When Nathan Martin crossed the finish line at the Marathon Project in Chandler, Arizona two years ago, Nathan Martin initially didn’t realize the magnitude of what he had accomplished. All he knew was that running the 26.2 miles in 2:11:05 was a personal best at a time when races were still being canceled and postponed because of the pandemic.
But soon his phone broke. Friends, fellow athletes and black running enthusiasts had news for him: Martin was now the fastest black marathon runner born in the USA, breaking Herm Atkins’ record, which had stood since 1979, with 2:11:52.
“Yes, the energy in the black community is beyond insane,” Martin, who lives in Jackson, Michigan, said with a smile in a video interview in October. Even at smaller races, he notices how enthusiastic black runners and fans are for his presence thanks to his successes.
After recently winning a road race by a wide margin, Martin was standing in the winner’s area when he saw members of We run 313, a black running group from the Detroit area, “and they were screaming like crazy,” he said. “I thought I did well, but it was just great. Just that energy – you can definitely tell it’s special, especially when other black runners achieve something.”
It’s a reason to celebrate.
This weekend, Martin, 33, will compete on the Staten Island side of the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge with some of the world’s most competitive runners. When the shot is fired, he and 50,000 others will run through all five boroughs in the New York City Marathon.
He will compete at the front of the field in the elite open division, alongside defending champion Evans Chebet of Kenya, North American record holder Cam Levins of Canada and Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia, who has the fastest marathon time of any runner this year at York on Sunday . (Kelvin Kiptum, who broke the marathon world record in Chicago last month, with a 2:00:35, is not on the roster for Sunday’s race.)
Martin said the New York City Marathon, an annual day of pride for New Yorkers, is unique.
“New York is very picturesque,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy in there. Just the energy that the crowd brings, the atmosphere and all those things are just great.”
Martin prepared for the New York course with tempo runs and trained at or near race pace on a hilly 7-mile loop with elevation changes. “It’s just good training in general, but definitely preparation for New York,” he said. Last year he ran his first New York City Marathon – it was also his first World Marathon Major. He said he underestimated the terrain, which had five bridges and many hills.
“I was really ambitious and said, ‘I feel good, so I’ll just give it a try,'” he recalls. “So when a couple of guys went off and drove off, I thought, ‘You know what? I’ll go with these guys, I feel good. I’ll just try to force a good day.’ And I felt good until I didn’t. I’m just learning from this and learning that I have to be patient. I have to respect the hills.”
And yet last year he managed to finish eighth overall. For this Sunday’s race, Martin said his focused training had left him cautiously optimistic.
“I don’t want to jinx myself and say I’m coming here with a PR [personal record] or something, but I feel really good,” he said. “And you know, it would be entirely possible to do a PR in New York. So if this opportunity comes, I will definitely try to take advantage of it.”
Martin’s time – and his personal best – dropped even further to 2:10:45 at the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, in June, making him one of the fastest marathon runners in the country.
His running success began after a tumultuous sixth grade fitness test in which he “got his butt kicked.” Soon, Martin’s class time improved to the point that others encouraged him to join his middle school’s cross country team. He did that and then went through school until he ended up at Spring Arbor University in Michigan in 2013 Set the marathon record by three minutes at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national championship. It was his first marathon.
“I asked myself, ‘How in the world did I get into this situation?'” But with his coach’s encouragement, the wins didn’t stop there. “I trusted him and went for it.” Thirty-six hours after his record-breaking marathon, he won the NAIA 10K national championship.
And now, in addition to breaking records and running marathons across the country, Martin also works as a high school track coach in Michigan. And while his student-athletes respect his accomplishments, they also keep him humble with criticism on his Instagram posts. However, he keeps everything under control. The aim is to give them the joy of movement.
“Once you start coaching kids, you build enough rapport with them, it’s like they don’t really think about the kind of successes you have,” he said. “It’s really about giving them a way to move forward and think about running.”