck” is when preparation meets opportunity, then Martinez – who is #11 on the all-time U.S. women’s 800m list – was “lucky” once again in the 800m final in Brussels. Not unlike the women’s 800m final in Moscow the previous year, on the bell lap a middle-distance traffic jam built up on the backstretch. With a furlong remaining, the young American authored her own good fortune with a powerful surge into the lead. Her spurt seemed to catch the elite field off-guard and allowed Martinez to grab a sizeable advantage she was able to ride to the finish line. Her clocking of 1:58.84 – a season-best that places her #10 on this year’s WL list – allowed her to take some impressive scalps along the way, bettering world leader AjÃ©e Wilson and reigning world champion Eunice Sum.
Martinez’s Brussels win did not surprise many hard core track & field fans who have followed her progression during her 3 years of tutelage under the watchful eye of much-respected Joe Vigil. That athlete/coach tandem is allowing Martinez to realize some of the potential she exhibited as a young athlete growing up in Rancho Cucamonga, California and as a collegian at UC – Riverside.
The American women’s 800m racing scene – which is enjoying a renaissance – is currently a kaleidoscope of various personalities and racing styles: from the intense front-running of new-Mom Alysia MontaÅˆo; to the serene, unflappable Madeline Manning-like racing demeanor of emerging world class talent Aje Wilson; to fashion plate Maggie Vessey; and finally to a talented group of newcomers headed up by Yale’s Kate Grace and Bowerman finalist Laura Roesler. How would the reigning world championship 800m bronze medalist describe her racing style? “I would describe it as a pretty conservative style,” laughs Martinez. “But it is more like I am running it evenly. I have been trying so hard to maybe get out a little bit faster. I have 58 seconds ingrained in my head – that’s what I should split 400. I feel like I am more like an even runner. It may appear that I am kicking hard, but I am really going almost the same pace.”
Already among the best in the world, the southern California native is focusing on how she can take her middle distance game to the next level. “Obviously, the one thing for us is adapting to the paces. That is a bit of everything. The paces are so hard for me. I am getting very, very close to the paces – but still falling short,” notes Martinez in citing her need to refine that race clock in her head. She also is aware that other seemingly-small details cannot be overlooked. “With that, I have to be consistent in getting a full night’s rest and taking my supplements and taking care of all the little things. Everything is falling into place. We may have made a little bit of mistake this year where I did too much traveling and it just got me too tired. And we’re going continue on into this next year. And maybe the paces are going to get a little bit harder. This is my job and I’m looking forward to it.”
Martinez’s world class middle-distance performances are not limited to the 800m. She has demonstrated considerable promise in the 1500m / mile as well. Her 2nd place finish earlier this month in the 5th Avenue Mile – where her 4:19.6 clocking was only .2 seconds behind winner and Diamond League 1500m champion Jenny Simpson – has rekindled speculation about what truly is her best event. Will Martinez – who was the 2009 NCAA Div. I runner-up in the 1500m – make the 800m her 2015 focus? “I think so. I can always change. I think I might end up doing the 8. I think that’s what I have in mind right now. We’ll just have to see how the training is going and how the racing goes.”
Having climbed onto a world championship podium in Luzhniki Stadium, Martinez wants to be at her best for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. Likely to shy away from the indoor season this winter – “If New Balance wants me to do an indoor race, I’ll want to accommodate them. I’m willing to work around my schedule to train for that” – the Big Bear Lake resident wants to tweak her racing style for better positioning. “I want to be more aggressive in my racing,” she proclaims. “I do everything I can do in my training – I do my best. That’s what I’ve been doing. But then when it comes to racing, I think I need to be more aggressive, be toward the front. I felt like I did a better job this year. I need to stay out of trouble. I feel that is when the times will start dropping.” Martinez has learned that several feisty competitions for her serve as a helpful run-up to a targeted championship race. “I need to be careful with my racing, but I want to be really sharp going into all of my races. Coach has made the observation that I need to have 6 to 8 races and that is when I start feeling better. About the 6th race is when I start really hot and basically that is when I am ready to go. So we are going to try to do that to get ready for Nationals.” She has a clear vision for her 2015 outdoor campaign. “In Europe after US nationals, we’re going to try to build up before that and peak really high for the [world] championships. And I going to try to shoot for fast times after that.”
Having just turned 27, Brenda Martinez should have many good years of middle distance track racing in her future. But what does she foresee after her career as a world class middle distance runner has concluded? “This is something I have talked about with my husband and my coach,” she confides. “I feel like when my speed has kinda gone away, I think I’m going to move up in distance.” And with a smile she adds, “I’ve even talked to Coach about doing the marathon once I am like in my 30’s – maybe 31 or 32. I don’t know. We’ll just see. These girls are getting faster and a lot are very young. The minute I start seeing I don’t have that kick anymore or it’s not working, I probably will decide to move up in distance.” Martinez even sees some similarities between racing two laps and 26 miles 385 yards. “They’re both like a chess game. Any one mistake can ruin it.”
The marathon? Real
ly? It may seem audacious for a global medalist at 800 meters to suggest she could be successful in an event over 50 times longer than her current specialty. But then again, it might be quite interesting – and perhaps surprising – to watch this driven middle distance gladiator compete on a completely different battlefield.