With Help from Coach Joe Vigil, Brenda Martinez Begins to Shine

By David Monti
February 25, 2012
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

ALBUQUERQUE (25-Feb) -- Brenda Martinez is nervous, but excited.  Sitting for an interview in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency hotel here last night, her posture is straight and her gaze steady, but she rocks back and forth slightly as she speaks.

When a reporter mentions that in tomorrow's 1500m at the USA Indoor Championships that she has a good chance to finish first or second and make her first national team, Martinez breaks into a girlish smile, then quickly turns serious.

"I have to deal with the business at hand," said the 24 year-old from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., about 40 miles east of Los Angeles.  "It's kind of good to visualize.  I know what I want, and I know it won't be easy, but visualizing does help. It gets me excited.  Like, I just get exited for racing knowing I'm fit.  I want to run to my potential."

Martinez, who has raced well this indoor season with victories over the mile distance at both the New Balance Games and U.S. Open in New York City last month, has found that potential elusive since leaving the University of California Riverside in 2009.  She had trouble finding the right training base and training group, and her results were uneven.

But her boyfriend and coach, Carlos Handler, knew where to find help.  Working through one of his former high school coaches, Marco Ochoa, he contacted Joe Vigil, the legendary distance coach widely credited for helping Deena Kastor develop into an Olympic medalist.  Martinez said she was surprised --and thrilled-- that Vigil wanted to help her.

"I was moving around, bouncing around trying to find a training group," she said.  "I just didn't know what was working for me, and I finally ended up moving back to California.  Coach Vigil just said, I'm going to help you.  It's been hard, but now it's paying off."

Martinez and Handler settled in Big Bear Lake last summer, a high-altitude ski town about 90 miles east of Los Angeles.  There, Handler watches Martinez train using workout programs prepared by Vigil with whom they speak twice a week.  Martinez said the location is ideal because she can do her track workouts at sea level, and it's a short drive from her parents who still live in Rancho Cucamonga.

"It's a quick drop, so I do all my workouts at sea level, so I have to drive an hour down," she explained.  "It just works out perfect."

Vigil has been helping Martinez develop her strength, an essentially ingredient for a well-rounded middle distance runner.  Martinez, who has a lot of natural speed, admits that she never focused much on that before.

"During the base training I was doing a lot of 5-K, 10-K stuff to get the strength up, and working a lot on the tempos.  I was lacking a lot on the tempos," she said.  "It's been a progression since then.  Going into to indoors, I knew I was just ready to go."

In her first race this season at the New Balance Games at the Armory, Martinez followed a dawdling early pace to win with a big kick in 4:39.37.  At the U.S. Open she led from gun to tape, and her time of 4:34.62 was very solid given Madison Square Garden's tight 145.5m track.  In her third race of the season, she competed at the USATF Classic at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, taking third in the 1500m in a personal best 4:09.96.  There, she was only a fraction of a second behind two top Africans, Morocco's Siham Hilali and Btissam Lakhouad.

"Little by little, I started getting more confident," she said of her 2012 season.  "Now I just feel like it's coming natural now."

Here in Albuquerque, she ranks second on the form chart behind only world champion Jenny Simpson, who will also run the 3000m today.  Martinez says she and Handler have a race plan, and she will stick with it.

"Of course, she's the one to watch," Martinez said of Simpson, who is also the defending champion here.  "I have so much respect for her.  She's the world champ.  I know she's going to be really tough to beat."  She continued: "You know, I have a plan that me and my coach are going to follow: just stay out of trouble.  I'm not going to do anything brave and get out, or anything like that.  I'm just going to try to use my kick."

Interestingly, Martinez said she is most inspired by Deena Kastor, an athlete she has never met who runs 26 times Martinez's favorite distance.  Vigil always tells her stories about Kastor and Martinez said watching the American marathon record holder run stirs her to be her best.

"When I see her run the marathon, I get emotional just watching her," Martinez explained, her brown eyes wide.  "She's just tough.  I look up to her, and coach Vigil tells me stories about her, how she would travel and how she lived with them, how she was every day, trying to work hard every day.  It took her a while to get where she's at, but she got it.  Just hearing the stories he tells me, it's just inspirational."

But Martinez now has her own fans, especially her mother, Rosa Maria, a teacher at a local YMCA.

"It's funny," she marveled.  "My mom saw how I was last year and how I was struggling.  And now, it's like completely opposite.  She's always telling me she wants to cry because she records the races on the DVR.  She's like, I can go watch it again.  I can't believe what place you're in right now; it's completely different from a year ago, how you go through the downs and now you're back up. She's like, I'm really proud of you.  For her to feel that way, proud, I feel proud, too."

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