There is relying on natural ability and then there is what Mikaela Martin did in her first two years of running cross country for Horizon Honors.

To be more precise it is what she didn’t do that makes it so impressive.

Martin finished 19th in the Division IV state cross country meet as a freshman with a time of 21 minutes and 42.14 seconds over the 3.1-mile course and second as a sophomore at 19:54.15 without putting in any summer road work.

She showed up the first day of practice each fall having to rebuild her endurance. By the end of the year, Martin was clearly among the best but it is rare that a runner with two career top 20s at the state meet — although it is a little more common in Division IV — didn’t prepare for the year by increasing miles leading up to the season.

“She just kind of did it on a whim and found out she had a natural running ability,” Horizon Honors coach Lura Beets said. “I had talks with her during the season about how good she could be if she really dedicated herself.”

Martin did just that over the summer and it has her excited for the season.

“I look back now and wonder what I could have done if I had prepared like I did this summer,” she said. “I don’t think it was a missed opportunity, but more of a learning experience. I can’t wait to see how I will do now that I come in stronger than ever before.”

Martin might have done too much in the sense that her availability for last weekend’s Chandler Invitational at Tumbleweed was questionable because of wear and tear on her knees.

“I’ll be OK,” she said. “My body wasn’t used to all of the (road) miles and I’m a little sore.”

That’s because Martin started tagging along with the Desert Vista girls program and its offseason program. Going from zero offseason work to following the Thunder’s regimen, which included 70-minute runs, is like a first-time golfer playing from the championship tees.

“It was so tough, but they really pushed me and showed me what running with a pack can do for you,” Martin said. “It’s easier to keep pushing yourself because everyone next to you is still pushing and you don’t want to be the one who falls back.

“I can’t wait to get my running shoes and see what I can do.”

It is something that Martin needed considering the Hawks only have one other female — Martin’s good friend Gabrielle Petersen — on the team. During the season she trains with the boys so it isn’t really a big deal, but having time with the Thunder girls will only benefit her down the line.

“We have one big team,” Beets said. “It’s a shame we can’t field a full girls team, but at the same time it makes us stronger as a program because we do work with each other every day.”

Martin finished second in the state with a time of 19:54.17 and was about a minute behind champion Sarah MacDonald of Pusch Ridge, who is a senior this year. Martin’s goal is to dip into the 18:50s so it will require erasing about a minute off her PR from last season.

“She can really make a big jump this year,” Beets said. “Her time is going to be terrific. Mikaela has matured and she has verbalized her goals for the first time. She has drive and for the first time put in the work she needs to accomplish it.

“I won’t be surprised by anything she does this season.”

Martin admitted that maturity is part of the reason that she has a more dedicated approach and knows she really has to keep going to make the next level.

“I was looking at the college times and I not that far off,” she said. “If I keep working and striving I can get some colleges to notice me. I want to run in college and know that I can’t just show up and run anymore.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on the Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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