Here is where he came for redemption two years ago and where he has returned again and again. Jason Hartmann had a bad day at the Olympic marathon trials for the London Games. Another like it in Boston, and Hartmann likely would have moved on to what he calls a normal person’s career.
But Hartmann came in fourth amid the furnace that was the 2012 race, then did it again last year despite running the final 20 miles with a blister. So he’s back for another Patriots Day reprise, this time accompanied by several of his fellow American elites in Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, and Abdi Abdirahman.
“I think I would regret not being a part of this marathon because of the past two years,” said the 33-year-old Michigander, who trains in Boulder, Colo., but hails from the same state as Greg Meyer, the last Yank to win here in 1983.
Not every contender cares to put himself perennially through the undulating lottery that is Boston, but the layout and the rabbit-free format suit Hartmann, whose 6-foot-3-inch frame makes him easy to spot from the sidelines.
“It’s more of a championship-style race,” he said. “Being smart can benefit a great performance.”
Performing well in Boston, with its mercurial April weather, means embracing whatever conditions the day offers. Hartmann, who has been at the marathon game for eight years and who operates without coach or sponsor, has learned that through a variety of outcomes during his career.
“It’s the evolution of maturity,” he said. “I place a lot of expectations on myself. When you fail a lot, it can be disappointing, but if I did the best I could, I have to accept it for what it is.”
Hartmann never figured on being a marathoner. He was a cross-country runner and 10,000-meter trackman at Oregon, where an assistant coach told him that he might be a great 26-miler one day.
“I said, no way I’d ever run that long,” Hartmann recalled.
Over time, though, it became clear that the road was his best route to the Olympic team, so he made his marathon debut in 2006 in Chicago, where he finished 20th in 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 50 seconds.
“I went through the wall — and the wall won,” Hartmann said.
The following spring, he dropped out of the London race.
“My first two weren’t very encouraging,” he said.
After a 10th-place showing at the Olympic marathon trials for Beijing and stress fractures in a foot that put him on the shelf for most of 2008, Hartmann pondered hanging up his racing shoes before deciding to see it through.
“Running is a revolving-door type of thing,” he said. “Sometimes those injuries can take you out of the game. It was a hard comeback.”
So his breakthrough victory in the following year’s Twin Cities Marathon, where he outkicked a trio of Kenyans, was especially heartening.
“That day was a great day for me,” he said. “It gave me a lot of confidence.”
What Hartmann most wanted was the affirmation that comes with making an Olympic team.
“It’s a validation day for everyone to say you’re an Olympian,” he said.
But his bid for one of the three 2012 berths went awry in Houston, where he finished 32d.
“I had a lousy day,” said Hartmann, who pronounced himself “devastated.”
So he circled April 16 on his calendar and vowed to stay the course.
“I pursued Boston like it was my last big race,” he said.
On a day when the temperature soared into the mid-80s, Hartmann needed both patience and persistence.
“It was just a battle,” said Hartmann, who wisely bided his time when the leaders headed for the hills and was able to pick off stragglers down the stretch. “So many times you just wanted to throw in the towel, but you just fought on.”
Hartmann played it cool again last year when he was the top domestic hope after the entire Olympic team — Keflezighi, Hall, and Abdirahman — scratched. He went out with the lead pack, but when the Kenyans and Ethiopians took off in the middle of the Newton hills, he decided to stay within himself and let the race play out as it would.
In Boston, Hartmann has learned, it’s all about what you do after Heartbreak Hill and how much you’ve saved for the flats.
“The last 5 miles is where you determine whether you run good or not,” he said after he’d posted a 2:12:12 clocking.
Hartmann’s personal best is 2:11:06, which he did in Chicago four years ago, so he’s not going to be able to hang with the African speed racers all the way. He does what he can with what circumstances present and so he deals with one race at a time.
“I tend to think in the short term,” he said.
He doesn’t have endorsements so what he makes is what he earns on the road.
“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me,” said Hartmann, who picked up $25,000 for each of his Boston efforts. “This is the path I’ve chosen for right now. It would be nice to be rewarded with a shoe contract but I do it for the love of the sport.”
While he has had several coaches over the past few years, Hartmann now prefers to chart his own path.
“I’ve been able to be more in touch with how I feel,” he said. “Instead of being confined to a schedule maybe I’m not ready for, I can make an adjustment.”
If they’re doing something similar on a training day, Hartmann might jump in with one of the Colorado groups directed by former mentors Steve Jones and Brad Hudson.
More often than not, though, he goes solo.
“If I’m struggling,” he said, “there are guys I can talk to.”
One of them is Dathan Ritzenhein, his former Rockford High School teammate and close friend who competed in the Olympic marathon in Beijing and in the 10,000 meters in London. Ritzenhein was scheduled to run Boston this time but a winter groin injury played havoc with his training and he withdrew last month.
So goes the revolving door in this pounding, grinding sport. If you run long enough, you end up out of the game for a while. What matters is how you return to it.
“It’s being able to deal with adversity,” Hartmann said. “Meb, Ryan, and Dathan have all struggled, have had good races and bad races. But they always come back and run well.”
Hartmann likens the 26-miler to a prize fight — you can train perfectly and still be knocked out by an uppercut that you didn’t see coming.
“With the marathon,” he said, “you accept your fate.”
Such is the evolution of maturity for a man who’d never planned on going this distance for this long.
“I just try to control the things I can control,” Hartmann said. “I accept the day for what it is.”