Aaron Martens’ run for a Classic crown

Coming off two marathons for which he trained hard, Aaron Martens says he’s in the best shape he’s ever been: lean, disciplined and mentally stoked to take on a challenge.

“I’ve never felt better,” said Martens, 39.

All the better to tackle the Red River in this week’s Bassmaster Classic. The 2005 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year is looking to break into the Classic winner’s circle. He finished second to Kevin VanDam in last year’s Classic. It was Martens’ fourth runner-up Classic finish since 2002.

A runner and cyclist years ago, Martens began running again at the end of the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series season. For his most recent marathon — the Feb. 12 Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham, Ala., near his home in nearby Leeds — he stepped up his regimen by running about 45 miles a week for several weeks leading up to the race.

“I ran an hour to two hours a day, five to six days a week. I would have run more if I had had more time, but that’s as much as I could put into it,” Martens said. Classic prep had to come first, he added.

The half marathon course of 13.1 miles snaked through the city streets, then turned up into the city’s hills and back down. To compound the obstacle of the lung-busting terrain, the weather was nasty.

“It was tough getting out of the truck at 6:30 in the morning when it was 21 degrees and blowing 10 to 15 miles an hour. It was very cold. I had to wear long-sleeved clothes, use a wool pullover for my face. It was 26 or 27 (degrees) when I finished,” he said.

Despite everything, he completed the course in one hour and 43 minutes. His speed was 7.54 minutes per mile.

“I’m totally happy with that,” Martens said. “The time is exciting, because if I raced somewhere like Florida where it’s flat, my time would probably be something like 7.20.”

He did run in Florida in January, but it was a different experience, the Ragnar Relay that covered 199 miles from Miami to Key West. Martens ran three segments for his team, with the longest being 11.8 miles.

He speaks fondly of his time spent running over the past few months, but not of the hours he made himself stay indoors to weed and replenish his gear, make custom lures and organize it all into his precise system.

“I’m good at it — they call me the ‘Tackle Doctor’ and all that — but I don’t like that part of fishing,” Martens said. “It is miserable for me. I make pretty baits, but fishing — when I’m actually on the water — is like a vacation compared to working on my tackle. That’s like doing dishes for a week straight, 10 hours a day.”

Almost everything was spic-and-span for the Feb. 17-19 Classic practice period. Martens says he practiced in the same way he runs — as fast as he can. He wanted to cover as much of the Red River as possible.

“It’s a very complex river. To find the fish is looking for a needle in a haystack. To do it in three days of practice is very tricky,” he said.