Female athlete of the year: Swimmer splashes into running records


Valerie Martin was not involved in neither track nor cross country when she started classes at Webster University. She is now setting school records  in both, thanks to the suggestion of a fellow classmate.

Martin comes from a swimming background. Unlike many athletes, she was not recruited out of high school to run for Webster. She did not get involved in running until another student in her biology class who ran cross country asked her to join.

This year, Martin became the second runner ever to claim the conference title in cross country and was named St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) Runner of the year.

Martin placed in the top 20 five times last fall season – a new school record – and has nine career top 20 finishes, which is second best for a cross country career in Webster history. Her conference winning time in the 6k was 23:06; also second best in school history.

Martin was named to the first team all-conference in cross country for two consecutive seasons. She also set a school record in the women’s track and field 5,000 meter run in 2015 with a time of 18:38.93. In total, Martin holds school records for six different events.

Martin said the 5K is her toughest event and biggest athletic accomplishment of her collegiate career.

“I won the 1,500 and the 5K, and then raced the 4×400 right after the 5K ended just because I was so thrilled and wanted to race again,” Martin said. “The 1,500 was a hard-won race. It came down to the last 100 meters and I was within a second of my best time.”

Dan Graber, head coach for the track and field and cross country teams, said Martin excels at both sports, but has had more immediate success at track.

“Valerie is one of the best long distance runners I’ve ever coached, and one of Webster’s best female distance runners of all time,” Graber said.

Martin said that she devotes anywhere from 15 to 30 hours a week training for cross country and track and field and uses her swimming background several times a week for aerobic fitness without the impact stress of running.

Graber said that Martin is still learning what her body can handle and continues to grow mentally as a runner, and that distance runners have to be careful in order to avoid injuries. He said her inexperience in those aspects has made coaching Martin more fun.

“Since she doesn’t have a background in running, she is a little more coachable than some runners, when it comes to racing,” Graber said. “When she executes a race plan well, she usually does exactly what we talked about.”

Martin said that her mother, who was a runner in high school and has been running for more than 20 years, has been an inspiration to her. She also said that her mother is always checking her running form and making sure that she is taking care of her body.

“It’s good to know that I have her genes for the sport, and her personality,” Martin said. “[Her personality] is tougher than mine, makes me want to do better. Basically, she inspires me not to be a wuss.”

For the spring semester, Martin has taken a break from athletic competition while studying abroad in Geneva, Switzerland.

Martin plans to return to competition in the fall for cross country and to track and field next spring. Martin said she has set a goal to win conference in cross country again and set a new personal record.

“My more ambitious goal is to try to make it to cross country nationals,” Martin said. “I will have to put in a lot of work to even come close, and at the end of the day, it’s going to be down to one race – regionals.”

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