This article originally ran in the July, 2018 magazine edition of The Lindsay Advocate. Jim Martin passed away Dec. 6., 2018.
My wife, Glenda, has run marathons. It’s a terrible spectator sport: at the starter’s pistol she would set her pace and return three hours later. The distance she was running was the distance from Lindsay to downtown Peterborough.
Frankly, I thought she was crazy. So when Glenda talks with awe about another runner and calls him crazy, I take notice.
That’s how she talks about Jim Martin, widely-known in the local running community as “Crazy Jim,” a long-time Lindsay resident and former ultramarathoner. When I first talked to Jim, 11 years ago, Jim had twice run all 11 ultramarathons in the annual Ontario Ultramarathon Series; another year he’d run all but one.
Jim’s other pursuit is judo, and he’s achieved — and continues to achieve — at the highest level in that martial art. But let’s talk about his ultramarathoning history before we get to that.
An ultramarathon is not something you or I are likely to do. Jim’s ultras were 100 miles — roughly the distance from Lindsay to, say, Burlington. It took him 29 to 30 hours to complete a run, with brief pauses for pit stops or to chow down crushed-up potato chips, soda crackers, a bagel or gummi bears. Routinely, runners vomit, or complete the race with black toes, or hands so swollen from water retention that they can’t make fists. Occasionally they succumb to heat exhaustion or hypothermia. One time, Jim tells me, he came across a runner standing still, literally asleep on his feet.
All you need to know about ultramarathons is that the last race in the series is called “Vulture Bait.”
For Jim, who’s now 68, the running began when he quit smoking. He was 34 and his first runs were to the mailbox and back, a couple of hundred yards. Gradually he increased the distances, motivated by curiosity to see how far he could go.
His racing started with a five km, then 10 km races, and he continues to complete some of these—he’s now run 26 Lindsay Milk Runs. By his late 30s, though, he was running marathons. He still wasn’t satisfied. Then he discovered ultramarathons.
Apart from testing his own limits, part of the satisfaction for Jim came from the camaraderie. “It’s like old-home week,” says Jim. Some of the best times are gathering around a campfire the night before. In ultras, “just trying to finish” is the goal rather than beating other runners.
The camaraderie extended to the race itself. Apparently many of the older runners liked to run alongside Jim on these ultras, “maybe because I’m a qualified CPR instructor,” says Jim. (He’s not joking.)
Jim has lots of war stories to share. There’s the time he met up with a bear while completing the Haliburton Forest Ultra, and the time he completed the last 20 km with a hairline fracture of his shin. Then there’s the time he was running in a pack with two others in Milton. “It was raining so hard you’d be almost hanging onto the shirt of the person ahead,” says Jim. Then the hail started and they tore off branches to shield themselves.
Altogether Jim completed 64 ultramarathons (hypothermia in a Haliburton 100 miler and heat exhaustion in a Niagara 100 km stopped him in two others).
Although he continues to run a 12.4 km loop 6 or 7 times a week — and follows this up with cycling on a rather rickety bike out to Reaboro and back — Jim’s ultramarathoning ended eight years ago at Orleans, near Ottawa. If you can imagine, it was a 24 hour race run round and round on a short indoor track. After completing 80 kilometres his hips hurt so badly so decided to pack it in.
Although he’s slow to bring it up, Jim earned a number of honours in his ultramarathon running career. He has participated five times in the Master’s National Championships in Ottawa, winning a gold, three silver and a bronze. He has also competed in two World Masters competitions.
Does Jim have tips for those who for some bizarre reason want to run ultras? “Listen to your body” is one. Another is “Don’t run with broken toes or teeth.” Which is probably not necessary advice for anyone but Jim himself, and which brings us to Jim’s judo.
Jim is a 5th degree Judoka, and over his martial arts career has sustained innumerable toe, finger, wrist, and shoulder injuries.
Three times he has represented Canada in Judo kata competition. In 2015 he participated in World Championships in Amsterdam and in 2016 in Malta (placing 11th and 18th respectively). His highpoint was the Pan Am games in Havana, where he earned a bronze medal for Canada in open competition. Jim — then 66 — was the oldest in the field; the youngest was 18.
Quite an achievement, but what Jim took greatest pleasure in was recognition of his team’s good sportsmanship. “When we were in Havana,” he tells me, “we congratulated opponents as they came off. Afterwards the Brazilians and the Argentinians came over and thanked us for the camaraderie.”
More and more he’s been refereeing at competitions. He’s also been an NTO (National Technical Official) for the visually-impaired judo team at the Pan Am Games. (His comment: “I had to make sure their uniforms matched.”)
Let’s change tack at this point. At the outset I talked of the loneliness of the long-distance spectator (me, watching my wife’s races). What of Jim’s significant other, Dianne, to whom he’s been married for 43 years?
Dianne, a retired nurse, recognizes the pleasure Jim gets from both the running and the judo. She has an open invitation to join him, and has often taken him up on it. At the ultramarathons she had opportunities to meet other athlete relatives and supporters. And a trip to Malta? Nothing wrong with that.
Not quite so exotic, but the day after we talked, Jim and Dianne were flying to Buffalo. There’s a refereeing clinic for Jim, followed by officiating at a competition on the weekend. For Dianne, it will be experiencing whatever the charms of Buffalo are.