It was a quirky approach to insomnia that Davis found helpful in training for the 26.2 miles of the Nashville Country Music Marathon last month.
"I'd wake up about 2:30 or 3 a.m., obsessing about the marathon, and I just couldn't get back to sleep," Davis says. "So I did something about it." And what he did allowed him to finish the monster run with 5,002 runners behind him. More about that in a moment.
When he ran through Charlotte Amalie in the dead of night, Davis admits, the few people who were around to see him looked at him funny. "My friends would say 'Weren't you worried? You must be nuts!'" he recalls. But "I felt totally safe. I've always lived here; I've never felt unsafe."
Davis, known to his friends as "Mac," was 9 years old when he moved to St. Thomas from Savannah, Ga., with his family. He grew up here, went to Antilles School here, met his St. Thomian wife, Debbie, here and has practiced law here since graduating from Howard University in 1973 — first privately, and for the last 16 years as an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department.
The 49-year old athlete is the current president of the Antilles School Board of Trustees. He got the inspiration for the Nashville marathon at the school's annual faculty cocktail party, which he hosted as head of the board.
"I was talking with two of the teachers about running, and they invited me to join them," he says. "I'd been what you'd call a casual runner up until then." (It should be said that his notion of "casual" is five or six runs a week for a total of 20 to 25 miles — a regimen he took up in the aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn in 1995.)
The teachers issuing the invitation, Izaak Ironstone and Mike Flaherty, are both in their twenties. "I got to thinking about it, and I thought it would be fun to raise my fitness to a higher level," Davis recalls. "But a marathon?"
He said yes when "all of a sudden, I realized I could probably do this … My family thought I was insane, but when they realized I was serious, they came around." In addition to his wife, that's their children Elizabeth and Elliott, who both attend Antilles, and Joseph, a student at Brown University.
Debbie stayed by his side, literally, for some of his 5 a.m. runs of about three miles, from Magens Bay up to the AT&T tower in Peterborg
Davis has a profound appreciation for his robust health today. In 1997, he was diagnosed with cancer, had surgery to remove a kidney and underwent chemotherapy. "I almost died," he says, "and, at the same time, my oldest son, Joseph, had to have open heart surgery, but I was there for him."
Today, Joseph is fine. And so is Dad: After finishing the marathon last month, he went for a checkup in Miami, where he got a clean bill of health. "Four years cancer-free," he says.
The three men decided to make their big run in Nashville for the most practical of reasons: It fit all their schedules. "We went on the Internet and got a training program we liked," Davis says. "It's very specific, progressively increasing running each week, first at 12 miles and then on up to 30."
The marathon course made three loops through downtown Nashville and out through the suburbs, winding up at Adelphi Coliseum, the new home of the Tennessee Titans. "We drove over the course the day before," Davis remembers, "and I kept wondering when I was running where all these hills came from. Driving, they weren't hills at all."
But hills or no hills, "I finished," he says with a big grin. "That was my first thing. I had given myself a time of four and a half hours, but I finished at 5:04:42." A chronic knee problem "cropped up about the last six miles, so I had to scale back. I probably ran most of the race at about a 10-mile-a-minute gait, so I could talk to the other runners. That was nice."
The race winner finished at 2:14, Davis says, but he thinks about five hours was probably average. "Out of 8,000, I came in 2,998th, so that's 5,002 behind me," he happily notes.
He also made an amazing recovery from the rigors of the race — in a calculated manner. "The other guys were breaking down afterward," he recalls. "The humidity was oppressive. It left a lot of them almost disabled."
With a Cheshire cat smile, he continues: "I had looked up massage schools on the Internet before I left home and contacted the Cumberland School of Wellness Therapy and asked for their top graduates and made an appointment. As soon as the race was over, I immediately called Debbie to let her know I wasn't dead — and then went straight to the masseuse. An hour and half later I was brand new."
What now for the intrepid trio? On to maration No. 2, of course — the Disney Orlando Marathon set for next Jan. 6, to be precise. "We'll start training in late August," Davis says. Orlando in January, he notes, is two things Nashville in April is not "flat and cool." And, more to their advantage, two things St. Thomas is not, as well.