The (former) Apprentice


POSTED: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

There is a blistering hot sun over Wahiawa on a July morning.

Most folks open all the windows of their houses and cars, or shut everything, blast the air conditioning and pay the price. Margarito Martinez is up early, eating his plain oatmeal and watching the clock. By mid-morning, the guitar-string-plucking, “;South Park”;-watching Leilehua student is ready. The socks — no cotton please, they're bad for blood circulation — go on, then his blue and white Saucony running shoes. Ten to 15 minutes of stretching, a glimpse at the iPod and he's in the zone again.

Where else do humans roam so freely in a world of red lights and long lines? Martinez, a member of the Leilehua cross country team, is off in his own galaxy, sometimes shared with teammates — fellow co-captain Micah Velasco or younger brother Dylan — but often it's a solitary path.

On his offseason training days, Martinez goes a bit farther, treading for 30 to 50 minutes, maxing out at 8 or 8.5 miles. The route changes from one day to the next, unencumbered by the mass traffic of urban Honolulu. In Wahiawa, there's more than one way to enjoy a run, no matter how heavy the heat.

The distance of a cross country race is 3 miles — a distance Martinez covered in 16 minutes, 15 seconds to win the Oahu Interscholastic Association championship Saturday at Central Oahu Regional Park. Leilehua claimed its fifth league crown in a row, solidifying its dynasty, a timeless trek that circles and circles seemingly without end.

MARTINEZ SPENT HIS first two years as an apprentice of sorts to prolific state champion and teammate Bryce Jenkins, who now runs at Idaho State. Jenkins, a three-time state champion, was always bold, often funny and an extrovert whose father, Bruce, was as demanding as the career Army officer he is. Martinez also comes from a military family, but it's his mother, Esther, who pushed the buttons and expected her sons to run in high school.

Running, it turns out, became his true love.

“;She made me do it. She's the runner in the family, and if she doesn't run that day, she's not in a good mood,”; Martinez said.

Running with Jenkins gave him a unique perspective. Martinez was a quiet kid, especially as a freshman, but always ready to learn.

“;He said to relax and not get too worked up before a race. It was pretty important because he brought the love of running out of me,”; said Martinez, now a junior.

“;A lot of Bryce rubbed off on him,”; coach Shawn Nakata said. “;They're good friends, and when Bryce left, he felt he had to take Bryce's place.”;

Their mutual love of music — playing guitar — also cemented their friendship. Like Jenkins, Martinez carries his acoustic guitar on his back every day at school. Together with friends, they'd improvise and play original stuff, or take a request and entertain other friends.

THERE CAN BE too much of a work ethic if it's left unchecked. This week, Martinez dropped his daily 4-mile run before school. With the Honolulu Marathon State Cross Country Championships just three days away, he's building up added fuel and strength.

“;Coach said to start tapering off,”; he said. “;I feel like I'm pushing it more in the afternoon run.”;

Jenkins' graduation left a void at the top of the cross country food chain, leaving a handful of potential champions aiming at the Kauai Community College course this weekend. Martinez will see his stiffest competition, of course, from private-school racers like Jordan Thibodeau — one of eight harriers from the Interscholastic League of Honolulu who recorded sub-17-minute times last weekend — and the home-turf favorite, Island School's Pierce Murphy.

Martinez bested Murphy when they ran in Campbell's preseason meet. That terrain was flat, just like KCC's course.

“;Margarito won by quite a margin and set a course record,”; Nakata said. “;But both of them are peaking now.

Murphy posted a time of 16:15 at the Mt. Sac Invitational over the weekend and knows the KCC route. Martinez hasn't been on that campus, which could be a minus ... or a plus.

“;There's no rivalry. I've known him since track (season),”; Martinez said.

Leilehua's streak of two straight state titles is at stake.

“;I'd rather win a team championship than individual,”; Martinez said. “;One person can't win it all by himself. It's a team sport. If it wasn't for my teammates, I wouldn't be running.

“;We're a family here.”;