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2015 was a good year for Ellie Greenwood by most people’s standards. She won the 44K Glacier Grind in British Columbia and the 75K Les Templiers in France, plus placed second at the highly competitive North Face 50 in San Francisco.
But for Greenwood, 37, of North Vancouver (by way of Scotland), that didn’t necessarily make it a great year. After all, this is someone who, in 2014, won South Africa’s 89K Comrades Marathon and the IAU World 100K Championship, both internationally competitive road events, and, in 2012, obliterated the Western States 100 course record by nearly an hour.
One damper was an injury last spring and the training missed as a result. That stymied Greenwood’s defense of her Comrades title (she placed sixth) and kept her from getting her goal time at the BMO Vancouver Marathon (though she still placed third).
“Whilst 2015 was not my best year, I still raced quite well,” says the characteristically upbeat Greenwood.
Meanwhile, the start of 2016 has given her reason to flash her trademark smile. On Saturday, in a competitive field at the Chuckanut 50K in Bellingham, Washington, Greenwood took the win in 4:11:58. She finished ahead of fellow Vancouverite Anne-Marie Madden (4:22:52) and Seattle’s Sarah Bard (4:25:27).
In other words, Greenwood looks to be back in her old form. If that’s the case, she will be tough to beat this year.
On Staying Healthy
Greenwood is a dominant runner when she can train consistently, but therein lies the challenge. She missed much of 2013 with a stress fracture, and a series of injuries nagged her through much of 2015.
“I suffered some minor injuries in the spring, then in March a car caused me to have a cycling accident, which resulted in hand surgery and more missed weeks of training,” she says. “I still ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon and Comrades in May, but my results were not up to par.”
Following her hand surgery, Greenwood says she was unable to train at all for over three weeks. “This was frustrating as I lost fitness, but the situation was out of my control,” she says.
Following an abbreviated training cycle and her Comrades race, Greenwood was stricken with lower leg pain in July and August. “[This] did force me to drastically cut back on my running, but I kept fit with pool running, some road cycling and steep uphill hiking,” she says, noting that she would hike a local ski hill—2.5 kilometers long with about 2,500 feet of vertical gain—and ride the gondola down. “Through these various methods of cross-training, I maintained reasonable fitness, so when I was able to run again it was easier to get back to full speed and fitness.”
Coming into the classic spring race, Greenwood says she was in good fitness and knew she had a chance to win, but that she “totally respected the competition,” including Bard and her friend and sometime training partner Madden. “I knew I would have to race well to win against those and other ladies, such as fellow Canadian Catrin Jones, but I also know that course very well and know how to race it strategically.”
Indeed, Greenwood had plenty of course knowledge to put to use. She had five previous Chuckanut finishes, four of them wins.
Dry conditions—not always a given in the Pacific Northwest in March—allowed for relaxed early miles, before a more technical section where Greenwood took the lead.
“From there on in I just worked consistently and steadily to maintain the lead and have fun,” she says. “In many ways it was a rather uneventful race, but that can be nice sometimes.
“I love Chuckanut. Krissy [Moehl, the race director] puts on a classic event,” she adds. “It’s close to home, lots of friends race, it’s very well organized and it’s a good season opener to see exactly where my fitness is at.”
Greenwood, undoubtedly pleased with this early test of fitness, has big plans for 2016. She will start by heading back to Comrades for the fifth time, then race the Ultravasan 90K in Sweden in August before returning to Les Templiers in October and The North Face 50 in December.
We—and likely many others—look forward to following along.