How Kathryn Martin Staged a Record-Setting Comeback at 70
After an extended break from competition, the masters champ has already broken a world record on the track this year. Here are four strategies she uses to run forever.
When Kathryn Martin stepped to the starting line on March 18 at the USA Track and Field Indoor Masters Championships, the feeling was familiar and foreign at the same time. Although her name appears next to 23 American age-group indoor and outdoor track records—11 of them world records—Martin, 70, hadn’t run around an oval in five years.
“It was like an out-of-body experience,” she says. “During the race I was thinking, I don’t know if I can even do this.”
She did do it, and it looked like she hadn’t lost any momentum during her absence. She won the 3,000-meter race, setting a national age-group record for 70-to-74-year-old women. Then she turned around the next day and ran the mile in 6:31.25, an indoor world record in her new division. For context, that’s the age-graded equivalent of a 4:06 mile for a 25-year-old, faster than the open women’s world record of 4:12.56.
Before she disappeared from the scene, Martin had been a consistent threat on the masters circuit for decades, earning USA Track and Field Masters Athlete of the Year honors in her age division every year from 2002 to 2016, and the World Masters Athlete of the Year title in 2017. But after that hot streak, life got in the way: an illness in the family, a move to a new home, and then the pandemic led her to take a hiatus from racing.
“I think we were kind of a little burned out on competition,” says Chuck Gross, Martin’s husband and coach. “She’d been at the top of her game for quite a few years. After a while, it’s very tough being on top.”
During the five-year break, Martin still ran for fitness and fun, without a training schedule or speed workouts. She enjoyed easy miles with friends and the chance to get outside five or six mornings each week. But when she turned 70 in September, she felt rejuvenated, and as COVID-19 restrictions started lifting at races, she got the itch to compete again.
To remain engaged in the sport and competitive with her peers, Martin uses the following four strategies.
Keep Fun at the Forefront
Martin doesn’t deny that she’s driven by setting records, but during her extended break from training, she reconnected with the concept of running for running’s sake—something many tend to lose sight of when races or other goals loom on the horizon.
“It’s totally different when you’re doing serious training versus just running,” she says. “We had a lot of fun just running.”
Martin has always aimed to enjoy herself during competitive phases, too. In previous years, she and Gross have scheduled her races around places they’ve wanted to visit. They’d go for the track meet and stay for the vacation—she’s competed in Finland, Italy, South Korea, and many other international destinations.
“She loves to travel. She’s a social animal,” Gross says, noting that he’s more of a homebody but her running opportunities have gotten him out of the house.
As the original “running realtor”—a label now extended to some younger pro athletes, like Keira D’Amato and Sara Vaughn—Martin finds that the two parts of her life complement each other. Over the years, she’s discovered that the more she shares her running success with her clients, the more invested and engaged they become, and that can also make balancing her career and training less stressful and more fun.
“You can have a very full life—a good family, a good business—and still run. You just find a way to mesh things together,” Martin says. “You share who you are, you share what you have, you share what you know.”
Run Less, Lift More
Martin’s weekly training schedule continues to evolve as she moves up in age group. On Mondays, for example, she doesn’t run at all; instead, she’s added a strength-training session with a coach at a nearby gym for the first time in her running career. “I’ve never gone to the gym, because I didn’t know what I was doing and I thought I’d injure myself,” Martin says. “It’s a new adventure.”
The sessions at the gym include body-weight exercises mixed with “a little bit of weights.” The objective is to strengthen and mobilize the joints in an effort to stave off injuries. “My legs are like rubber when I leave there,” she says.
Martin follows Monday’s strength training with a yoga session on Tuesday mornings—another day she typically doesn’t run. She spreads her training “week” over nine or ten days to ensure she gets enough recovery.
A nine-day training cycle for the 10K usually includes:
- A 10-to-12-mile long run at an easy 8:15 to 8:30 pace
- One endurance workout, slightly faster than 10K race pace (for example, a two-mile warm-up, four miles at a 7:30 to 7:45 pace, and a one-mile cooldown)
- One medium-long run of four to seven miles, plus strides
- Four runs of three to six miles at an 8:30 pace
She typically builds to 40 miles per week over eight weeks before beginning a specific two-month training cycle.
How has her training changed as she’s gotten older? More than anything, she’s added recovery days and decreased the intensity of her workouts. Gross says, “Fifteen or 20 years ago, she’d get on the track and do six repeat miles in sub-six minutes.”
Have a Care Team and Keep Perspective
Recently, after a series of walking lunges, Martin felt pain in her ankle, which later swelled during the night. By the next morning, the joint felt more stuck than hurt, so she didn’t waste any time calling her chiropractor. He worked some magic, and injury was averted. The secret to her longevity isn’t much of a secret—it’s just knowing how to take care of her body.
Along with her strength coach and chiropractor, Martin relies on a physical therapist, a massage therapist, and an acupuncturist as needed. “I have a whole posse of people who keep me running,” she says. She tries to be diligent about self-care, too, including regular foam rolling.
Martin and Gross don’t force workouts if they aren’t going well, either—she’ll discontinue a session and try again another day if she isn’t feeling it. “Runners are all guilty of not paying attention to their bodies when they’re trying to tell us something. You have to be mindful of that as you get older. It takes longer to recover,” she says. “You just have to pay attention.”
It’s always disappointing when illness or injury sabotages a training schedule, but having an otherwise full plate helps Martin keep it in perspective. She’s never bored, at least. Aside from work, she picks her eight-year-old granddaughter up from school twice a week, then they do homework, have dinner, and go for adventures on the nearby trails.
“Over 40 years, she’s really gotten good about backing off,” Gross says. “Running, for her, is not the be-all, end-all. She has her priorities straight.”
Know What Keeps You Moving
Setting age-group records is what keeps Martin enthusiastic about training. She and Gross look at the races that are record eligible and make a plan for each season based on which distances she wants to focus on. This year she’ll likely stick with the 5K-to-15K range, though she and Gross (who likes to encourage some longer races) are still in negotiations.
Next up? Likely the Boston Athletic Association 10K on June 26, where she’ll aim to beat the existing American road record for 70-to-74-year-olds of 45:19, set in 2015 by Jan Holmquist.
“I need fresh, visible goals out there,” she says. “It’s just challenging myself against the clock.”
Aside from those time-oriented objectives, Martin craves the community she finds in her running. After her extended break, she longed to reconnect with the friends she’d made over the many years of competition. “What I really missed was the camaraderie. Masters runners are so unique,” Martin says. “You can be warriors on the track, but prior to and immediately afterward, everybody’s hugging. We’re just so happy to see each other and be in each other’s company.”
She also finds emotional comfort among her running friends at home. “Everybody is struggling with things in life, but we always find things to laugh about when we’re running,” she says.
As she continues to succeed on the track and roads, more women ask her how they, too, can make their running last a lifetime. Martin thinks it’s pretty simple.
“Just keep moving,” she says. “People tend to get sedentary when they get older. There’s no reason to stop moving. Longevity is just enjoying what you’re doing, having friends you like to run with. And you really have to listen to your body.”