In June of 2011, Ellie Greenwood ran her first 100 miler at the Western States 100 and won. Becoming only the second woman to break the 18-hour barrier, Greenwood’s winning time of 17:55 caught the attention of the ultrarunning world and served notice that for the first time in almost two decades, the venerable records of the legendary Ann Trason could be challenged.
Going into the 2012 race, Greenwood prepared in much the same way as she did before the 2011 event with excellent performances at the American River 50 Mile (winning in 6:18) and the Comrades Marathon (second place in 6:08, 10 minutes faster than her winning time in 2014) as well as two excellent spring marathons, 2:43 at the London Marathon and 2:42 at the Vancouver Marathon. Clearly, with all that speed in her legs, Greenwood was poised for a breakout performance at Western States.
With only 20 days between Comrades and Western States, Greenwood spent most of that time hiking in the mountains and resting. With so much fast running on her legs, she was determined to start out easy in the early going.
“At the start, Lizzy Hawker just took off,” Greenwood recalls, acknowledging that Hawker was a notoriously fast starter. “I was not unduly concerned but I also knew things would all have to come together for me to win again.”
Greenwood spent much of the early miles in the high country running with Rory Bosio and trying to remain calm, “The key lesson from 2011 was that I couldn’t become overwhelmed.”
Shortly after Devil’s Thumb at mile 47, Greenwood caught a glimpse of first-place runner Hawker, who had slowed slightly in the canyons, “I knew on the long downhills I could catch her and I wanted to try to get a gap.”
And get a gap she did, running a 1:18 split from Devil’s Thumb to Michigan Bluff, a full five minutes faster than Trason had in her course-record 1994 run. The experienced race observers at Michigan Bluff knew, at that point, that the course record was a possibility.
Nonetheless, now in the lead, Greenwood was not thinking about course records, “I knew I was running well but my pacers and I never talked about the course record. After the river crossing at mile 78, I told my pacer, ‘Don’t tell me my time, I am just plowing away.'”
Greenwood’s split from the river crossing (mile 78) to Highway 49 (mile 93.5), the deceptively fast ‘runnable’ section of the course, was an incredible 2:49, which was a full 12 minutes faster than Trason’s record split for that same section. Finally, while turning on her headlamp for the first time at Highway 49, Greenwood looked at her watch, Maybe I can get the record after all, she said to herself.
“Before that, I knew if I even looked at my watch, I would have freaked out.”
Ultimately, Greenwood crossed the finish line in 16:47, a full 50 minutes ahead of the course record.
“To be honest, I know I had the perfect day. It was that one race where literally nothing went wrong. It sounds strange to say now but the whole thing was just very methodical. I ate, I drank, I hiked the steep parts, and I stayed positive. Everything just clicked along.”
Looking back on it now, over six years later, Greenwood realizes the magnitude of her accomplishment as the closest another woman has come to her record since then is Courtney Dauwaulter’s 17:27 this past year.
“I have ridiculous respect for Ann Trason. She was incredibly talented and worked incredibly hard. And she also had big goals. I believe anyone can have a race that just ‘clicks along,’ not just the frontrunners. But, they have to dream big. If you can’t dream it, you can’t do it.”
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Strange Fellows Brewing Company in Vancouver, British Columbia. Their Bayard Saison Farmhouse Ale is a delicious take on this popular variety. Tipping the ABV scales at 5.5%, this wonderfully drinkable beer is fruity and spicy, which makes it an excellent accompaniment to just about anything.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Did you spectate either of Ellie Greenwood’s two Western States 100 runs, in 2011 or 2012? What do you remember about those races?
- Have you ever had a race that really just ‘clicked along,’ with relatively few hiccups? If so, were you able to sort out what led to that near-perfect day out?