WAIKOLOA — Driven by his family and faith, Jonathan Davidson is looking to accomplish what many would qualify as impossible.
Davidson, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, is trying to join the 50-50 club, running 50 marathons in 50 states.
When he toes the line at the 25th annual Kona Marathon in Waikoloa on Sunday morning, he will be staring down his 48th, with only Alaska and Maryland to go.
“I can’t believe this is No. 48,” Davidson said. “I have to credit God for my health. After 10-15 years, a lot of people who have been diagnosed with MS have trouble walking.”
Davidson, who lives in Tennessee, is not only walking — he is running, and some of the feats he has accomplished are astounding. He has completed 12 marathons in a single year twice. He has also completed marathons on back-to-back days twice and has done three marathons in three days two times.
Those are incredible statistics, especially when considering just how far Davidson has come.
His diagnosis alone was not enough to get Davidson on his feet.
His true motivation came a little more than three years later when his daughter, Brookley, was born.
“I was holding her in the hospital and thinking about her future. I asked myself if I would be able to coach her softball team, teach her to ride a bike, or walk her down the isle when she gets married,” Davidson said. “Those questions forced me to look at my disease and what it could do to me. Right then and there, I decided that I wanted to be more proactive.”
Davidson started with a simple 5K, but he was forced to walk to the finish after starting out too fast. He followed with another 5K and then a 10K before moving to the half marathon. A year and a half after he started running, Davidson competed in his first 26.2-mile race, the Marine Corp Marathon in Arlington, Virginia.
Along for the ride — many times literally during his training runs — was his daughter. Davidson pushed Brookley in her running stroller while going on 3- to 5-mile runs leading up to that first marathon.
He would usually sing to her as well, typically Christmas songs and songs from the Bible. He did this so much, that by the time Brookley had reached 26 months, she had learned more than 50 songs and was well-versed in the 66 books of the bible.
Davidson finished that first marathon, but afterward he didn’t think he would do another because his legs “hurt for days.” However, he met someone who did 54 marathons in a single year and that motivated him to continue.
By 2013, Davidson was starting the New York City Marathon, his seventh 26.2-mile race. It was there that he realized he had done his previous six races in six different states.
“That is when I set the goal to do 50 marathons in 50 states,” Davidson said. “In 2015, I really started to knock them out. I did nine that year, followed by 12 in 2016 and 12 in 2017.”
However, the runs were not easy and he suffered a few stumbles along the way. Roughly midway through every marathon, Davidson suffers from foot drop in his right leg. Foot drop is a gait abnormality in which the dropping of the forefoot happens due to weakness, irritation or damage to the common fibular nerve, in this case, caused by his MS.
Twice, the foot drop has caused him to trip.
“I have fallen in two marathons, one in Philadelphia and one in West Virginia,” Davidson said. “Both were in November of subsequent years but I wasn’t hurt. I got back up and and just focused on getting that leg higher so I would not trip again.”
The few setbacks have not slowed Davidson down. He scheduled eight marathons for this year. He chose the Kona Marathon because of the timing of the race. He wants to do his 49th race in Alaska because it was the 49th state. He picked a race in Baltimore, Maryland, in August for his 50th becausewanted his family to attend.
“I couldn’t do Hawaii as the 50th and expect everyone to pay $1,000 to come watch me,” Davidson said. “I wanted to pick somewhere that was easier for my family to attend.”
While his parents and extended family may not be in town this weekend for the Kona Marathon, his daughter is, along with his son, Landen, and wife, Lori.
However, they don’t plan to sit on the sideline. They will be competing in the quarter-marathon.
“It will be amazing to see my kids out there. They have been training and running around the neighborhood and it has been a very surreal experience to run with them,” Davidson said. “They are the reason I started doing this and now they are able to run with me. Hopefully I will be able to see them out there on the course and maybe we can high five or something.”
With the end of his goal in sight, Davidson isn’t planning on taking any time off afterward. He is already trying to get in the Marine Corp Marathon again, which takes place a week after he is scheduled to complete his 50th state, which will allow him to go full circle.
He also has a much longer race in mind.
“A 50-mile race is the next goal if God continues to bless me with good health,” Davidson said. “When I did the three marathons in three days, that was 78 miles, so I think I can do 50 in one day.”