Random AG Ellen Hart
Written by: Herbert Krabel
Date: Mon Jan 21 2013
Slowtwitch: Welcome to ST.
Ellen: Thanks Herbert. Itís nice to finally get together! I remember being across the hotel hall from you at Konaí12, and you noticed my door was ajar. You were so friendly.
ST: You were actually the first person I offered the random age grouper interview, it just took a while for us to finally find time.
Ellen: Busy lives, especially since you have those adorable little twins.
ST: You are too kind Ellen, sorry though to hear about your injury.
Ellen: Thanks. Not what Iíd intended for off-season training. Basically sitting around waiting to heal, but it canít be undone, and it could be worse.
ST: What exactly happened?
Ellen: I was at a family Christmas party in Albuquerque, lots of people. I turned and scooted across the kitchen with a big plate of food, didnít see the dog (looking ever so much like a rug), and went down hard on my arm and shoulder. Broken humerus (my son persists in laughing every time I say humerus), and full thickness tear of rotator cuff. Canít do surgery till the bone heals. So, I got through a season where I raced 11 triathlons, 12 bike races, 3 duathlons, and 5 running races--relatively unscathed, and then tripped over a dog.
ST: Well, others sometimes just make up stories when it does not sound cool enough, but tripping over a dog is actually quite a story.
Ellen: Youíre making me laugh. I guess I wish I didnít have that particular story, and could come up with a more creative one without the painful ending.
Ellen: Yes. Lucky for me! Itís the only full Ironman Iíve ever done outside of Kona, and was a late-season addition to my schedule. My coach looked skeptical, but let me try it. I was in New York, having just picked up my number and chip for the NYC Marathon when it was cancelled. Things hadnít gone exactly as planned in either Kona or Auckland, so I felt as if I had one more race in me. However, at many points while I was racing Cozumel it sure felt that I was doing one race too many!
ST: Mostly during the run?
Ellen: No, unfortunately not just the run. It was pretty ugly the whole way. I got sick in the swim, and then only about 350 calories stayed down for the whole day. Itís hard to do an Ironman on that. Cruelly enough, the bike course was 3 laps, going right past our hotel. It was all I could do to keep my bike from veering right back to my hotel and my bed. Youíre right that the run was the worst. Itís usually my strength, but I was all out of fuel. Unfortunately there was a woman in my age group ahead of me until about 15 miles into the run. Then I had my first ever visit to a med tent post-race. A character-builder for sure!
ST: How many times have you raced in Kona to date?
Ellen: 4 times: 2008, 3rd place, first Ironman ever; 2010, 1st place; 2011 and 2012, both 2nd place, all in W50-54. Now Iím aging up.
ST: The persons who took the top podium spot in 2011 and 2012, are they aging up too?
Ellen: Teresa Rider is aging up as well. She would have blown me away at Kona this year but she was injured. Teresa is a great athlete and competitor with many years of experience. I think sheís done maybe a dozen Konas, most of them podium finishes. The 2012 winner is not aging up.
ST: As awesome as your racing prowess is, a big story in your life is actually dealing with an eating disorder.
Ellen: Right. I had to stop competing (long-distance running) in the mid-80ís because I was so sick.
ST: How long did this occupy your life?
Ellen: The eating disorder started in 1980, my senior year at Harvard, and continually worsened until 1990. I was incredibly lucky to recover and have a second chance at life.
Ellen: Itís 99% better and over, but itís in my hard-wiring. I have to be vigilant. On the one hand, you canít do Ironman races with a raging eating disorder, so thatís a very nice measure of my health. But on the other hand, I found myself stuck with some old anorexic tapes playing in my head during the 2011 season, and that almost cost me Kona that year.
ST: You are also teaching folks about eating disorders.
Ellen: I work at the Eating Disorder Foundation, an organization here in Denver that I helped start in the early 2000ís. It is a resource for people who suffer, and an organization that works on prevention and education. Eating disorders are a big problem (over 11 million in the US), and usually people need help in their recovery.
I also teach nutrition education to low-income populations through the anti-hunger organization, Share Our Strength, but thatís at a different place on the eating spectrum.
ST: Are folks reluctant to talk about it?
Ellen: I think there is still considerable stigma and shame attached to having an eating disorder, so people generally do not like to talk about it. However, the more that people bring it out into the open, then the more the stigma, with its shame and isolation, will lessen. I am incredibly grateful to people like Chrissy Wellington, in her autobiography, and Flora Duffy, in her interview with Slowtwitch, for being open and honest. When others see that that caliber of athlete and person has also struggled with eating disorders, it becomes easier to talk about and get help. It is not a chosen disease.
ST: Does that leave a lot of time to train?
Ellen: My work schedule is flexible. So when I have a busy competitive schedule, I can cut back on some of my other commitments. I feel very fortunate in that, because I know there are so many age-groupers who donít have that same flexibility.
ST: How did you end up working with Neal Henderson?
Ellen: Thatís kind of funny. He might have a different recollection. But I was taking an indoor bike class from Connie Carpenter at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in the winter of 2008. Iíd just had my first full season of triathloning, and wanted to work with someone who was an expert in the field, since I felt as if I wanted to pursue the sport at the next level. Connie suggested Neal, who coaches Taylor Phinney, her son. But alas, his schedule was too busy. So I raced 2008, had better results, and came back and asked again. Luckily, Nealís schedule had loosened up a bit! I think he could tell at that point I was serious. In 46 years of competitive athletics (basketball, track, soccer, running, and triathlon), heís the best. You have to find a coach that can read you and understand you, as well as provide specific coaching expertise. I feel incredibly grateful that heís been my coach over the past 4 years. Weíve won a bunch of national and world championships together, but beyond that, he has respected me as a person, even with my various idiosyncrasies and insecurities.
Ellen: Not much. I tried to do some running, but because my gait is different due to my shoulder, I was starting to injure my foot. Obviously I canít swim at all, but I can ride the stationary bike. You might think Iíd be doing that with a vengeance, but not so. Often, and itís a failing of mine, when I canít train how I want to, I get somewhat depressed and throw in the towel. So Iím trying to do a little something every dayówhether itís a walk, a half-hour on the elliptical, or an hour spin class. Really truly, thatís all. Iím also really conscious of eating healthily, even though it means Iím gaining weight. I want my shoulder to heal as fast as possible, and it canít heal without the proper nutrients.
ST: Any predictions on first race back?
Ellen: I wanted to do the ITU race in San Diego in April, but now I know I wonít be able to. Iíve already signed up for the Boulder tri series, so Iíd like to be able to do a sprint in mid-June. I might be able to do a running race or a duathlon sooner. Hope so. I love to compete. It brings out the best in meóIím a much better racer than a trainer.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Ellen: Some of the reasons I love triathlon so much is that I get to be outside, doing things I enjoy, learning and growing as an athlete and a person. The triathlon community is a lot of fun. I feel very lucky to have found this sport.
The final image is Ellen surrounded by her family at Christmas
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Age grouper John Jenkins from Atlantic City, NJ started at the Ironman World Championships for the first time this year and we decided to interview him after a random encounter at the Kona airport a few days before the event. 10.25.12
Boulder, CO based coach Neal Henderson is a very busy man and among his flock of athletes are Cameron Dye, Flora Duffy and Taylor Phinney. We were able to pin him down in between trips around the world. 10.23.12