The American middle-distance standout will run for a chance to make the 2013 worlds team this week.
Brenda Martinez, 25, of Big Bear, Calif., is arguably America’s brightest middle-distance star heading to the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, this week. So far, her year has been nothing short of fantastic.
In April she won the B.A.A. Invitational Mile, won the 1,500 at the Mt. Sac Invitational in meet-record time — 4:04.86 — and then helped set the American record in the 4 x 800 at the Penn Relays. She then went on to place third (as the top American) at the adidas Grand Prix 1,500 in New York, and she even showed her range earlier in the season by finishing as the fastest American at the Carlsbad 5000 in March.
As the season progressed, Martinez continued to hint that she wanted to run the 1,500 at nationals, where she would jump into the mix with the likes of reigning world champion Jenny Simpson and high school sensation Mary Cain. But on June 10, Martinez switched course and Tweeted that she would run the 800. Considering she placed second in the 800 at the Prefontaine Classic behind world leader Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi with a blazing 1:58.18 — the second-fastest time in the world this year — this is likely a smart move for the rising mid-distance ace.
One of the secrets to her success is her coach, Joe Vigil, the man famous for his legendary reign at Adams State in Colorado and for coaching Olympic bronze medalist and multiple American record holder Deena Kastor. Vigil coaches Martinez from his home base in Arizona while she trains in Big Bear. Her husband, Carlos Handler, serves as her workout facilitator and Vigil’s eyes and ears.
When she’s not running, Martinez takes the time to give back to her community. From June 28-30 she’ll host a running camp in Big Bear for five high school girls that won a writing contest, and she says she’s hopes to continue to grow the running camp as she progresses in her career.
Competitor.com caught up with Martinez recently as she sharpens up for nationals.
Since coach [Joe] Vigil lives in Arizona, your husband works as his facilitator and oversees your workouts. What’s that like, working with your husband as well as having just your regular relationship with him?
He’s really good at separating it. Me, not so much in the beginning. My husband, when it comes to practice, he’s definitely the coach. He’s always just trying to — he’s very fair, not just with me, but with the other athletes he’s working with. He’s definitely tough, and knows how to separate the relationship. I think that’s really good.
You had several bright spots last year, but this year has really been a breakthrough for you. To what do you attribute this and how are you going to approach nationals, especially since people are looking to you as one of the runners who has one of the best chances of qualifying for worlds?
I would say consistency and obviously sacrifice. It was definitely dealing with hardships every day, just trying to be healthy and believing in myself, mostly. Those are the things I try to work on daily. I’m not perfect, but if I could try to do that 100 percent every day, then I knew I was going to be fine, and I really feel like it’s paying off this year.
I’m definitely going into USAs very confident. I just have to stick with my own race plan and not worry about anyone else. To have that 1:58.18 under my belt gives me a lot of reassurance and confidence that I have a pretty good chance of making the team. I’m going to take it one race at a time and obviously have fun. I’ve been having fun all year, so I’m going to have fun at USAs.
What was behind the decision to run the 800 as opposed to the 1,500, or even maybe doubling?
All year I was telling myself I’m going to do the 1,500 and whatnot, but I feel like the 800 time that I have, I really think that I can improve it. I have confidence that I can run maybe 1:57, and I feel like that’s going to make the final at worlds. There are girls who are running 3:56 in the 1,500, and I’m not saying that I can run that, but I feel like my chances are a lot better in the 800.
In 2011, the U.S. had a world champion in the middle distances. Obviously that was in the 1,500, but does seeing that, seeing an American get a gold medal, does that sort of give you confidence that, hey, maybe, if I make the team, maybe I can get a gold medal?
Yeah, Jenny [Simpson] has a done a lot for the sport. When she did that I was so happy for her. She opened the doors for Americans. You know, it is doable. She made girls believe that those things are definitely attainable. I thank her for that. She is a New Balance athlete [like me], so it’s awesome that I get to be, how would I say this? You know, follow in her footsteps in a way. It’s really great.
2016 is really far off, but can you give us some insight into your long-term goals? And how are you approaching 2016?
I don’t know what I’m going to run in the next Olympic trials. I might move up to 5K; we don’t know. If I’m strong enough to break 15, maybe. Coach’s goal is to get me really strong and, you know, obviously, try to reach those American record paces. Every year we’re going to use it as a stepping stone and try to get stronger every year. I want to have that versatility where I can run the 800 to the 5K, maybe even up the distances, as well, to the 10K, so we’re going to take it one year at a time and obviously have fun with it again.