It is only three years since Scottish runner Stephanie Davis ran her debut marathon – yet last week she won a place in Team GB for the forthcoming Olympic Games. The 30-year-old, who works part-time in financial administration, finished almost three minutes ahead of the runner up at the one-off trial in London in a personal best time of two hours, 27 minutes and 16 seconds.
She told me: “I am absolutely over the moon and so excited to have qualified for the Olympics. Even days afterwards, it still feels very surreal.”
Steph, who grew up in Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire, added: “Now I will take some time to rest and recover – and then the focus will be on the Olympics. I just hope I can make it there in one piece and without injuries.
“I really didn’t expect this to happen.”
A meteoric rise in marathon running
A glance at Steph’s brief history of marathon races reveals a very strong start. Her first marathon was Berlin, which she finished in 2:41.16.
She followed this with a 2:32:38 London Marathon 2019 and then ran 2:27:40 in Valencia in December 2019.
She holds the ninth fastest marathon time ever for a British female.
Sport was for fun as a child
Until 2017, Steph was more focused on shorter events. She was sporty at school – she attended Mosshead Primary School in Bearsden and then the Glasgow Academy – and enjoyed hockey and athletics. She says: “I played hockey for Glasgow Academy and I did fairly well in cross-country running but usually I was in the top three to five, rather than the winner.
“I also attended running sessions at Victoria Park athletics club in Glasgow, along with my younger sister. It was the social side and the fun of running with friends and family that appealed to me.
“I carried on running when I went to Edinburgh university and joined the Hare and Hounds club. It was great fun and I liked the off-road running. I did get fitter but I like the social side mainly; running and drinking!”
When she moved to London for work, Steph decided to take part in a 3.5 mile race, the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge. She says: “I did fairly well in my first attempt. I think I was something like seventh out of thousands of runners.”
She started attending a local running club, The Clapham Chasers, “but just in the summer season and when the weather was nice,” she adds.
2017: A turning point
In 2017, Steph, who has an older brother and a younger sister, met her boyfriend James Kessell at the Clapham Chasers. She says: “James was training for a marathon and he decided to enter the Berlin Marathon.
“I thought I would join him and some other runners. We did dome random races before Berlin. By coincidence, I met my coach, Phil Kissi, while training. Then I ran Berlin – my debut marathon – in 2:41. I took the training more seriously after that.”
Steph enjoyed working with Phil and after a period of testing her response to training quantity and quality, they settled into a programme of running and cross training.
Steph says: “I find that I have a limit to the amount of miles I can run each week. It is usually about 60 miles [note: many elite athletes cover twice this distance]. Any more and I am subject to injury. I never do two run sessions in one day either.
“My running is all high quality and the high intensity type. I cycle, swim and use the elliptical trainers for less intense, recovery style sessions. I find this works best for me because every run session is then completed on fresher legs.”
The system obviously works well for Steph, whose parents Lynn and Mike still live in Bearsden. Since Berlin, she has bettered her time in each major marathon race, including London, Valencia and then the Olympics trial in Kew Gardens recently.
Covid and training – then the race
Like many athletes, Covid has had pros and cons for Steph. She has not been able to access a pool for swimming but she has had time for quality training and recovery. She says: “There hasn’t been much else to do but train and work and so I have benefitted from being consistent with my running and also the recovery.
“I went into the Olympics trial feeling good, although anything can happen in a marathon. There is always the worry that you start well and then you suddenly fade later on.”
At Kew Gardens, Steph took the lead at around 90 minutes into the race. She says: “It just happened. I went ahead but I didn’t know at any point after that how far ahead I was. I felt the pace was comfortable for me and so I just kept going; trusting in my training. But, of course, you always fear that someone else will be stronger and come past you.
“But this didn’t happen and it turned out to be my day. I am very happy.”
Steph Davis: The Olympics – and future hopes
Steph’s aims are simple for the Olympics: “I just want to get to the Games in Tokyo in one piece. I didn’t expect to find myself in this place and I am going to enjoy it. But I don’t want to get injured in the run up so training will be carefully planned.
“My coach and I work well together and we will be discussing the plan. Japan will be warm so I will probably fit in some warm weather training somewhere but that depends on my work.
“I work part-time and Lazard, the company I work for, has been great at giving me flexibility but I still need to work and fit in the training.
“Who knows what will happen at the Olympics – I am just very excited to be part of Team GB.”
Looking ahead a little, Steph hopes she will be able to wear her first Scottish vest. She says: “I would love to compete at the Commonwealth Games in 2022. It would be great to wear a Scotland vest.”