Tuesday 25 November 2014

Interview With Ellie Greenwood Post World Championship 100k

Crossing the line in 7:30:30 at the WC100k in Qatar. Photo: irunfar/Bryon Powell

After being named Ultra Running Magazine Ultra Runner of the Year (UROY) in 2011 and 2012 (plus probably winning it this year too), Ellie Greenwood has already had her share of success. However, this year is arguably her best yet due to wins at Comrades in South Africa and the recent 100k World Championship in Qatar. In addition she also won the 2014 Chuckanut 50k and the Squamish 50k.

I've been lucky enough to help Ellie through this year by coaching her, plus she now coaches others through my company too. There are a lot of interview with Ellie right now, but I wanted to ask a bit more about how she's approached races this year and what she's learned about coaching.

No doubt Ellie will continue to dominate global ultra running for years to come, so here's an insight into how she does it:

1. How did you deal with injuries in the last year, given you weren’t able to run much in 2013?

Ellie - Coming back to ultra running in 2014 I have been very careful to avoid getting injured again.  I now work closely with a Sports Med Dr., a physio and a massage therapist to work through any little niggles before they turn into injuries and prevent me from training.  I appreciate their expert advice and am careful to follow it.  In addition, I have focused on building back to high mileage very slowly and instead have done more quality rather than just pure quantity of training this year, so get a bigger bang for my buck in the miles that I do put in.  This year I have had some little niggles but with careful maintenance, foam rolling, stretching and being smart I have been able to work through them and still perform at my key races.

2. What cross-training did you incorporate while injured and what will you continue to do now you’re injury-free?

Ellie - I pool ran, cycled and rowed/ used elliptical in the gym.  I continue to cycle and use pool running when I feel my body needs a break from too much pounding of outdoors running.  I also was more dedicated to basic strength training when injured and continue to do this regularly even now I am 100% healthy as I know this is vital in injury prevention and making me a better runner.

3. How does your training differ for road races compared to trail races?

Ellie - In training for road ultras I tend to spend a similar number of hours each week training as if I was training for the trails but the mileage goes up and the amount of elevation goes down.  I focus on more consistent pace long runs, rather than just time on feet and hiking, when training for a road ultra.  I will always incorporate some tempo runs and speed work into my training, but these sessions become more important when training for a road ultra.  However even when training for a road ultra I'll spend some time of trails but just choose flatter and less technical trails, this gives my body a reprieve from the hard tarmac and also adds variety which is key for motivation.

4. How do you deal with unexpected factors on race day, such as the harder surface (tiles) and large number of 180 degree turns at the WC100k in Qatar?

Ellie - I just accept that all athletes are running the same course so no one has an advantage or disadvantage over another.  My UK team mate Jo Zakrzewski had run the course before so we checked out the course two days prior to the race, even this amount of time meant I was able to be forewarned of the courses challenges ahead of the race so there were no surprises on race day.  With the hard tiles I chose to wear a more cushioned shoe that I might have done otherwise, and with the sharp turns I didn't obsess if these kms were slower than others as I accepted that the turns would slow me down a little.

5. What have you learned from your experiences this year with wins at Comrades and the WC100k that you’ll apply to coaching others?

Ellie - I have learned that volume in training is not the be all and end all, and that fewer miles with quality can achieve just as good results.  I have also learned that really training specifically for a course (terrain, elevation etc) yields the best results and thus targeting one or two 'A' races each year is the way to really perform at one's best, if that is your goal.  I have also learned to take care of what seem like little extra factors e.g. trying to travel pre race a few days before, having a race day nutrition plan, heat training etc.  There is no point in just doing the run training and missing these extra factors which can really make a difference to race day performance.

Running on the tiles in the WC100k. Photo: irunfar/Bryon Powell

Friday 14 November 2014

Back From Injury Plus Skyrunning

The joy of a stress fracture

It's been a while since I wrote a blog post, mainly because I've been very busy setting up the 2015 US Skyrunner Series and also because I've not been running. Also, I spoke to Ultra Runner Podcast about the same topics a couple of weeks ago.

Firstly, the Skyrunning side of things - I've loved these epic mountain-style races for years and have been involved with the International Skyrunning Federation since 2012 on the Board. It's an honor to be involved and I'm very happy with the range of races brought together in the Series across nine different States in the US. In particular it's very enjoyable to work with Race Directors with a real passion for trails and mountains who live that lifestyle every day. Here are a few shots from the 2014 US Skyrunner Series races I went to in person.

Lone Peak at the Rut in Montana

Runners ascending Lone Peak

Kilian on top the VK podium at the Rut 

Anna Frost coming into an aid station at the Rut 50k

Fellow coach, Ellie Greenwood, with a switch from road dominance at Comrades to the mountains at the Rut

Try getting those prizes home on a plane!
Jeremy Wolf above 11,000ft at the Flagstaff Sky Race in Arizona

Michael Versteeg starting the final descent at Flagstaff
Secondly, I've been traveling around a lot but not running due to a stress fracture in my right foot. I first felt it back in July after running down Mt Whitney after pacing at the Badwater 135, where I hit the same spot multiple times near my second toe with some sharp rocks. I felt like a bruise and I ignored it, including through the Leadville 100 a month later. After that I'd planned to rest a month as an off-season anyway, so I wasn't as aware of the problem til I tried to run again in mid-September.

Overall, I've not been too worried about it since I really needed a rest after the three 100s this year (Rocky Raccoon, Western States and Leadville), at which I already felt fatigued due to the Grand Slam last year. So I took it easy, had a three-week visit from my parents where we went to a few National Parks (Yosemite, Sequoia, King's Canyon and the Grand Canyon) then realized I needed a break from even walking...and a break from taking a break! Below are a couple of photos from those beautiful places, although I do wish I could have run in them properly instead of light walking.

No running shots in the GC, but it's well 'just' taking in the views

"I wish I could run down there right now"
Thanks to the crutches at the top of this post, I then took around nine days of zero impact for my right foot and that was obviously frustrating. However it seems to have paid off in combination with Sarah Lavender-Smith's ultrasound machine (see photo below) since I've been able to get back to walking longer distances. 20 mins a day of this machine seems to have helped, although it's difficult to tell and the science behind it isn't conclusive for this type of situation. I'd be willing t try it again if I get a similar problem, since it's better to have proactive options like this rather than just pure rest. It's also helpful for giving me more insight as a coach - a stress fracture is almost a right of passage for a runner and I've never had one before. So although the use of ultrasound hasn't been conclusively proven to help with healing fractures, it seems to have a neutral effect at worst and it helps pyschologically to be doing something proactive.

Ultrasound for bone stimulation

Amy and I even power-walked the US Half Marathon together in 2h59m at the start of November, which gave me the confidence to restart running. The following week I took a risk in starting the Berkeley Half Marathon and just hoped I could run every step, so was pleasantly surprised to still have some speed and to run a 1h25m with only minor soreness afterwards (except my muscles which really weren't used to it). In the few days after that it feels fine again and I've been able to run pain-free, so I can hopefully progress beyond runs every other day very soon.

So that sums up the past three months. Really busy and that probably helped by stopping me worry about the injury. I'm very optimistic that this long break will pay off in my 2015 season and it's certainly got me excited about running again. Now I have just over three weeks to my next benchmark, the California International Marathon. Originally I'd planned to have a long, solid build-up and to go for a sub 2h30m, but now the main focus is to run every step pain-free as a confirmation that I can train hard again.