For St. Luke’s University Health Network surgeon and ultramarathon runner Michael Martinez, MD, there’s no better place to get fit and experience the benefits of being outdoors than Pennsylvania's D&L Trail.
To promote the mind/body benefits of the D&L Trail, St. Luke’s started the “Get Your Tail on the Trail” program in 2013, and this month Dr. Martinez got his own “tail on the trail” in a big way by running half the length of the entire 165-mile trail in 19 hours.
“Get Your Tail on the Trail” is a free community health initiative designed to encourage residents of eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey and employees of the St. Luke’s University Health Network to get fit and active by getting outside. The program provides free tools and incentives to promote accessible physical activity outdoors throughout regional trails.
The D&L Trail stretches across five counties and over one hundred municipalities. The northern terminus of the D&L Trail begins on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre and follows the course of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, the Lehigh Canal towpath and Delaware Canal towpath, ending on the western shore of the Delaware River in Bristol, just north of Philadelphia. “Because it covers such a great span of the region, pretty much anywhere there is a St. Luke’s, there is a D&L trailhead,” explains Dr. Martinez.
Dr. Martinez of St. Luke's General Surgery in Palmerton has lived and practiced in Carbon County for 20 years and has made D&L Trail runs part of his fitness routine. "I run it often because it helps me to gain a sense of calm,” says Dr. Martinez. “It has been well studied that spending time in nature helps to fight depression."
As a general surgeon, Dr. Martinez is part of the general surgery team at St. Luke's University Health Network, where he performs a variety of operations from office-based procedures to major emergency surgery.
“The ‘Get your Tail on the Trail’ program is a great way for everyone, regardless of their fitness levels, to get exercise and improve their heart health,” continues Dr. Martinez. “Whether you are a walker, runner or biker, the D&L Trail is perfect for each person's needs. It is a flat and soft surface and since the trail is devoid of all car traffic, it makes it a much safer option.”
Having played football in his youth, Dr. Martinez discovered running in college and never looked back. He’s completed 16 marathons, including six Boston Marathons, a full Iron Man Triathlon in Lake Placid, New York and placed 5th in his age group in the most recent Philadelphia Marathon. In 2017, he completed the Eastern States 100, a 100-mile trail run around the Pine Creek Gorge, Pa., in 31 hours, 5 minutes.
“Since the D&L Trail is accessible for St. Luke’s patients all over the Lehigh Valley and Bucks County, it’s a great place to get out in nature and exercise,” continues Dr. Martinez. “Especially in this stressful, confusing time we live in, exercise can be a way to challenge your cardiovascular system and clear your head, both of which give people the physical and mental stamina to face challenges. Like I’ve said for many years, 90 percent of the benefits from running are above the neck!”
Dr. Martinez believes that being a runner makes him a better surgeon too. It gives him focus and the physical strength to be at his very best when it’s quite literally a life or death situation. “I’m better, sharper because I run,” states Dr. Martinez. “When patients need me in their most desperate hour, I have the physical and mental strength to provide the highest quality of care.”
Dr. Martinez’s next goal may be delayed a bit because it involves international travel. “I’d like to do the UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc), a loop around Mont Blanc in Europe,” he says. “But that goal might have to wait a bit because of the pandemic. Until then, I’ll keep running the scenic D&L Trail.”