Ultra-Refusal of Limitations: Ellen Maude’s Fit After Fifty Story

by Alison McIrvin
A woman celebrating after running up stairs at the Great Canyon

Featured photo credit: Sarah Brouwer

Ultramarathon runner Ellen Maude kind of hates labels. When asked, she will grudgingly tell you that, yes, she runs ultra distances. But she doesn’t want to limit herself or call herself an ultramarathoner.

Last year at age 53, she ran her first 100K race and her first 100-mile race, completed the Mount Rainier Wonderland Trail in three days, and did a solo wilderness 50K run. Call it what you will, but I say that is an ultra-amazing year!

[Related: Tips for Runners Over Age 50]

Ellen grew up pretty active, swimming competitively from age 6 through high school and going on a lot of family camping and backpacking trips. Then the party scene in high school derailed her to the point of quitting swim team and almost all exercise.

Photo credit: Ellen Maude

Two opportunities in college to tag along with her older brother on two-week backpacking trips in the Sierras got her back into the swing of things, in spite of “just about dying the first couple of days that first trip!”

Despite a demanding work schedule, Ellen stayed fit by hiking, climbing, and mountain biking into her 40s. An active climbing husband made for shared experiences and kept her active most of the time.

After some years of difficulty conceiving, Ellen got pregnant at 43 with a high-risk pregnancy with twins. She was working full-time while also going to grad school, but had to stop everything to undergo almost three months of bed rest, including 22 days in the hospital.

The result of that was a lot of muscle loss and weight gain. After the twins were born, Ellen could barely manage a quarter-mile walk around the block without resting.

When the twins were 4 months old, Ellen headed back to work and grad school. Raising two little ones and pumping breast milk is challenging enough without full-time work and grad school tossed in the mix. When Ellen tried to start running, injuries began to crop up.

As she was pulled in so many directions, Ellen knew inherently that exercise was a huge piece of her stress management puzzle. She had to do something.  

[Related: Get Moving to Manage Stress]

Her first step to rebuild and avoid injuries was getting back to the gym to build all-over strength and conditioning through spin and yoga classes, strength training, and swimming. Although she had never ran one before, she also set a goal of completing the Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.

Right after she successfully completed the marathon, a couple of Ellen’s friends ran the six-day TransRockies Run in Colorado. This piqued Ellen’s interest enough to train for it the following year.

However, that training resulted in a stress fracture that prevented her from running the event. She was hooked on trail running by then, though, and she has never gone back.

From 2014 to 2017, Ellen ran a 25K trail race and several 50K trail races. Her most challenging race was the White River 50, a spectacular distance race with a total elevation change of 17,400 feet.

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Ellen gave it her all, but it was a physically and emotionally demanding race, and she was not able to make it past mile 28. “I am pretty stubborn and can often ‘will’ myself through things,” she said. “I went through a lot of self-questioning after that one.”

Refusing to let that experience hold her back, Ellen followed it up with a 34-mile backcountry run and the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon in one day.

Not only did that give her a great confidence boost, but it set her up for a fabulous year in 2018, including the following races:

I would agree with her: 2018 was a fabulous year, and one of no limits for Ellen.

Ellen (foreground) and friends do the Loowit Trail 30K. Photo credit: Sarah Brouwer.

Over the last few years, Ellen has learned to modify her training to avoid injuries and recover better. This means forgoing the back-to-back weekends of increasing distances and big mileage during the week that she was used to.

“I just want to keep going and keep exploring.”

– Ellen Maude

Instead, Ellen builds on every other weekend and replaces some midweek mileage with spin class, TRX, battle ropes, and other exercises. Clearly, she has found the plan that works for her.

“I really like that I’m trying new things and doing things that are harder and harder despite being in my 50s. I hope to keep doing that as long as I can! I don’t like the idea of accepting limitations just because of an age number. I like challenging myself, trying new things, and continuing to learn all I’m capable of.”

An admirable hero in her own right, Ellen has transformed her life with fitness due to the example set by her mom, who always led an active life. Ellen reads of men and women who refuse to accept limits in their older years, running and living an active outdoor life into their 80s and beyond, and hopes to be one of them.

“I just want to keep going and keep exploring.”

I think she will, don’t you?

How do you push yourself past your limits?

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