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PROFILES’ is a chance for the Ponnek team to catch up with figures in the running community, both local to us and much further afield. These are the people that we find interesting (not just runners!) and hope you will find interesting too.
Our guest this month is the Cornwall based ultra-runner, Julia Davis. I haven’t long known Julia, but she is one of those characters that you quickly warm to. Her modesty, backed up by a beyond impressive ultra-racing resume, makes her a pleasure to chat with and listen to. We met at a coffee shop in the stunning coastal village of Porthtowan. She arrived with dog and newborn baby boy in tow, and kindly allowed me to pick her calculated, driven, and focused brain about all things ultra!
Sit back…relax…this is a good one!
Hey Julia. The default opening question…when did you first get into running and why?
Hi Sam! Ok, so I’d say I started running late in life. 28. I was living in London and working at ASOS at the time. I was basically fed up with being cooped up at a desk all day, so I decided to join my dad and sister Elsey for a long run. I ran 22 miles with them that day and had never run more than 7 miles prior to that! I then signed up for a marathon, which was also my first ever race, in the hope that I could get a ‘good for age’ for London - I only really had 3 weeks to prepare for this. I managed to run it in 03:35:00 which was enough to get the spot. I think that when you don’t know anything, you don’t overthink it. It was the hilliest marathon ever though, and part of it was running up and down a barrier queue section! I only ran this horrible marathon as it was the last race left before the 'good for age' cut off that year. I then ran the London marathon the April after in 03:35:00.
So after that, I Joined a running club and just ended up with a coach, but didn’t actually seek that out! This coach set me between 6-8 runs a week, and I managed to run a decent marathon pb of 02:39:00. It was pretty much after this though that I realised road wasn’t for me.
So running definitely runs in the blood. I think I could’ve guessed that! When did you turn to ultras?
I pretty much got fed up and realised I liked running a long way. I really like being on my feet for a long time. Don’t get me wrong though, I still get a buzz from a speed session! My coach (Robbie Britton), is also a firm believer that I don’t need to be running a long way in training.
My first ever ultra was the Bear Mountain 50k organised by The North Face. It’s part of a 2 day event. It was a hilly one. I got the bug!
Then I did the ultra-trail Cape Town 65km. It’s on the ultra world tour and is a big race. You go up Table Mountain for this one. This was the the first race that my partner dan came with me to. He did kind of crew me for that one, but I think he would be much more different now (laughs)!
Since I’ve had Woody, my son, I’m constantly thinking about him. This has obviously stopped me from getting straight back into training and racing. I like that when I’m running my mind is a bit quieter. I did a speed session yesterday, and it was nice to just be in that moment.
Favourite foods to eat during an ultra?
If it’s a warm day, I definitely like to drink as many calories as I can instead of eating as such. Unlike most, I’m not adversed to trying new stuff during a race! Robbie (coach) is so hot on eating - he actually sets himself challenges like ‘how much can I eat in this time’.
Going back to your question, my favourite combo tends to be liquid calories and GU’s. I like GU’s because you can hold them and just sip. For the Centurion race, The South Downs Way 50, I managed 80g of carbs an hour - that day I managed to finish in 06:54:26 and set a new course record which still stands today.
Its also worth mentioning that away from racing/running, I have to eat a lot of food. The amount of food I eat is astronomical!
How do you feel your body is responding to a return to training post baby?
My body feels different - I actually feel stronger. I’m certainly not as fast as I was, but the loss in speed is probably more to do with time away from speed-work.
I ran for the majority of the pregnancy. I actually ran the day I had Woody and didn’t realise that my waters had broken! I was managing 50-60 miles a week for most of the pregnancy and then 30-35 miles for the last couple of weeks. I raced the Red Rat 20 mile coastal race 25 weeks into pregnancy and managed to come third which was nice.
Dan (partner) pretty much documented the whole pregnancy and my running with it on camera and Trail Running Magazine are going to do a feature on it which is exciting.
That’s awesome, I’ll be reading that for sure! What’s your favourite ever race?
It has to be Cape Town. The landscape, the event, the whole thing. The race itself is awesome, you actually go up Table Mountain! I also love it when its hot and really enjoy running in the heat! It was in the mid 30s that day which is perfect for me.
When family commitments allow, I’ll definitely be looking do that one - thanks for the recommendation. What’s your favourite ever race result?
It has to be the South Downs Way 50. It was one of those days where it just felt easy and really good. We (Robbie and me) had agreed before the race that there was a certain point that when I reached it, I go! Empty the tank style! I basically gave it my all chasing a guy down this track!
This is a question from my partner, I didn’t actually feel like I could ask this (laughs). What’s harder, child birth or ultras?
Child birth is definitely a lot harder than running ultras.
Who do you look up to in the running world?
My sister, Elsey for sure. Ragnar Debats. Ladia Albertson-Junkans too. I’ve Noticed more and more women who have run with children and had sensible comebacks.
Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn, had a baby and she’s a GB ultra-runner. I’m actually in contact with her which is nice. It’s great seeing other women come back and be stronger. Womens ultra running is just becoming more and more exciting. You’ve got Beth Pascall and Emily Hawgood in there too!
At the Western States last year, the women paced themselves well. At UTMB, the women played the long game better.
Some of the sport’s great’s all in one paragraph there! What’s next?
Well, my plan keeps changing. I think I’ll keep it local for the first few. I did have an elite place on CCC which I got off the back of my ITRA ranking being good (before pandemic and baby)!
I’ll most likely look to do a centurion 50 miler - maybe Wendover (woods). I thought about doing an autumn 100, but probably not this year. I’m not actually booked onto anything so need to make my mind up at some point!
Well best of luck, not that you’ll need it, whatever you choose to do!