Extreme endurance athlete - Jenny Davis
Jenny Davis is a lawyer turned professional athlete with a inspirational story. Several years ago Jenny’s world was turned upside down, when a period of sickness led to the discovery of a dangerous growth in her abdomen. She was admitted to hospital where she endured a course of tumour shrinking drugs, major surgery and a three month recovery period. Despite some dark moments, Jenny’s positive outlook kicked in and she decided to spend her days planning all the expeditions and adventures she’d like to one day complete - signing up to the 2015 Marathon des Sables from her hospital bed!
Jenny has since completed several extreme ultra endurance events throughout the world, including Cape Wrath Ultra (8-day ultra run through the Highlands of Scotland); Iran Silk Road Ultramarathon (250km self-sufficient race through the Dasht-e-Lut Desert in 66 degree heat); Marathon des Sables (250km milti-day race through the unforgiving Sahara Desert); Arctic Ultra 250 (230km running through Arctic Sweden in -37 degree conditions).
Jenny’s next expedition is Antarctica Solo - 715 miles skiing solo and unsupported to the South Pole!
How did you get involved in becoming an extreme endurance athlete - taking on some of the worlds’ toughest expeditions, races and challenges?
The great outdoors has always been a way of life for me. I grew up in Borneo and we used to run through the rain forests with the local Hash Harriers running club. As a family we were always on adventures of some kind, once we’d moved back to the UK we switched the rain forests and orangutans for Munro climbing and surfing!
My first mountaineering trip was to Mt. Kilimanjaro whilst at University followed by my first ultra was in 2014. I signed up for the inaugural Tiree Ultra 35 miles after finding out it was taking place whilst I was on holiday there. The people and scenery were incredible, my love of ultra running (and ultra runners!) was born and that quickly turned into multi-day running races, adventure racing and more mountaineering.
Who is your all-time inspirational athlete/expeditioner and why?
Tough call but it has to be Ann Bancroft. She and Liv Arnesen were the first women in history to sail and ski across Antarctica covering 1,717 miles in 94 days. I must have read their books hundreds of times.
The reason I admire Bancroft so much is the educational aspect to what she has achieved. Ann has since set up a foundation and awarded millions in grants allowing young girls to explore the outdoors and discover their own abilities, values and strengths in the process.
She brings others with her. These experiences we’re fortunate enough to have aren’t for us alone, and she entirely embodies that to me in both her actions and words
From the searing 66C Iranian desert heat to the freezing -37C of the Arctic – what has been your most challenging ultra-race to date and why?
The most challenging moments are thankfully nearly always in the planning phase of races or adventures, before you even reach the start line.
For me personally, the most challenging times have been when organising the annual Women’s International Running Teams that I first launched last year. The idea is to focus on a different country every year and have a mix of runners from that country alongside British runners. So far I’ve been able to have one in Morocco and together the team raced the Marathon Des Sables. An unforgettable experience and a great way to promote Moroccan female athletes at home and abroad, as well the very special moments you have when you bring women together from different countries. Everyone soon realises you’re not so different at all and largely share the same struggles and joys in life. Even not being able to fully communicate due to language barriers becomes irrelevant.
The next women’s team will be in Kenya and applications to join the team should open in the next few months. I’m currently working on setting up as a foundation with long-term funding in place to ensure the teams can continue on an annual basis. That’s the dream but could take a little time!
Can you tell us what new challenges you will face during your upcoming Antarctica Solo expedition?
A new challenge for me will be taking part in an endurance attempt such as this one that covers such distance, is solo and in as remote a part of the world as Antarctica. High winds, bitterly cold -40oC temperatures and the added difficulty in being alone on the ice for 750 miles will all be new to me!
I’ve also had to learn a lot about crevasses and self-rescue techniques. I’ll also have the latest GPS route information and my logistics partner ALE have the latest on where the major crevasses fields are so I’ll be avoiding those ones entirely.
What changes, if any, have you made either mentally, physically, or both since completing your first ultra in freezing conditions - The Ice Ultra?
Mentally I don’t think there have been too many changes since that race, if anything setbacks with injury and health this last year have made me more determined than ever to achieve my goals. Physically I’ve worked a lot on achilles strength, they can really take a hammering when running in snowshoes and they’ll need to be in great shape to ski 750 miles to the South Pole.
What advice do you have for someone undertaking their first ultra-marathon?
Find a mentor! Find someone who’s participated in an ultra before, ask hundreds of questions, train on parts the race route and find others who are doing the same race. There isn’t anything more welcoming than the ultra community so the best part is all the new friends you’ll make. Training sensibly by building up your load is also key otherwise injuries become inevitable. I’ve mentored a few ladies through their first ultra and it’s really great fun, I’ve learnt a lot and hopefully passed on some useful knowledge too.
Ultra-runners often talk about being in a dark place at points in a race. Do you have any tips or strategies for how to manage the mental aspect of an ultra-marathon?
I found training on parts of the race route to be essential, even better if the weather’s awful or it’s dark. Anything to simulate what you’ll experience during the event itself, it’ll make you mentally stronger and come race day if there’s nothing but sunshine and rainbows then you’re laughing! Really though, mental strength is something you develop and even if you feel you maybe haven’t quite got what it takes when you line up for that race, I guarantee you will by the end of it.
How will using Beet It Sport help your performance during Antarctica Solo?
Beet It Sport will be crucial to my performance in Antarctica this winter. I’m undertaking a solo, 750 miles 35+ day expedition, Beet-It Sport is shown to increase time to task failure and improve the oxygen cost of exercise, resulting in improved performance times and I’ll be using it in my training in the lead up to the attempt as well as throughout.
Anything additional you would like to add about Beet It Sport?
It is genuinely delicious! If you’re potentially put off about the beetroot flavour then there’s no need to be, there’s no horrible earthy taste and it’s easy to take with you for racing or training - The Beet It Sport Nitrate 400 is perfect to take with you.
How can people stay up to date and with your Antarctica Solo expedition?
You can follow the live tracker on the expedition website www.jennydavis.co.uk, Instagram @jd_runs and I’ll be posting daily blogs from the ice.