© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Elite Marathoner Nathan Martin’s Seeks New Heights, Even During COVID-19

Nathan Martin

Martin, a trail blazer for American-born Black marathoners, is shattering records and looking to reach the top of the running world.

Nathan Martin does not look outward for motivation while he’s running. He doesn’t need to. Everything that Martin needs to motivate himself to be an elite marathon runner comes from within.

He said he has always had these lofty expectations for himself, dating back to when he started running in middle school. 

“I was always the kid that kind of just pushed through and said, 'Hey, you know what, this is what I can do. So, I’m going to do it.' Even early on in middle school, like, there was no reason I needed to, but we had a thing called a mile and a third,” said Martin. “And we would do it every Monday in gym class. I started off and wasn't that great at it, but by seventh grade, I might either finish first or second.”

That mindset has stuck with him throughout his college and professional career, leading him to the upper echelon of competition in running. Martin is a rising star in marathoning. He was part of the U.S. Track and Field’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics marathon trial field. He also was part of the qualifying field in 2016.

Martin said it feels like a disservice to himself if he does not leave everything he has on the track or the road while running. Martin maintained this mindset during the pandemic, focusing on things he could control rather than the chaos caused by COVID-19.  

“I'm gonna push myself regardless,” said Martin, a 31-year-old native of Jackson. “Because one big thing is I hate saying wasted potential, especially my own. So just making sure that with whatever we were doing, I was giving good effort was kind of my mindset.”

Martin’s self-determination led him to setting a personal record and recording the fastest marathon time by an American-born Black at the Marathon Project race in Chandler, Arizona in December 2020 with a time of 2:11:05. 

“I had no idea that the marathon project was going to produce as much as it did,” Martin said. “And, you know, without a doubt, I'm definitely thankful for it. But had I said, 'You know what things are bad, I'm just going to take it easy,' I would have missed that opportunity.”

Credit Nathan Martin

Martin and his coach Dante Ottolini, who coached him at Spring Arbor University, did not slow down training when races began to be canceled last March because of the pandemic. They worked together to build a new training program that would keep Martin prepared to compete whenever the opportunity arose.

Normally, marathon training programs are designed for a runner to reach their peak at the race itself and work on weaker components of the runner, such as pace tempos, to make sure the runner is as ready as possible for the marathon according to Martin. 

Instead, Martin said he and Ottolini focused on having quality training sessions focused on improving Martin’s body to make him stronger. 

“For the first little bit, I was just hammering every single run, every single workout because it's like, well if things go bad, it doesn't matter. And initially, that made me pretty tired towards the end of trying to do that,” Martin said. “But I think because of all that work I put in, it obviously helped me produce. It just made me stronger. So then when we got into our actual marathon cycle, which was pretty short of what we would want for a true long marathon build, I had all that background stuff that I'd done earlier, and just kind of went into it.”

He balanced the intensive training schedule with other real-world responsibilities like as head coach of Jackson High School cross country and substitute teaching in the Jackson school district. 

“I've been pretty much doing a balancing act for the last like six years. So I've gotten used to it. And it just depends on where I'm at in training, where I'm at in pretty much life in general,” Martin said soberly. “There's definitely been years where it was very hard.”

Martin added the balance in his life right now between running and other responsibilities is “really good” because he has been able to take days off as needed to train or travel for a race. 

The goal, according to Martin, is to be able to make running in marathons a career that can support him financially while continuing to coach through sponsorships and race appearance fees. He said he wants to reach a place in his career where he can cut back on teaching or stop altogether because he is financially supported through running. 

The classroom and teaching responsibilities presented unique issues for Martin, who had to go work in-person as a substitute throughout the pandemic. He said he had to be extra wary of possibly being exposed to COVID-19, which would impact his running and prevent him from coaching. 

Credit Nathan Martin

“Early on my biggest worry about COVID was going into the schools and stuff like that, especially when you get the sense that some of the teachers were out because of COVID related stuff.” Martin said.

The main reason he gave for being worried about being exposed to COVID-19 while teaching is that he would add more burden to the shoulders of his runners during their upside-down season. 

“It was more like I don't want this to affect my coaching,” Martin said. “I don't want to have to go on a layoff when my athletes are already struggling through the season with all the things going on. I don't want to be an extra cause of that. So, it wasn't necessarily a worry on me, it was more my athletes.”


Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!