Jim Davis has run every L.A. Marathon since it began in 1986.

This Sunday, Feb. 14, is Valentine’s Day and Sylmar resident Jim Davis will be doing something he loves: taking part in the Los Angeles Marathon.

He’s not a newbie to the 26.2 mile race. In fact, Davis, 75 and recently retired, has run it for the past 30 years. He is a Legacy Runner, a member of a select group of athletes who have completed all 30 previous L.A. Marathons.

To put it another way, Davis has traveled 786 miles of Los Angeles on foot.

“It’s a club nobody else can get into, and that’s the pride you have,” said Davis, while walking and jogging at Veterans Park at the uppermost part of Sylmar, just before one gets into the hills.

He’s familiar with the terrain, having trained there and all around the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys for the past three decades.

But some things have changed since he ran the first Los Angeles Marathon in 1986, and not just the sponsors or the course that now goes from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica.

The First Race

“It was brutal,” remembered Davis of recuperating after that first competition.

Finishing the race, he said, was surprisingly easy for him, not that hard. And he did it in just over four hours. He had not trained for it and simply decided to take part in it after a friend of his got him interested in running two years previously, although he didn’t do it consistently.

But “the pain afterwards was horrendous. I couldn’t step off the sidewalk,” Davis said.

There was a lot of excitement in the city for the first race. Davis was one of the first 10,000 participants in the race, which has grown to more than 25,000 people. He’s been one of them all through the years.

 “I never thought it would get as big as it has,” Davis said

And he’s never thought about quitting. “You get encouragement. People call me the day before and wish me good luck and all that.”

Earlier in his life Davis pretty much ran every day, in the morning or late in the evening, in hot or cold weather.

In his more active years, he did four marathons — even the challenging Boston Marathon, which Davis qualified for after completing the Portland Marathon in just over three hours.

As his running improved, so did his ability to recuperate from a race.

“After a marathon I would do a light 5K just to loosen up,” Davis said.

His Running History

Davis belonged to a couple of running clubs that did long distance running for marathon training and for fun, reaching either the sea or going around in a 31-mile loop through Santa Clarita, Placerita Canyon, and back to the Valley.

At several stretches, he was running 70 miles a week.

“My kids thought running was senseless,” Davis said. But now one of his sons is running too.

Davis was also part of the track and field team his company put together. As a member, Davis got to travel all over the country participating in meets against teams from other large corporations and businesses.

And as one of the Legacy Runners, he’s received certificates, commemorative shirts, and attended parties. Last year — for the 30th anniversary of the race — “(then race sponsor) Asics gave us running shoes,” he said.

There are also the health benefits Davis believes he gets from running. His heart and body remain strong and fit for his age.          

It’s one reason he keeps participating.

“It’s a nice, nice feeling you get when running”, said Davis.

He recalled once trying out for the Los Angeles Police Reserves. In the running part of the test, Davis led the rest of the participants — some of them much younger  — by four laps. At one point those in charge asked Davis to slow down.

“That was quite a compliment,” he said.

Continuing The Legacy

But the activity of running is not what it once was for Davis.

He’s been having trouble with his knees for several years. Last year, it took him more than eight hours to walk the entire course.

“That’s brutal. I’d rather do three hours running than eight hours walking,” he said.

Davis had knee surgery in May, and is still not able to run. But he’s able to walk and do a little bit of jogging. And Davis is determined to appear at the Los Angeles Marathon once again.

On Sunday, his strategy is simply “to finish and keep the legacy running.”

How to Run Your First Marathon

Here are some tips for first-time competitors running the marathon:

1. Don’t try to go too fast, just try to finish

2. Always keep candy or something in your mouth

3. Try not to drink too much water or liquids

4. Don’t eat the night before, so you don’t get the urge to go to the bathroom during the race

5. Enjoy it