Meet Ellen, our Boston muse. This chick is a major badass: running ish at WGBH (Boston’s local PBS and NPR), and literally running ish on the streets of Boston as a marathoner. (Fun fact: for Ellen’s 30th birthday she ran 30 miles through Boston, and somehow got her friends to join in on the insane birthday marathon). Ellen played varsity tennis at Colby, and then went on to Columbia Journalism School. After bouncing around between New York and Chicago, she landed in Boston, where she’s a Media Relations Manager at WGBH, she’s a member of Heartbreakers Running Club, and she’s a dog mom to Oslo. Her job is super demanding, especially when there’s breaking news, but she’s always finding time to be outside, explore her surroundings, and surround herself with friends. We can also personally attest to Ellen’s unique ability to lift up those around her, especially other women. She’s a champion for young female journalists, and brings out the best in those around her. We wanted to know how she seemingly “does it all” so we asked Ellen a few questions about her life, her habits, and her fitness philosophy.
What does living a balanced lifestyle mean to you?
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
What's your fitness routine?
I’m a marathoner, so the core of my fitness routine is running (and keeping myself healthy to do so!). I typically run 6 days per week, with weekly mileage ranging from 40-90 miles depending on where I am in my training. One of those days is a track workout, one is a hill/tempo workout, and one is a long run at an easier pace. The rest are what I like to call “runner’s choice” – medium length runs at any pace depending on if I’m running with a teammate or my dog, Oslo! I supplement running/pavement abuse with cycling, barre and yoga 2-3 days per week.
What does eating mindfully mean to you?
To me, eating mindfully means being aware of where my calories are coming from. I’m a calorie counter, but not in a restrictive sense — actually, quite the opposite. With high mileage comes high fuel needs, so I am constantly seeking out foods and meals that are high in calories but also high in nutrition. So even if I’m consuming more calories than your average person, they’re high impact calories (think: avocado, brown rice, nut butters). I try to eat colorfully, too, by mixing together fruits and veggies instead of your typical green salad. And I am also a huge proponent of treating yourself. I reward my body after a tough workout or training week with an ice cream outing to Emack & Bolio’s in Charlestown (they have dog-friendly ice cream too, so of course Oslo tags along!) or a heaping plate of pasta in the North End, Boston’s Italian neighborhood.
How do you cope with stress?
It sounds counter-intuitive, but the more stressed and busy I am the more I prioritize fitness and eating healthily. On days when I am particularly stressed, I make sure to start the day with a good workout, ideally outside so that I can benefit from the fresh air as well as the endorphins. Bonus: when I work out in the morning, it gives me one less thing to stress about throughout the day. I try to prepare healthy meals and snacks on days when I have more free time, so that I can just grab-and-go on days when I feel crazed. And when my Garmin vibrates to tell me to move (which is basically every hour) I try to get up from my desk, refill my water bottle, and drink at least half of it on my way back to my desk. I might be stressed but that’s no reason to be dehydrated, too!
What are your favorite cities? Why?
New York, because it’s the first one I lived in, where I “grew up” and home to some of my fondest memories: late night cookies-and-milk parties while cramming for a deadline in grad school (it’s NYC, so naturally there’s an all-night cookies-and-milk delivery service); my husband proposing in Central Park after a long training run; and where my career in media really took off. Oh, and more Murray’s Bagels than I can count. Minneapolis, for being a hidden gem (the food! the arts! the lakes!) and the one place colder than Boston (winter is my favorite season). Chicago, for its awesome running paths, crazy sports fans and gorgeous architecture. It has that big-city feel like NYC without the pretense; there’s nothing “flyover” about it. And San Francisco, for the geek chic culture, proximity to outdoor activities, and because my new nephew, Frankie, lives there. (First time auntie and just a littttttle excited about it.)
What's your relationship with alcohol?
When I get to that “no turning back” point in a long run, where my legs are torched but I still have a few miles to go, there is nothing—I repeat, nothing—that I crave more than a cold beer. The hoppier, the better. (I think I read somewhere that hops are good for recovery? That’s a thing, right?) I typically cut alcohol out a month or so before a big race to focus on hydration and nutrition. But you’d better believe that cold beer is the first thing I have after crossing the finish line. And actually, one time it was before. During the 2015 Chicago Marathon, I was having a rough race. It was a hot day and I was cramping like crazy plus dealing with a recurring IT band injury. I got to mile 24, and had already blown my time goal. So when I passed a group of spectators holding out red solo cups of beer (seriously, spectators do this at races all the time) I thought “Why the heck not??” and grabbed one and downed it. I don’t know if it was the beer or just the fact that I let myself relax for a second, but my cramps actually went away and I was able to finish the race in one (exhausted) piece.
What do you wish people were more open or real about when it comes to fitness, living a balanced lifestyle or the drinking culture?
It takes hard work and a lot of time to remain fit, especially if you work a demanding job and want to have a social life, too. It always bothers me when people say “oh, you’re so lucky, I could never do that” after a marathon. Yes, you could do that — but you’d need to be out there 4-7 days/week, committing to the miles and the nutrition and the hydration and the sleep and the foam rolling and the missing toenails and the early nights in and early mornings on the road… all of the less glamorous aspects of training which come together on Race Day. Don’t let Instagram fool you: it does not come easily and some days I hate it. But acknowledging those days for what they are and working through them makes me stronger for it. Also: for every Buddha bowl post you see, there is likely a donut before it and a beer afterward.
Do you feel like you're a part of a community? How so? If not, what are you looking for?
Absolutely! The running community is one of the strongest and most incredible ones I know. I’ve made friends all over the country through running and racing, and regularly run into people at races, even out on the course, who I know. Here in Boston, I belong to the Heartbreakers, who work out of Heartbreak Hill Running Company under Coach Dan Fitzgerald. We train together a few days per week, typically one track workout, one tempo workout, and one long run. We’re also sponsored by Harpoon, which you will know by now makes me really happy. There are plenty of opportunities for socializing outside of running, and sometimes we even wear regular clothes! (Although not often.) My teammates are some of the most inspiring and positive people I know, and I rely on them regularly for a good workout, laugh or advice about running/life.
What's the hardest part of maintaining a work-life balance?
Thinking of those two things as opposing forces is the first problem. If you love what you do, at work and outside of it, then those two forces should be working together, not against each other. So instead of trying to juggle both, I think of it as how can my work complement my life, and vice-versa? Whether it’s foam rolling at my desk or taking a stretch break after a meeting, or incorporating a fun coffee break with a friend into a hectic day, or finishing up some work in the evening at home so that I can get a run in while it’s still light out, I try to plan my day as a complete 24-hour cycle.
What would you tell yourself 10 years ago?
“Once you start doing the little things, you realize that there are no little things.” That’s a favorite saying of my coach, Dan. And I think it holds true for running as well as life. Once you pay attention to the small details, joys, challenges, triumphs you realize that, in fact, none of them are small. In aggregate, they’re actually pretty huge.
Do you live by any mottos or mantras?
Again, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Living a stable, balanced life is the goal, but the highs and lows are what make that equilibrium possible…and life worth living.
How do you stay motivated?
Cross-training is a huge motivator for me because it’s challenging to engage in activities that I’m not good at, and also motivates me to be better at those things I am good at. For example, I’ve recently gotten into cycling, and my brother is a semi-pro cyclist. It’s been really fun to work out with him and try to get faster and more comfortable on the bike… without wiping out while I’m clipped into it. And it’s probably good for me to get off the pavement, too. I find that when I take a little break from running to cross train, I feel that much more stimulated and excited to get back to work on the road or the track the next day. Also, rest days: TAKE THEM. When I see one on my training schedule (typically one day/week) I take full advantage. I sleep in, go to yoga, lounge around the apartment with my dog, have that second glass of wine. The mental and physical break makes me that much more fired up to get back to it.
What advice do you have for people who want to make changes in their diets or fitness plans? Or for people who aren't happy with how they look or feel?
Stick with it. A common misconception is that healthy, active people are that way all the time. Nope, not true. Making changes takes time; it’s not a short-term play, but a lifelong journey. So you have a bad day, or skipped your workout, or overindulged? So what. In fact, good for you — you earned it! Don’t let that throw you off your schedule for the rest of the week. Enjoy that moment and then dive back in. Also, to hell with the “on Monday I’ll start my diet” or “on Monday I’ll get back to the gym.” Don’t wait for the start of the week to get to it. If it’s Sunday and you want to make a change (or Tuesday, Thursday, any day!) then NOW is the time.
How do you stay positive and optimistic with the current news cycle?
I get involved! There’s no better way to combat the news cycle blues than by getting out and about in my community and volunteering. It makes me feel like, in my own small way, I am taking action and doing something productive, instead of just passively absorbing negative news. In particular, I’ve found my work with Girls on the Run, an organization which builds positive self-esteem and leadership skills in young girls through running, to be incredibly rewarding. These girls are our future leaders, and to see them learning to be just that is both comforting and inspiring.
I make time daily for...
…time to unplug. Whether it’s leaving my phone at home for my morning walk with Oslo, or putting my phone on airplane mode while having dinner with my husband, or simply going for a long run without my Garmin, I make a conscious effort to be off devices and in the moment at least once per day. Sure, I might miss out on a few emails or Instagram opportunities, but the time to be fully immersed in what I’m doing and fully observant of my company and surroundings is invaluable.