The Sale Harrier discusses his recent performances, training set-up and goals for the future.

Every weekend there are athletes having ‘breakthrough’ performances, but when Nigel Martin ran 13:54 at the Armagh 5k it really did feel like new ground.

The Sale Harriers’ initial reaction tells it all: “I just didn’t think I had the natural talent to run that fast.”

After first meeting ‘Big Nige’ – which no one really calls him – in Portugal back in spring 2017, the hardworking northerner has been a personal source of inspiration, simply for his consistent dedication to the grind. Big Nige gets the job done, week in, week out.

“It was just a perfect day in Armagh, the weather was great, the field was competitive and the stars just aligned for me,” is how Martin humbly sees his run in Northern Ireland. “I hadn’t done a 5000m last summer so maybe it wasn’t as big a jump as it looked.”

Photo: Keith McClure

Training with the right people

Training under the wing of Sale Harriers stalwart Norman Poole means being at the track on a regular basis, just as the coach is every week. The president of the British Milers’ Club is spoken of highly by all of his athletes and also those he hasn’t coached, such is his reputation.

“At the beginning of each planning season, so September normally, Norman and I sit down and plan out the goals for the year ahead,” Martin tells Fast Running. “There’s a big plan with key races, tied in with the long term ambitions and gradual progress towards them.

“We build carefully and I see this recent string of results as part of three years of consistent training. My training might look underwhelming, but I race better than I train.”

It seems three years of “underwhelming” training has produced some overwhelming results. Built on a basis of controlled two week builds, followed by an easier week which often has a race, Martin has the simple basics of track work, tempo runs and a Sunday long run with easier mileage around this.

“It will usually be two weeks of 85-90 miles, something I have built up to over the years, followed by a lower week of around 60 miles,” he explains. “Norman wants me to always respect my races so we have a taper for those and this usually ties in with the lower mileage.

“I used to have a four week cycle but the recovery is a key part for me so we adapted.”

Focusing on progressive results

When I initially met Nigel in Portugal a couple of years ago it was somewhat strange for me to hear of someone focusing on certain shorter races, like Trafford 10k, Wilmslow Half and the Armagh 5k.

I was used to people targeting marathons or ultras, running in new places each time to build on the experience. Seeing someone dedicate all this training to simpler, but no less respected goals, was new.

“This spring I’ve had a four race streak, with Armagh, the National Cross, Trafford and Wilmslow,” he says. “I was in great shape coming into the year, having already run well at the Northerns, but those four races just went really well.”

Photo: Pete Brown

It is clear that Armagh gave Martin the belief going forward into the next three events. Changing expectations can often throw a runner but the results are built on a solid foundation.

As was the case here, a runner can do wonderful things with the right confidence, as evidenced by his 65:26 win at the competitive Wilmslow Half in late March.

So how did everything go down at Armagh? Hearing the result when I crossed the finish line a fair bit later did actually make me shout for joy so I have already put forward a theory in this article, but here’s how Big Nige saw it.

“It was the third year in a row that I had competed at Armagh [having run 14:39 and 14:25 PBs in previous years] and this year was my biggest breakthrough for sure,” says the Sale Harrier. “My watch was actually playing up. It started after the race so I only had the lap clock to go by.”

“I knew from previous years that I was going fast, but I was focused on the runners around me. The leaders were just ahead, 5-10 seconds or so, so it was where I expected to be.

“The clock on the last lap read 11:04 and I still didn’t believe I’d break 14 minutes, even though I knew the time it would take me to get back round. It was only on that home straight did I think it was possible.”

The initial reaction when greeting Nige at the finish said it all. “I just didn’t think I had the natural talent to run that fast.” It gives hope to us all of what we might achieve with dedication, hard work and consistency.

“People train faster and race more often that I do, but I’ve found what works for me,” he intelligently says.

What’s next?

Armagh was followed by 11th at the National Cross, 29:55 for fourth in tough conditions at Trafford 10k and then lopping five minutes from his half marathon PB to run 65:26 at Wilmslow Half for the win. It’s a string of results that would make any club runner jealous.

“The next goal is the Highgate Night of the 10,000m PBs,” says Martin, who ran 30:17.69 last year and will be surely looking to bring his 10,000m PB in line with a couple of his recent results. “Then maybe Manchester or another autumn half. Maybe building towards a marathon in 2020… potentially.”

Whether the hardworking northerner decides to focus on the marathon or not, it’ll be exciting to see what the future holds.

No doubt some more inspiring results to showcase the importance of simple, progressive and dedicated training. Big Nige is moving forward. 

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