Webster University cross country newcomer adapts quickly, breaks records


Sophomore Valerie Martin never had a good relationship with running prior to her record-breaking career at Webster University. Even her own mother, a former cross country runner could not convince her to run competitively.

“She would make me go on runs sometimes when I was in middle school and I would just cry,” Martin said.

Now when Martin runs, she is no longer crying; she is breaking records. In addition to setting a new record for fastest mile in track and field, Martin recently broke the record for fastest race time in a 4,000 meter cross country race in Webster history, beating the record by 40 seconds. Her latest feat comes less than a year after running competitively for the first time in her life.

Photo contributed by Crystal Reyner/Webster Athletics Valerie Martin competes in the Early Bird Invitational in Washington, Mo. on Aug. 30. Martin finished 10th out of 111 runners.

Martin spent most of her life swimming, but burnt out on it since she came to Webster last year. It was when she shared a biology class with Lauren Hoover that Martin’s interest turned toward running.

“For the most part, I was just trying to recruit anyone,” Hoover said.

Hoover said as the only returning upperclassman for the cross country and track team, she tried to recruit other girls on campus to join the team and get involved in the sport of running. She shared with Martin her training regimen.

Martin was shocked by the number of miles each runner ran.

“It’s craziness to run 50 miles a week, and she was just really proud about it,” Martin said.

Dan Graber, head coach of the cross country and track team, did not know what to expect when Martin came to him to ask about running cross country and track 11 months ago. She had no running background and had much to work on before she could run track in the  2014 spring semester. Graber gave her a running program to use during the winter months.

“I wanted to be gradual with (the program)and not give her too much right away,” Graber said. “You don’t want to give someone who is new to a sport a training program that overwhelms them and then they don’t have fun. They just associate (running) with work.”

The former swimmer, was like a fish in water when it came to running.

“She was excited to get started and she started training and fell in love with (running),” Hoover said.

Despite her background in swimming, Martin said her body is better equipped for her  new sport.

“My body is definitely built for running more than it is for swimming. I have next to no torso compared to my leg length and I have fairly slim shoulders. I have a very good runner’s build,” Martin said.

Martin said her running has corrected and even strengthened  her overpronated ankles.

If a runner’s foot hits the ground in a running motion and the foot rolls inward, while the heel simultaneously moves outward, pronation occurs. Pronation allows the foot to adapt to the uneven ground while running. But if a runner’s foot rolls too far inward, overpronation occurs and can result in an injury.

Graber said Martin’s swimming background equipped her with the focus she needs during long runs, which the head coach said can be very difficult to do, even for seasoned runners.

“Swimmers don’t think it’s crazy to jump in the pool and swim for three hours,” Graber said. “So they’re used to that monotony of doing an activity over and over again and doing something uncomfortable for a long period of time. She is also just a tough person.”

With three cross country meets and multiple broken records under her belt, Martin still has a lot of running left in her career at Webster. Graber said he has to remind himself Martin is still new to the sport and regardless of how talented she is on the track or in a long distance race, he needs to let her ease off her training now and then to ensure her health.

Graber also said although Martin has accomplished so much so early in her career, he knows that she will stay grounded and keep her mind open to the instructions of those around her, coach or teammate. 

“She has done a good job at staying humble and remaining coachable and that’s why she will be able to improve,” Graber said.

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