When it comes to the world of Ultramarathons EVERYONE knows the name Ellie Greenwood, and for good reason. This British Ultramarathoner has numerous wins and course records under her belt that attest to how formidable she is as an athlete. She is a two-time 100km World champion, first British woman to win the 90km Comrades, holds records at the Western States 100, Canadian Death Race, JFK 50 Mile Run and the knee knackering north shore trail run.
We asked Ellie about how she got started running, unlike many athletes, she talked about how she always just enjoyed running. “I did run a little when I was in school, but not competitively or with a lot of structure” she said “You know some things you just enjoy. When I was in university in the UK I decided to do a half marathon. I thought it would be fun, I had no concept of miles and pace. I did it and I loved it”.
That first half marathon ignited a passion and lead to more half and full marathons. Ultras were not even on her radar at that point and as soon as it was, she was intrigued. She assumed that since her marathoning experience had been good and she enjoyed outdoorsy activities like hiking, the idea of running further and on trails really appealed to Ellie greatly, however she did take her time getting into the sport “I did do a very low key one which is great” is what she said about her first Ultra “I spent quite a few years, I would say 6 years, between my first 50 k and my first 100 – miler”.
A big part of Ellie’s attitude towards participating in new things comes from her style of education. Her UK school was not super competitive like US schools, but encouraged more of a participation culture “It was a ‘put-up-your-hand-and-take-part’ atmosphere and I liked being active”. Not having big consequences based on winning or losing was very reassuring for Ellie. She also recognizes that Ultras are unique in being able to afford people the opportunity to perform well without having had a background in it. “It is sport specific. Had I wanted to be the best 10k runner in the world, I would have needed a lot more structure.”
Today Ellie looks at herself as more of a coach than a competitive runner “These day I am not really competing too much, I might get back there and do a bit of that.” But even when she was competing, Ellie always mixed up her training, adding a variety of types of races, terrain to run on, rest days and participating in key races that flow well together . “2014 is a good example. I raced the comrades 56 miles road race in June, I did World 100K in November, but in the middle of the year, I did the Speed Goat, a very technical one.” Mixed in some fun activities like snowshoeing, Ellie makes the best of her time training. As a coach, she encourages the same ” If you do the same thing over and over, you are most likely to plateau.”
When asked about her win at the Comrades, “That was something I really wanted to do” she said “It was the 3rd time that I ran it that I won it. Some other races I had better luck that I have showed up and won it” To get the result she wanted, she really needed to focus on it and it became much more than just a race she wanted to win “It was Hard! I tell you that. It wasn’t an easy day that I won”. But that made the win even more special.
When asked about a good strategy to pick races she said, “In the days right now, lets be honest, a lot of people chase UTMB points and Western States qualifiers, its a wonderful thing to do and I am not anti those and there is nothing wrong with that but it narrows people down to lists. Have fun along the way. It will help with the motivation for training”.
When it comes to women in the sport, she had this to say “I think there have been changes in last 10 years or so. Obviously changes are still taking place and I think there is place for more change to happen” She attributes the increase in competitiveness in the sport of ultra running is because of the increase in participation. “I still think there isn a long way to go. WS now has the pregnancy deferral policy, but forgive me if I am wrong, UTMB doesn’t. There are still bridges like that that need to be crossed.” She talks about the importance of media, what they cover and more importantly how they cover female athletes so that women feel more included and can identify. She also talks about the importance of encouraging and fostering girls and women to participate.
Ellie doesn’t know what the future holds for her, but she knows that she will always be involved in running in some way, however she will continue to do what feels right and what is fun.
Listen to the whole podcast to hear everything that Ellie had to say.