At the 2012 Western States 100, Ellie Greenwood ran what might very well be the most impressive women’s trail ultramarathon performance in history. Her 16:47:19 took 50 minutes off Ann Trason’s course record, which itself was previously considered among the hallmark performances of the sport. Find out what Ellie has to say about her legendary performance in the following interview.
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Ellie Greenwood, 2012 Western States 100 Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Ellie Greenwood, the Western States 100 Champion and new course record holder. How are you doing, Ellie?
Ellie Greenwood: I’m doing pretty good. I’m feeling pretty happy.
iRF: Now that it’s after the race, I sort of avoided it during the pre-race interview – Ann Trason’s record. It was on your mind.
Greenwood: It was. My first priority was winning the race, and let’s not go crazy over course records. It was funny because you may have mentioned, “Of course you know Ann Trason’s splits.” I had no idea what they were. To be honest, I just ran my own race and, yeah, if I had a solid race… I knew last year I was 18 minutes off the course record. Ok, it was a snow route so that was faster, but equally I didn’t have a great last race last year. So I knew it was possible, but I did not think I’d get the time that I did.
iRF: Yeah. It’s game changing. Ann Trason’s record was almost talked about as being untouchable, and this is 50 minutes faster. How do you wrap your head around that?
Greenwood: I haven’t yet, to be honest, I think because I wasn’t even thinking a crazy amount about the course record when I was running. Like I’ve said before, I knew my split at Rucky Chucky from last year. I knew I was about 40 minutes ahead this year, so I knew I was in contention for sure, but couldn’t slow down too much. It wasn’t until I got to Robie Point that I looked at my watch and it was 16:34 at that point. I was like, “Whaaaat?” I said to my crew, “I’m going to get under 17 hours!” And they said, “Yeah, I think you could crawl on your hands and feet and you’ll get sub-17.” So, in that sense, it wasn’t like throughout the race I was thinking, “Ok, am I going to get sub-17 or will it be just over or whatever.” I waited until quite near the end.
iRF: Yes. Well, for the first half you weren’t in the lead.
Greenwood: No. I’ve raced Lizzy [Hawker] enough before to know that she’s got a different race strategy. Her strategy, from what I’ve seen, is to go out hard and often she maintains that lead. But, obviously, if she slows, then other people are catching up. I’m a big believer in “you run your race.” I felt like I was running hard enough. It wasn’t like I was holding back too much, and I kept getting feedback on how much I was gaining on Lizzy. I was also with Rory [Bosio] for a bit up in the high country and she was certainly looking strong for a while. Once I was in the lead, I’d passed Lizzy and knew she would likely carry on fading a bit, you’re still thinking that there could be other women. It was a great field; they could be gaining. Of course, once you’re in the lead, it’s actually much harder to get feedback or it’s delayed feedback. Once you get it, it was one aid station or 10 to 15 miles out of date off the lead. So yeah, I just ran as hard as I could.
iRF: You push yourself really well. Also, when you’re out in the lead, there are guys around you. Do you use them to sort of help yourself mentally or do you try to pass them?
Greenwood: I use guys a little bit for sure. Yes, when I’m hearing that I’m 15th overall and then I ended up 14th overall, I’m keen to be as high up in the overall as possible. But at the end of the day, that’s not what people remember, what you are in the overall field, unless it’s exceptional. They remember your gender positioning.
Yeah, there was a guy I was running with quite a bit and we both had pacers, so that was nice, four of us running for a bit. Anyone knows from trail running, if you’ve got a little group with you it feels a little less lonely out on the trail. You feel, yes you’ve got a pacer, but they haven’t run as far as you, so you feel this fellowship with this guy who’s got the same amount of miles on his legs. So yeah, I definitely worked with the guys a little bit. Before I had my pacer, I’d done a big chunk of running on my own which was good, too.
iRF: Every time I saw you, you were “silly Ellie” and “strong Ellie.” Were there bad patches along the way?
Greenwood: I had a bit of a sort of waver when I picked up my first pacer at Foresthill. I had one pacer from Foresthill to Green Gate and one from Green Gate to the Finish. So just after Foresthill, I’m in the lead and I’m doing decent, and I was vaguely aware that I might be on course record pace, but that discussion hadn’t been had. But I had this bobble where I realized I sort of had a good thirty-something miles to go, and can I hold on? Have I possibly gone too fast too soon? So that was a bit of a mental shift, but that was when it was good to have two pacers as well because it split that final thirty- something miles into two chunks. Once I got to Green Gate, I knew I could hold a decent pace, and I’ve got enough of a lead now that I’m going to hold first place unless something goes disastrously wrong.
iRF: What was the highlight of the day? Was there anything that stood out along the way?
Greenwood: I enjoyed the whole thing. It was really fun to go up into the high country. I said it before, last year with the snow, “Oh, I’m looking forward to doing the original course.” I had no idea how cool it was and how… it felt more, it’s not seriously mountain running, but… and in a sense the fog and the rain just added to the atmosphere. So that’s what I really enjoyed because that’s the most scenic bit. All the canyons are nice, but it’s not real “mountain” mountain running. It was nice to see the section up in the high country.
iRF: What’s next for you?
Greenwood: Next? Well, a small race, well, it’s not a small race, but I’m doing the [Arc’teryx] Squamish 50 up in Squamish, BC. Gary Robbins is the course director. It’s sort of a rehash/reboot of the first 50 miler I ever did. So it will be fun to be back up there at the local race. I have my entry for UTMB, but I haven’t booked my flight tickets yet. Now in the next week or two I need to decide if I want to be out for about 50% longer than I was yesterday, and THAT I’ve not decided. It looks stunning, but I know that it’s super tough and a totally different sort of race. So I need to decide on that one. If not, then it’s the Ultra Race of Champions.
iRF: Speaking of future races, you’ve won here twice, you’ve set the course record, do you still think you’ll come back next year?
Greenwood: Likely. I’m not 100%. I, unfortunately, have set a course record that I might find hard to beat, given the weather was ideal and the competition was good and pushed me. It’s the 40th year next year; that might be fun to come back for. I’ll just wait and see. With these 100 milers, apart from people like Karl Meltzer, you can only do so many in a year. Should I mix it up a little bit? I’m keeping open-minded, but certainly I love the event.
iRF: Congratulations on this year’s performance and good luck.
Greenwood: Thank you so much!