Ultra man: Martin Thorne went from couch to 103-mile run

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 23, 2014

Three years ago, Martin Thorne couldn’t walk to his mailbox without wheezing. Last month, Thorne ran 103 miles in 24 hours.
“I got sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Thorne says.
When he first started exercising, he was 35 pounds overweight and had high blood pressure.
“I had a choice,” says Thorne, now 48. “I could go on medication, and not make any other changes, and my quality of life would continue to decrease.”
Instead, Thorne decided to start walking.
He started out slowly. He eventually began to jog for a minute, then walk for five, then jog, then walk.
“I did it day after day after day,” he says.
He lost weight, and felt better. Then he started running 5Ks, half-marathons and marathons, eventually working his way up to what are called ultra races. During these events, you pick a time — 6 hours, 12 hours or 24 hours — and run as far as you can in that amount of time. You don’t really compete against anyone but yourself.
Thorne is quick to point out that he’s not some kind of super runner.
“I’m Joe Average at best,” he says. “I just wanted to see what I could do.”
In training for marathons, runners usually “hit the wall” between 16 and 20 miles. But even during his 100-plus miles, Thorne says, “I never hit the wall because I trained properly.”
You train for an ultra race, he says, just like you train for any other race — by building up progressively longer runs. His long runs usually take place on the weekends, he says. He typically runs 10 miles on Friday, 20 on Saturday, and another 15 on Sunday.
During long races, he’s obviously on his feet for long periods of time. To train for that aspect of the race, Thorne, who’s in sales, raised his desk at work so that he never sits down during the day.
“That burns so many calories,” he says. “You’re always moving around.”
Thorne has grown to appreciate the running community, because he didn’t do any of this running alone.
“This is a way for me to be with my friends every day,” he says. “Running is just our avenue to get together.”
Thorne runs with members of the Salisbury-Rowan Runners club. They typically meet each morning at the Hurley Y and go out from there.
Thorne ran his first ultra race on May 17 in Black Mountain. At 103, he finished second with most miles run. Another runner, also his age, finished first with 108.
“Older runners tend to do much better in these ultra races,” Thorne notes. “We’re more patient.”
Some runners in ultra races, he says, bring tents so they can take a nap.
“I didn’t bring a tent or a chair,” he says. “My only goal was to be moving after 24 hours. I just kept going.”
He ran for 15 hours straight, at a pace of 10-minute miles. The last 9 hours, he ran 16-minute miles, for an overall pace of 13-minute miles.
Before last month’s race, the farthest Thorne had run was 56 miles.
“That was a big jump,” he admits. “I just wanna see what’s inside me. I signed up for more in this life than just work. I don’t want my kids to see me quit.”
Thorne and his wife, Anne, have been married for 25 years. She is active but not a runner. They have two children, ages 18 and 21.
“I’m a big believer that I shouldn’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do,” Thorne says.
David Freeze, a local running coach, applauds Thorne’s efforts.
“In just a few short years, he has taken on a sport that is one of the hardest around and found an ability to dig deep and keep running well for many, many miles at a time,” Freeze says. “Knowing Martin, the bug has bitten him. He will work hard to keep getting better with all of his running, but I think he just has something special in the ultra distances. It is going to be fun to see just how good he can get.”
Thorne runs about 65 miles a week. His first Boston Marathon was this year, one year after the terrorist bombing.
“It was so emotional and all so overwhelming,” he says. “I’m glad I did it.”
Thorne ran with Dr. Kathi Russo, a longtime marathoner and frequent running partner.
“She is so inspirational and so helpful,” he says. “Being around her every morning is so much fun.”
“This was my seventh consecutive year running Boston, so it was fun for me to share the excitement of the Boston Marathon with him,” Russo says. “The Boston Marathon is like no other race — not even the larger races including New York, Chicago and Berlin. The pageantry, the media and the historical significance can’t be matched.”
Thorne also had support in Black Mountain with Shane Vanhoose, Caleb and Carla Steedley, Stu Stepp and Gina Lyerly.
Russo says of ultra events, “They are usually very low-key events, no spectators, no fanfare and often one crosses the finish line by themselves without much notice. It can be a lonely sport, but definitely provides great personal satisfaction after a goal is achieved.”
Thorne took in 250 calories each hour so he wouldn’t hit the wall. He drank a bottle of Ensure each hour after he couldn’t eat anymore gels.
“Nothing tasted good at the end,” he admits.
Although it took him a couple of days to catch up on his sleep, he feels about 90 percent recovered three weeks after the race. He was sore for about three or four days, he says.
“We’ll find out tonight if I lost any speed,” he said of his plans to run the TWAM 5K on June 6.
Thorne came in fifth overall. He was OK with his time, he says, knowing he wasn’t back to 100 percent. “I had a good time and gave it my best, which is all anyone can do.”
During the ultra race, he received many supportive texts and calls, which were relayed by friends onsite. He was encouraged.
“I was not gonna disappoint those people,” he says.
Thorne continues to test his limits.
“When I started, I just wanted to lose some weight and feel better,” he says. “But when I do something, I’m gonna do it. I’m got a little Type A personality in me.”
Now, he says, “If I can do this, I wonder what I can’t do. I’ve upped the ante. I just want to be remarkable at one thing in my life. This is it.”
He adds, “There’s no secret to it. There’s just determination and hard work.”
He’s glad to have friends along.
“There’s always somebody in the morning to run with,” he says. “The motto of the runners club is a place for every pace. You’re not gonna hold anybody up. Walking is fine, too. The point is just to get out there and move. The getting started is the hard part.”
Thorne plans one long race a month. He’s got the Grandfather Mountain marathon in July, and another ultra race in October in the Uwharrie Forest.
“It keeps me motivated,” he says.
Meanwhile, he’ll continue to train with his local running friends.
“Our motto is that we love hills,” Thorne says. “If we say it enough, we’ll believe it. We can all do so much more than we can believe. I like running with a group. I couldn’t do this stuff by myself.”
For more on Martin Thorne’s running adventures, visit his blog at chasingmilesandsmiles.blogspot.com.
For more information about the Salisbury-Rowan Runners Club, visit salisburyrowanrunners.org .
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury, where she runs — slowly — from time to time.