“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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