In high school, Martin Hernandez had no intention of running unless a soccer ball was involved. His mom, however, had different plans.
“My mom signed me up for cross country,” Hernandez recalls. “The coach called me and I had no idea I was signed up. Once I went out there, I loved it. I liked how it was challenging. I like how it's all up to you, because I like to work hard and so, that was a fun thing. So immediately, my competitiveness took over as I wanted to be one of the top runners.”
Hernandez, who attended a small high school in the central coast of California, quickly progressed.
“Cross country went really well and I wanted to continue doing it,” he says. “Since I was so late in the game of competing, I wanted to take it to the next level. So I went to the local community college there and first year, just sucked it up. The whole transition of going to school, different coaching, and there was just a whole learning experience of running and life in general.”
Even though Hernandez red-shirted, it turned out to be a boost for his running career. Joe Rubio, a coach with the Hoka Aggies, an elite Olympic development program, agreed to mentor him under one condition: Hernandez must finish college.
So he was off and, well, running.
‘Work aspect was just amazing’
Hernandez improved to where he earned a track and cross country scholarship at Virginia Intermont College, which was among the top NAIA schools in the country. While Hernandez was there, the school won its third consecutive cross country national championships.
“That was huge for me,” he says. “I didn't think I was going to be in the top five. All I knew was that this was going to be one of the best teams in the country for any division. We had professional athletes coming in, training with us, top high school runners in the country training with us. It was just a really, really fun atmosphere in that sense. So when I got there, I had no idea what to expect. Everybody was just so fast, everybody was a state champion or a national caliber runner.”
Hernandez believed in the system and the coach. His weekly mileage went from 60 to 100 miles.
“The work aspect was just amazing,” he says. “I've never been in an atmosphere where nobody complained about anything. You just went in there, shut up, ran as hard as you can, do your long runs, do you medium-long runs, do your tempos. Everything was just to the T. It was an amazing experience.”
Months after the college team won the championship, the coach summoned the runners for a meeting during outdoor track season.
“He said we all had to find new schools because they're cutting our program,” Hernandez remembers. “That was a bummer. I was really starting to get in a rhythm. What do you say to your parents? You're living so far away. ‘Hey, I'm going to transfer because they're cutting our program.’”
Bookend national championships
After looking at several schools back in California, Hernandez decided to transfer to Shorter University in Rome, Ga. He went from a small fish in a big pond to a big fish in a small pond.
The program was rebuilding at the time and that’s what Martin was seeking.
“I really wanted a school to where I was going to get a good scholarship,” he says. “I also wanted to make an impact on where I was going to be. We did OK in cross country and we had good runners in track and field. We moved up the ranks and by the time I graduated we were getting close to a national championship.”
Hernandez ran the 5K and the marathon – unlike the NCAA, NAIA schools hold a championship for the 26.2-mile distance. Unlike many collegiate runners, he had already developed a decent base for the long distance, thanks to his work with the Hoka Aggies.
“They were all marathoners and I just loved it,” he recalls. “That was something I knew from the get-go I wanted to do for a long period of time. For me, I can just sustain speed. I really fell in love with the marathon because it's moldable and it's all about adaptation.”
Hernandez became an all-American at Shorter, running a 2:31:37 in the marathon in 2008, a record that still stands at the school. He returned to Shorter to get his master’s degree and be an assistant coach. During that time, the team won a national championship in track, a nice bookend to his cross-country national title.
Why Drymax works for ultra runners
These days Hernandez is on the sales team at Drymax, my favorite socks for running. We met at Outdoor Retailer last summer where he offered to send me some samples for trails and roads. Like me, he is a true believer in Drymax in what is a crowded market.
When Hernandez moved back to California about five years ago he took a low-key job at a podiatrist office. “I became a true believer of the product when I was selling it,” he says, adding that one thing led to another and eventually the job on the sales team.
Drymax socks are made differently than others. They are double layers that are interwoven. The inside is made with hydrophobic fibers, which do not like water and the outside is polyester, which soaks everything up. “Any activity where it's high-end or ultra marathoning or marathoning, we are the best sock for that just because we're going to keep you nice and dry,” he says. “No blisters. No hot spots. That was the biggest thing for me was getting hot spots.”
For a fast marathoner like Hernandez, hot spots can ruin a great race day.
“It wasn't so much blisters for me, but it was my sock getting moist and having that moisture when I was really running fast,” he explains. “I would just get hotspots on my feet and it was preventing me to get to that next level because I had to slow down in certain areas just trying to avoid the hotspots. Drymax socks are different because they are going to keep you nice and dry. The durability is so much stronger because we use a filament yarn, which is like a fishing line, just really strong and sturdy. That's why Drymax is known in the ultra world.”
My experience at my first 100-miler is further evidence. Even though the race was in November, the daytime temperatures were in the 70s. I changed socks — Drymax each time — roughly every 35 miles not because of blisters but because I wanted a fresh pair.
Clearly I am not the only ultra runner who embraces Drymax. Their athletes include a who’s who in the ultra world: Karl Meltzer, Kaci Lickteig, Zach Bitter, Maggie Guterl, Dean Karnazes, Ian Sharman, Jared Hazen, Patrick Reagan, Rory Bosio, Mark Hammond, Mario Mendoza, Traci Falbo and many more.
“We've been connected to the ultra world since the beginning,” Hernandez says. “We have a few signature socks that we work with so it's not just making socks and putting a name on them. We ask athletes what they want in their socks. The communication with athletes and the durability of our socks are why we are so popular in the ultra world. If I'm running so many miles, I want something that I'm going to be able to depend on.”
Still running strong
When Hernandez isn’t busy with his job at Drymax, he continues to run and train for marathons. In the 10 years since his days at Shorter, he has lowered his marathon time to 2:18. He’s still active with the Hoka Aggies, and with good reason.
“Joe Rubio is just an amazing man and coach,” Hernandez says. “I've known him for almost 20 years now and he's the one who got me into college. He's the guy who led me to do other things and get accomplishments. He's one of the reasons why I continue to run and just have a passion for it.”
Name: Martin Hernandez
Hometown: Templeton, Calif.
Number of years running: 20 years
How many miles a week do you typically run: During marathon training, 100 miles a week.
Favorite race distance: 13.1
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Pasta
Favorite piece of gear: Hoka shoes