He Did it All For Love
How doctor, age group athlete and former college football player Dr. Tommy Martin found love and endurance sports.
A Love Story
One early morning, during his 5am workout, Tommy Martin, former football player, medical school student and strength training devotee, wandered into the cardio room at his gym.
“I had literally never stepped foot into the cardio room until this day, but for some reason I went in,” said Tommy.
Good thing he did.
There, perched on an exercise bike, was Phoebe Laplante. She had long brown hair, sparkling olive eyes and a smile that lit up the room.
Wow, he thought. Who is that? She radiates love and positivity. I think I’m gonna marry that girl.
Tommy struck up a conversation and Phoebe agreed to a date. But there was a catch. They could go out if Tommy went on a run with her.
You might think this would be an easy task for an athlete who played football in high school and in college at Kansas Wesleyan University. But not for Tommy. To make up for what he proclaims is a lack of natural athletic talent, he spent his school years getting up early to workout, do drills and train. Working hard was the only way that he knew to be the best linebacker he could be.
Tommy was strong, built with impressive muscle mass. In college he could squat 500 pounds, deadlift 550 pounds and bench 375 pounds.
But cardio? Endurance? Not so much. In fact, he says the only running he did was to the refrigerator and back.
Still, he couldn’t shake that feeling. Phoebe could be The One. So he showed up for that run. And the inexperienced runner he was, walked up in sneakers with holes in them, a cotton cut-off T-shirt and baggy shorts.
“We ran for 10 miles and I ended up with a stress fracture and couldn’t walk for a week and a half,” he said.
Tommy was humbled. He was also inspired. “Wow, running is hard and I’m not good at it,” he recalls. “I wanted to not be afraid of it and have to say that I’m a terrible runner.”
So Tommy made another prediction. He signed up for a full marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston.
Sixteen weeks later, he crossed the finish line and made the Boston qualifying time by two seconds, running a 3:04:58. Unfortunately, that year so many runners had qualified that Tommy wasn’t able to get a spot. But he was undeterred and from that day forward, he knew endurance sports were here to stay.
So was the girl from the cardio room. They married in 2016.
A Marathon Story
For two years, Tommy and Phoebe continued to run, push limits and chase PRs. As medical students, they studied and worked endless hours in the hospital doing clinical rotations, which did not leave a lot of time to train or for each other. Of course, wouldn’t it be perfect if they could spend time together running? So to make that happen and to make up for the difference in their paces, Tommy donned a 20lb weighted vest during training runs. The duo then trained for and ran the Disney Marathon with him wearing a vest.
Then he thought, if I can run with 20lbs, why not 40lbs? So, they signed up for the Coffee Milk Marathon in Rhode Island. Sure, the weights were cumbersome. At about mile 20 the vest broke and 12lbs fell off. So he carried them the remaining six to finish in a time of 3:47.
Phoebe also continued to pursue her dreams of qualifying for the Boston Marathon by running almost 10 marathons while in residency and working close to 80 hours per week. Now, as an attending doctor in Massachusetts, she is still pursuing that goal with another attempt coming this fall.
Tommy has run multiple marathons since Disney. He had one last valiant attempt to break a 3-hour marathon, but fell short with a time of 3:01 at the Little Rock Arkansas Marathon. Tommy plans to run the Disney marathon in 2023 with hopes of breaking three hours.
A Triathlon Story
Through running, Tommy had found a new level of athleticism and the love of his life. So what was next?
An Ironman, obviously.
Without previous triathlon experience, gear or training, and with only 16 weeks to prepare, he signed up for Ironman Texas during his intern year of medical residency. He documented his journey through social media (IG, Tiktok and YouTube) as a way to encourage others, particularly healthcare professionals, to carve out time for themselves so they too could maintain a healthy and active lifestyle — the same lifestyle they prescribe for their patients.
Tommy had the run down, but he had little experience with the swim and bike. “I had never swam except to not die and had never cycled except as a kid…I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said.
He woke up early to train. He learned to swim via books and YouTube videos, and cranked out miles on a stationary bike. Then, Phoebe, his biggest supporter, surprised him with a new road bike six weeks before the race.
His race plan was simply to finish. He focused on an easy swim and bike and gave whatever he had left on the run. Twelve hours later, Tommy was an Ironman. Ironman Texas was also his first open water swim and first ever triathlon.
Go Big or Go Home…Together
Completing an Ironman was also on Phoebe’s bucket list – she aimed to follow in the footsteps of her dad who had done almost 10 in his time, including Kona twice. So, in it together, the couple signed up for the Waco 70.3 in 2019.
But about four weeks before the race, their training wasn’t going as planned. Phoebe couldn’t keep up. Her pace slowed to a crawl and even then, she was exhausted. Was she burnt out? Sick? Nope. Phoebe was pregnant.
After consulting with her doctor, the pair continued training. Phoebe made sure to not overexert herself, training in zone 2, and staying well-fueled to give herself and the baby enough nutrients, as well as getting adequate sleep. Tommy finished his first Ironman 70.3 in 5:16 and Phoebe achieved an impressive finish at 12 weeks pregnant.
Their son, Oliver, was born later that year.
Then There Were Three
Tommy approached fatherhood with the same level of commitment and dedication as he did to all other aspects of his life as a doctor of internal medicine and pediatrics. He devised a schedule that would allow him to balance work, time with family and exercise.
“I’ll start it as early as possible. Sometimes that’s 3am just to make sure I don’t sacrifice too much time with my family,” said Tommy.
This balancing act proved successful, and in 2021 he qualified for the Ironman World Championships.
When Tommy talks about his races, he never makes excuses. Even if things go wrong or he misses a mark, his attitude is always, “it ended up being a great day.”
He’s even made it his mission to use his sport to support others. In 2020 he completed five self-designed half-Ironmans in five days to raise money for the pediatric hematology and oncology unit at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. He averaged 5:40 for each race and raised $16,000.
Today, Tommy shares his triathlon experience with his millions of followers on social media (@dr.tommymartin on IG and TikTok) and seeks to inspire and motivate those willing to come along for the ride. He approaches each day with positivity and purpose and pulls strength from his family and friends.
“I still haven’t reached the goals that I want,” he said. “Right now, I still want to break a 10-hour Ironman, I want to break a 4:30 half, and I want to break a 3-hour marathon, all while maintaining muscle mass and being a physician. That’s kinda the goal right now.”
So what is his secret to doing it all? In addition to his unrelenting drive, he says, “I could not do it without my incredible wife and my supportive family around me. We have the most incredible kiddo in the world who inspires me daily to be the best that I can be.”
This year, Tommy is training for Maine 70.3 and the 70.3 World Championships in St. George.
To think — it all started with the girl in the cardio room.