Fresh off competing at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, his first for the Spanish national team, José Manuel “Chema” Martinez began pursuing his dream of running in the ING New York City Marathon.
After a solid showing in a tune-up race at the Rotterdam Half-Marathon, he abruptly pulled the plug on those plans.
It’s a decision he has regretted for nearly a decade.
“Although I was a younger runner, I was very tired,” Martinez recalled. “I finished in ninth position in the 10,000 meters at the Olympics. I ran again in a half-marathon. I ran 63:17 and felt good, but my mind wasn’t ready to run the full marathon. When I think back to nine years ago, I think I must have been crazy. It was the one opportunity in my life to run the best race in the world and I didn’t run because I was tired in the mind. That’s crazy.”
Now 42, and inching closer to retirement, Martinez will finally fulfill his dream of running the marathon competitively in the Big Apple.
“I am happy because I am finally in the best marathon race in the world,” Martinez said. “The New York City Marathon is the most important race for any runner. I have trained many years for this goal.”
But this actually won’t be Martinez’s first race through the five boroughs, as David Monti, a professional athlete coordinator for New York Road Runners, learned recently.
“We’ve always wanted him to run NYC, but we just couldn't make it work out,” Monti said. “He actually ran the race two years ago without telling me. He got a regular number through a tour group and ran with a friend. I was at the London Marathon in April and he showed me a video on his iPhone of him running up First Avenue and I was floored.”
What has Martinez excited about this race is the fact that he can approach it competitively, having made it here in good health and having completed a training block he says is his best in nearly three years.
“The last two years, my training has been fantastic but I have had problems during the races of the marathon,” Martinez, who was forced to miss the London Olympics after he broke a foot during the Zurich Marathon of Barcelona in March of 2012, said. “Maybe because the last 20 years, I have trained every day, every week, every month without stop, but I don’t know why.”
In an effort to make sure he made it to the start line in Staten Island, Martinez took a different approach to 2013, eliminating all of his usual track training and zeroing his focus in on this marathon. He has not raced since a third-place finish in 45:53 at the Villa de Massamagrell 1-K in Spain on May 11.
“Two weeks ago, I started to feel like this was going to be different,” Martinez said. “Normally when you train for the last 12 weeks, doing 230 kilometers [142 miles] a week, your mind is tired because the training is very tough. This year, I feel good. People in Spain have been saying, ‘Your face, it looks normal.’ Usually I would always be tired. But this year, I feel good.”
But this training block has not been entirely free of concern.
In August, his 3-year-old daughter, Daniela, fell mysteriously ill. After she had run a fever for three days, Martinez and his wife took their youngest child to the hospital, where she was given a blood transfusion. A week later, with a diagnosis eluding the doctors, she was transferred to another hospital. It was eventually learned that Daniela has hemolytic anemia, a condition that causes an abnormal breakdown of red blood cells in the body.
“The first week, there was danger and we were very afraid,” said Martinez, who also has a 9-year-old daughter, Paula, and a 7-year-old son, Nicholas. “Now, they seem to be controlling it.”
While doctors tried to sort out his daughter’s health ordeal, Martinez admits to that preparing for the ING New York City Marathon became secondary.
“When I speak about it, I have emotion because she is much more important to me,” Martinez said. “When I would train and Daniela is in the hospital, there were days when I thought, ‘Today, I want to stop running. I don’t feel like doing anything because my daughter is not good.’ But, I am hard-headed and every day I ran for my daughter.”
On Sunday, Martinez said he will be running for himself. While he does not want to speak about times or places, he is very much engaged in turning in a sound performance.
“I want to run with my head and not my heart,” he said. “In my life, I have always run with my heart, and it’s hard because sometimes I have problems—in the first half I run very quickly but at the finish I have problems. In this race, I want to run the first half with my head and the second half with my heart, with my body, with my soul, with my skin, with everything I have.
“My only goal is to enjoy the race, enjoy the city, enjoy every event because I don’t know if this is going to be my last marathon at a high level. My first race with the Spanish team was in 1996. Since then I have run every year with the pressure, running for the medals. Now, this is different. I am running for me, for my sensation, for being a part of the best race in the world, for all of the Spanish runners who don’t get to run here. I am ready for anything.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg