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Catching Up With Ellie Greenwood

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Herbert Krabel

By: Herbert Krabel

Herbert Krabel grew up in Southern Germany but now resides on the East Coast of the USA with his wife Amy and his 11-year-old twin sons. He raced mountain bikes professionally in the early 90s and then explored triathlon for a few years. More recently he found a passion for trail running, unique ultra-distance races and locations, and SwimRun. He also loves art, architecture, and European chocolates.

Ellie Greenwood’s name is followed by a long list of accolades; longtime course record holder at the Western States Endurance Run, 100-kilometer road World Champion, and the first British woman to win the famous Comrades Marathon. While some things have changed since she started ultrarunning in 2008 many things remain the same. Ellie still resides in North Vancouver, Canada and works full time as a running coach for Sharman Ultra, and works one day a week at a local independent running store. She continues to volunteer a few times a year at local races and as time allows likes to help iRunFar with their race day coverage during some key events maning the remote desk. While running is much less the focus she does CrossFit, general strength work, some modest hiking and jogging and according to her own assessment, some very mediocre swimming. Performance has taken a backseat and keeping moving and enjoying herself steers the ship.

“By jogging I mean easy effort running over short distances. No focused training sessions, no hard efforts, no structure as to how many days a week (if any) I will run or for how long. Just going out with my running shoes on from time to time for modest efforts. No goal events to train for,” said Greenwood when reminded that recently profiled Helen Mino Faukner prefers to consider herself a jogger.

Earlier this year Courney Dauwalter ran a 15:29:33, blowing away Greenwood’s Western States course record time of 16:47:19 from 2012. In her record setting year, Greenwood’s win and 14th place in the overall was just as record shattering – lowering the women’s mark for the first time under 17-hours. The previous course record had been held by Ann Trason for 18 years at 17:37:51. But during this years race Greenwood was not sitting at home stalking the internet. Instead she took part in the Kusam Klimb in Sayward on Vancouver Island – a 23-kilometer trail race that boasts 1800 meters of climbing in the first 7k –  a fun weekend away with friends. 

“I checked into the iRunFar Twitter feed once I was back at our hotel after Kusam Klimb, so some point mid-afternoon. There was no cell service at the race location, which is perfect – why be online when you can be hanging out with friends?  As soon as I was back in cell service I also had some friends messaging me about Courtney being well up on course record pace. I then checked the final results once I have back at our hotel after dinner.”

PC Scott Robarts - Ellie Greenwood races at the Survival of The Fittest race in Vancouver BC
PC Scott Robarts

When the new course record time was official Greenwood congratulated Courtney Dauwalter  on Twitter and stated that records are made to be broken.

“No record will stand forever although admittedly it’s hard to see Courtney’s record being challenged any time soon. My record was stout but not unbeatable. Women had inched ever closer to my record in recent years and multiple women were within shot of it within the past few years, which made it all the more likely to be broken. Plus ultrarunning seems to have evolved somewhat since when I set the record – more semi-pro or pro runners, a bit more money involved in the sport, more professionalism when it comes to training and racing strategies – all small things that make faster times a bit more likely. Of course, Courtney blew it out the water, but I knew my record didn’t stand a chance with Courtney having a good day – and she had an exceptional day,” remarked Greenwood.

Ellie Greenwood took the start line of Western States in both 2011 and 2012, winning both editions, but in May of 2013 she was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her fibula keeping her from returning a third year in a row. She hoped to return another year to Olympic Valley to equal the three wins of Nikki Kimball but it just did not work out. 

“I started having ankle pain in early April 2013 but it wasn’t until mid May that I was diagnosed with a stress fracture to my fibula. I took the usual 6 to 8 weeks off all running and then worked my way back in with a run and walk program after that… [because] I missed 2013 with a stress fracture and that ruled out getting a qualifier to the 2014 lottery also. In 2014 I decided to focus on Comrades and so it was not possible to try run a Montrail Ultra Cup qualifier before Comrades in June 2014 so that for sure ruled out 2014. By 2015 it then just didn’t pan out and I have not raced much since 2016.”  

In 2015 Greenwood announced that she wanted to run Western States, but her training was not enough to get her ready for a 100 miler. So while she’s run and won the two 100-mile races she’s entered since her Western States success her body hasn’t matched her appetitie to get back on the 100-mile stage. Although the Western States Endurance Run record is no longer hers that day in 2012 was just magic according to Greenwood. She’ll tell you that those one hundred miles just went so smoothly, there were no hiccups. She hopes that every runner can have just one race that is as perfect to them as the 2012 WSER was to her.

“For me health and ability to run can, though not always, be quite separate. My health is great!  What is not great is my body’s ability to handle much run volume. In May of 2016 I felt some groin pain when running and since then that has faded but overtime some heavy tight leg feelings surfaced. In addition, I have had hamstring pain and discomfort in the same leg for the past four years or so. Whilst the current thought is that my hamstring pain is proximal hamstring tendinopathy, this might not explain my more general heavy leg feeling. Many specialist doctors and PTs can’t really pin down what is going on. It is what it is – we live in a world where people expect clear answers and guaranteed solutions, but that’s not always possible with the complexities of the human body. As my wonderful Sports Medicine doctor, Jim Bovard, said to me many years ago, ‘welcome to the murky word of medicine where things are an art as much as a science’. I will continue to try be as mechanically functional a runner as possible by searching for answers and following the guidance of doctors and PTs, but I don’t expect to get a miracle answer and resolution.”

Looking back at her racing career Greenwood ranks her 2014 Comrades Marathon, the 2012 WSER, and the 2010 IAU World 100km as the most meaningful. She first ran Comrades in 2011 where she ultimately finished 4th but fell in love with the event. She returned in 2012 and finished an improved 2nd place but then missed the 2013 event due to injury. Winning Comrades in 2014 was a dream come true and a hard-fought battle in her view. 

Growing up in Great Britain, Greenwood never thought that she would represent her country wearing the same GB kit that Paul Radcliffe wore to the Olympics. The 2010 IAU World 100-kilometer Championships win was the start of several strong years of ultra-racing and whilst the execution of the race and her finish time was not outstanding, to win on a world stage representing GB was quite something.

Greenwood has no bucket lists events running or cycling wise and rides an e-bike for commuting as she does not have and never has, owned a car. She thinks that riding a bike is the best way to get around and that is great for us all, our communities and the environment.

“My heroines were and still are Nikki Kimball, Kami Semick, Krissy Moehl and Lizzy Hawker – I was honored to come into the ultra scene a few years behind all of them and have four amazing and strong women to look up to. Nowadays I like to follow the likes of Ruth Croft, Ida Nilsson and Katie Schide – women who seem to train hard away from much of the limelight and let their race results speak for themselves. Finally, I really admire runners like Dakota Jones and Jasmin Paris who are using their running as a vehicle for environmentalism and working to make the running space more environmentally sustainable – I hope that’s something that get more and more attention,” concluded Greenwood.

Ellie Greenwood at home in Canada

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