In the first of our series of interviews some of the top UK marathoners Gill Bland spoke to Elsey Whyman-Davis about her goals, training, athletes to watch for 2020 and breaking a world record with her dad.
Elsey is a doctor, lives in Chester with her wife, runs for Preston Harriers and is coached by double Olympian Helen Clitheroe. She ran her first marathon in 2011, finishing in 3:37:51. In 2015 she ran a stunning 2:42:29 at London. It was a great performance, but fired up by it, Elsey went hard after tougher targets and paid for it with a rough two years plagued by injury.
Happily, that now seems to be behind her and after making a variety of lifestyle and coaching changes, Whyman-Davis is ready to show us what has been bubbling under the surface all that time.
2019 started with a bang with a huge half marathon PB in Barcelona. 2019 also finished on a high as Davis moved to 10th on the UK rankings list after running 2:33:24 at Valencia marathon in December – her first race over that distance since 2015.
2020 has started well with a silver medal at the England 5 Mile Championships just last weekend and some solid training being logged as she builds up to run her third London Marathon.
FR: What were you most excited by in your running / training last year?
ED: I started the year in amazing fitness. On New Year’s Day I ran a session with a (mild) hangover and smashed it. I thought, yes, this is going to be my year. Barcelona half in February was a big breakthrough race for me. I knew I was training well but the plan was to just run under 75 minutes so I could get an elite entry to London marathon but I felt incredible so pushed the pace on slightly.
I can’t describe the emotion when I crossed the line in 72:46. It’s just not a time I would have dreamt of running when I first started out (editors note – this race was not run in Nike shoes!). It was the culmination of two years hard and consistent training. To be able to put that into a result was amazing – my family and wife were there too which made it more special. Success is nothing if you have no one to share it with!
FR: What are you most excited by looking to the year ahead? What are your key goals?
ED: This year I’m trying something a bit different. I’m training for a fast road marathon in the spring (London). Off the back of that I’m focusing on the mountains for the summer including a mountain marathon in July.
I do a lot of my training on rocky, hilly terrain (mountains or fells when I’m able to), even when training for flat marathons. I’m technically quite confident as I grew up running on the Cornish coast. I’m also not too keen on track so it seems an obvious great alternative. I’d like to get a GB vest on road or mountain, or both.
FR: What do you think about the women’s marathon scene in GB at the moment? Who are you most excited by?
ED: It’s amazing, so much depth. I think the progress Steph Davis has made is insane in such a short time. I’m excited to see what she can do in London. Jess Piasecki’s performance in Florence was also phenomenal and inspiring, totally deserved after years of injury set backs.
FR: Why do you think the GB women had such a great year last year?
ED: I think a combination of things – mostly hard graft and a looming Olympic year! Also, we are lucky to have access to so much information these days, training, nutrition, rest, psychology, lab testing etc. so every aspect of running can be fine tuned. In the age of social media as well we are probably quite motivated by seeing what each other are doing.
I also don’t think you can deny that the advancements in shoe technology have made a difference in terms of times last year too. But even so, the depth in women’s marathoning is still phenomenal at the moment and exciting to be a part of.
FR: Who do you think is flying under the radar but destined to surprise everyone this year?
ED: Kirsty Fraser is a great up coming young talent from my club Preston Harriers. She had a cracking year last year. I’m looking forward to watching her progress and hopefully clinching some team results together in the future. Also Samantha Harrison has stormed into the scene this year and definitely one to watch.
FR: What do you think about the decision not to preselect anyone for the Olympic team?
ED: I think it will make for an amazing race! I guess with the depth being as it is and so many getting the qualifying time and runners improving at a huge rate with a possibility they may elevate themselves further, I think it seems fair.
There are so many variables between marathons and without a true head to head it’s a difficult call to make. I guess the downside is that if some women were pre-selected they could have focused on Tokyo. Injury / burnout risk does go up if you have to do the 2 marathons in a shortish space of time.
FR: You’re due to run London in April. Are you willing to share your goal for it?
ED: Yes, I’m excited to go into London marathon in April having the confidence and experience from Valencia. Valencia for me was a case of finally finishing a marathon after many years of disappointment.
I didn’t want to take any risks because I’d had so much bad luck with the marathon in the previous years with injuries, it was so important I didn’t mess it up and got a result on paper.
I’m pretty realistic and as much as I would like to race for a spot on the plane to Tokyo I just don’t think I’m there (yet!). I’m hoping to knock a few minutes off my PB. Also, my dad and I are also applying to “officially” break the Guinness world record for fastest parent child marathon (mixed). We broke it in 2015 but never had it ratified. My dad is 61, he ran 2.59 last year.
FR: What shoes do you train in and race in?
ED: Until October I used On but my orthotics after my stress fracture didn’t fit in the shoes as well. I now do my training in Nike pegasus for everyday running and streak for sessions. When I’m off road I still like On cloud venture peak for racing and Salomon for everything else.
I wear the Nike next% for racing… slightly begrudgingly. I’m not a huge fan of the technology but have “embraced it”. Whilst they are legal it would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face not to give yourself the best chance in a race and for selection. I just feel it has tainted the authenticity of the sport and PBs a little but I guess a new normal will be set.
FR: Are there any supporters that have helped you over the last year that you’d like to mention?
ED: My coach Helen Clitheroe has been amazing . She’s so level headed and supportive and has helped me get to a level I would have never dreamt possible. My wife for her patience with my passion/obsession with running… and waiting for me with Lucozade in hand after disappearing up into fells for a few hours.
I’m also excited to start this year with the support of the new Leeds Talent hub, which will give me access to physio, nutrition advice, psychology, s&c etc.