Martin Hehir’s running career has been a steady and impressive upward trajectory ever since taking up the sport in middle school in Washingtonville, NY. He hopped in a local 5K at 10 years old and was hooked ever since. Although he never won any high school state titles, Marty ran well enough to earn a Division 1 scholarship to Syracuse University. While there, he was instrumental in taking a program that would finish middle of the road at the NCAA XC Championship meet to winning the Championship title in 2015, finishing 9th place overall in the country individually. That may have been his final race as an Orangeman, but also during his collegiate tenure he won Big East and ACC XC Individual titles, broke the 4 minute mile barrier, ran 28:27 in the track 10,000 meters and earned 4 NCAA All-American honors.
He continued to run professionally after graduating and the accolades kept accumulating. First, he qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials 10,000 meters race and finished 7th place. Then he represented Team USA at the Great Edinburgh XC Meet in 2017. After that, Marty transitioned smoothly to longer road races and has been top 5 at many US Road Race Championships as well as other prestigious national races. Coming full circle as a distance runner, he conquered the marathon in 2018, running 2:13:49 at the California International Marathon – his first attempt at the distance and also a qualifying time for the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials. He went on to finish 6th place at the Trials in a huge personal record of 2:11:29 on the hilly streets of Atlanta. Martin has had the full support of his Reebok Boston Track Club team and the Sidney Kimmel Medical College, where he is simultaneously training to become a physician.
What was the moment like when you qualified for the Olympic Trials?
Qualifying was only a stepping stone in my mind. I had been training all fall in the midst of being a second-year medical student and father of a 4 month old baby girl. Coach Fox and I felt confident the distance would be pretty a good fit for me so we played it on the safe side with training and set a very modest goal of simply getting the qualifying time. I ended up finishing 9th in 2:13:49 which I was definitely satisfied with, however losing to so many other great Americans was a tough pill to swallow and I knew I would have to step it up come 2020.
Describe the experience competing against the best marathon runners in the United States.
It’s always fun and always an honor lining up with the country’s best. Every time I get on the line, I can’t help but think how special it is that people care so much and work so hard just to see how fast they can get from the start to the finish. Marathoners in particular are a different breed – its surreal to fathom how many cumulative miles and workouts are standing on the line. But the Olympic Trials Marathon? That experience is on another planet. I absolutely relish the opportunity to run against that field of friends and warriors. There’s no higher level – that was it!
What lessons did you take away from the race?
Never to count yourself out. The marathon is truly not over until you cross the finish line and that couldn’t have been truer over the brutal hills of Atlanta. I moved up significantly over the last 8 miles – people were blowing up, dropping out, and who knows what else. I had to just keep believing I was in it.
How did you finish compared to your expectations?
I expected to be top 10. And if you expect to be top 10 at the Olympic Trials, then you better be trying to be top 3! So I was disappointed with 6th since that’s obviously short of making an Olympic team, but I was quite proud of my performance - a 2 plus minute personal record on a “slow” course and never gave up.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, do you have any goals for the rest of the year?
No plans running wise. I was hoping to run a fall marathon, but I feel as if they may not happen this year. For now, I’ll just be enjoying training at 60 to 70% and be ready to get in good shape when the world gets the green light.
What does your weight training consist of and which exercise do you feel helps your running the most?
I barely weight train by conventional standards. I’ve always believed 95% of performance comes from running and while all the rest should be optimized, but not overly so or at the expense of the running itself. That said, I mainly stick with body weight and resistance band exercises a couple times a week to keep ancillary muscles and tendons strong. This includes different variations of squats, lunges, ankle exercises, balance work, and core work
What's the weirdest or funniest thing that ever happened to you while running?
Once while I was running down a quiet Philadelphia sidewalk, a squirrel came out of nowhere (scaring the crap out of me) and ran into my leg head on, bounced off and ran away. It all happened so fast. I spent the rest of the run trying to decide if squirrels could have rabies and if I would get it.
What's your favorite types of fuel before a race?
I keep it simple and usually default to pasta with meat sauce. If you run a lot, you already eat a lot of carbs so I don’t find any need to drastically change your diet before a race, especially if you are resting and running less leading up to it. Eating normal will satisfy the “carbo-load.”
What's your biggest pet peeve?
Since moving to Philly, nothing makes my blood boil hotter than when people blatantly throw their garbage on the ground. It literally is the most indecent and insulting thing you can do in my eyes.
What's it like to be apart of the Reebok team?
I love being part of a team because it provides structure, socialization, and accountability. It’s easier to train hard when you surround yourself with like-minded people. The Reebok team is great. All the guys and girls are easy-going, don’t have big heads, and love to train hard. Unfortunately, I don’t get to spend as much time with the group in Charlottesville as I’d like since I’m still finishing medical school in Philly. But I make sure to get down there for training blocks leading up to big races.
Who would you say is the funniest teammate?
Rob Domanic is our Texas-born miler and he’s pretty damn funny. He’s got ridiculous superstitions. He is a potent creator of insider jokes and he doesn’t give a hoot what you have to say about him.
Do you like ice baths?
I’m ambivalent about ice baths. I used to take them once every week or two in college, but since graduating they are far and few between. I think they have more of a mental “feel good” effect than an actual physical effect. If they make you feel good, then go for it. But if you hate them, don’t bother!
In your free time when you’re not running, what hobby’s do you enjoy?
I’m a proud couch potato in the little free time I have. My wife and I will always have a show that we are making our way through – crime, drama, comedy, anything is fair game. But what I really enjoy is taking my daughter, McKenna, pretty much anywhere. She loves to scooter, run around, and get pulled in a wagon so it’s always fun being outside with her and hitting up zoos, parks, aquariums, etc.
What's the most important tip you like to give new runners?
Stick it out in the beginning! Whether you’re a professional runner coming off 2 to 3 weeks off, or a person who has never run a step in their life – the first month of running will feel terrible. I think that’s why most people quit before they really gave it a chance. I promise that with time and consistency, your body will adapt and running will start to feel good.
When it comes to running, what would you say is your biggest strength and weakness?
My biggest strength is probably the deep level in which running has been integrated into my life. Running is an almost thoughtless part of my day – much like brushing your teeth. I don’t really deal with the mental stress that comes with forcing yourself out the door for a run or workout. My biggest weakness is probably not dedicating enough time for strength and conditioning in order to keep myself healthy. While I don’t get injured often, I’ve dealt with calf strains and IT band issues in recent years that required some relatively basic but crucial rehab/prehab exercises.
Who is someone you look up to in the sport?
I’ve always loved following Nick Willis. He’s been a world class miler for New Zealand FOREVER. But his love, interest, and curiosity for the sport really comes through when he speaks and interacts with his fans. He seems like a genuinely good person and knows how to keep his legs running sub 60 second 400's no matter how old he gets!
Who is one of your favorite athletes to train with?
Colin Bennie is my all-time favorite guy to train with. We’ve been together since Syracuse University and ran almost every step of the Olympic Trials buildup together. He is a professional in every sense of the word and when he shows up for a workout, you know he’s going to make you hurt. He never has “off” days and admittedly dragged me though quite a few hard days in what was his first marathon buildup (he qualified for the Trials with a half marathon). Then he goes and runs 2:12 for 9th place in Atlanta? If that’s not a testament to his potential and propensity to train hard then I don’t know what is.
Did you ever imagine you'd be where you are today in the sport?
Honestly, not really. I’ve never been one to think much about the future. I love the competitive nature of running and training and quite simply have always done it because it’s fun. Each time I’ve continued to improve and make it to the next level (High School, college, professional), it wasn’t really “planned.” This is where my hard work and enjoyment for the sport has gotten me and I have no idea nor plan for where it will take me next!
What's next for Martin Hehir?
I welcomed baby girl number 2 this month so that will be more than enough to handle for the next few months along with finishing up my final year of medical school and applying to residency programs around the country to continue my medical training. Hopefully by the time the dust settles from those two things, I will have a race to put on the calendar and start grinding towards.
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Published July 29, 2020