A year ago, Jason Hartmann arrived in Boston wearing his Sunday best. Unlike many runners who hang out in comfortable running clothes the entire marathon weekend, Hartmann at one point got dressed up in a suit and tie.
But there was a good reason: He had a job interview a few days before the race.
He didn't get the job, but, as it turned out, it was his Monday best that steered his career path over the past year. Amid temperatures that soared into the mid-80s, Hartmann ran arguably the best race of his career, finishing fourth in 2:14:31. Only two U.S. runners have placed higher than that since 1985 -- Meb Keflezighi was third in 2006 and Ryan Hall was third in 2009.
After a disappointing 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials race less than three months earlier, Hartmann revived his running with a gritty performance in one of the hottest Boston races in history. He had trained harder than ever in preparation for the trials in Houston and entered that race with the fifth-fastest seed time, but he had a bad day and finished 32nd in 2:16:44.
Heading to Boston about 10 weeks later, he kind of figured it would be the last race of his professional career. He was ready to get a job in the real world and move on with his life. But his strong performance and the subsequent notoriety of being the top American finisher gave impetus to stay in the game for another year.
"It got my excitement back into running," said Hartmann, who turned 32 last month. "Our sport is determined by whether you make the Olympic team or not. That's just what it is. My experience in Boston last year allowed me to move forward and get myself out of a dark place and focus on something else rather than being depressed."
"You go from no one caring about you or what you do to people wanting to be your best friend," said Hartmann, a native of Rockford, Mich., who was a six-time All-America runner at the University of Oregon. "It's cool to get noticed more for my running, but it hasn't changed me as a person. More people recognized me at the grocery store and more people say, 'Nice job in Boston' or 'Good luck in Boston this year' when I’m out running now. It's nice to have more people behind you that are invested in your success."
Still, his strong effort in Boston last spring did only so much for him. It didn't help him earn a big contract with a shoe company and it didn't change his stature among top American marathoners. His PR is still several minutes behind the trio of U.S. runners on last summer's Olympic marathon squad (Keflezighi, Hall and Abdi Abdirahman), but in a bit of odd irony it is Hartmann who represents the best chance of an American finishing in the top five in this year's Boston Marathon. Keflezighi, Hall and Abdirahman each withdrew from the race in the past month because of injury or illness. The only other U.S. runner in the men's elite field is Fernando Cabada (2:11:53 PR), who is a Boston rookie.
The men's field is again loaded with talent, with nine runners who have run faster than 2:07. Among them are Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa, who won the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in 2:04:45 in January, and Kenya's Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, who won Boston in 2010 in a then-course record of 2:05:52.
"I try not to let it change my race plan of being patient," Hartmann said. 'I'm not trying to do anything crazy that I'm not capable of doing just because I had success here last year. I'll try to be patient and let the race unfold as it does and deal with certain situations as they come up. I like to think of the marathon as like a big prize fight. Anything can happen. You can train perfectly for it and be hit by an uppercut and get knocked out."
On the eve of the Boston Marathon, Hartmann found himself in a similar place to a year ago. He's fit and ready to run a smart race, but regardless of how he runs on Monday, it might very well be the last run of his professional career.
He's OK with that, though, perhaps more so than he was a year ago at this time. Despite not having made an Olympic team, he'll always been able to say he ran one the best races of his life in Boston.
"I have no plans for anything after this race," Hartmann said. "I'm approaching this race as if it's my last, but there is a certain level of comfort knowing you've done everything you can do to get ready for that day, and whatever happens, I'll be OK with it and won't have any regrets.”