How Seven Olympians And 55 Other Pros Ended Up Racing At A High School Track Next To A Playground

Sponsorship of Adrian Martinez Classic is Part of Hoka One One’s Effort to Promote the Sport

By Jonathan Gault,
June 6, 2014

CONCORD, Mass. — Three-hundred and sixty-four days a year, there’s nothing special about Emerson Field. You’ll get your fair share of JV soccer games, Little League baseball games, even a few Concord-Carlisle High School track meets in the spring if the weather cooperates. But the level of athletic competition vacillates somewhere between “up-and-comer” to “best not to mention it.”

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Yet here they were at Thursday’s sixth annual Adrian Martinez Classic, fit, skinny athletes all capable of circling a track at rapid speeds. Seven of them had run in the London Olympics. One of them, Leo Manzano, achieved everlasting glory with his silver medal in the men’s 1500 meters. It wasn’t the sort of crowd you’d expect at a place that shows up on Google Maps as Emerson Playground.

“I joked around earlier and said, ‘Well, we’re going to run a mile at a playground,'” said Eric Finan, the Team USA Minnesota runner who upset Manzano to win the showcase Adro Mile in 3:58.73. “It was actually a good atmosphere to compete because the focus could be totally on the competition.  I didn’t really have the nerves before — you know if I walk into a big stadium full of people, I get nervous.”

So how did this come to be? How did Finan end up leading a total of four men under the 4:00 barrier in the mile? How did Kenya’s Violah Lagat run a world-outd00r-leading 4:29.43 on a track in the middle of a soggy athletic field in a Boston suburb?

It started with a vision.

“Back in February, we were looking for things we could develop for Hoka [One One] because we’re taking a big move forward in terms of sales, everything,” said Hoka One One consultant Peter Thompson, who helped coordinate the elite fields . “It allows us to do more to help the sport. We want to make some positive impact on the sport.”

Thompson and Hoka One One CEO Jim Van Dine thought about it, and they looked west.

“We looked at the Occidental meet in California (now known as the USATF High Performance Distance Classic) as a model…providing the elite and the emerging elite a chance to develop,” Thompson said. “Oxy’s kind of standing alone; there aren’t a lot of other meets like that. We wanted to make an East Coast Oxy-type experience.”

Hoka One One had a vision; it needed a venue to see that vision realized. That’s where Angel Martinez came in.

Martinez’s son, Adrian, was a miler at Concord-Carlisle High School. He went on to run at Williams College, graduating in 2006. But on August 10 of that year, shortly after graduating, Martinez died of massive heart failure while playing soccer with friends. The elder Martinez wanted to start a meet to share his son’s love of running and in 2009 decided on a series of mile races at Concord-Carlisle’s track.

“Anyone can run a mile,” Martinez said.

New Balance had sponsored the Adrian Martinez Classic in the past, and it had assembled some decent fields of local runners. Former Ivy League 1500 champ Mark Amirault won the Adro Mile in 4:11 last year; the meet record was 4:08 from 2011. Martinez was looking to grow the meet (it added 800s and 5000s this year), and he had the ear of Thompson and Van Dine; he’s the CEO and President of Deckers Outdoor, the corporation that owns Hoka One One.

Van Dine committed the funds — $19,500 in prize money, plus travel and lodging for 62 athletes and an open bar at a post-race celebration. Thompson then set about assembling the elite fields and was helped greatly by Jonathan Marcus, who is the Chair of Development for Men’s Middle Distance at USATF and who assembles the fields at Oxy and the Portland Track Festival.

The meet served different purposes for different runners. For Manzano, it was a chance for him to repay the sponsor that revived his career. For miler Morgan Uceny, it was a chance to race close to her training base in Boston ahead of USAs. 800 runner Ryan Martin simply needed a race and the meet lined up perfectly.

It was also a nice change of pace for runners used to bigger venues. Uceny has run in world and Olympic finals and raced in the Diamond League in Shanghai on May 18. But on Thursday, she had the chance to compete in a much smaller venue and interact with the crowd. As soon as she stepped off the track after her 1500 race, she was surrounded by a pack of high school girls asking for pictures and autographs, a request she was more than happy to oblige.

“Pulling in, it definitely seems like a really random location, but the crowd’s really nice,” Uceny said. “When you can get the youth involved with the elites, it makes for a good dynamic and hopefully inspires some of these young people to keep competing.”

Manzano, too, has been on the world’s biggest stages, and Thursday’s race certainly came in a different environment than his last outing, a 3:52 mile win in front of thousands of screaming fans at the Pre Classic. But Manzano, who said that track and field was his “life and joy,” hoped that meets like the Adrian Martinez Classic can thrive, allowing him to spread his love of the sport with younger runners.

“I thought this was so great,” Manzano said. “We bring the athletes to Mom and Dad, whereas we would [usually] see something like this on TV. You can meet the athletes — what better way to promote track and field?”

More Adrian Martinez Cassic News: *LRC Photos *Results
Leo Manzano Upset In Mile; Wins For Cas Loxsom, Dana Mecke, Violah Lagat And Amy Hastings At 2014 Adrian Martinez Classic
LRC Massachusetts High Schooler Garrett O’Toole Runs U.S. #1 4:01.89 Mile
MB: HSer Garrett O’toole runs 4:01.89