June 2, 2016

Dreams are made to be broken.

I remember the night of the workout.  It was my usual weekly VFAC trail interval session on a Thursday evening in Stanley Park.  It was late April and so the light was lasting a little longer and the weather was getting a little more enjoyable, and certainly far better than the winter months where we hammer our way through fast interval sets in the pitch black and all too often pouring rain.  I'd started to have a few decent workouts and that week I just rocked up as normal, put my head down and tried to hang onto the t-shirt tails of my club mates as we stormed our way through the undulating ups and downs of the repeats.  It's the highlight of my week.  The first repeat was fast, the second was really fast, the third ... well I slowed a little but wow, I felt strong, I felt fit and I could tell by whom I was keeping up to that I was fast.  Later than evening I was tucked up in bed with tea and Coach John texted, 'that was by FAR your best workout ever'.  I've been a member of VFAC for eight years.  I wasn't excited that this was 5 1/2 weeks pre-Comrades, I was just excited about that workout.  Man, it was fun.

Ten days later I ran BMO Vancouver Marathon is 2:45 something.  I fielded messages of congrats from friends in person and online - 'wow, so fast!', 'top Canadian!', '3rd woman!'.  I'd politely say 'thank you' but honesty I was disappointed with my race.  Maybe I'd though I was fitter than I was?   Maybe I'd set my targets too high?  Even although BMO was not a goal race in itself and just meant to be a hard long run fours weeks before Comrades I was convinced that with the shape I was in that a 2:45 marathon should have felt far easier than that did.  It was honestly one of my roughest marathons ever, but I chalked it down to lack of proper taper, took a day off and then started to ease back into running ... except I didn't.  With each passing day I ran less, I hobbled more and the pain would move variously from SI to hip to quad to adductor to knee.  At least it kept my physio, Chris Napier, busy and so he would work away and squeeze me in for one extra visit after another.  In between I hit the bike hard and the BCMC (an 800m hike over 2.5k with gondola ride down) like it was my second home.  I kept on top of yoga and strength work (which I had diligently done two times a week each since early January, you know ... to help avoid injury) and the day I was due to fly out to Africa I saw Chris, I was pain free so he suggested a 20 minute confidence boosting run.  It shattered my dreams - I got on the plane limping that evening because I'd run for 20 mins at a 5 min/ km.

And so that is a brief story of what led me not to be at the start line of my most favourite race in the World.  I continued with thorough physio and short run/ hobbles when in South Africa but when the Nedbank manager, Nick Bester, phoned me 6 days before the race I heard the words come out of my mouth 'I definiltey can't race on Sunday'.  I felt uneasy with those words as by then I was walking pain free, so to be sure I ran 3 loops of the perimeter of the safari camp we were staying at at 5am the next day - well, no - I once again hobbled the 4k that made up those 3 loops with odd looks from German tourists and finally gave up hope.

As of now I still have no idea what really the issue is.  I will be seeing my sports medicine doctor tomorrow and physio Chris again on Monday to really try delve deep into what is going on.  I have not run in 8 days and will try a short jog tomorrow before going to see the doctor to be sure the pain is still there - I know it will be, I mean I stepped sideways to avoid someone opening a door into my face the other day and even that wrenched the hip flexor.  Don't get me wrong, it's not agonising pain but it's enough to make me run with even worse form than I normally do and to want to turn up my music to try distract me from the discomfort.

Anyone who knows me knows The Comrades means the world to me.  Last year, after the bike accident and interrupted training, I placed a disappointing 6th.  I was under no illusions that I would win again this year - sure, I would do my darn hardest to try - but more than anything I just wanted to improve on that 6th place.  Who knew that looking back now I'd have been gosh delighted with 6th this year, heck - if I'd had just made it to the finish line that would have been better than not starting at all.

Who knows when I'll get back on track, I hope it's sooner rather than later as fundamentally I don't think this is a serious issue - it just needs the right treatment and adjustments and rehab work.  There are of course more races I'd had on my calendar for this year so hopefully I can be ready for those.

With huge thanks to:

- Chris Napier of Restore Physiotherapy
- Nick Bester of Nedbank Running Club (for making me useful over the Comrades weekend).
- Gillian James - Sports Scientist in White River, South Africa.
- My sponsors - Salomon, Sundog, Clif Bar, Drymax, Flora - I hope I can be back toeing the line for you all soon.
- Max King - my sounding board who so very tried to keep me on track with my training.
- My friends and family.

Happy trails
x Ellie
Kruger National Park, South Africa.

With the North American Nedbank runners.  Cassie, Sarah, Traci, Max & Zach.

Oh yeah - I helped with the SABC live TV commentary on race day.  That was fun!  The pros Helen, Bruce and Arnaud at work.

Aha!  Maybe it was getting trampled by a rhino that is causing me leg pain!

Hippo watching post breakfast with Ma & Pa.

With the wonderful France, 1992 Comrades winner.

When you are injured it seems everyone around you is running ... even elephants!


April 14, 2016

Salomon Advanced Week


For quite a few years Salomon has been holding an 'Advanced Week' every April where they get a group of us runners together to spend time with the shoe and apparel designers from Salomon HQ in Annecy, France to talk shop.  Well, ok - it's not all talk, it's a good amount of running too - trying out prototype shoes, testing new hydration packs and all in all working together to come up with the best products imaginable for the running market in years to come.

Last week I was invited to attend Advance Week in sunny Mallorca, Spain, a trip I ultimately didn't make due to a last minute appointment for hard surgery so I did have to laugh when I got the email that this years Advance Week was to be held in the notoriously rainy Lake District, UK.  Well, at least it being scheduled in a not so tropical environment would guarantee no bike accidents or injuries this year!

Overlooking Keswick.
Despite originally being from the UK I had spent very little time in the Lake District in the past so it was a real treat to get to stay in Keswick for 6 nights and explore the surrounding fells wearing our trusty Salomons.  We had a great community event on the Thursday where folks came out to watch various Salomon Running TV films, listen to Kilian Jornet and Seb Montaz banter about their worldwide mountain adventures together, and then go for a group run where we had about 200 local (and not so local) runners show up on a beautiful sunny spring evening.

But for me the highlight of the week was taking part in my first fell race ever.  As someone who is a little more acquainted with non-technical ultra running I checked first with one of the local Salomon guys that he didn't think I'd be dead last on the 13k course with 975m of gain that is the Coledale Horseshoe.  Matt assured me that I would not be last, which was comforting given the course was unmarked so I was going to need to follow the locals in front!  Having spent the week doing more vertical running that I am used to (as well as some sneaky road sessions to keep the regular training up) needless to say the legs were not very fresh for the race on our last day in the area but that didn't matter as the Salomon runners were all there simply to have fun and take part.  It was also great to chat with locals, including Phil and Mark who had spent much of their time in the previous few days showing us around their fells (thanks guys) and just be part of a low key, fun community race.  I certainly hope it won't be my last fell race and would sign up for another in an instant - if only in Canada they didn't make us stick to marked trails :)

Overall, I've come away from Advanced Week with sky high motivation and with a clear understanding of why Salomon are in many ways the leaders in the trail running market.  Everyone involved with Salomon is passionate and 110% dedicated to what they do.  'Making do' is not an attitude they comprehend, 'making better' is a philosophy they live every day.

I hope you enjoy some of the photos below which go someway towards showing how spectacular the Lake District is and how fun our week was.

Happy training.

Subtle fell colours on a grey, rainy, hail storm of a day.

Keswick community run with my Sharman Ultra coaching client, Steve.

Even road running is pretty in the Lake District

On a closed road these wooly locals were my only road running companions.

Coledale Horseshoe.  That was fun!  Photo: Philipp Reiter.


Mira, Yngvild, myself, Anna and Martina: Team Salomon!  Photo: Philipp Reiter

Warming up with Anna.  Photo: Philipp Reiter.

With Flora team mates, Anna and Max.  Photo: Rickey Gates.

There's lot of work to do to improve my fell running skills ;)  Photo: Tristan Reid.
Thanks for guiding us around Phil & Mark!  With Felix, Greg, Max, Francois and Ryan.



Salomon Keswick community run
With Mira Rai, Salomon team mate from Nepal.  Check out her new film at www.miraraifilm.com

How's that for a race finish line?  Coledale Horseshoe.
Max & Micha tagged the fell and then came back down to find this slack asser still working her way up ;)


March 21, 2016

The Chuckanut Tradition

This past weekend I raced Chuckanut 50k in Bellingham, Washington for the 6th time.  I am sure this is by far the most times that I have run any one race but it's not without reason.  Chuckanut is a short drive over the US border from Vancouver, it's at a great time of year to check in exactly where my fitness is at, there are always so many friends racing and cheering, plus I just love the course.

The course is reasonably non-technical (well in my opinion) but it mixes in a little bit of everything - you better have brought your road wheels if you want to blast the first and final 10k which are fast and furious miles (or should be) but don't forget your climbing legs for the switchbacks up Fragrance Lake trails and for the seemingly never ending Cleator Road, and then there is the fabulous fun of the Ridge Trail where you negotiate rocks and roots whilst admiring the views of Mt Baker and Chuckanut bay.  I love it.

As I blasted through the aid station before the climb up Cleator Road (in 2nd place) I just about heard RD Krissy (Moehl) say, 'You know how to run this race Ellie', and well - yes, after now 5 wins I can play the strategy pretty well.  I had expected Cleator Road to be a slog - it wasn't.  Sure I ran and then I power hiked and then I ran again but I was happy to keep up with friends Anne Marie and Ramsey and the others who were forming our fun and friendly little pack.  I expected Chinscraper to seem long and tough, and once again I did hike sections but I felt strong and in control and was having fun (and now in the lead).

And well, once we got to the final 14km or so which is all downhill or flat, I started hauling - a 3:33/km down Cleator Road, hurtling round the corners of the switchbacks of Fragrance Lake trail with joyful abandon, and then 10kms of hunting down the final stretch of the Interurban trail.  I pride myself on knowing how to 'close' on the Chuckanut course and I think I passed 5 men on that final 10k, putting me 12th overall and 1st female by the time I hugged Krissy at the finish line.

My time of 4:11:58 is within seconds of my 2012 finishing time but the most important thing is that I felt strong.  All day I was just solid - in a great head space, having fun and chatting, running hard but in control, and even down that final 10k if I'd had to chase another woman I know I could have gone just a notch harder (and yes, I did do a few shoulder checks just to be sure!)

I've switched things up a little in 2016 so far - the mileage has been good but not crazy, but I've gone to yoga stretching two times every darn week since start of January.  I have seen a trainer at the gym (Michelle Ford/ Peak Power - good luck at Zion 100 miler in 3 weeks!) most weeks since January, and even this stubborn runner has listened to her coach ... well, about 95% of the time ;) Whilst all this has not resulted in a faster Chuckanut time, it has resulted in an injury free and consistent training year so far, and feeling much stronger and less beat up post race than I have in the past.  I feel very happy with where I am at right now.

A huge thank you as always to RD Krissy and her team of amazing volunteers for putting on such an excellent event, thank you too to Abby Zoomer - trusty crew and friend for looking after weekend logistics and just being super company, and thank you to my sponsors for their ongoing support:  Salomon (I wore the S-Lab X-Series as the trails were dry),  Drymax Socks (I wore the ELLIE sock of course!), Clif Bar (8 gels on course), Sundog Eyewear (I wore the Switch model - see photo for discount code on your purchases!), Flora Health (make sure you visit their booth which is always at the the race finish).

If you really are a data geek, then here are my stats on Strava.

Onwards and upwards to the next race!

Yes, this is a genuine sunglasses offer - no spam ;)


With RD and ultrarunner extraordinaire, Krissy Moehl.  Photo: Abby Zoomer.

Enjoying the descents.  Photo: Candice Ridyard.
Canadian Chicks - 2nd, 6th, 1st, and Abby Zoomer who coordinated the girls weekend ;)

Enjoying some Flora tea in my winning mug post race.  Photo: Catrin Jones.

With my ever enthusiastic Sharman Ultra coaching client, Miruna at the finish.  Photo: Relu Harau.

Start line seriousness.  Photo: Relu Harau.
Tranquil Lake Samish.  Photo: self.

Sunday recovery run at a blistering pace with AM, Catrin and Mike.  Photo: Abby Zoomer.

December 8, 2015

The end of year ultra trail party

It was four years since I had last raced The North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco 50 miler (let's call it TNF50 in order to save some ink).  A lot seems to have changed in the sport of ultra running and in my own running career since then.  I mean, when I raced TNF50 in 2011 I met a new local runner called Jorge Maravilla at the start line, later that day I would pass him in the race despite the fact that he had a great run.  Yes, well lets just say Jorge would have to have a downright appalling day for me to beat him in a race now :) As a runner, I have gained a huge amount of experience in the last four years, it was not that in 2011 that I was without experience, afterall I had already won one Western States by then, but certainly I had far fewer achievements under my belt and far fewer miles of my legs.  For the most part I feel that the miles on my legs in the intervening years were beneficial this past weekend rather than a detriment.  Sure, some of those miles have caused injury and aches and pains, but they have also allowed me to become a more experienced, more confident and more aggressive racer.  I am sure that I was far less nervous standing at the start line in Marin Headlands this past Saturday than I was four years ago despite this years race being chock full of talent on both the mens and the womens sides.

It is 'interesting' that whilst my position (2nd) was exactly the same as four years ago my finishing time was a full 16 minutes slower this year than in 2011.  I am pretty sure that the course was identical so I could dwell on thinking that therefore I am not as fast as I was four years ago or that I did not have such a good race, but I'm not going to dwell on that because I feel that there are a few reasons why I ran slower this time around, and well - I just had a lot of fun on Saturday which is surely what it is all about :)  I will pick my race apart in due time to learn from my mistakes, but now is a time to just enjoy the memories of the day.

This year I had a rough start to the year but gained speed in the fall and six weeks ago ran a killer race (even if I do say so myself!) at Les Templiers 75km in France.  I won that race but had to fight hard to the line and when I got to the line I was smiling but wrecked.  I was also extremely motivated, after having not had a good race all year I was jumping up and down with excitement to have won a competitive ultra and so I did what I advise all my coaching clients NOT to do and I launched right back into training after Les Templiers.  I can honestly say that in the six weeks between Les Templiers and TNF50 I did not have one good run.  Speed workouts were slow but hard, long runs weren't as long as I had hoped for, and the thought of tempos went out the window when my Suunto seemed to malfunction and not go below a four minute kilometre ;)

Am I giving excuses?  No not really, just reasons.  I don't honestly know if I had trained smarter (not harder) between my two end of year races if I could have made up the significant 10 minutes between myself and race winner, Megan Kimmel.  Somehow I doubt it, and either way - I am very happy with my 2nd place finish and have enormous respect for the talent that Megan has.  I honestly just feel grateful to have found the ability to run on mashed up legs for much of the day and I am so thankful for having been able to share good chunks of the race day with wonderful ladies such as Anne-Marie Madden and Jo Meek.  I am also super motivated after seeing so many familiar faces out on the sidelines of the race course - Devon Yanko, Jo Zakrzewski, Hillary Allen, Meghan and Bryon, Topher, Stephanie ... the list goes on.

Just like after Les Templiers I have traveled home after the race feeling excited and pumped about ultra racing ... but this time around I'll make sure I sit on the couch and drink a beer or two, rather than hit a speed workout this Thursday.

Some photos below hopefully share a little more of the fun experience I had down in California this past weekend.

Checking out the course with my Salomon teammies pre-race.  Photo: Rickey Gates

Tourists snapping pics.  Myself, Anne Marie and Anna Mae.  Photo: Rickey Gates

Checking out the course with my Salomon teammies pre-race.  Photo: Rickey Gates

Heading out to McKinnon Gulch.  Photo: Rickey Gates
Failing to apply the brakes at the finish line.  Photo: Israel Archuletta


Finish line seat.  Photo: Israel Archuletta

Team Invitational winners?  Salomon ladies!  Photo: Israel Archuletta

Because it's really all about the after party at the 2am club!  Photo: Lindsay Hamoudi

October 29, 2015

Les Templiers

I knew that I had not had a great year of running so far, that was pretty darn obvious and I couldn't ignore the fact but it was not until I read the iRunFar race preview that the stark reality set in - I had not even toed the start line of a trail ultra in over a year.  Wow.

Needless to say I am overjoyed to have won Les Templiers 75k (well, it was 77k really but let's not get picky) in the Grands Causses region of France this past weekend.  Not only was the win fantastic but the race course was one of the most beautiful I have had to privilege to run on, and the organisation by Odile, Gilles and their team was second to none.  Merci a tous!  I spent a wonderful few days with new and old friends from all over the world - it was nothing short of amazing.

Thanks to iRunFar not only live tweeting race coverage on the day, but for also publishing my race report.  It can be found here.

Below are some photos to try share some of the amazing atmosphere of the event.  In my opinion, yes Chamonix and and the French Alps are stunning, but as a foreigner you are missing out big time if you think that that is all that France has to offer the trail running world.


Medieval villages nestled in the gorges are typical of this area.  Credit: self.
Cheese, cheese and more cheese!  At the race expo.  Credit: self.
Race start/ finish area and our accommodations at St Esteve.  Credit: self.
Sightseeing with my Saffa buddies.  Credit: Jock Green (as he has long arms ;))
Sightseeing with the Saffas.  Credit: self.
Team competitions were part of the fun.  On the ladies side myself, Jasmine and Malika took the European win.  Credit: Jasmine Nunige.
Start line focus.  Credit: DROZ Photo.
Les Americains!  Credit: self.

Village of Couvertoirade, typical of the Aveyron area.  Credit: self.
Comrades reunion!  With Nick Bester (Nedbank manager and former Comrades winner) and Jonas Buud (2nd place and multiple gold medalist).
Cruising section of the race.  Credit: Ski & Run.
Joyful trails.  Credit: Bruno Poirier.
Passing through a village water station mid race.  Credit: Ski & Run.
Finish line crowds at one of the other race distances over the 3 day run Festival of Les Templiers.  Credit: self.
Grinding the uphills.  Credit: Ski & Run.
The views weren't bad.  Credit: DROZ Photo.
With the wonderful Cassie Scallon, strong 4th place finish for my Salomon teammie.  Credit: Greg Salvesen.

Finish line thumbs up for the best trail journalist around :)  Credit: Bryon Powell/ iRunFar.

 Coming out of the darkness and into the first aid station.  Credit: DROZ Photo.
Having taken the lead, coming into 2nd aid at 48k.  Credit: Bryon Powell/ iRunFar.
Jasmin Nunige (Switzerland) pushed me all day.  A pleasure to race with her.  Credit: Bryon Powell/ iRunFar.
Top 4 women.  Cassie Scallon (4), Jasmin Nunige (2), self (1), Anne Lise Rousset (3).  Credit: Bryon Powell/ iRunFar.