Eleanor Davis had hoped her performance at the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon would have given her a chance to make the Team GB squad for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Instead, Davis, a doctor, has spent the past few months helping to save lives at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.
Not surprisingly, the experience of working on the front line during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a major effect on the 31-year-old. “It has put a new perspective on things,” she says. “It has made chasing times and results feel a little less significant. It will probably be good going forward, not to feel the same pressure as before.”
In her ongoing training to become a GP, Davis was spending six months on a Stepping Hill ward for people with hip fractures. The virus spread through that ward and she was asked to work across dedicated coronavirus wards as well. She increased her hours from the 60 per cent she’d previously worked, seeing as she no longer needed the extra time away from work to fit in race training.
“It was a bit of a nightmare,” she says about the period of peak infection – though things have changed since the lockdown restrictions were loosened.
“It’s probably the quietest environment I’ve ever worked in,” she says. “It’s a mixture of there being less Covid cases, the non-elective stuff still not happening and people not coming into A&E for other reasons.”
‘I was anxious, waiting to get Covid-19’
Davis knows she is fortunate not to have contracted the virus, a fact that is all the more remarkable given that her wife is an A&E consultant at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
“Each morning we wake up well is a relief. In the beginning, we were paranoid of any cough we had. You’re feeling anxious, waiting for it to happen,” she says. “But over the years, I’ve always been conscious of my immune health, because if you get ill, it’s a week off training and it might interfere with a race. I have built up a good system around me – diet, sleep, nutrition – to prevent infection. I’m good at looking after myself from that perspective.”
There would have been 12 British women on the elite start line at London in April. To make up in a small way for the race being rescheduled, they all took part in a virtual relay that month as part of the 2.6 Challenge, running 2.6 miles each and raising over £3,000 for the mental-health charity Mind.
Since then, with no imminent races to aim for, Davis has been running with a different outlook, leaving the roads behind to take to the trails of the Peak District.
Exploring rather than racing
“When you’re offroad, you can’t really measure whether you’re hitting target times. I used to get annoyed when I didn’t hit those times, so to have that pressure removed has been helpful when I’ve had stresses from other angles,” she says. “There’s a huge network of trails at our door, so I’ve just been having fun exploring.”
She’s glad that real-life contact with her coach, Helen Clitheroe, is allowed again. They began meeting at a two-metre distance in May, but even now, the training sessions are designed “just to keep the legs ticking over” and Davis runs mostly between home and work, taking longer detours depending on the time available.
In terms of planning, it seems risky to pin hopes on London taking place on its provisionally rescheduled date on 4 October, so Davis has been considering a pivot towards the World Mountain Running Championships in Lanzarote, Canary Islands, in November. But, as with so much in the world of sport at the moment, “nothing’s guaranteed” – especially after the new quarantine restrictions placed on people travelling to the islands as they are part of Spain.
On the upside, it sounds like she’s enjoying her running more than ever and is in great form. “I’m going to enjoy the experience of racing, rather than get worked up about it. It’s my release, and it’s what I do, but perhaps I won’t let it identify me as much as it did.”
Eleanor Davis was interviewed for the September issue of Runner’s World UK, on sale now