'His time was just phenomenal': How this Pa. high schooler broke the four-minute mile mark

Daryl Bell
Bucks County Courier Times

On Saturday, Archbishop Wood's Gary Martin became the first Pennsylvania high schooler to ever run a sub-four-minute mile, crossing the finish line at the Philadelphia Catholic League championships at Cardinal O'Hara in 3:57.98.

In doing so, the senior became the 14th U.S. high schooler to ever run a mile under four minutes.

"It hasn't all sank in yet," Martin said. "It's a great feeling. I'm still trying to comprehend on what I did."

When he first stepped up to the line at Cardinal O'Hara, Martin said he was feeling pretty good. He told his coach, Paul Streleckis, that he thought he could run a sub four-minute mile, but he didn't want to let his fellow runners know his intentions. He played them off prior to race as simply offering good luck.

"I didn't want them to know that I was going for the mark," he said. "I wanted the race to be as normal as possible."

Archbishop Wood senior Gary Martin runs the mile at Penn Relays where he attempted to run one mile under four minute on Friday, April 20, 2022. Martin broke the Penn Relays high school mile record with 4:01.04 by three full seconds after Sean McGorty's 4:04.47 time in 2013. Nur B. Adam / Bucks County Courier Times

The minutes just before a race are challenging. It's a place where a race's outcome is already determined. It's where a runner has their dreams and desires cemented in their head and heart. They can hear the crowd roaring but the only thing on their mind is the sound of the starter's pistol. They just want to hear it go off.

"Gary started out very strong," said Dan Beck, Deputy Editor of Runner's World and Bicycling Magazine. Beck was formerly an editor at PA Mile Split for over six years so he's familiar with Martin. "He has a lot of inner energy that has to come out and it does [once the starter's gun goes]. He gets into a rhythm, and he's difficult to stay with, let alone beat.

Top teams:Softball: See which area teams are in our latest top 10 rankings

Up and comers:Underclassmen making an immediate impact in spring sports

"He was running his race. After the first lap, there wasn't anyone in front of him. He was running his race, and he was moving."

Martin ran the first two laps at the same time, :58 seconds. He felt at peace with himself. He felt confident.

"I was just running at my own pace, trying to keep up the pace," Martin said. "Once I got the first two laps in under 60 [seconds] I knew that I had a chance to break it. I could feel it. My legs felt a little heavier but I just kept on running."

Archbishop Wood senior Gary Martin smiles for photos on the podium at Penn Relays where he attempted to run one mile under four minute on Friday, April 20, 2022. Martin broke the Penn Relays high school mile record with 4:01.04 by three full seconds after Sean McGorty's 4:04.47 time in 2013. Nur B. Adam / Bucks County Courier Times

"I thought he looked good," Streleckis said. "When he got around the 800-meter mark, I thought he looked great. His time was just phenomenal."

Martin said the third lap is usually the toughest lap. It can crumble dreams, and many champions have succumbed to its calling. He was determined to beat it.

"I kept thinking that if I could keep my pace up, I could do it," said Martin. "I came through 1,000 [meters] at 2:27. At the end of three I was at 2:58. I felt good. I felt strong. I was ready to make my run at it."

Top 10:Hatboro-Horsham finishes the regular season No. 1 in baseball rankings

From there, it was only Martin. He didn't worry about the competition. He didn't worry about the clock. He was in control running the race his way. The result was crossing the finish line in 3:57.98.

"Everything was working for him," said former Temple University track and field coach James Snyder. "He felt at ease as he ran around the track. You can just look at the time and can see that. There was a time where all of the hard work and sacrifices he made paid off. I know he felt good about what he did."

Overall, Martin's time is the fastest outdoor high school time since 2001. Only two runners — Virginian Alan Webb (2001) and Jim Ryun (1965) from Wichita, Kansas — have run better outdoor high school times. Webb and Ryun were future Olympians.

Family affair:No place like home plate: MLB umpire Alan Porter huge fan of son Trey

Martin is the second high school runner this year to break the sub-four minute mark. On Feb. 22, Colin Sahlman, of Newbury Park, Calif, ran an indoors time of 3:58:81 at a meet in New York City.

Now that he's broken the mark, Martin is thinking of doing it again.

"I've thought about how far I've come since my freshman and sophomore years," Martin said. "The beauty of running is that everyone can work hard and be good at it. For me, its a combination of talent and hard work and how far and fast of a mile I can run."

Photos:Athletes shine at the SOL Track and Field Championships

Martin has been breaking records all year, beginning in cross country, and continuing during the indoor and outdoor seasons.

Last week Martin broke the state record in the 3,200-meter run, posting a 8:41.57 mark to break Robert DiDonato’s record of 8:44.98 set at this meet last year.

Martin also took first in the 800m in a PCL meet-record time of 1:51.29. The University of Virginia signee will have more chances to smash records at the state meet.

"There are a lot of things going on," Streleckis said. "His time [at O'Hara] was simply amazing. It opened up another world as far as invitationals are concerned."

Martin competed in the District 12 meet Wednesday and will now move on to the PIAA meet on May 27-28 in Shippensburg. After that, there's the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle on June 15. His final run in the area is slated to be the New Balance meet at Franklin Field on June 16-19.