Catching Up With Ellie Greenwood

This week’s Catching Up With is sponsored by the Trail Running Film Festival. Watch live on June 6th!

“Honestly, I’m a pretty boring person,” Ellie Greenwood apologizes with a quick burst of self-deprecating laughter. “I don’t see the point,” she says about not using her dishwasher. “It’s just me, and I’m in this flimsy 1985 apartment.” Greenwood doesn’t own a car, microwave, or TV either. “I’m not a hardcore environmentalist, but I ride a bike if I can,” she says. “I’m a simple person; I don’t need a complicated life. I run, hike, go to the gym, pretty boring.”

For the past six years, Greenwood has coached runners through the Sharman Ultra Endurance Coaching team, now a group of seven. She personally coaches about 35 runners and calls it a diverse group ranging from 19 to 63 years old. She’s a coach on season eight of the Becoming Ultra podcast too, alongside Ian Sharman. I ask her to explain her coaching theory, generalizing it as either science-based or more loosely organized. “I’m personally in the middle. We’ve all got to be somewhat scientific, but it’s got to be holistic to fit into one’s lifestyle and background and work toward their personal goals,” she explains.

“It’s a people-person job, speaking to clients regularly,” Greenwood tells. She works from home and I point out the contradiction, working from home in a people-person job, but Greenwood definitely is a people person, and her Scottish accent is incredibly likable. She laughs often. Greenwood recounts recent successes, including a 63-year-old woman running 25-and-a-half hours at the Javelina Jundred in her first 100 miler, and a man who ran a 2:36 marathon–his first sub-three-hour marathon-while training toward the Comrades Marathon. “And then there are others who want to make it over the finish line,” she says while describing another coaching client who finished a prior year’s Western States 100 in just under 30 hours and was “absolutely delighted, stoked.”

Ellie Greenwood on her way to setting the course record at the 2012 Western States 100. Photo: iRunFar

Greenwood herself is a two-time winner at Western States and at the IAU 100k World Championships, and she won the Comrades Marathon once. She is a three-time Ultrarunning Magazine (North American) Ultrarunner of the Year. Injuries have limited her racing in recent years, and Greenwood tries to explain the often difficult-to-nail down aches and pains. “Four years ago, before the Comrades Marathon in 2016, I just got some weird groin pain, weird leg issues, and no one knows what it is,” Greenwood says, hands in the air gesticulating. “It’s just not comfortable. In 2018 I ran two ultramarathons, but it’s very variable. Sometimes I might be hardly running at all.”

She’s still incredibly tied to running, and not just through her coaching work. “I have very few friends who aren’t runners,” she admits. She’s active in the Vancouver Falcons Athletic Club, teaches a marathon clinic each year at a local running store, and runs in a fatass-type group too. She volunteers at races, writes for Ultrarunning magazine, and frequently helps iRunFar with race coverage too.

Eating pastries in Whistler, British Columbia earlier this year. All photos courtesy of Ellie Greenwood unless otherwise noted.

Asked if well-known in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she lives, Greenwood first pauses. “Somewhat. I know a lot of people,” and then laughs, “I’m not as famous as Gary Robbins.” She recounts a recent trip that had her and Robbins both in the Edmonton Airport and explains that it was Robbins who was the celebrity.

Greenwood was born in Scotland and came to Canada 19 years ago, first on a one-year work visa while working for a ski-tour operator. She enjoyed work assignments in Norway and Switzerland, among other places, through her twenties and thirties, but lost her job during a business downturn six years ago, before turning to coaching. “Two days after winning Comrades,” she recounted the whirlwind highs and lows of the time. Greenwood worked for the company for 13 years, and was at their Vancouver office at the end. She became a Canadian citizen in 2014 and pressed on if she best identifies as Scottish or Canadian, Greenwood pushes back with a smile. “Both. Why can’t I be both?” She’s 41 years old, but the energy in her voice and the sparkle of her nose stud makes you feel like she could be any age. Greenwood corrects me when I initially call it a nose ring and explains that she first got it when 19 years old and in France. “I passed out when I got it!” she said on our Skype call, and then immediately emailed a correction when we finished. It was her belly-button piercing that caused her to pass out.

Playing auntie with her niece and nephew on holiday break in 2019.

Greenwood works from home and has the flexibility to move, but has chosen to stay in Vancouver. “Friends, honestly,” is her simple answer and tie to the question and the area. She’s in North Vancouver, close to trails but still just fives miles from downtown and only a half block to a major shopping street. She admits that it rains a lot, but the weather lends to more year-round running than in Banff, where she used to live. She loves Vancouver’s ethnic restaurants too, and calls out vegetarian sushi as a favorite. It doesn’t make sense to me, but I’m too embarrassed to ask and later Google it. It’s vegetables in a roll, in place of fish. Greenwood’s been a vegetarian since she was 17.

She talks to her parents in the U.K. each week and during the COVID-19 limitations, they’ve had fun with a family trivia contest. Greenwood studied history at university, but her dad was a scientist and dominates the competition. “We usually get about one-and-a-half (of 10) questions right,” she says of herself and her mom. “His questions are quite hard.” Otherwise during the COVID-19 closure period, “It’s okay to be highly unproductive,” Greenwood vows, speaking on behalf of single people. She hasn’t tried to learn a new language, but did take on the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee 1,000k. “I can’t believe how I’ve gotten into it. There are 19,000 people doing it–marching across Tennessee!” She would’ve gotten out anyway, but admits that it’s given her some extra motivation to run, walk, and hike.

Volunteering at the Band of Runners trail running camp for military veterans and their families in 2019.

The Skype screen’s frozen and it’s locked on an awkward Greenwood smile. I tell her that I’ve grabbed the image for this article and she tells me to ask iRunFar’s Bryon Powell for similar pictures. “After races, he always came up to me and was like, ‘Oh my God, you should see the pictures I’ve got of you,'” she said, describing some bumbling face contortions. “If it makes people laugh, use it,” Greenwood’s free spirit insists. That’s definitely how Ellie is, humble and fun-loving. “Every runner is ‘your people,’ Ellie,” a friend once told her. “I’ll run with everyone,” she says.

Call for Comments

Calling all Ellie Greenwood stories! We know there are lots of good ones out there, so use that comments box to share your story of running, adventuring, racing, or spectating Ellie’s racing.

Backpacking with friends in 2019 on the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Backpacking with friends on the North Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, British Columbia in 2019.

A snowy-weather adventure in North Vancouver, British Columbia with friend Jeanelle Hazlett earlier this year.

With her crew during the 2012 Western States 100. Photo: iRunFar

Justin Mock

is a family man, finance man, and former competitive runner. He gave his 20s to running, and ran as fast as 2:29 for the marathon and finished as high as fourth at the Pikes Peak Marathon. His running is now most happy with his two dogs on the trails and peaks near his home west of Denver.

There are 16 comments

  1. John Trent

    Thanks for another really great “Catching Up With …” story, Justin. There really aren’t enough superlatives one can attach to Ellie — and that’s not even taking into consideration her race portfolio. Her performances speak for themselves. They are easily some of the greatest in ultra running history. And yet what always stands out even more is Ellie’s amazing personality. So down-to-earth, witty and real. She’s one of those rare people who it feels like, no matter what place she is at in her life, her best is still yet to come, because of her ability to connect so meaningfully and authentically with everyone she meets. She’s a true champion in that sense. Thanks again for the terrific story.

    1. Ellie G

      I still feel badly that I didn’t recognise you at AR50 in 2012 John – but to be fair, I had 59 mile frazzled brain and you had a backwards ball cap and no glasses :) Hope you are doing well in these weird times.

  2. Scott Baldwin

    Loved the article. As a runner once coached by Ellie (I had to stop after a major knee injury) I can say that her smile and sheer positivity abound and are infectious. Her support as a coach was invaluable and I’ll be ever grateful for her support in getting me to my first ultra finish and many more that followed.

    If I had to recall an Ellie story it would be a COVID tweet she posted this year of her doing workouts with her WSER trophies in her apartment. Still rocking it. Still smiling.

  3. Liza Howard

    I want to add an exclamation point after every sentence John Trent wrote about Ellie. She is also incredibly generous with her time and knowledge, and is a wonderful running mentor and coach.

    1. Ellie G

      Getting to know you way better since we both joined Sharman Ultra and then you recruiting me to help at Band of Runners has been awesome, Liza. Thanks for your friendship and support :)

  4. Amy

    Great article on my all-time favorite ultrarunner. I know that she’s had her share of frustrations recently but she continues to dream, push onward, and remain a positive light and influence within the running community (and although she calls what she can do now jogging, it’s still faster than the majority of us). She is such a hard worker and fierce competitor, and the inspiration for one of the mantras I would use in races: WWED (what would Ellie do). The year I won the world 100K (let’s be honest, it’s because Ellie wasn’t there) when I suddenly found myself in the lead very late, I repeated that mantra in my head over and over, as I was sort of freaking out, but knew that Ellie would not be freaking out, but would simply put her head down and get it done. So, thanks Ellie. I was fortunate enough to be at Comrades the year she won, and it was truly a joy to be able to celebrate with her afterwards. She’s one of the all-time greats, and I remain hopeful that we’ll see her on the start line of Comrades again.

    1. Ellie G

      Amy (Sproston), thanks for being a super friend even though we rarely see each other. When you told me that story about your World 100k win I was so stoked that I could have helped in the tiniest of parts – tho I think you would have won anyway! Getting to share my Comrades win with you was amazing – I remember our post dinner chats the night before the race (both worrying about various aches and pains) and I was so impressed that you persevered to finish when it wasn’t your best day – not everyone has the tenacity to do that. Let’s run Comrades again another year (tho can we wait a few years for me to build up? ;) )

  5. Sabrina Little

    I second the comments about Ellie being a humble champion. I always loved reading and learning from her blog in my early ultra days. And I love that she continues to be a positive person in the sport, even through frustrating injuries.

    1. Ellie G

      Goodness – I keep meaning to resurrect the blog – maybe this is the nudge I need. Congrats again on the arrival of Lucy – she seems to have chosen some pretty exceptional parents :)

  6. Dan Termine

    I’m a big fan of these, Justin. Another great article. Any chance you or anyone else know what happened to Mike Aish? Could be a decent interview, as he seems to have just disappeared after 2015. Always liked the dude, without ever having met him.

  7. Perrin

    A couple years ago at Chuckanut, around the 35k mark, Ellie came bombing down the hill and passed me like I was standing still. And she was growling. It was impressive.

  8. Alaia Alsharif

    thank you for this wonderful profile of Ellie. She is not just an incredible runner, and there is no doubt about that, but she is such a giving wonderful kind person. You will see her volunteering at many trail races here in Vancouver. Often riding her bike to get to the race to help. She is also so so thoughtful and caring about those of us who run and can only dream of running like she does. We are so lucky and I am so grateful that she lives in my trail running community. You are such a huge inspiration Ellie!!! badassery champion of North Vancouver!

    1. Ellie G

      We are lucky to have YOU Alaia in our Vancouver run community – I don’t think there can possibly be anyone who volunteers more than you do. Looking forward to seeing you at the next race … whenever that might be x

  9. Gary Gellin

    Really great article and pics! I’ve known Ellie for most of the years I’ve been running ultras. I remember well Western States 2012. What a day for Ellie and the world of ultrarunning. I was there as a pacer for new acquaintance and rookie 100-miler Zach Bitter (yes, that Zach). I ran with Zach from Foresthill (mile 62) to the finish. He was something like 5 minutes behind Ellie at Foresthill where I was waiting. Ellie ran up to her crew for a quick pit stop. I looked at her and said “Zach and I are coming to get you”. She looked me in the eye and said “NO CHANCE!”.

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