Grandfather of 10 Runs a Marathon in Every State

David Ladner running in race

Today, 5ks and mile-per-minute goals are common among fitness challenges and New Year’s Resolutions. But it wasn’t long ago that running for exercise was seen as a strange subculture rather than a respected sport.

In fact, when David Ladner of Smarr, Georgia, began running in the 1970s, running was considered, in his words, “Pretty unusual, to say the least. Especially when you consider the shorts we used to wear. They were pretty short back then.” 

These days, Ladner’s shorts are a lot longer. But his passion for running draws just as much attention. David has run a full-length, 26.2-mile marathon in all 50 states — and at age 60, he’s not stopping anytime soon. 

Running may have been strictly for oddballs in the ’70s, but that didn’t stop Ladner’s passion for running. Or rather, his natural tendency to just do it. Whenever he talks about running, he never refers to it in terms of lofty goals or an insatiable drive to compete. Running sounds more like happenstance — just a fact of David’s life.

“I started running when I was in college in Birmingham. I lived about six miles away from the campus, and I just ran there. And then I would run back. It was kinda crazy, actually.”

And it’s with the same it-is-what-it-is nonchalance that Ladner explained how he got into the marathon scene. His graduation from shorter runs (if you can call six miles short) to full-length marathons was mostly a matter of logistics — and faith. When David, who was raised Baptist, started keeping Sabbath on Saturdays, his running schedule changed accordingly.

“There weren’t many races back then, and the ones that were on Sundays were only marathons. I would have loved to run some 10ks, but they were all on Saturdays,” says Ladner. “So in ’78 I ran the Vulcan Marathon, which was my first marathon. And it was a lot of fun.”

And so began David’s marathon career.

Today, he’s run over 1,310 miles in all 50 states — a full-length marathon in each one. And in case that’s not enough, he’s also a field nurse, a licensed counselor, a devoted husband, a father of three and grandfather of 10.

Of course, there were times when Ladner prioritized his family over his running career. And there were also times when running a race in every state was so challenging, he felt like giving up. At one point, Ladner completed five marathons in five different states, all in just five days.

“Traveling between races was actually harder than the marathons sometimes. Especially out west, where there would be long stretches of road without many places to take a rest or stop for food.”

But despite the challenges, David always kept on running, even into his 60s. Today, he trains about 40 miles per week.

The secret to staying in shape as you age? According to Ladner, it’s all about maintaining your range of motion and function.

“You want to maintain function for as long as possible. You have to make a conscientious effort to notice how your body moves, and try to keep moving it that way.”

Throughout his career as a field nurse, he’s noticed that continuing to use your body, even in seemingly small ways, can make a big difference.

“When I worked in rehab in the hospital, it really dawned on me that people in our culture don’t get down on the floor very often, and consequently they have trouble getting up. I would see people from other cultures just as happy as they could be on the floor, even in their 80s.”

Of course, running isn’t for everyone, Ladner adds. “It’s catabolic, and a bit self-destructive.” For those who are looking to stay in shape as they age, Ladner recommends yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi — anything that keeps your body moving.

And that’s just what David will do — keep on moving for as long as he can. This year, he celebrated his 60th on Hilton Head beach … by running a 5k, of course. What better way to prove that age is just a number?

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