Athlete-Mom Interview: Elinor Fish

Elinor and I met while at the University of Victoria and we were on the cross-country running team togther for a year before I transferred to the the University of Washington. We met up randomly about 10 years later at a trail running race in Canmore, Alberta. She has continued to push the distance and is now running ultras and encouraging other women and moms to stay active through her company, Run Wild Retreats, which organizes trail running and yoga adventures for women. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Rob, and two year old son, Reed.

1. Tell me about your athletic background prior to becoming a mom.

I began running competitively in high school and ran middle-distance track and cross country at the University of Victoria. Our team won the Canadian inter-university cross-country championships in 1998 which was a great way to end my college racing career. After graduation, I moved to the Canadian Rockies and discovered trail running. I ran my first ultramarathon, Alberta’s Lost Soul Ultra 50K in 2003, and decided that I preferred going long and steady than short and fast. During that time I was freelance writing, and in 2006, moved from Canada to Colorado to join the team at Trail Runner magazine as managing editor.

It was truly a dream job in that it afforded me opportunities to travel and run trails in places like Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile, and compete in races like the week-long GORE-TEX TransRockies Run. I loved that my job involved gleaning wisdom from some of running’s biggest names, though I confess to getting rather star-struck when meeting famous runners like Kara Goucher, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Scott Jurek.

After almost five years there, I left Trail Runner in January to pursue PR and marketing at Backbone Media, and expand Run Wild Retreats, a company I founded to organize trail running and yoga adventures for women.

2. What motivates you to continue setting athletic goals since becoming a mom?

Last summer, when my son was just one and a half, I ran the Leadville Trail 100-miler, my first single-day century race. My only goal was to finish–and I did–but barely. It was the toughest race of my life, but I wanted to do it because, after taking on a new role as mom, I had to prove to myself that I was also still a runner. I had feared losing that part of myself because I was struggling with being a mom and managing a full-time career.

Through the process of training for a 100-miler, I realized that running played a very different role in my life now than it had before I became a mom. Slipping out for a one or two-hour trail run or grounding yoga class was a necessity–not just a treat–that I needed in order to be effective in my other life roles as wife, mom and employee.

Knowing I wasn’t the only hard-working, frazzled, wanna-be runner mom on the planet, I decided to take my ideal recipe for rejuvenation (nature, trail running and yoga) and package it into the Run Wild Trail Running and Wellness Retreat for Women. The two retreats we’ve held so far have drawn diverse women from across the country together for four days in the wilderness running trails, doing yoga, talking about our bodies, our goals and our challenges.

As soon as one retreat ends, I can’t wait to begin planning the next, and right now that’s what motivates me to run. Running improves my quality of life and my goal is to share that experience with other women. In order to preach it, I must first live it.

3. How do you balance training with family?

My husband, Rob is incredibly supportive. He’s active as well and understands how important running is to me (and is quick to point out when a run would improve my mood). On weekends, we negotiate time for our respective sports and time as a family. When Reed was little, I often pushed him in the Chariot or carried him in the backpack during brisk hikes. Now at 2 1/2, he prefers to be independently mobile, so we do short family hikes or ride bikes together. When I want to go for a longer trail run of 4 or 6 hours, it’s all about trades–trading time with my husband or trading babysitting with friends who have kids.

And I’ve embraced the value of short runs, especially during the week. I may run for 15 minutes between day-care drop off and the start of my work day, then run for 45 minutes at lunch. And if I only have time for 30 minutes at lunch, then I’ll make sure it’s a quality 30 minutes. All those shorts runs count as training if you make them count.

Even though it can feel crazy hectic sometimes, one of motherhood’s best gifts is having no time to procrastinate. Training happens because I either plan ahead or snatch the opportunity (I always have running shoes and clothes with me in case I get a chance to slip out).

Elinor and son, Reed

4. What was your approach to training during pregnancy?

I was lucky that my running partner and close friend Joy was pregnant at the same me! We kept one another motivated, even as our bodies changed and running with a passenger became more difficult. We’d plod along together and laugh at our pokey pace.

I listened to my body’s signals and gradually slowed my pace and reduced my mileage as it felt necessary. I was lucky to have a very healthy pregnancy and was able to run through the 8th month, changing to power walking and hiking during the last month. I have friends–who happen to be pro athletes–who did a lot more training while pregnant than I did, but I took the excuse to be little lazy, sleep more, hang out on the couch and watch movies.

5. What advice do you have for other moms trying to stay active (or even competitive) while balancing life with kids?

Be honest with yourself about what role your sport plays in your life right now. How important is being your fittest relative to being the kind of mom you want to be? Knowing where your priorities truly lie will help you make time for what’s most important. Your daily priorities should reflect what you value most, and if they don’t, stress will result because you’ll never have enough time for everything you want to do.

6. Which was tougher, the Leadville Trail 100 or childbirth?

Both events were much tougher than I had anticipated. We’d planned a home birth for Reed, complete with birthing pool and a midwife. But after more than 27 hours of labor, it was clear I had to go to the hospital, where I eventually had an emergency C-section.

At Leadville, my electrolytes were off balance and I began to retain water. By the 75-mile mark, I had gained about 5 pounds and my feet were so swollen I could barely walk. Those final 25 miles was the longest walk of my life. To reach the finish, I had to draw from mental and physical reserves that I didn’t know I had.

While I had achieved my goal in both–to birth a healthy baby and finish my first 100-miler, neither event had happened the way I had expected. It was hard not to feel disappointed, but after some time, I’ve learned to be less concerned with controlling situations and more concerned with accepting change and adapting to it on the fly. The most successful parents and ultrarunners I know seem to be masters at this.

7. Are you training for any races in the near future?

I am going to Boise, Idaho in October for the Foothills Frenzy 50K, a race organized by some women who had attended a Run Wild retreat last year. We had so much fun together during the retreat and I expect it will be just as much when we reunite in Boise for the race. I look forward to running hard and having fun, but I am equally looking forward to maintaining these friendships forged from a shared love of trail running.

2 thoughts on “Athlete-Mom Interview: Elinor Fish

  1. Thanks for profiling Elinor, a person I’ve gotten to know and admire through long-distance work and online, and I hope to meet someday. I completely agree with what she said regarding “embracing the value of short runs.” I always say, “some is better than none.” Sometimes I get so discouraged by my low mileage in a busy week, but then I think about all the directions I’m pulled with with work, my two school-age kids, and getting food on the table 🙂
    Cute pic running behind the bike!

  2. I loved this story and it really does inspire me. My kids are grown up and moving out… 😦 but I’m still a mom! They’ll come home to a good home cooked organic dinner if I am lucky. My husband and I get to be outdoors running the trails of this little town often but it isn’t 100 miles!! That is just amazing to me. Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us. My goal is to run UPHILL for a straight mile. I don’t know why – but it is just SO HARD to keep myself moving UP. My husband can do it! I have to get out there more.

    I love reading the posts you give and it is stories like this that keep me wanting to try harder and work harder. Thanks!

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