Craig Davidsonís grandson, Jaden, who was 2 at the time, runs up to meet Davidson as he reaches the finish line at the 2011 Whiskey Row Marathon in Prescott. Each year, the Prescott YMCA gives Davidson a bib number corresponding to which consecutive marathon he is running at that time.
The Daily Courier
After all these years, Craig Davidson isn't entirely sure why he still runs in the Whiskey Row Marathon.
But the race has become a tradition for him, and he admires the friendly, gracious folks involved in every aspect of it, so those reasons alone should suffice.
At 59 years old, the longtime Phoenician will make his 26th consecutive appearance at the Whiskey on Saturday as the cherished event marks its 35th anniversary in Prescott.
Davidson ran the Whiskey half marathon in 1983 and won it four years later. In 1988, he decided to enter the full marathon - and he's been running in it every year since.
"I don't know if I'd use the word 'enjoy,' " a chuckling, half-joking Davidson said about the marathon during a phone interview in mid-April. "It's just a very, very unique race. You get the same people that go up there every year, the town goes out and supports the people, and it's just a fun event."
Back in the late '80s, Davidson hadn't even considered running the full marathon until local resident Bob Kozak called and asked him if he'd like free lodging for the weekend of the race.
"And so I said, 'Well, that'd be great,' and he said, 'There's only one catch - you have to run the marathon,' " Davidson recalled. "And I said, 'Let me think about it.' "
You see, Whiskey organizers used to give the defending marathon champion a complimentary room to the race's host hotel as an incentive to return and run the following spring.
But in 1988, Davidson said that the previous year's winner didn't register.
Davidson was fully aware of how difficult the marathon is, particularly with its steep climbs and descents on some of the steepest hills in Prescott.
He had buddies who ran it in the past and were encouraging him to stick to the less-grueling half marathon.
Then Davidson told his wife, Irene, about the possibility of a "free weekend." While he had hesitated to accept the offer after sharing with her the requirement to run the marathon, she wondered aloud why he hadn't already jumped at the opportunity.
Despite not being fond of the marathon course, Davidson eventually took the challenge.
Twenty-six straight Whiskey Row Marathons later, deep down inside, he's thankful that he did.
Davidson hasn't always been a runner. He played tennis in college for four years, but he later became heavy, gaining 35 pounds. In 1977, Davidson knew he needed a change in lifestyle.
"The first day I ran," he said, "I couldn't run four house lengths."
But he kept at it. Only nine weeks after he started running, he ran his first half marathon. By February 1978, he had run in his first full marathon in Oregon. The following year, he qualified for and ran in the Boston Marathon.
In November 1978, Davidson began running every day. Thirty-four years later, he's still at it.
In 1997, nearly a decade after he completed his first Whiskey Row Marathon, Davidson ran his 100th marathon in St. George, Utah.
That year, Kozak happened to visit Davidson at Runner's Den, a longtime running-gear store in Phoenix where the latter has sold running and walking shoes for nearly three decades. (Runner's Den is also the official timekeeper for the Whiskey Row Marathon.)
Davidson thanked Kozak for giving him the incentive to try the Whiskey's full marathon. By the late 1990s, Kozak had been in 10 Whiskeys, which helped push him to the century mark.
On Saturday, Davidson will tackle his whopping 218th marathon. Through the years, he said he has run in all 28 L.A. Marathons and, in October, he'll lace up his shoes for his 26th St. George (Utah) Marathon.
These days, Davidson added that his motivation to continue running the Whiskey is to honor the memories of Gheral Brownlow and Al Clark, two of the marathon's co-founders whom he knew well and are now deceased.
"They were two very special people in my life," he said.
Davidson's best time in the Whiskey Row Marathon is a respectable 3 hours and 5 minutes.
Although he has never won the race, in the first four years he ran it, he placed ninth, fifth, third and second, respectively.
"Of course I was much younger then," he said. "The course doesn't get more difficult, but as I age it gets more difficult."
Most runners commonly suffer from aches and pains, but oftentimes those ailments get progressively worse with age.
Case in point for Davidson: Since December, he has been nursing a strained piriformis muscle, which is one of the hip's six small lateral rotator muscles.
"This could be a long event for me this year for the race," he said.
Davidson concedes that the injury happened when he didn't warm up properly while working a booth at a Turkey Trot in Mesa. He jogged over to the starting line and subsequently felt a tightening in his left hamstring.
"I think I compensated and came down on my right leg a little bit hard," he said.
For two days afterward, Davidson was tight. The following week, less than 200 yards from his home during a 5-mile run, he hurt his back.
"It just basically got worse," he said of his injury. "I feel better now, but I still don't have that flexibility in the leg."
Davidson's parents once lived in Humboldt, which is about 25 miles east of Prescott. At the time, Davidson would often drive up from Phoenix over Easter to run part of the marathon course.
He preferred to do that so he could get re-accustomed to Prescott's mile-high altitude and its hills. Not to mention the weather.
One year - he believes it was in 1992 - Davidson said it snowed during the entire marathon.
His young daughter, Jennifer, now 27, had never seen snow. Irene and Jennifer were eating breakfast in a hotel when someone tipped them off about the white stuff.
"They finished up eating and ran outside real quick," Davidson recalled, "and my daughter said, 'Mommy, it's cold out here!' "
These days, Craig and Irene drive from Phoenix to Prescott by themselves for the race.
During the 2011 Whiskey marathon, however, the couple's grandson, Jaden, then 2, was waiting with Irene near the finish line in downtown Prescott so he could watch Craig cross.
"He kept on telling my wife, 'When's papa gonna finish?' She said, 'He'll be back in a minute,' " Craig recalled. "When I got close to the end, he pulled away from my wife and ran from the corner (of Goodwin and Cortez streets) to the finish with me."
On occasion in the past, Craig, now in his 11th year as assistant track and field coach at Phoenix's Northwest Christian School, has run the marathon in the morning and returned to the Valley for the Arizona high school state championships in the afternoon.
But this weekend, the state meet isn't on the schedule. Instead, he plans to stay for the Cinco de Mayo festivities on Saturday and head back to Phoenix later in the day.
"I jokingly say I'm the best spokesperson for the race, and I'm the worst spokesperson for the race," Davidson said. "I love the race, and every year I do it, I say, 'No, I'm not coming back next year.' And then about three days later, I say, 'You know, if I wouldn't have had to walk so much, I wouldn't have had to have this issue.'
"It's one of those things where the first weekend in May, we make it our journey to go up there and do the race every year then."