Toward the Rising Sun - Page 4
Shaun, Jeremy, Chris and I retrace our steps out of the canyon, ascending some 1400 vertical feet in little more than a mile, to stand on the rim. Shaun appears relaxed, reflective. Then he lets out a cry, he says, to let the spirit people know he is active and striving for a balanced life. His voice echoes through the rocky corridor, as though giving the landscape thanks.
After the run, we sit in Shaun's living room with his family, spooning mouthfuls of mutton stew and fry-bread, a Navajo staple. Shaun's dad, Allen Martin, recounts stories of his own school-boy "ultras"—when he and his friends would run away from boarding school just so they could be outside. "Navajos strive to be one with nature, with the heavens, the ground, the plants and living creatures, to respect them," he says. "Back in school, I wanted to be out in that environment and was pulled by the natural forces. So we ran."
Once, he and his friends ran 100 miles in three days, mostly at night, from just east of Flagstaff, Arizona, to his grandparents' homestead in The Gap. He digs deep into those memories, a distant look settling in across his face as he remembers the desert landscape they traversed, the empty hogans where they found day-time shelter and rest before running through the next night.
We all laugh about his runs, how he was running ultras when Western States was still a horse race*. And then Shaun's face grows serious. "I want to run that route someday, Dad," he says. "I want to follow in your footsteps." His father nods proudly.
"When I think of the milestones in our lives, they have always involved running," says Melissa, Shaun's wife and mother of their two young children. "When Shaun comes back from a race or run, he's always a better person, a better father. He does all his problem solving out there."
Shaun cannot remember when he and his brothers started running traditionally— each morning toward the rising sun—but says they must have been close to his son Maverick's age of two and a half. In elementary school Shaun was introduced to competitive running by his coach Mark Lomeland, who mentored Martin all the way through high school. It was Lomeland who inspired Shaun to become a coach.
After high school, Shaun attended Northern Arizona University on a full running scholarship. But Division I athletics felt different. "In college, everything was based on winning or losing. There was no other objective but to become faster," he says. "We [my team] got good at that. But when college was over, I was burned out."
Then, after almost a year of little running, Shaun remembers heading out the door and just running, and running and running. "I didn't have a watch," he says. "I didn't have any idea how far out I was. I must have run at least 15 miles one way. I came back three and a half hours later feeling great. I realized that I just had to fall in love with running again." Shaun started running farther each day and fell into ultrarunning by default.
In fall of 2008, his brother Theo, a 2000 Olympic Marathon Trails Qualifier with a 2:16, accompanied him on a 40-mile traverse of the Paria River Canyon, a stunning slot canyon on the Arizona-Utah border. While Theo hit the wall at mile 30, Shaun remembers settling into a steady stride. "By the time we finished, Theo was wrapped up in a blanket, puking, and I just wanted to run more."
Trail ultramarathons opened up a whole new world of possibilities. "I didn't want to train," he says. "I just wanted to run. I still just want to run, so I started doing these 20- or 30-mile trail runs to explore the canyons around here. I decided I should test myself and entered the Red Mountain 50K." Shaun not only ran the 2008 inaugural race in Ivins, Utah, he crushed the field, finishing 10 minutes ahead of second place and setting a blistering course record of 3:20, a record no one has come close to.