Photo: Rini Sugianto
Ultrarunner Elizabeth Crow’s passion for running inspired her to write a bucket list of endurance adventures in her thirties, but it wasn’t until more than a decade (and two kids) later that she felt inspired to take on the challenges that excited her soul. First came a marathon. Then, ultras followed. And last month, Elizabeth completed her first 100-mile ultra event, adding to her list of race finishes which include the Zion 100K, Javelina Jundred 100K and Race to the King’s 53-miler.
In this email Q&A, California-based Elizabeth shares more about her running journey, alongside her training and tips for would-be ultrarunners. Plus, if you’re after healthy meal inspiration, I highly recommend hopping over to Elizabeth’s Instagram, where she shares recipes and pictures of her delicious meals alongside her training and racing photos.
You’ve finished multiple ultramarathons, but where did your running journey begin?
My first race experience wasn’t until my twenties. I did a charity 5K in New York City’s Central Park with my co-workers, and we walked the whole event. I didn’t consider myself a runner. I was young, not very sporty, and more interested in Manolo’s than running shoes, but I think that experience planted a seed.
When did you become more interested in becoming active?
Moving to Southern California changed everything. The weather is sunny and warm for most of the year, and we spend a lot of time outdoors. I quit smoking cigarettes cold turkey and started eating differently. In the winter, I learned how to snow ski at Big Bear. I lost 20 pounds just being active and making better choices with food.
Which was your first proper running race?
In 2002, a friend asked me to run the Turkey Trot 5k on Thanksgiving Day in Dana Point. I ran a few times before the race but never really trained. It was a fun scene, and it became something I looked forward to once a year. Running became a thing very gradually from that point on.
Am I right that your husband got you into trail running?
Several years after my first 5K, I met my husband. A few months into our relationship, he asked me to run a 10K with him in the Pacific Palisades. I was just getting into running, but he had been doing it for years, usually placing in the top three at races. Back then, races weren’t marketed like they are now. We didn’t have photos, race maps or satellite images of the course. Trail running was super low-key – we were given the location and the start time, there was one aid station with Gatorade, and your finish time was based on gun time. I thought it would just be another run, but we arrived to find it was mostly on a horse trail. We laugh now, looking back on it. That was the most unpleasant, smelly race we had ever done. After that, I decided to stick to road running.
What kept you coming back to running?
Running felt very empowering and boosted my confidence. I started thinking bigger and long term. One day while I was journaling, I wrote a list of adventures that excited my soul. I felt that I’d only scratched the surface in my life, and the challenge of doing a full marathon excited me. I also put hiking Mt. Whitney on that list (the 14,505ft Mountain Peak in California), but I was never intentional about going after any of it. I didn’t have a plan. The “bucket list” was kind of a joke, and I stuck it on the fridge. Eventually, it got put into a box when I moved house. After that, I put it out of my mind and focused on my dad, who had just been diagnosed with ALS.
You have two young boys. Did your running change after you had children?
I had to stop running when we got pregnant with my eldest son. After he was born, I had to have fibroid surgery and then we got pregnant quickly with our second son. Most days, life felt very overwhelming with two little ones 19 months apart. I loved my children, and they brought so much joy and purpose into my life, but I struggled to feel like myself again. I had mild post-partum depression. I decided to just book a race and see what happens.
Which race was your first after having your children?
The Pediatric Cancer Research 5K was my first post-partum race. That charity event helped me find a way through that post-partum fog. Within a year or so, I worked up to 15K and got back to half-marathons. A turning point came when my husband placed first in a 10K. I felt inspired seeing him doing something that he loved and was good at, and I wanted to start doing things that really excited my soul. My husband helped me get right to the root of it. He asked me if I was ever going to stop running half-marathons and train for the full marathon on my bucket list. I had forgotten about the list I’d thrown into the box almost a decade earlier, but he remembered, and he had a loving way of telling me to not forget about myself. So that day, I started looking for full marathons.
After your first marathon, what inspired you to move up to ultras?
The San Francisco Marathon was my first 26.2. I ran it in the morning, and at lunchtime, we took the boys sightseeing. That night, I remember lying in our hotel room looking at my watch with over 65,000 steps, and I was shocked that this calculated to about 33 miles for that one day. So that was another pivotal moment in my life.
Two questions came to mind:
1) “How much further can I go?” and
2) “Are there races farther than 26.2 miles?”
I Googled and found trail ultramarathons all over California. That pretty much made up my mind. The challenge of running in nature, in beautiful places, excited me. The next morning, I found my first trail ultra, Big Basin 50K: Skyline to Sea, set in beautiful Redwood State Park.
What does a typical week of training involve when you’re preparing for a 100K race?
Training for a 100K involves a bit of everything. Most of my runs are at a slow and easy effort pace. I incorporate key workouts (speed and hills) into training. I stay flexible to work around my family’s schedule. My husband rides and races mountain bikes, and I started going on short rides with my family. Mountain biking is my favourite way to cross-train.
Getting race fuelling right is so important. What works for you?
It’s not just about what you eat on race day. I start each day with a little oatmeal. During a long run, I eat a little something (whatever is easy on my tummy) every 20-30 minutes. Intra run, I use Tailwind Nutrition as my main source of fuel. By late-morning and nighttime, I need real food such as boiled potatoes, fig bars, plain rice, a goMacro bar, or a sandwich.
Can you share your most challenging race moment so far?
The Zion 100K (Utah) was my most challenging race. The tough technical course combined with the heat and elevation gain pushed me mentally and physically beyond anything I had ever experienced before. Plus, the water aid station in the middle of the desert was totally empty when I arrived. That was a big disappointment. I tried not to get bent out of shape about it. Ultrarunning is tough, and that’s why we train. I always keep some water with me during a race, so I had to ration what I had on me and keep moving.
Mentally, you have to know how to pick yourself up. I said a few prayers leaving that aid station. Then, I just kept moving forward, staying positive, praying, and visualizing myself finishing the race. Not long after I left the aid station, a truly amazing thing happened: race volunteers showed up along Highway 9 with bottles of water and popsicles. My prayers were answered. If I had left any earlier, I would have missed them.
What’s your biggest tip for someone who has booked their first trail ultra?
My tips for first-time ultrarunners are:
1) Do most of your runs at an easy effort.
2) Make rest a priority and EAT!
3) Do not rely solely on aid stations for supplies. Plan to carry a bit of your own fuel and water.
4) Train for the weather. Run in the heat if you are doing a desert race.
5) Keep a small self-defence spray on you if you are running alone.
6) Running is a gift, but ultrarunning is a choice. Stay grateful and embrace the highs and lows.
7) Thank the volunteers.
In summer, you hiked your first ‘14er’ (a mountain peak of 14,000ft+). What was this like, and does hiking make good ultra training?
Hiking my first 14er was a tough adventure. It was my first time camping at altitude, and I didn’t get much sleep the night before. I had trained for [hiking] Mt.Whitney, but due to wildfire closures, we had to cancel. In retrospect, Langley ended up being the perfect intro to 14ers because the ascent is very gradual, and it’s a breathtaking hike. It’s good to incorporate hiking adventures into ultra training, but it doesn’t take the place of weekly workouts and long runs.
Until recently, you were self-coached. What changes did your coach bring into your training?
Having a coach helped me solidify my belief that running is a lifelong journey. Soon after I finished Zion 100K in April 2021, my mom’s dementia progressed. Sometimes when we are going through a major life change like losing a loved one, we can get stuck. I got a coach to help me be accountable and organize my training. When my mom passed away in August 2021, my coach was empathetic and had a way of helping me reframe my thinking so that my mental and emotional health became a priority. He encouraged me to get enough rest and do short runs only when I felt like it.
Gradually, I went on longer runs, and I had enough training to run Javelina Jundred 100K in October 2021. Having a run to focus on each day has been a healthy outlet during the grief process and having a few supportive people in my corner helped grow my understanding of myself as a mother, wife and athlete. Within a short period, during a difficult time in my life, having a coach helped me to thrive and continue moving forward.
Do you have any races, challenges or goals planned for 2022?
Yes, I just completed my first 100-mile race in February. My first Sky Race is this summer, and I have a 100k at the end of the year.
What are your favourite items of kit, and are you sponsored by anyone right now?
My essential items in my kit are sunglasses, lip balm, sunblock, water, electrolytes, self-defence (pepper) spray, a whistle, ID, a packet of Tailwind Nutrition and a snack. When I’m training in the mountains, I always carry an SOL emergency rescue blanket and water filter – I can’t stress how important those things are.
I am sponsored by Altra Running, Tailwind Nutrition and goMacro.
You can follow Elizabeth via her Instagram: www.instagram.com/runthenest.