Marysville Getchell runner Marly Martinez, a junior, sits on campus Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Marysville Getchell runner Marly Martinez, a junior, sits on campus Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

MG junior reaches state XC meet after astonishing improvement

Through plenty of hard work, state-bound Marly Martinez improved her time by nearly 7 minutes from the end of last season.

Marly Martinez was on the verge of stopping.

It was September of 2021, and the new Marysville Getchell High School distance runner was struggling through her second-ever cross country race. As she approached a hill on the two-mile course in Bellingham, doubts were flying through her head.

“I’m gonna stop here,” she remembers thinking. “I can’t do this. I don’t think I’m meant for running.”

But right as she was about to stop, Martinez saw people perched in a nearby tree who were cheering her on.

It was the push of encouragement she needed.

“I was like, ‘I can’t stop. I’ve gotta keep running,’” she said. “So I kept running.”

All the way to state.

Martinez, a junior, has completed a remarkable journey since taking up distance running last fall.

Over the past 14 months, she’s sliced her 5,000-meter time by an astounding 8 minutes, 27 seconds. That includes a whopping 6 minute, 53 second-improvement since the end of last season.

Martinez’s most recent personal best came last weekend, when she ran a 20:42.0 to finish 21st at the Class 3A District 1 championships.

In doing so, she accomplished a feat that once would’ve been unthinkable: She earned a trip to Saturday’s 3A state meet in Pasco.

“As coaches, we see improvements all the time,” said Marysville Getchell coach Randy Edens, who has been coaching high school cross country in the area for more than two decades. “It’s kind of the fun thing about our sport.

“You’ll see anything from a few seconds to a minute or two — and maybe in some cases, three or four minutes — over the course of a year.”

But nearly eight and a half minutes in 14 months?

Nearly seven minutes in a calendar year?

“You don’t see that kind of dramatic, drastic improvement,” Edens said. “It’s pretty special.”

Martinez didn’t have any distance running experience prior to last season, when she decided to turn out for Marysville Getchell’s cross country team. She was drawn by the post-run feeling of accomplishment.

“I saw a lot of people run and I saw a lot of different videos of people running,” she said. “And the way they felt afterwards, I was like, ‘I want to feel that.’”

Early on, it was a struggle.

“The first week (of practice) killed me — absolutely killed me,” she said. “We only had to run two miles for the first day, and that took me like 30 minutes. It was terrible.”

In her first 5,000-meter race last fall, Martinez posted a time of 29:09.0. Over the course of the season, there were instances when she had to walk during a race because she was so tired.

But she stuck with it. By the end of last fall, Martinez trimmed her time to 27:35.6.

And she entered the offseason eager to keep improving.

“I was like, ‘I want to become a varsity runner. I want to be able to do all the cool stuff they get to do, like go to invitationals and stuff like that,’” she said.

Martinez poured herself into Marysville Getchell’s offseason running program, beginning with a strong winter of training.

By track and field season this past spring, she’d already made major strides. She was consistently running around a six-minute mile, highlighted by a personal-best 1,600-meter time of 5:57.9 in May.

Edens, who teaches and coaches girls basketball at Lake Stevens High School, remembers attending some Marysville Getchell track meets this past spring and being shocked at Martinez’s improvement.

“What happened?” Edens remembers asking his assistant cross country coach. “What happened with Marly?”

At that point, Edens said he knew Martinez had something special going.

“Once (kids) get that taste of success and pretty dramatic improvement, you’ve got them,” he said. “It’s something that they want more of. And she’s been all in.”

After track season, Martinez continued to run every day during the summer.

Most of the time, she’d run with her teammates in the morning. Or if she couldn’t make a morning workout, she’d go for a run in the evening, with her mother pedaling alongside on a bike.

By the time cross country season began this past August, Martinez had a strong base to build on. And after spending the previous season on junior varsity, she was suddenly the program’s top varsity runner.

Martinez said it didn’t really sink in until late September, when she traveled with her teammates to compete at the Bob Firman Invitational in Eagle, Idaho.

“It was like, ‘Wow, I really am (on) varsity,” she said.

Martinez opened her 5,000-meter slate this fall by running a 22:04.2 at the Bob Firman Invitational. That was already more than seven minutes faster than her initial 5,000-meter time last year.

And as the season progressed, she kept on improving. Over the past two years, she’s bettered her 5,000-meter time every single race.

“It was crazy,” she said of watching her times continue to decrease.

The most significant personal best came last week. After running a 21:14.1 in the league championships, Martinez improved by another 32.1 seconds at district.

As a result, she finished comfortably within the top 28 to advance to state.

“Districts is always a little bit of a different animal in terms of that meet,” Edens said. “It’s just such intense racing. … But we really felt confident in her ability and the work that she’d put in.

“It was just about locking in mentally. (And) you knew by the halfway point, she had it. She had it pretty locked in.”

After crossing the finish line, Martinez’s teammates told her she’d qualified for state. But she wanted to make sure it was official before she began celebrating.

After some tense moments in waiting, she heard her name announced and then let loose.

“I remember jumping up and down and screaming with my teammates,” she said.

“The smile on her face (was) pretty special,” Edens added.

Edens said the full magnitude of what Martinez accomplished likely won’t hit her until she takes the course in Pasco.

But as she reflects on her journey, she’s amazed by how far she’s come.

“I keep thinking of my old self from last year,” she said. “She would never believe if someone told her (she’d) make state.”

For Edens, he said it’s one of the most inspiring stories he’s witnessed in all his years coaching both cross country and basketball.

“We as coaches, we always own a few stories of some special kids that go through programs — wherever you coach and whatever you coach,” he said. “And this is one of those.

“Hopefully it’ll motivate others,” he added, “to want to turn out and say, ‘Hey, I can do that. And who knows, if I work hard enough, maybe I can get as far as Marly did.’”

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