The Philadelphia Marathon events are this weekend and over 31,000 runners from across the world will take to the streets of Philadelphia.
Among the crowd will be Lisa Davis. It will be her first time running the Philadelphia course, known as one of the top courses for marathons in the U.S.
But the retired Marine is no stranger to running. She’s run more than 177 marathons over the last few years, a number of other races and has no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
She says her inspiration to run her first marathon came from an unexpected place: Oprah.
“Oprah Winfrey ran the Marine Corps Marathon. And so I’m thinking to myself, I’m an active-duty Marine in the Marine Corps who’s never run the Marine Corps Marathon. I had never run any marathon, but I’m thinking she’s rich, but she’s not an athlete,” Davis said. “She’s normal, everyday people like we are when it comes to physical sports and stuff. I can train and run a marathon. She motivated me. She inspired me. I never thought to do something until she did it. I was like, what a great idea.”
The Chicago native didn’t always have dreams of becoming a Marine.
“I have a brother. We are a year and a half apart. The recruiter came to my house to actually recruit him. And he wasn’t cut out to be a Marine at all, not even close. My mom was trying to get rid of kids, I think. She was like I have a daughter. I was 17 and my mom had to sign the paperwork because I wasn’t old enough. My mother gave me to the Marine Corps. She said, ‘You can’t take my son, You can take my daughter. I’m not ready to pay for college,” Davis said.
The Marine Corps taught Davis to improvise, adapt and overcome which has also helped her during her running career. Following those tenets lead Davis to complete one of her ultimate goals, the “Marathon Hat Trick, by running in a 100 marathons in 50 states and seven continents.
She is one of only about 50 people to conquer this challenge and she is only the third African-American runner to do this.
In 2018, she became the first African-American woman to set the Guinness Book record for completing marathons on seven continents in seven days.
Davis also received a black-and-silver globe for finishing what is called the “Triple 7 Quest”, which is am event that brings runners from all around the world to compete in a series of seven marathons.
Even with all of the medals and accolades, Davis takes her running wins in stride.
“Competing on the seven continents was tough. That was extremely difficult. It wasn’t so much that I had to run seven marathons in seven days, the hard part was that I had to travel from one to the next and recover on a plane. That’s just hard.
“You know, I don’t think people realize how much your feet swell when you fly. It’s not just because you run. Can you imagine swollen feet from running then flying and compounded with having to run again? You’re doing it over and over. You do it seven times. Actually — I did it eight times, because I did a marathon on the way back,” Davis recalled.
If you’ve ever watched a marathon or seen one on TV, you might have noticed the numbers of African-American participants are relatively small. Davis said it’s due to the way African Americans are introduced to running.
“I think it’s because initially African Americans were just known to be sprinters. I ran track and I was horrific. I think the best place that I ever placed was third, but that’s because it was short distance. I’m a long-distance runner, but I think that because I was going to a school that was predominantly Caucasian I was put in the sprinter box. When I joined the military, I realized that I was better at long distances,” Davis said.
If she could change anything about the running world, Davis said she wants people to know that anyone can do it.
“Less than 1% of Americans have ever run a marathon. I believe it’s because people think it’s too hard to do and it’s not. I’d be so happy if I could change their mindset and their perception of what a marathon is. It’s something that anybody, the average person can get into, if they train properly. The point is to complete it and not win. We have to get more participation,” she said. “Sometimes I’ve run courses with more people cheering than running the course. There are five times as many people cheering on Boston, cheering on New York and I haven’t done the Philadelphia marathon but I’ll bet there will be more people cheering than running in the race. It just seems to work out that way, because people think it’s such a hard task to complete when it really isn’t.”
With all of the races and marathons that Davis has run over the years, it makes you wonder, “Why Philly?” and “Why now?”.
“The reason why I’ve never done the Philly marathon is because I’ve been chasing 10 JFK finishes. So the JFK 50-miler, once you do 10 of those you are in the ‘500-mile club’. You get into the history books. You go through this whole process of getting inducted and they give you a sweatshirt that no one else has,” Davis said. “I’ve been chasing it over a decade through setbacks. I broke my leg and other things happened. So for over 12 years, I’ve been trying to get 10 finishes, and it just so happens that the Philly marathon is the day after this year’s JFK 50-miler.”
Running a new race wasn’t Davis’ only motivation for doing the Philadelphia Marathon. Her daughter, Lauren, has called Philadelphia home for the last four years as a University of the Sciences student. The senior softball player couldn’t imagine graduating without her marathon-loving mom running in her adopted town.
“My daughter called me. She says, ‘Mom, I’m a senior in college. For the past four years, my softball team has been out on the course to support this race. You’ve been all over the world and you’ve never done the Philly marathon.’ So we both knew it was something that I needed to do. It’s a little complicated two races back to back but she’s going to pick me up at the 30th Street train station the morning of the race with my race packet in hand. Get me to the starting line. Then she’ll cheer for me on the route, so it’s gonna be fun,” Davis said.