Almost every time out during the 2022 season, Gary Martin has been in a class by himself, decimating top high school talent en route to an indoor national title and a victory at fabled Franklin Field.
Starting with Saturday's Philadelphia Catholic League Championships, the Archbishop Wood senior no longer will be running alone, his record-breaking performance in the mile forever connecting him to America's greatest young middle-distance talents.
Just one day before another year would have passed since track legend Jim Ryun ran 3:58.3 on a cinder track in the Kansas state final, Martin became the 14th U.S. high school boy to go sub-4:00 over 5,280 feet and set a new standard in HS-only competition in the process with an even-paced 3:57.98.
"I think it's crazy to look at the company I'm in," Martin said late Saturday of the best of the best American high school milers. "It's been such a big jump for me. Just to know the guys I'm surrounded with like Jim Ryun, Alan Webb and obviously last year Hobbs Kessler ran 3:57 indoors, it's some incredible company to be in.
"I don't think it's yet to set in. I've been running around all day so I really haven't had any time to sit with it and let it sink in. I think that will probably come tomorrow. When I really sit down and just think about it, it will be a really big deal."
Every time Martin has stepped on the track this year, it's been a really big deal. However, Martin admitted that Saturday's race was just his third dedicated attempt at going sub-4:00.
"Even today, this was kind of a last-second decision, where I was kind of taking it day by day," he noted. "I woke up in the morning and realized the weather was going to be pretty good and kind of decided this morning."
Like his previous attempts and near misses at the Explorers Invitational (4:00.95) in mid-April and the Penn Relays (4:01.04) two weeks ago, Martin immediately set out on a pace heading for history. This time on Cardinal O'Hara's oval, the University of Virginia signee was able to keep his lap splits just under 60 seconds and set himself up for a successful drive for the finish and a spot in the record books.
"After about 1,000 meters, I felt confident I was going to get it," he said. "I went out in 59, which is about my normal mile pace. And then, I'd hear 1:59-2:00, 3 flat but today I heard 59, 1:58, 2:57 so just hearing (those splits) go down was a big confidence boost. I went out in 59, and I'm holding pace this time. I felt stronger."
In between his sub-4 attempt at the Penn Relays and his record run Saturday, Martin took ownership of the state 3,200-meter run record with an 8:41.67 at the Henderson Invitational. He said that performance was another indication that he was ready to break the mile barrier.
"That definitely gave me a lot of confidence," Martin noted. "Most of my races this year have been run solo, but it was a nice switch up from the mile and being able to run that much faster in the 3200 compared to last year solo showed me really how much better shape I'm in.
"Between that and actually I had a really good workout earlier in the week that I kind of crushed and that gave me a lot of confidence (too) so that was the goal going into today. Build off the confidence and use it to put down something special."
Martin's run moves him into 3rd place outdoors on the all-time HS list behind Webb's 3:53.43 in the 2001 Prefontaine Classic chasing WR holder Hicham El Guerrouj and Ryun's 3:55.3 to win the 1965 AAU national title and defeat reigning Olympic champion Peter Snell in a then American record.
Like in all of his performances this season, the four-time PIAA state champion didn't have the luxury of keying off other more seasoned and/or talented rivals. It was simply a race against high school runners AND the clock.
"It was definitely big," Martin said of the significance to breaking 4:00 in a high school-only race. "I think so far this season I have kind of made a name for myself with just going out and hammering some solo times versus running against some top competition.
"I knew I was in shape to do it. I just wanted to kind of get it out of the way, be able to focus on other races and prove that I'm in shape to do it. And I think I'm hopefully one of the best talents in the country and really in shape to run fast in the post-season."
According to Martin, going sub-4:00 and breaking Ryun's almost 57-year-old HS standard didn't come as a complete surprise for those around him.
"Going into the Penn Relays, obviously the goal was just to break 4, but my coach had texted me a couple nights before about how he thought, if the weather was right and I got some good conditions, that 3:57 high was possible," Martin said. "Obviously, I didn't get it at the Penn Relays but he was pretty spot on because I was able to go out and get it today. I thought I was in shape to do it. I think my coaches thought so so I was able to live up to the expectations."
Next on the calendar for Martin is the District XII championships on Wednesday and Thursday. The senior said his race schedule for that meet and the PIAA championships at Shippensburg is still a work in progress.
"We're still figuring some things out," he said. "I'm not positive what I'm going to run yet. It depends on what our relays do."