PROFILE--Ellen Wallop has been running for 42 years

Post-race, 2017
(11-18) Ellen Wallop grew up in a family that gathered to watch sports whether it was the Yankees or college football. Her grandfather held the mile record at the University of Delaware in 1908 and encouraged her interest in sports.  As a child she had a heart murmur and was not allowed to participate in strenuous activity but overcame that to run 12 marathons and complete an Ironman. In 1996 she was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer that has made a nasty return. Despite that she  starts every day by rejoicing, "I'm still here." 

When did you start running, and why? May, 1976. I was doing a lot of skiing and thought I could build up my leg muscles by running in the off-season.  Because of all the years of being told I had a bad heart I was very, very cautious when I started. I never pushed myself so I never had a bad run! Every run was a good run.

Did you have an early inspiration or person who motivated you?  Grete Waitz, Joan Benoit, Nina Kuscsik. These women were very inspiring to me as they paved the road for other women runners. I remember watching Joan
win the 1984 Olympic Marathon and was so excited.

How much did you run per week in your peak years? Now? I never ran much more than 50 miles per week.  Now I go out a couple times a week.

How did you train differently in your younger years?  I was doing team workouts, weight work, swimming and biking.  I worked out a lot especially when I was doing triathlons and Ironman.

How do you train now? Do you attend coached workouts? No coached workouts. I go to the high school track near my house some mornings.  In the summer I get out on the road. My new training routine is “walk until I feel like running, and then run until I feel like walking.” I try to have a race to look forward to. Signing up for one makes me get out there.

What were some of your memorable races?
1) First marathon 1978: Jersey Shore 1, 4:16 (I think). 
2) First NYC Marathon 1979: 3:47
3) Kona Ironman 1986:  Finished in 12:35
4) London-to-Brighton 1985: Finished in 9:02
5) NYC Marathon PR 1989:  Finished in 3:25
6) Ellen’s Run (not named for me) Southampton 5K. I was the first breast cancer survivor finisher for several years.
7) Laos 7K benefit run for a local hospital (Luang Prabang) 2017
8) One memorable race that I didn’t run was the 1978 New York City Marathon. I was in the pace car with Fred Lebow tracking an unknown runner, Grete Waitz. I also remember Fred yelling Yiddish greetings to the Hasidic spectators as we drove through Williamsburg.
After a 7K race in Laos

Has your diet/weight changed through the years?
Not too much. Still a bad eater. The usual pizza (organic) and beer for dinner.

Cross Training: I did a lot of cross training when I was doing triathlons, like swimming and weight training.  Almost nothing now.

How important is social running to you? If you were/are a competitive runner, can you adapt to the slower times and enjoy a social run? I run by myself almost all the time.  Slow is fine for me – that’s what I am now!

Obstacles along the way: I guess my breast cancer has been the biggest obstacle over the years but never kept me from running.
1987 – 1992: Three bouts of viral meningitis with days of hospitalization each time.
1996, 1999, 2002, 2009, and 2010: Breast cancer with surgeries, two rounds of chemo, and three rounds of radiation.
2010: Broken patella. Fell over my camera equipment.
2013 to present:  On a clinical trial regime for the breast cancer. I go for shots once a month and take pills every day.

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A favorite quote: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

Running philosophy: Just keep going.

Wallop's photography ranges from
rainbow delights ... to ...
How has running helped you with the aging process? It’s taken me a while to accept how slow and limited my running has become but I still enjoy it and enjoy racing. I guess that acceptance has helped me deal with all the other limitations old age brings.  But I am not happy being old.
Another way to look at it, one that is more positive, is that running has saved my life. I have struggled so many times in my life with illnesses and because I am a runner, I knew something was wrong. Every time the cancer came back, I knew it before it was diagnosed. When I ran through chemo treatments with my baldhead, I learned that time doesn’t matter. The fact that I ran at all was the reward. Running has made me stronger.
... uh ... winter delights.

What are the biggest lessons (life lessons and running lessons) you have learned?  Through all these illnesses there is something so grounding about getting out to run again.  It’s a feeling of being back where I live, back to being me. Especially when I get on roads that I’ve run for many, many years.  I remember running on a road out at the beach after my 2nd meningitis and thinking  “I’m here. I’m still here. I’m going to be okay.” Running is such an integral part of my life it’s hard to summarize my feelings about it.

As a photographer with a major focus on sports, you have a birds-eye view of the look on the faces of marathoners as they traverse 26.2 miles. What do you look for? Of course you want good light, a nice stride. But to capture something in one-thousandth of a second, something you can’t see with a normal eye, that’s very cool. Sports photography is so fun because in one instant, a dunk, a stride, a jump becomes frozen in time for perpetuity.

See here for more Ellen Wallop photography.