By Chris Lotsbom
NEW YORK (16-Mar) -- American Jason Hartmann finds himself in an interesting position coming into the NYC Half tomorrow and the Boston Marathon on April 15. Unsponsored and in the latter part of his career, the 31-year-old knows the clock is ticking on how much more time he has in the sport.
"For a guy at my level, it's very difficult to stay in the sport," said Hartmann, who has a marathon personal best of 2:11:06. "It's a top heavy sport and the gap is starting to grow a lot more. Unfortunately you'll probably see less guys sticking around in the sport just because it is so top heavy. Guy's are running a lot faster and money is very limited."
Hartmann is in the midst of a marathon buildup that is comparable to studying before a big exam. If he does well --or passes-- in Boston, he will race again. If not, then Hartmann says he will hang up the racing flats and move on. Sunday's NYC Half is a pre-test before the big day in four weeks.
Hartmann entered last year's Boston Marathon with a similar mindset and finished fourth as the top American in 2:14:31. Without a coach, Hartmann is in control of all his training and essentially his destiny.
"I sleep a lot easier at night," said the laid back Hartmann. "I trust in what I am doing, and that's a big component. When you trust things and believe in what you are doing, you just take confidence in that."
The one challenge Hartmann has found with this is being honest with himself.
"Trying to balance the line of if I am going too hard and seeing things down the line," he described, noting how sometimes in workouts it is hard to tell yourself to stop, something a coach would have done. "I have to be somewhat more intelligent with the things I am doing. It is not just about hitting home runs all the time. I'm fine with hitting singles now instead of jacking one out of the park because you strike out a lot when you're trying to hit home runs."
In Boston last year, Hartmann learned that patience is a virtue and that mental strength can help bridge the gap between athletes like him and the top Kenyans and Ethiopians.
"How do I compete against guys who are running 2:05 or 2:06? Well, I've got to out-strategize and out-smart guys who are running way faster than me. And a lot of times that means falling into fourth place," he said. "If they beat themselves then I'll capitalize on the mistakes that they make."
This focus is much different than when he was a younger, bolder athlete.
"As I've gotten older, [I've] just kind of realized what the focus should be," he said. "Not being clouded by garbage, I guess. I've always been a focused person, but I feel better focused now because in all reality I have nothing to lose and there's a certain amount of comfort in knowing I have nothing to lose."
Hartmann continued: "I don't know what tomorrow holds as far as my running career. Instead of training for development, I train for a day. I train for April 15. April 16th I'm not really thinking about. I just focus on what's important."
The switch from development to race-specific preparation came after last year's Olympic Trials Marathon, where Hartmann finished a disappointing 32nd. In the switch he has found solace and comfort.
"It's a lot less stressful," said Hartmann. Comparing his situation to a patient who knows they only have so much time left to live, Hartmann said he wants to make the most of what is left in his career, making sure he gave everything he had to extend it as long as possible.
"That is what's important to me now. I see myself ten years ago and I see that kid was lost," he said. "All you can do is the best you can. You'll never know what happens.
"I'm not naive to the fact that if my running is done post-Boston, that I have something I am focusing on next," he said. When asked if come April 16th his career may be over, Hartmann answered "yes" without a moment's hesitation. "Yes. But I feel really comfortable with it. I feel a comfort with my running now that I just work hard and do the best I can."
There isn't a time or place in Boston that will determine his future, only the intuition in his heart.
"I'll just know," he said.
PHOTO: Jason Hartmann on the starting line of the 2012 Brooklyn Half-Marathon (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)