Sue Cleveland Alumnus Luis Martinez has transitioned from all-time New Mexico great to integral member of the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Photo courtesy of Luis Martinez.
Where Are They Now?
Luis Martinez -- Oklahoma State University
(2013 Graduate -- Sue Cleveland High School)
This series is meant to provide a current snapshot and look into the progression of a former NM standout track & field athlete, and understand their recent transition into collegiate athletics. Many of these athletes were high school champions, state record holders, and multiple time all state honorees. However, athletes find out that navigating the collegiate experience is not always easy, and their shared experiences can help inform current high school standouts to make educated decisions about their own athletic careers at the NCAA level.
Our next athlete is Luis Martinez, a 2013 graduate of Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, NM. Martinez's high school athletic career is particularly impressive because he was a three sport star, splitting his seasons as a cross country champion, All-State swimmer, and championship track & field runner. As a runner for the Cleveland Storm, Martinez was coached & mentored for all eight seasons by Coach Kenny Henry. Coach Henry is a highly regarded and decorated championship coach for the Cleveland Storm, and Martinez played a pivotal role in providing a championship centerpiece for an unprecedented run of success that resulted in back-to-back team championships during both the XC/Track & Field seasons from 2011-2013. During this time, Martinez won three individual XC State Championships, and went undefeated in New Mexico during his entire Junior & Senior seasons. Martinez also competed at the national level, where he finished as the individual runner-up at the prestigious Nike XC National Championships. Martinez completed his high school career as one of New Mexico's all time greatest distance runners, and finished with track Personal Records of 1:58.98 for 800m, a 4:11.66 State Record in the 1600m, and 9:13.16 for 3200m. Martinez was named the 2012 Gatorade New Mexico Boys XC Runner of the Year, as well as the 2013 Gatorade New Mexico Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year, while also maintaining a 4.06 GPA as a high school student athlete.
In the spring of 2013, Martinez signed his national letter of intent to compete for the Oklahoma State University Cowboys. OK State is fiercely competitive at the national level, and they have a history of recruiting talented international stars, along with recruiting the very best domestic high school talent. Martinez committed to a program with heavy expectations to compete for national championships, with the increased pressure of always looking for the next great recruits to supplement the team's robust potential.
In April, Martinez corresponded with NM Milesplit to share his thoughts on developing within a national contender, understanding the demands of a new training regimen, and reflecting on his past success and future goals. NM Milesplit also reached out to his former coach, Kenny Henry, who graciously shared key thoughts on lessons learned coaching a historically great NM runner, and how future high school athletes can make the seamless transition to collegiate running.
As a collegiate athlete, how do you balance the school/athlete workload?
It has honestly not been too difficult, my major (entrepreneurship) does not require the workload that say, engineering, biology or chemistry would, so I usually have more than enough time to go to practice and get all my schoolwork done. It can sometimes be stressful but only for a few weeks each semester.
What is the single biggest difference between success at the high school level and college level?
The biggest difference is the incredibly high level of competition at the college level. Because the NCAA has so many great athletes from all over the world, being an outstanding DI runner takes a much, much higher level of dedication, natural ability, and training volume than to be an outstanding high school athlete.
Martinez (right) competing for the Cowboys Indoor. Photo courtesy of Luis Martinez.
What is the biggest accomplishment in your collegiate career?
So far, my biggest accomplishment has been scoring (6th place) in the mile run at the Big 12 Indoor Track and field championships as a freshman.
What do you do in your training that is key to your success?
The key to success is taking care of your body before and after training. Getting enough sleep/rest, eating right, and staying hydrated are all key parts of training and recovery. Doing these things right has allowed me to stay injury free while increase my training volume during my time at Oklahoma State.
As an individual standout in high school, you likely trained alone. But as a collegiate athlete, you have teammates much closer to your level of fitness. How strange is it to train in an environment with capable training partners?
It is definitely different and takes some getting used to. As a freshman especially, every workout felt like a race. Even on regular runs there will sometimes be someone who decides to push the pace and others will follow and it ends up being more of a tempo run than a regular run. Although, having training partners can make training more difficult and even competitive it also makes it much more fun.
What is your favorite component to training?
My favorite part of training has been increasing my mileage and workout intensity past anything I would have imagined in high school. The feeling of accomplishment and relief after a good training week is like nothing else.
Can you describe your hardest workouts?
The hardest workouts are either the 10 mile tempo runs or 10 x mile repeats. Both of them start out at a relatively fast pace and then progressively get faster with the last mile being the fastest. Especially, as a freshman, these workouts where so much longer than anything I ever did in high school that they seemed nearly impossible when I was told about them. Even now that I am somewhat used to them they are still very difficult.
Describe the coaching at Oklahoma State, and how you handled a coaching change after your high school career.
The coaching is very different from what I was used to. In high school, Coach Henry gave me exactly what to do every single day. Here, it is less structured and more up to the athletes how much and how fast to run. For example, on a non-workout day Coach Smith will tell us to go on a normal run with no specified time or distance, each one of us decides how much we should be doing depending on our current mileage and fitness; so some will go six miles some will go eight miles with strides while others will go ten miles.
Describe your relationship with former coach Kenny Henry, and which lessons he imparted that impact you today.
I still talk with Coach Henry and will visit him when I go back home. I enjoyed the time I had as his athlete and I am still very grateful for all he did for me in high school. I know that I would not have had the same success without Coach Henry. The biggest lesson I learned from him was to relax and be confident in my ability. He never seemed to worry or stress about anything when it was time to go to a big race, he always believed that things would go well regardless of the situation; this attitude gave us athletes the confidence that we needed to race well under pressure.
What is your biggest challenge, and how do you handle this challenge?
My biggest challenge has been to remain patient and not be discouraged through my first years at Oklahoma State. My transition to the collegiate scene has been much different than I had anticipated and it has taken much longer for me to adapt and be competitive. Even with these setbacks I am still hopeful towards the future and have faith that I will be able to once again find success as a runner.
Who are your heroes, why?
My heroes are my Mom and Dad. They are incredibly hard working, selfless, humble and positive even through the many challenges they have faced in life. They have taught me so much and they continue to be a daily inspiration in my life.
Martinez (Bib#9) with fellow Cowboy teammates. Photo courtesy of Luis Martinez.
Are you surprised at how good your teams have been? What did you expect coming in to a team atmosphere?
Not really, no, I actually somewhat expected us to be better than we have been. Coach Smith runs a program that given the high level of talent and training should contend for the national championship or at least be a podium team every year. The past couple of years have been hard for us and we have not found the success that we expect out of ourselves. I was blessed to be a part of a great team in high school so I didn't expect too much of a difference in team atmosphere.
What is the next big goal you are currently chasing? Can you share your goal building process?
Currently, my goal is to run a regional qualifying mark in the outdoor 5000m or 1500m. My goals are built around improving and accomplishing things that I have not been able to before.
(Editor's Note: in 2015, Luis has set personal records in the indoor mile -- 4:07.06, and during the outdoor season in the 5,000 meter run -- 14:27.53)
Is it overwhelming to think of yourself as a role model for successful high school athletes? If you could give them advice, what would you share?
I guess I haven't ever really thought about it so, no, it's not overwhelming at all. I would tell high school runners to just have fun and enjoy what you're doing, if you don't enjoy every step of the process it will be very hard to be successful. If you let it become excessively tedious and stressful it will only be a matter of time before you will burnout or even want to quit.
Head Coach XC/Boys Track & Field Cleveland Storm
(Collegiate Runner at Louisiana State University)
What did you learn from coaching a historically great NM runner?
From a coaching standpoint, Luis was an absolute dream come true. He was a wonderful mixture of talent, hard work, and competitiveness. There are so many great things I learned and took away from Luis. However, if I had to pick one thing about Luis that made him great, that I try to pass on to our other runners, is that if you hope to be great, if you hope to maximize what you are capable of, you have to be dedicated in every aspect of your life. For instance, we have had other really great runners who I knew I could count on to work hard and really do everything they could when they were at practice, but outside of practice, they were not as dedicated. They did not make conscious decisions to eat right, to rest right, to take care of themselves the way they could, and as a result they did not experience the amount of success I thought they were capable of experiencing. Luis however was always thinking about how his decisions outside of actual practice would affect the ability to run at his best. You combine his decision making with his natural talent, his tremendous work ethic, and his killer attitude, and you end up with a runner who is competitive on a national level.
Another thing that I love about Luis is that he was and continues to be very coachable. He always had faith and confidence in his training. Nowadays, kids read in magazines or online about the training of professional runners, collegiate runners, or even top high school runners. I think a lot of kids, especially kids who compete at a high level, begin to think that they should also train the same way as these people they are reading about. Luis never questioned or even second-guessed his training in high school. He had the "what do we got today Coach" mentality, which I think was very beneficial because his confidence was never altered.
Which skills will Luis need to master in order to maximize his potential as a collegiate runner?
I don't really feel like Luis is lacking in any particular set of skills necessary for him to be successful in college. The biggest thing for Luis, in my opinion, is just getting used to the increased training volume that he has seen since going to Oklahoma State. He and I talked a lot about how an increase in mileage was going to be the biggest change for him, regardless of where he chose to run in college and I do believe that has been the thing he has had to work the hardest to adapt to. I still speak to Luis regularly and during his first year at OK State the change in training is what he would mention to me all the time, especially that first fall. He would tell me he loved what they were doing in training, he felt like all the training was going well, but he said he did feel fatigued a lot of the time. Despite that, he was able to run well that first year, especially during track season. This past year, his second year, he has told me that he is much more accustomed to the training now and continues to feel stronger and stronger. He has a lot of confidence in his Coaches, his team, himself, and I know that in the near future he is going to truly run well.
How can future High School standouts transition successfully to collegiate running?
First and foremost, I think for high school standouts to transition successfully they have to make sure they are happy with their college choice. They have to be willing to change, and they always have to have faith in what they are doing. Lastly, they have to make good decisions off the course/track. Sometimes this is even tougher than it may have been in high school but there is no doubt that it is necessary.