ON TRACK: Less has become more for Polk County’s Martinez

Published 12:48 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2024

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By Jed Blackwell


Polk County’s track team turned to a distance guy to help with a sprint and sprint relays.

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It couldn’t have worked out much better.

Nate Martinez is the Wolverines’ sprint captain, and has qualified in the open 400 as well as on the 4×200 and 4×100 relay teams for the 1A West Regional in May.

Those three races are entirely different and require different approaches. Fortunately for Polk County, Martinez loves them all.

He formerly ran 800 meters, so the event that’s half that long has a certain draw to him. One lap around the track, as fast as you can go. He said that pace suits him just fie.

“What I like to think about, since the beginning, is that I just love the race,” Martinez said. “I just go all-out. In the first 200, I just run it as fast as I can. Then I do it again for the last 200.”

Martinez’ motivation in the 400 is simple: to do the best he’s ever done before, every single time.

“The motivation is what am I going to tell people I ran,” he said. “I want to run a PR every time. I’m big on self-improvement.”

The 400 meters also doubles Martinez’ favorite event, the 200 meters. That race is a different animal in itself. There’s a curve in the track, a staggered start to make up and an all-out sprint for the finish. It’s rare to find runners who embrace distance who also love the 200, but Martinez relishes it.

“When you’re on an inside lane, there’s always a dude ahead of you, even though technically he’s not,” Martinez said. “He pushes you. You’ve got to catch that guy. We call it ‘walking him down’. When you walk a guy down, it’s the most hype thing ever. You just feel like you have to catch him.”

The lure of the 100 meters is obvious. Point A to Point B. Who’s faster? It’s a sprinter’s dream.

Martinez runs the second leg of both relays, and deals with the staggered start even in the 4×100. By the time he takes the baton, the stagger is in the process of being eliminated by his teammate.

“It pushes me so much to finish that stagger and put us in the best possible position.”

Even those baton handoffs are different. In the 4×800, which Martinez is experienced in, there’s not as much footwork and person-to-person coordination involved as there is in a sprint relay.

“Those handoffs are all we’ve been working on all season, because they’ve been crucial in dropping time,” he said. “In the 4×8, you just put the baton out and grab it easy. These, you’re doing them full speed. You put your hand back as high as you can and trust the person behind you to hand it to you. You just grab it and go.”

Martinez enjoys the pressure of running the second leg and how he can influence a race from there.

“I definitely want to make up some time, because I’m one of the faster guys,” he said. “I like to try to be with the guy on the outside lane next to me, because by the time we pass it off, our third leg is actually ahead of them.”

Martinez said the difference in running speed events and running distance events is as much in runners’ heads as in anything physical on the track.

“In my opinion, speed is a much easier mental game,” he said. “You’re running for way less time. In the 800, you have to lock in and run that second lap in the same time you ran the first one, and it’s hard. For the sprints, you just go. I don’t have a strategy. All that’s on my mind is just go.”

Just a junior, Martinez’ approach to and recognition of those mental factors is one of the things that helps him lead the Wolverines.

“I try to get the guys riled up because a lot of times we’ll be separated at the meets,” he said. “I’ll tell them we need to work on handoffs or do this or that. But it’s not as much me leading as it is all the guys leading. We really keep each other in check.”