WORDS BY JULIA DAVIS – PHOTOGRAPHY BY DANIEL EVANS
Some childhood memories really stand out: holidays, family pets or funny things your siblings did, perhaps. For me, it is the feeling of sheer excitement and pride I experienced when I got to show off my dad’s London Marathon medal on a Monday morning at school.
It’s Monday 19 April 1993 and I am six years old, on my way to St Mary’s School in Truro with the treasure burning a hole in my pocket. I’m bursting with pride because my dad, the superhero, has run 26.2 miles in London. He’s told me his time, but I have zero context for this – it just sounds like a long way and the crinkly blanket and paraphernalia from the finish line he’s brought back are exciting enough. To me, the medal is everything and allows me to have full bragging rights for the day.
I never for a moment imagined I too would become a “runner”. My dad, Martin Davis, has run since childhood, and two of my sisters started their running journeys with school cross-country, but running felt like something entirely removed from who I was. Their competitiveness made me feel more separate from running rather than part of a “running family”. I have never enjoyed the pressure, competition or atmosphere of cross-country or road races – whenever I’d attend as a spectator, it felt like something I certainly wouldn’t enjoy myself. Regardless, the time and energy my dad invested in his training and racing certainly impacted how my sisters and I applied ourselves to life. We are all hard-working and determined women, fiercely independent and dedicated to whatever fires us up. I’m certain a big part of this comes from the example my dad set. He ran day in, day out, in all weather. At weekends he would get up early to get his long run in before taking us swimming. That’s true dedication to both sport and parenthood.
My dad has always been very competitive. After he had raced, he would give me a full breakdown of the route, conditions and competitive elements of the event. I was interested, but I had no real frame of reference for what he was talking about. I always admired his determination to run, though – as a teenager, it blew my mind that he’d want to run every day on a family holiday. Why wouldn’t he choose to sleep in and laze around on the beach? Fast forward to me at 27 years old and I have become my dad. I too enjoy getting up at the crack of dawn for a run in the warm sun on holiday, exploring a new place in the peace and quiet before the world is awake. I finally get it.
I don’t know if Dad’s goal was ever that all four of his daughters would be runners. We have stolen his PBs and I know that it’s been hard for him to adapt as we’ve got gradually faster, whereas age has started to catch up with him and he has got a little slower. He certainly set a standard, though: how many families have a three-hour marathon as a normal benchmark? When I first ran the London Marathon in 3h03m, I thought that was the norm: my dad, my sister Elsey and I rolled in within 10 minutes of one another. To have a bar set this high forces you to be ambitious, whether that’s intentional or not. Surely this prompts the nature vs nurture debate: is our family blessed with “running genes” or are we simply a running family because it’s been ingrained in us by our dad?
Whether or not we are genetically predisposed to be fast runners, I believe that Dad’s attitude and demonstration of dedication was the precursor to us all exploring how good we can be. This isn’t just applicable to running, but it does show how running can inform the way we approach the rest of our lives. Running is never linear: it throws us so many challenges and seeing my dad navigate these issues has taught me to handle adversity with grace and a can-do attitude. The running world is full of advice from elite athletes and influencers posting tips on social media, but this has nothing on seeing the person you should admire most setting a brilliant example each day by simply applying themselves humbly to their goal.
As many people get older, they step away from sports or strenuous hobbies. Not my dad. He decided that, at the age of 60, he needed to chase down one more sub-three-hour marathon. His pursuit of this was the most inspiring running journey I have witnessed. He worked so hard to find new ways to train, to avoid injury and to look after his body to achieve his goal. His running had been blighted by injury but he trained smart, adapted his nutrition and added cross-training into the mix.
His pursuit of the sub-three was very much a shared goal. He raced Manchester Marathon in April 2019, the day after I had won the South Downs Way 50, and I honestly felt more pride watching him than I did in my own result. I was glued to the livestream of the finish line. I had tracked his dot through the streets of Manchester, but he was slowing. My heart was in my mouth and I was screaming as I saw him cross the line. But the trackers weren’t updating properly. Had he done it?
Elation hit as I saw that he had made it by seconds. The pride I felt for my dad at that very moment is indescribable. He truly was that super hero I still idolised – and always will.
I don’t think Dad realises just how quietly inspiring he is to so many people. On the Cornish running scene, my sisters have won all the races and make the teams, but my dad is the legend. He now coaches youngsters in Newquay with a dedication and passion that is unmatched. He is so proud of each and every one of them for showing up and trying their best. To see them experiencing my dad as a role model is so inspiring. I hope his work ethic, attitude and example sets them up for success, too. His coaching has now extended to family friends, helping them to explore their potentials or even start their running journeys. He is the example that running needs. No pressure or judgement; simply a sensible, balanced approach to training. No fads, no bragging – just hard work slowly building up.
My dad will continue to run until the day his body gives up and I understand why. It’s who he is. It’s what makes him happy and it’s what makes us happy. We may share some favourable running genes but the most important thing is that we share a passion. As we continue to collect results, more Great Britain vests and conquer those big goals, there will be one common factor. The quiet inspiration from my dad holding our roots together and being our running soul.
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