I WAS DOWN ON THE TRACK watching the Victoria Track Classic, wondering what's up with a particular athlete these days. I noticed Geoff Martinson holding court shortly after his 1500m win. He was with friends who were leaning over the white railing that separates the spectators from the stadium track; they were laughing, he was entertaining the troops shortly after his 1500m Invitational win.
Geoff is one of the good guys of sport. He may soon qualify to run internationally for Canada, until then, he can entertain us with his comedic talents.
It was an almost warm spring evening, trackiside at the University of Victoria, where Geoff with tongue firmly in cheek made mockery of the event clock's performance during his race. It was ‘off’ by a few seconds and made for good post-race fodder.
As a guy with an eye often on local athletics results, I have noticed Geoff Martinson’s name, time and again, after all he is a 7-time Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) all-Canadian and University of Victoria Athlete-of-the-year for 2009; his final year at the University.
He owns several other varsity athletic accomplishments possibly best capped by his 2008 and 2009 CIS 1500m Gold medals and 4 x 800m team Gold.
Geoff’s preoccupation right now is in making the Canadian Olympic team. If he can survive running with bears when home in Prince George and find his ideal distance, be it the 1500m or the 5000m he may just do that. Currently though, he is racing in Europe for the summer.
I had a chance to talk to Geoff at the UVic recently. Also the day before the Victoria Track Classic and the night of his race, followed up with a generous helping of emails.
CK: Geoff, recently you ran the 1500m at the Victoria Track Classic and again at the Harry Jerome International Track Classic in Vancouver, four days later. Your times were within a half a second of each other 3:41.96 and 3:41.56 respectively. During our post race conversation in Victoria, you indicated you were looking for more from the latter race, what happened out there?
GM: I had been racing a lot leading into the Harry Jerome. I have trouble sometimes staying sharp when I get racing lots; it’s difficult to avoid being flat from all the sitting around and lack of training, but it’s also important to not overdo it such that I’m tired going into a race. It’s a fine line. I knew I had some fatigue in the legs going into the race, but thought it would be gone once the race started. Nope. With 150m to go, I was going backwards when I needed to be dropping the hammer, tough race to have an off day at.
CK: I understand when nationals are done, you are competing in Europe. What are your expectations and goals for the European trip?
GM: I’m expecting to run some quick times in Europe this year. Last year was my first time doing the circuit in Belgium, and I was tired from a long year of university racing and outdoor competition. Nothing I did in Europe was especially good last year. I’m hoping to be much more competitive this time around. My racing season hasn’t yet lived up to the training going into the summer, so I’d like to put together a couple real good races to end the season on a high.
CK: You are close to B standard in both the 800m and the 1500m with your 1:48 and 3:39 personal bests, any thoughts on moving down to attempt to qualify for the Olympics in either distance?
GM: The 800m is a fun event, but my 800m days are past. I get much more enjoyment from racing the1500m. And to be honest, I don’t have even close to the gears needed to be an Olympic 800m runner. I train with an Olympian in the event. Believe me, I don’t have the gears. When I was younger I had dreams of being an 800m runner. It’s an exciting event, a very tough event, and people like to watch it. Actually, when I was quite young I dreamed of being an Olympic 100m runner. I suppose three years from now I’ll attempt to qualify in the event I’m running best at the time. That may not be the 1500m maybe it’ll be the 5km.
1500m - 3:39.21 (2008)
Mile – 4:01.55 (2009)
800m - 1:48.97 (2009)
3000m - 8:04 (2009)
CK: Being a baseball player, are you following the majors at all and if so, which team?
GM: I don’t follow professional sports too closely. Especially baseball. Half those guys don’t even look like athletes! I almost follow hockey, because my best friend in Victoria lives through the game. When the Maple Leafs are winning, I’m on their bandwagon. Unfortunately they never win. I like the Penguins; it was awesome watching them beat Detroit in the (Stanley Cup) finals.
CK: Wow you just trashed fifteen million residents of the two cities of Detroit and Toronto. You said you are sitting in a Toronto Hotel room right now? Which one?
GM: Maybe I shouldn’t admit where, in case loyal Leafs fans are reading my trash talking. I’m staying at the Marriot hotel, down the street from the Varsity Stadium where nationals will be run. The hotel is in a great area, but the location comes at a price. I guess when you high roll like I do, price isn’t an issue. No, seriously though, I don’t have a lot of money, and this place is expensive. Despite the high room rates, they don’t even provide fridges to the room or complimentary wireless.
I’m sitting outside of the elevators on the 2nd floor picking up a free wireless signal. It beats paying $14/day to check my email in the comfort of my room. There are dorms on the University of Toronto campus that only cost around $30/night, but I’ve had bad experiences in dorms. The dorms were fun to stay in when I was young and running on Legion Nationals teams, or living in during my first year of university.
The last time I stayed in dorms was when the Senior Nationals were in Ottawa. I was sharing a room with a buddy from Victoria and Achraf Tadili. Achraf likes the heat, and didn’t want the air conditioning on at night. Ottawa was hot, and the dorm rooms were on fire. I didn’t get any sleep during the three or four days there, had an awful race, and decided I would rather put forth the extra money to better prepare for the big races. I train all year for these races; now isn’t the time to try and save a buck or two.
CK: Are you going to be spending time in Prince George this summer?
GM: I’d like to, and after the season I probably will make a trip home to the PeeG. I only make it up to Prince George a couple times a year, Christmas and August. I love going back, getting to sleep in my family’s house in my old room, my Mom’s cooking (and me not having to cook), getting to see my family and friends. It’s good. I’d love to be up there in a time during training, when I can run all my old trails or get on the track that I worked out on all through high school. I get so much great support from back home for my running. Family friends, relatives, people who just want to help me achieve my goals. I’m really lucky to get the support that I do. You’ll notice on my website, runmartinson.ca, that my sponsors are all from Prince George.
CK: Once the European trip is finished, are you going to be racing a cross season or just building mileage?
GM: I’ll probably just work on mileage. I love racing cross-country, but I think I’ll only be focusing on my outdoor season next year. Honestly I don’t know though. I finished my degree this year, so I’m done school for at least a couple years.
Without the obligation to run cross-country, I’m going to do what will be best for me. The races in the lower portion of BC, both the mainland and Victoria, aren’t as fun as up north, anyway. When I was in high school, racing in Prince George and the surrounding areas, we literally ran across country. The races were on trails in the bush and forest. There were a couple races where I was all alone on the course during the race and actually concerned that I might run into bears. Fortunately it never happened.
CK: Wow now you just alienated everyone in southern BC.
GM: Yeah. But at least I didn’t tell you what I think of their hockey team…
CK: You know what to do when you run into a bear in a race, eh?
GM: I think so. Like I say, it never actually happened in a race, but I had one summer where I saw bears on most of the runs I did along the trails behind my house back in PeeG. Usually I just clapped my hands, or waved them in the air, and yelled at the bears to scare them off. There was one time when I didn’t see a black bear sitting in the high grass just off the trail I was running until I was about 10 metres away. It startled me so bad. I just took off running as hard as I could in the opposite direction yelling “HEY BEAR! BEAR! HEY!” and flailing my arms. This is quite personal, but I think I’ve developed a phobia from that one summer of seeing so many bears. I actually get nervous when I run alone through back trails of Mt. Doug. It’s pathetic.
CK's note: Mount Doug is a urban park in the city of Victoria.
CK: Yes it is pathetic. The correct answer: Never run alone, so when you see a bear, don’t worry about out-running the bear, just out-run your partner.
So when you say mileage, what sort of mileage are you running? What is a typical training week like?
GM: My mileage is probably lower than a lot of distance runners. I’ve always been more of a quality over quantity guy. This past year I’ve bumped up my volume and was around 90 miles-per-week for parts of the fall. Typical training week is something around the lines of Sunday long run, Monday activation, then two runs-per-day for the rest of the week, with a couple of those days having a hard workout or some strength. I’m excited to do a little more volume this next season. I love getting to cover a lot of ground in a run; it’s really satisfying. Like on an early Sunday morning when the trails and roads are calm, the air is cool but comfortable, and you’re out running for an hour and forty-five alone as the city wakes up. I finish back at home and feel as though I just accomplished something. It’s a perfect way to spend a morning.
CK: During our video interview you mentioned winning an iPod in your 1500m race – a tidy little consolation prize that is functional, yet stylin’. Who may you be listening to during your down time or on a Sunday long run?
GM: I’m sad to say that I was wrong about the prizes for the Vic Track Classic. I didn’t win an iPod. I was telling everyone about it too, so it’s a little embarrassing now. The prize money was still very good, and I ended up buying an iPod shuffle with some of it, so I can’t really complain. Right now I have a “Summer Tunes” playlist going. It’s mostly just songs that the Zone 91.3, in Victoria plays on the radio. Here’s a little taste:
“One Day” by Matisyahu
“Zero” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
“Panic Switch” by Silversun Pickups
“Amber” by 311
“Laces Out” by USS
I like good upbeat music in the summer, like Bob Marley or the Cat Empire. If not for this damn running, I’d be spending my days in Victoria at Thetis Lake with cold beers and reggae. Wouldn’t that be nice?
CK: Yes, Thetis Lake! It’s like getting lost in Margaritaville, looking for my lost shaker of salt, except they are craft brewery beers and two-minute dives into the bottom of the lake looking for the bottle opener.
You said you don’t watch a lot of professional sports. I assume you have a few running heroes.
GM: Probably not as many as you’d think, I’m an awful sports fanatic, I really don’t follow any sports, and barely running. I don’t know the names of most of the top runners, and none of the NCAA collegiate guys. I’ve always admired Steve Prefontaine and Hicham El Guerrouj.
Guerrouj was so dominant, and had such a beautiful stride. I wish mine looked like his. And everyone loves the idea of Prefontaine; a young gifted athlete who could push himself harder than anyone else. “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it”. I wish I could openly say things like that AND back them up by being the toughest runner out there. I grew up idolizing Gary Reed too. And that guy can punish himself during a race like very few people are capable of doing.
CK: What are your long-term goals. You mentioned that perhaps you won’t be racing for the 1500m standard in three years, perhaps 5000m.
GM: My primary long-term goal is the Olympics. While I prefer the 1500m, I’ll go in the 5000m if that turns out to be my stronger event. It may be, too. I’ve done so little volume in my running career that it’s an area I could definitely improve in. I barely have 1500m speed. Look at how well a guy like Nate Brannen does internationally! He runs 1:46 in the 800m; my current PB is only 1:48.9. I remember several years back when Guerrouj won, I think, the World Champs 1500m (in Helsinki was it?) after dropping a 1:45 or 1:46 last 800m in the race. You nearly need to be a 400m runner to run well in the 800m, and a near 800m runner for the 1500m, on the international scene. Hopefully 1:48 speed is good enough for 5 kilometres of race, because I’m sure as hell not doing the marathon.