Marathon man

Kinsman educator hits the century mark today in Youngstown race

052118...R MARATHON 3...Kinsman...05-21-18...Marathon runner John Davis, 72, of Kinsman, talks about the marathons he has competed in over the years...by R. Michael Semple

This morning, 72-year-old John P. Davis of Kinsman will run his 100th marathon.

And when those 26-plus miles of the Youngstown Marathon are behind him? “I’ve run 90 half-marathons, so that’s next,” said the man who has completed more than 800 races of various distances, including the famed Boston Marathon 17 times.

He’s run it all in 27 years. Davis didn’t take up the sport until he was 45 years old.

“Basically, he’s Superman,” daughter Christine Davis said. “He takes care of my mom since her stroke, teaches full time, runs, paints houses on the side, tutors my niece, etc. The running gives him time to meditate and keeps him young.

“He’s also known for picking up objects and change alongside the road. He comes home with random tools, necklaces, tape cassettes and spare change,” çhristine said. “He became so famous for this in Kinsman that various people throw change at him if they see him running.”

At his peak, the Pymatuning Valley High School science teacher averaged finish times of three hours and 20 minutes — a little more than 7:30 per mile. He set his personal best in 1993 at three hours and 15 minutes.

“Now my priorities have changed,” he said. His pace now is about 10:30 per mile for 26.2 miles. And today at the Youngstown Marathon, “Time doesn’t matter. I just want to get number 100,” he said.

When he began running seriously, he carried about 185 pounds on a frame just under 6 feet. He quickly lost 30 pounds.

“I used to run at 152. I’m about 25 pounds over that (now). I run so I can eat. My wife says, ‘Don’t tell people that,’ but it’s the truth.

“My wife is my biggest supporter,” he said.

Until 2007, they would enter races together. She would run the half marathon while he ran the full marathon, and sometimes their paths would cross depending on the layout of the full and half courses.

“We enjoyed going to Boston together,” he said. “It was like a vacation — other than having to run.”

Several years ago, Nancy suffered a stroke. John said he prefers to be her primary caretaker. Two daughters also live in Kinsman. Schedules and runs are based on how long and how far away he will be from Nancy.

John Davis began life in Howland. In 1956, when he was in sixth grade, his family moved to Gustavus. As an adult, he lived in Farmdale and moved to Kinsman 17 years ago.

After serving in the Army, he taught and coached at several schools before teaching chemistry and physics for many years at Badger High School. He was called out of retirement when a science teacher at Pymatuning Valley High School died. The temporary job since has turned into a full-time position.

“I always liked teaching,” Davis said.

The obsession with running began in 1991 after John traveled to Pittsburgh to watch his younger brother, Army Green Beret Clint, run a marathon. Davis was hooked.

“I came home the next day and started running,” he said. “I always liked to run a lot. I coached baseball and basketball, and I ran the kids a lot, probably more than they thought I should.”

A couple months later, in August of 1991, he ran his first competitive race, the bicentennial 10K in Ashtabula. In November of that year, he ran his first marathon in Columbus. When he runs the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon on Oct. 21, it will mark his 28th consecutive year of running marathons.

In his first three years of running, John limited his marathons to Columbus and Pittsburgh.

“Then as the years went by, I added more. One year, I did six. I do more as I get older because I run slower. Of course, competition is thinning out. I invariably place. I run in the Social Security crowd,” he said.

The first year he ran Boston, “I was really hurting by mile 9 or 10. You determine the pain is not going to stop you. It’s you vs. pain, and determination conquers the pain.”

Determination also conquers getting hit by a car.

An errant motorist ran into Davis in 2007 during a training run. The mishap broke his neck, arm and leg. For three months, Davis wore a halo brace — a ring essentially screwed to his skull and attached by bars to a vest — to keep his neck and spine from moving.

“It was six months before I did a race, but I didn’t miss Columbus,” he said. “But it was slow.”

More recently, he rebroke his left arm during a training run in winter. He heard a barking dog — dogs are a common hazard for rural runners — coming up behind him. When he turned to sight the animal, he hit a patch of ice and fell.

Davis said he believes his years of running help him bounce back.

Thousands of mementoes from the hundreds of races dominate the basement of his Kinsman home. Scanning the collection, Davis grinned and said, “I don’t know what my kids are going to do with all this stuff.”

Around one corner from his loom — Davis looms rugs from worn out running socks and discarded school uniforms for keepsakes — are quilts made from a patchwork of race T-shirts. The newest includes shirts from the Newton Falls 4-Miler, the five-mile Turkey Trot in Champion, the 10K Youngstown Peace Race and the Drake Well Marathon in Titusville, Pa.

“Looking at this brings back fond memories,” he said.

Around another corner, hundreds of medals, scores of numbered bibs, autographed posers and photos, and top-finisher prizes are hung on pegs, displayed on shelves, stacked in nooks and crannies or scattered wherever there was an open surface.

The loot includes a number of pig figurines, including one signed by one of the teams he coached. The pig theme started from a silly saying they’d tell each other — “Bring home the bacon.” It means come home with a trophy.

The trophies can be unusual.

Runners at the Drake Well Marathon received a vial of crude oil. In Stoneboro, Pa., the prizes included railroad spikes. In Wampum, Pa., where limestone was once mined, Davis ran a race that was completely underground. He won first place in his age group and was presented a plaque with a rock mounted on it. At a 25K run in Wooster, his trophy was a brick.

“When you talk about why you run, it’s not to get money,” Davis said, palming his prize. “I got a brick.”

When he ran marathon No. 99 five weeks ago today — the Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon in Canton — he finished in five hours, seven minutes and nine seconds, placing 491st overall out of the field of 619 marathoners, but first out of three in his Male 70 to 74 age group.

The “bacon” he brought home included a fleece blanket imprinted with the Hall of Fame logo and a medal bulging with a football helmet-shaped relief, heavy enough to discourage wearing around one’s neck.

There will be more in the collection by this afternoon. Race organizers assigned Davis bib number 100. He also had a custom T-shirt made with photos from his various runs. The back of the T-shirt lists all 21 cities in which he’s run a marathon. On the front are the words, “Life is a marathon. Run it.”

“Some people say, ‘I can’t run a mile.’ Well, no, you can’t right now,” Davis said. “You can’t just jump right it into. Work gradually until you feel comfortable at each distance.”

And then, just keep running. That’s how you complete 100 marathons in 27 years.