Davis uses running experience to help train others

Sam Davis, 56, has finished more than 1,000 races over 42 years. (Photo by Cindy Chittenden)

Sam Davis, 56, is a veteran of more than 1,000 races.

In his 42 years running, the Essex man has completed 30 marathons, and for the last 12 years, he’s been coaching athletes who want to reach their full potential.

In 2012, Davis received the RunVermont Hall of Fame award. While too humble to discuss his own triumphs, Davis perked right up when asked about his students’ successes.

“I get a kick when the training plan comes together,” Davis said. “A guy I work with, a tremendous runner, came in third in the Vermont City Marathon. Seeing him come through the finish line was amazing. I take it personally. I care. I want them to have the success they work so hard for. The ones I work with are committed. I feed off their energy.”

Davis works full-time as a senior territory business manager for Bristol-Myers Squibb. In his spare time, he provides coaching for runners of all ages and abilities at no charge. He limits the number of athletes he works with so that he can offer personalized plans. By eliminating the financial burden on his clients, Davis helps them focus on what’s most important: the training.

Half-a-decade ago, Davis took his training to the next level by traveling to Las Vegas to obtain his USATF Certified Level 2 Endurance Coach certification. Inspired by guest presenter Dr. Joe Vigil, a longtime coach at Adams State University in Colorado and a coach to many Olympic athletes, Davis began to look at training with a fresh set of eyes.

“When Joe talks, people listen,” Davis said. “You think you know coaching until you are around people who make it their life to coach. My big takeaway was that changes don’t come from the workout. The change comes from the rest and recovery.”

The second youngest of four siblings, Davis was the only one in his family to play sports. His father, curious by nature, found running a foreign concept but supported his son by going to his races and learning what he could at each event. It was the sports-oriented family next door that first introduced Davis to running.

  In high school, Davis tried every sport offered but often felt deflated by the aggressive tactics the coaches used. A friend recommended he give cross-country running a try.

Davis quickly took to the sport, but gives all the credit to his coach, Mark Chaplin, for using positive reinforcement to build his self-confidence and love for running. In the fall of Davis’ junior year, his team won the school’s first state championship of any kind in cross country.

In 2016, Davis was able to thank his former coach by presenting him with the same RunVermont Hall of Fame award he had won years before.

“It was really emotional,” Davis recalled. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be running.”

Nine years ago, Davis was faced with an unexpected challenge: His father was diagnosed with cancer and given six weeks to live. At the time, Davis was coaching a group of runners for the RunVermont Half Marathon Unplugged. The day of the event was the day Davis’s father died.

“It was 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. My brother called to tell me my father had passed,” Davis said. “I didn’t sleep the rest of the night. When my mother called to tell me we weren’t going to talk to the funeral director until 2 p.m., I went down to the race. My father would have told me to go. I ended up winning the race.

“I wasn’t thinking of winning,” Davis continued. “All I knew was to do what my body had done 1,000 times before that. Nothing mattered. I won by two-hundredths of a second. I got back in the car and burst into tears. I wrote something on the back of my race number and put it in my father’s casket. I haven’t raced it since. It was a way to somehow tie up loose ends and make it a perfect closure to honor your parent. It’s one of those things where running becomes something more than just the physical part.”

Davis’ wife, Patty, can also be found running with their two dogs, and his 24-year-old daughter, Emily, enjoys running after work and on the weekends with her father. Often, the trio runs together on family vacations.

Coming from a place of contentment, Davis no longer needs external awards to define his character, he said.

“When I was in my 40s and realized I couldn’t run as fast as I used to, it was really tough,” he said. “Somewhere along the way, I made peace with it and, once I did, it felt so liberating. I had a big altar of trophies and T-shirts going back 27 years. I threw out the trophies and gave away the shirts and stopped worrying about it. While I identify myself as a runner, it doesn’t define me any longer.”