Who to Watch at the Olympic Trials: Ellie Hess

Ellie putting in a solid tune-up for the Trials at the Jax Bank Half in January. Photo by Cinnamon.

Giving birth to four kids in seven years is no easy feat. But having four kids in seven years while marathon training, and then actually qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials in your first marathon? Simply amazing! That’s Ellie Hess, the former DIII All-American who excelled in the 5k and steeplechase in college. Ellie currently trains and races as a member of Cleveland Elite Development and somehow finds the time and energy for motherhood and elite-level running.

Ellie wasn’t always a star runner. She began jogging in high school to stay in shape for other sports and quickly found her jogs helped her blow off steam. While she could accomplish about an 8-minute-mile naturally, it wasn’t until she dedicated her athletic energy to running that she realized her full potential. She stuck to her other sports through high school, but joined the cross-country team at John Carroll University under peer pressure.

I had the pleasure of competing against Ellie in college or, more precisely, getting beat by Ellie in college, and I wanted to learn how she manages to train and compete at such a high level with the many demands of her busy life. 

At John Carroll, Ellie placed 2nd in the D III NCAA steeplechase and 3rd in the 5k. Image courtesy of Ellie Hess.
At John Carroll, Ellie placed 2nd in the D III NCAA steeplechase and 3rd in the 5k. Image courtesy of Ellie Hess.

Ellie graduated from John Carroll in 2005, but continued training and racing with the cross-country and track teams through her final year of eligibility, ending in the spring of 2006. During that last year of eligibility, she got married to her husband Ron and worked as a teacher until she had her first child, a daughter, in the fall of 2007. Ellie and Ron then had three sons, in 2009, 2011, and 2013. During these years filled with pregnancies and newborns, she didn’t completely stop running; she’d squeak in some early morning miles when she could but, if she missed a day or five, it wasn’t a big deal. All that changed after the birth of her youngest, when she discovered Cleveland Elite Development (CED).

I joined CED in August of 2014 to train for my first half marathon. I told my husband I’d run with the team for a couple months and then we could have another baby. However, I was so inspired by the ladies of CED and our coach, Glenn Andrews, that I couldn’t help but jump on the bandwagon of Olympic Trials dreaming! Initially I tried to qualify in the half. However, despite a fairly solid half marathon debut [1:17:50 at Akron in Sept 2014], my following two attempts in May and June of 2015 didn’t result in much more than a one-second PR. So I decided to give the full a try. I ran the Columbus Marathon in October 2015 and qualified with a 2:42:48.

Ellie with her husband Ron, Clare (8), Kyle (6), Ryan (4), and Sean (2). Image courtesy of Ellie Hess.
Ellie with her husband Ron, Clare (8), Kyle (6), Ryan (4), and Sean (2). Image courtesy of Ellie Hess.

Naturally, I had to ask Ellie how she finds the time to train as an elite with four kids all under the age of 9. According to Ellie, it takes a village.

My ability to train at this level is truly the product of a lot of supportive people in my life. My husband is incredibly supportive. He travels quite a bit for his job and when it became difficult for me to get my runs in, he bought me a treadmill. That was huge and I really can’t believe I made it so long without having one! I was no longer at the mercy of when I could get someone to watch the kids. Worst-case scenario, I knew I could hop on the treadmill after the kids went to bed.

Speaking of my husband, he has definitely taken the brunt of my marathon training. From juggling the kids on Sunday mornings while I go on long runs, to dealing with a wife who can barely stay awake past 9:00, life definitely changed for him during my marathon build-ups. I kept expecting him to tell me he was fed up but he has been SO supportive and encouraging. I also have great sitters who take care of my kids and get them to activities while I’m at the track once a week. My family is local and supportive too. I know that I can call them if I’m really in a pinch. I truly thought that once I started a family, my competitive running days were over. I am proud that I have been able to continue, but I am very aware of the fact I am able to do this because of my tremendous support system.

Sweet relief! Ellie gets a massage after her OTQ in Columbus this past October. She can't help but smile!
Ellie enjoyed her post-marathon massage and the news that she qualified for the Olympic Trials!

Despite her tremendous success in running, Ellie maintains a pretty laid back attitude about it. She recognizes the role her genetics likely play and also the fact that with her crazy mom-life she can’t, or often chooses not to, do all the little things that a lot of other top athletes do.

I think there is a lot to be said for talent and genetics, but that won’t get you far without hard work and determination. However, I think “smart” work is better than “hard” work. More doesn’t always equal better in running. It’s important to find the formula that works for you with respect to intensity and recovery. While I definitely feel that I work hard, I am really awful at doing anything above and beyond running. I don’t follow any healthy diet, lift or do core, or foam roll … given the kids’ schedules, I’m lucky to even shower half the time. I can’t blame it all on a lack of time, though. There are just many times where I’d rather veg with the kids or my husband. So I often question whether I am working hard enough or doing all I can to be the best I can be. The truth is, I am probably not, BUT I am living my life the way I want and enjoying it. I don’t want my entire day to be consumed with trying to be a better runner, I think if it did I’d resent it.

Ellie with some of her CED teammates. From left: Kelsi Nutter, Ellie, Jessica Odorcic, and Beth Herndon.
Ellie with some of her CED teammates. From left: Kelsi Nutter, Ellie, Jessica Odorcic, and Beth Herndon.

At the peak of her marathon training schedule, Ellie averaged around 90 miles per week. A typical week of peak training looked like this:

Monday: 6-8 miles easy
Tuesday: 3-5 miles easy morning miles, then 11-13 miles of track work in the evening featuring a 3-4 warm up, 6-mile workout, and then a 3-4 cool down.
Wednesday: 8-10 miles easy
Thursday: 8-12 miles in doubles.
Friday: tempo with warm up and cool down, total was usually around 15 miles
Saturday: 5-10 miles easy
Sun: 18-23 miles long run

Ellie’s philosophy about training (and life) really comes down to having fun and relishing in the joy of being able-bodied.

When referring to a marathon, my teammate Beth [Herndon] once said something along the lines of “Just because it hurts, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.” You have to find the joy in whatever you are doing and relish the pain … much easier said than done! The most important thing is to ENJOY what you are doing. For the vast majority of us, running is a hobby and a privilege. When I’m struggling I try to remember how lucky I am to be able-bodied and have a support system that allows me to do this!

We’re rooting for you, Ellie, and can’t wait to see what you do in LA!

I'm a new momma, full-time non-profiter, and coffee lover. I write about healthy body image, half marathon training, and recovery from eating disorders. I'm currently training to maintain fitness throughout the winter and break 1:27:00 in my next half marathon.

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  1. Ellie is awesome! She’s one of those people who is so humble, and sweet and fun that you forget she’s this insane athlete! So excited for her and looking forward to see how she does in the Trials and beyond. Go Ellie!!!!!

    1. humble, sweet and fun are the words I would use to describe her too! She makes everyone feel capable of achieving their goals, too! I’m so happy for her and can’t wait to see what she does in the next couple of years!

  2. Wow – amazingly inspiring to read about someone so successfully balancing motherhood and life as an elite runner with such a healthy and laid-back attitude. Good luck Ellie!

  3. I always love reading about mother runners who fit it all in, but keep good balance too. I really like that she said she felt she could do more but also would rather put that towards her family because she doesn’t want to resent running. I really appreciate that mentality, as much as I love running- I don’t want it to be 100% of me, and Ellie is proof that you can juggle both and still be successful at a higher level at both. Rooting for you Ellie, cannot wait to cheer you on this weekend from afar!