‘A choice to make’: Martin had enough, so he quit smoking, lost 80 pounds and competed in a 50-mile running race

Ron Martin is 50 years old, but in a lot of ways his life began four years ago when he first put on a pair of running shoes.

In those four years, Martin has come a long way – both literally and figuratively. In 2009, Martin had never run more than the 1.5-mile jaunts required by the United States Navy in which he served from 1981 until retiring in 1998 under the Navy’s early retirement program. Martin retired to help care for his five children after his wife suffered a medical issue.

This past Saturday, Martin completed his first 50-mile running race at the Beast of Burden Ultra Marathon in Lockport, N.Y.

From self-described “couch potato” to ultra marathoner in four years is an incredible story. That story began with a choice.

“I was nearly 250 pounds and was close to growing out of my current clothes size,” said Martin. “I had a choice to make. I could either go up a size or try to go down a size. I was just so out of shape, getting out of breath bending down to tie my shoes. I decided to do something about it. I bought a treadmill and vowed not to let if collect dust.”

Martin’s weight wasn’t the only factor he had to overcome. He was less than five years removed from a two-to-three pack a day smoking habit and had never run more than 1.5 miles consecutively – less than half of a 5K race – at any point in his life. A complete and total lifestyle change was necessary and the treadmill was the key to starting things up.

Martin remained committed to the lifestyle change, but didn’t stay on the treadmill for long.

“That March (of 2009), I ran the Diane Kelly 5K – my first race ever – and I was hooked,” said Martin. “As that year went on, I ran more and more. By that fall, I had competed in four half-marathons (13.1 miles each).”

Martin never set out to be a distance runner. However, as he continued running and his mileage increased, he found his passion for the activity growing with each workout.

“I just really enjoyed running with people,” he said. “I was looking better, feeling better. I just wanted to keep going with it, and that led to my running those four half-marathons between August and November of 2009.”

Upon his completion of several half-marathons, Martin began setting his sights on a full 26.2-mile marathon.

“After my last half-marathon in November, I looked online for a generic marathon training schedule and followed it to the letter,” said Martin. “From there, I began looking for a race to participate in. I eventually chose the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach.

“I just thought it was pretty neat,” he added. “I ran my first marathon almost exactly one year to the day after my first 5K race. By that point, I was down almost 80 pounds.”

The 250-pound, ex-smoking coach potato was dead and gone by that point. In his place was a 170-pound, grizzled distance running veteran.

The 26.2-mile races proved to be only a small challenge for Martin, who has gone on to run nine marathons since then, including the Boston Marathon in 2012. Martin completed two marathons in 2010, three in 2011 and four more in 2012.

Despite going from a couch to a marathon in one years time, Martin wanted more.

“I started thinking about running a 50-mile ultra marathon this past fall,” said Martin. “I thought it would be neat to run 50 miles at 50 years of age. I completed a 50K (31-mile) race in November of 2012 and that made me want to complete the 50-miler even more.”

Unlike his marathon training, Martin found training schedules and guidelines for ultra marathons a lot harder to come by.

“I couldn’t find anything for ultra marathon training. I was just kind of doing my own thing,” said Martin. “I bumped by miles up to 80 to 100 a week before the 50-mile race.”

All of those miles and all of that training culminated in Lockport last Saturday. Martin completed 50 miles in just under nine hours – eight hours, 59 minutes and 26 seconds. It was the first time in his life Martin had ever completed 50 miles in one run – 50 miles! Martin finished fourth overall in the race and was the third male finisher.

“The longest single run I completed prior to the race was a 37-mile run from my home on the southside (of Warren) to Frewsburg, N.Y.”

Despite being 50, and relatively new to running, Martin’s body is holding up quite well. Aside from the occasional blister or lost toenail, Martin’s legs have carried him wherever he has asked – with only a couple of minor setbacks.

“I had a stress fracture in my foot and a small hamstring problem, but both were not really that bad,” he said. “I was back running within weeks or months after each injury.”

For Martin, the positives have far outweighed the negatives.

“I just feel better,” he said. “I mean I always have some kind of ache and pain that goes with running, but I feel as good as I ever have. It’s just a complete lifestyle change. I still don’t eat as well as I should, but I eat a whole lot better. I used to get myself going by downing a pot of coffee. Now, I find that I have more energy – more natural energy – each and every day. I feel great.”

He’s not slowing down either.

Martin would like to run a 100-mile ultra marathon, possibly this fall. Between now and then, he hopes to qualify for and complete his second Boston Marathon.

He’s got other options too.

“Another crazy race is a 123-mile race from Shreveport, La. to New Orleans during Mardi Gras,” he said. “My thought is, it’s only 23 miles past 100. I guess we’ll see. I’ll go as far as these old legs will take me.”