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Palmerton grad has continued to make running a major part of his life

Jake Martinez doesn’t just love running.

He lives it.

Woven into the fabric of his DNA, it’s something that has both shaped Martinez and provided the platform for the path he is on now.

A decorated cross country and track and field career at Palmerton led to record-breaking performances at Lehigh University, where Martinez was the 2022 Patriot League champ in the indoor distance medley relay, and the school record holder in the indoor distance medley relay and the outdoor 4x800m relay.

“I had an incredible, incredible experience there,” said Martinez. “I would recommend it to anybody. I got an incredible education. It is a great school. You learn a lot, and the resources are incredible. People know what Lehigh is and what it stands for, and that’s phenomenal. And it’s beautiful. Family gave me the perfect distance there. They would always be able to come to the meets, and see me there.”

Running has always moved and motivated Martinez, who medaled twice in the 1600 - eighth as a junior and fifth as a senior - and was a three-time state qualifier in cross country during his Palmerton career.

It’s no surprise that Martinez has followed his passion to Portland, Oregon, where he is currently in the University of Oregon’s sport product management masters program, being taught by executives from Nike and other firms, in addition to running semi-pro for the Bowerman Track Club elite team at Nike.

Chasing a dream

Martinez initially had interest in cognitive neuroscience, but decided to pursue business, something he was also passionate in with his own race production business, with his dad, Michael Martinez, putting on events such as the Lehigh Gap Nature Center 10K, and the Keystone Backyard Ultra at Mauch Chunk Lake.

“I slowly found my way to marketing, and I felt like that was the best way for me to kind of combine the art and the science of business, telling a compelling story, and selling great products,” said Martinez.

Martinez spent the summer going into his junior year in Leadville, Colorado, interning with the Leadville Race Series, which includes the prestigious Leadville 100, doing marketing.

“My junior year was just an amazing athletic year,” said Martinez. “We had an awesome group of middle-distance men, and we were just firing on all cylinders and all on the same page. We just had great buy-in, great coaching (Todd Etters). We won our first Patriot League title ever in the distance medley relay at the indoor championships. Out-leaning Army at the line, and running away from Navy, I mean, holy cow. That is the highlight of my athletic experience, was being on that relay. And it just continued. We traveled so much in the spring, we went to the University of Virginia, we went to NC State, we traveled all over the country together with these amazing men and women. It was just fun. We were just having so much fun, and running fast.

“I ran 1:56 (in the 800) and 4:23 (in the 1600) in high school. I got down to 1:50 and 4:07 under Todd. I was by no means a Division I stud, but I was still able to compete on a regional class level and travel to big five competition, and compete and run well. And that was really special.”

A foot in the door

That spring, entering his senior year, Martinez got the opportunity to intern for Adidas, doing digital marketing.

“I thought, ‘Oh, well I’ll apply, and let’s see what happens,’” Martinez recalled. “I know there’s thousands of people who apply, and I went through the interviews, it just kept moving forward, kept moving forward, and I was fortunate enough to be selected for digital marketing. I just thought, ‘Holy cow, I might have actually just gotten my start in the industry.’

“It’s always a dream to work at a place like that, but for it to be real and be one of the people who got picked, it was unbelievable. It was just an amazing experience. I had a great boss, a great team, and I learned so much. I was surrounded by cool people at all times.”

Martinez was working with Adidas in Portland at the North American headquarters.

“It was just an environment that makes you want to work hard,” Martinez said. “There’s just cool stuff everywhere.”

While his time at Adidas was curtailed due to layoffs, Martinez was urged by his boss to go to the University of Oregon’s sport product management program to pursue his passion.

“What I also learned at my time at Adidas was that I felt that I was one step removed from what the company truly does, and that’s create product,” said Martinez. “I love marketing their product, but I wanted to be part of that creation process, and help really bring stuff to market, and make a product that enables people to chase their dreams and do incredible things. Just like I’ve been able to do, like professional athletes get to do. Everybody has their goals, and to make things that help people do that, I think is really special.”

Martinez finished his career at Lehigh with three PRs in a row, setting the school record in the 4x800m relay, breaking a mark that was 42 years old.

“If you were to tell me that I was going to be a school record holder and a Patriot League champion when I went to Lehigh, I would have thought you were kidding,” said Martinez. “My goal was to be on one top-10 list when I graduated. I made great friends, have an awesome relationship with my coach still. He’s an amazing mentor for me now. I ended my career at Lehigh on a high note, enjoyed my summer and now I’m out here and moved to Oregon. It was a big jump. All my family, my girlfriend, are all still back east.

“But I knew I had to do something that was going to fulfill me and give me that satisfaction. I’m a very passionate and driven individual, and if I’m doing things that don’t align my values, I find it very challenging to engage with.”

Selling success

Martinez is now in the middle of an 18-month program at Oregon that teaches the product creation process from gaining consumer insight all the way through going to market. The former Chief Marketing Officer of Nike, Greg Hoffman, is currently Martinez’s professor.

“He could sell you a bag of rocks with a Nike swoosh on it,” laughed Martinez.

Brand development and consumer research are in the first term, followed by product development, go to market operations, with the final two terms focused on bringing the product to market.

In addition to Hoffman, Martinez has also had the likes of Brett Kirby as a professor. Kirby is the Director of the Nike Sports Research Lab.

Martinez also does testing for Bowerman at the Nike Sport Research Lab.

“I’ve got people who want to help me get into the industry, amazing mentors that are really helping out, and it’s just been great,” said Martinez. “I still have the itch (to compete). When I ran my last race for Lehigh, I PR’d in the 800, ran 1:50, ran a 4x800 (relay), and I had an amazing conversation with my coach that I’ll never forget. He asked me, ‘So, what’s next?’ I said, ‘I’m not done.’ If you asked me if that was the perfect race, I would say absolutely not. I have more in the tank.

“Fortunately, I met some people while I was working at Adidas that worked in other organizations.”

Race ready

Martinez’s drive, along with the connections he had made, led him to the Bowerman Track Club elite team.

“It’s an amateur development elite team that still tries to qualify for the Olympic Trials and national championships and compete on a national class level,” said Martinez. “We had three guys and two women go to the Olympic Trials this winter, which is pretty cool. And we’re all non-sponsored. Everybody has full-time jobs. So I get to go to school, and I get to train over at Nike a few times a week.

“I still wanted to train hard, and I wanted the resources to support me. And I get to train at the Nike World Headquarters three times a week. I get to work out on the Michael Johnson track in the woods. And I get to do hill workouts on a fake hill that they built on the side of a building that’s a track surface, and I get to go into the Nike Sport Research Lab with Brett Kirby, who helped (Eliud) Kipchoge break two hours in the marathon. It’s like, ‘Oh my God.’ And I get to wear on my chest, the Bowerman crest, which represents such amazing heritage and accomplishments. I’m very proud to wear that, and to be part of this organization.”

Martinez has also been able to try and test Nike products.

Going the distance

This summer, Martinez will be working with Crocs, in Boulder, Colorado.

“This will be an amazing learning experience with a successful brand that has a unique product,” said Martinez. “I’m really excited about that.”

But Martinez won’t forget his roots, or what inspired him to start his journey.

“Don’t be afraid to take a leap,” he said. “If you have a passion for something, it’s a crime to not go after it. And I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to do that in my life, and to be able to have passion in my personal life, to have passions for my relationships, to have passion for my work and to have passion for my sport and to have that all align is really special.

“Going from Palmerton, to Lehigh, to now the University of Oregon and the Bowerman Track Club and to be designing footwear that enables people to achieve their dreams, there’s nothing better than that. The people at Palmerton, the people at Lehigh and the people I’m with now have given me the opportunity to keep doing what I’m doing and work in this industry. It wouldn’t be possible without those people. I can’t thank them enough.”

And it’s an opportunity he has - and will continue to - run with.

Jake Martinez (center) with his dad Michael Martinez, and mom Melissa Martinez. COURTESY DON PAUL/LEHIGH UNIVERSITY
Jake Martinez (right) competes in an indoor race during his career at Lehigh. COURTESY DON PAUL/LEHIGH UNIVERSITY