Lawyer-turned-pro-athlete Jenny Davis kicked off her running career by chance. While working full time, Jenny Davis was holidaying with friends when a spontaneous idea kicked off a series of events that saw her life – and career – completely transform. “I was cycling round the Isle of Mull with friends and we went to get a ferry to the Isle of Tiree,” explains Jenny. “I went on the accommodation website and it said the day we were arriving it was the inaugural Tiree Ultramarathon. I was like, ‘This is meant to be!’” Unperturbed, Jenny emailed the organisers and, the next day, she was taking part in her first ultra, a 35-mile race ending with a ceilidh in the local pub.
It wasn’t until another, more famous ultra – in slightly different climatic conditions – that Jenny realised she could be onto something. “When I started training for the Marathon des Sables [MdS, a six-day, 156-mile race through the Sahara desert], I realised I’m not too bad at knuckling down, coming up with a plan and executing it.”
Again, she adopted a somewhat unconventional approach, racing her first MdS just a few days after having a steroid injection in an injured knee, but she loved the race. In fact, she was so inspired that not only did she vow to run it again, but she joined the UK committee for the race, dealing with runners’ questions and helping them feel ready for the event.
Helping others and encouraging them to run is a theme that continues through many of Jenny’s projects. She has recently taken part in – and won – the Iranian Silk Road Ultramarathon. “This race was all about boosting female participation in sport, especially in Iran,” she says. “It was the first race in 38 years that allowed men and women to race alongside each other. I’m an ambassador for a charity, Free to Run, and we tried to find an all-female team, but people were incredibly suspicious.
“We found one woman who is just incredible, called Mahsa Torabi, who is possibly the best spokeswoman to get women running in Iran. She’s since set up a small running club and the Iranian Athletics Association wants to set up a programme where they teach women, including Mahsa, how to coach other women and young girls.”
Jenny’s passion for the project is clear. “[Running in Iran] made me realise how incredibly lucky I am,” she says. “I’ve never felt held back because I’m a woman, either in my career or in my running. I care so much about getting other women involved in sport – the amount of friends I’ve got who think they can’t do these things and they can.”
That passion has had Jenny doing everything from going to the gym with nervous first-timers, to bigger projects – like her focus for 2017, setting up the first Women’s International Team for the MdS. She was inspired while training in Morocco with Mohamad Ahansal, who is one of her coaches. He’s won the race five times, and his brother Lahsen’s won it 11 times; their celebrity status in their home country led Jenny to realize that Moroccan women had no such heroes to look up to.
She came up with the idea of putting together an all-female team of two Moroccan runners and two UK runners, including herself. Again, she encountered suspicion but, with the help of Moroccan-based adventurer and journalist Alice Hunter Morrison, she recruited elite runners Aziza Raji and Didi Touda. With three members in place, the team set about finding their second UK runner and applications flooded in (the process ended on 31 July). “The amount of applications we got – it gives me goosebumps even now to talk about it. Every application I got I’d be in tears,” says Jenny.
While taking on her various challenges, X-BIONIC noticed Jenny was always wearing their kit in race photos and, when they invited her to become a sponsored athlete, she couldn’t turn down the opportunity. “I signed the contract, quit my job, and my boss said to me, ‘There’s no chance we’re holding you back from this opportunity, but any time you want to come back, the job’s there.’”
Since officially quitting her job, Jenny is busier than ever: as well as organising the women’s MdS team, she’s set up All Out Law to give legal services for race organisations; Kit Jam (kitjam.com) for kit reviews and to help athletes find the mandatory kit for their races; and she’s in training for the intimidating 400K Ultra Trail Gobi Race, a non-stop ultra through the Gobi desert in September. She’s wary of wanting to do too much. “I’ve got big ambitions for one race this year and Marathon des Sables again next year and if I wasn’t to achieve that, I’m not sure I could forgive myself. It helps to have my friends, my family, and my boyfriend Matt, who are good at saying to me, ‘You’re taking on too much.’”
However, she admits she may not always take on this advice. “[Being benched for a time this year] has been a lesson learnt in over-training and over–racing. Maybe I won’t do it again, but actually I’m not always the best at listening to those around me, because some of the things I’ve achieved, I’m not sure I would have done if I had listened!”
WATCH our short interview with Jenny to hear her training secrets: