By Cindy King.
I have been following the career of Eloise Wellings (nee Poppett) since the late 1990s. I remember in 1999 when, as a 16-year-old, she ran 15:18.60 for 5,000m in a mixed interclub race in Sydney. I remember being fascinated by her speed, her prodigious ability, and her obvious love of running. I was probably a bit blasé when I heard that she got her first stress fracture – after all, don’t most young, thin females end up with ‘stressies’? At the time, I did not know that she was diagnosed with osteoporosis – yes, at 16. As the years went on, and the injuries and comebacks continued, I started to develop a new respect for her – and curiosity.
How could she keep getting injured, and keep coming back? Didn’t she think that all of the injuries were a sign that she was not made for running, and perhaps should do something else?
One of her best friends and sometimes training partner, former Australian Ekiden representative Belinda Wilshire, was able to shed some light on this. Belinda says Eloise’s (or “Elzy” as she calls her) greatest strength is her determination. “It is heart breaking seeing her get injured, especially as most of her injuries have come at really bad times….She does get down, especially in the first few weeks of having the injury but it is in these times that she really relies on God and his strength to get her through the challenging times.” On a lighter note, she says that “I have never met anyone that needs to go to the toilet whilst running more than Elzy does. Once on a 50min run she had to stop over 5 times! I always tell her she would never make a good marathon runner, or end up pulling a Paula Radcliffe on the side of the road! Must be those compression socks that do it!”
Eloise’s running career has been characterised by flashes of brilliance and injury. It took her 7 years to improve upon her 5,000m personal best that she ran at the age of 16. At the 2006 Commonwealth Games she finished fourth in a time of 15:00.69, and later lowered her 5,000m personal best to 14:54.11. The injuries returned for the next few years, but a 32:19.08 in December 2009 to win the Zatopek 10,000m showed her ability once again. I caught up with her to see what the journey as been like – and my respect continues to grow for this prodigiously talented teenager who has turned into a well-rounded professional who relies not only on her love of running but her faith in God to get her through her challenging times.
Those of us who have been following your running since you were a standout as a 16-year old in 2000 know that you have suffered a number of injuries. Can you summarise the injuries you have had over the years?
I have mainly been susceptible to bone injuries. I have had quite a few stress fractures over the years. I haven’t had a serious injury that wasn’t bone related so my muscles and tendons are quite strong, I have just had to work hard to increase my bone density.
How have you managed to keep your obvious love of running alive after all the disappointments?
There have been times in my running career that I have thought, “I could be doing something that is a lot less stressful, a lot less painful and a lot more consistent.” I think a good example of this was in 2008 when I was over in Portland, Oregon training. I was recovering from a stress fracture in my foot and hoping to qualify for the Beijing Olympics but then suffered another stress fracture in my shin. At this point I had had enough and needed a break, so my husband and I took off to Hawaii for two weeks. When we got back to Portland, we decided we weren’t ready to get back into training yet, so we flew to Germany, hired a campervan and took a road trip around Europe for 7 weeks. I had never had a proper holiday where I just went away and did nothing because even when I have had injuries I had still always cross trained a lot and tried to stay focussed. The holiday was probably the best thing I have ever done in terms of totally allowing myself to rest, rejuvenate and realize that I do still want to run but there would need to be changes to how I went about training.
How much do you credit your faith with enabling you to persevere through your injuries?
My faith in Jesus is what has helped me have perspective and hope when I’ve been through disappointment through injuries. Many times, especially my first injury when I was 16, I believe the only way God could get my attention and receive salvation was to take running away for a period of time so that I could grow close to Him and learn to trust and rely on Him rather than find my identity or confidence in running. I realize now that it’s a dangerous place to be when you’re living for something as inconsistent as a sport.
Until I found God my confidence and identity were all wrapped up in running and when I got injured it was like I didn’t even know who I was, like I had lost my identity. It might sound strange to some people but if I was in control and could take back my injuries, I wouldn’t. The things that I’ve learned about myself, about God’s faithfulness and about perseverance have refined me in a way to accomplish what I believe God has planned for the future…. and God definitely hasn’t finished refining me!
Tell us about your business – Live It Personal Fitness Builders. Does it take up a lot of your time?
Live it Fitness is a private personal training studio in the Sutherland Shire that I own with my older brother Ben. We started it about 7 years ago and it’s going really well. We have 6 trainers and the business is growing to a point where we would like to franchise. My younger brother Lindsay has recently taken my position as manager to give me more time for training. Lindsay had the same type of management role in a studio in London so he is well qualified and it was an easy handover. Initially it did take a lot of time, money and long hours to establish the business but in those early years that can make or break a small business we were blessed with supportive friends, family and other good business people that we could gain valuable advice from. Right now as director, my role in the business is to help with the marketing plan. I enjoy this because it gives me something else to focus on other than just running all the time, and it’s exciting when there are more and more people coming to lose weight and get fit and healthy with us because our marketing has been effective.
In your post-Zatopek interview, you mentioned that you have been doing a lot of strength training. What specifically have you been doing, and how has it changed your body?
I’m doing a little less mileage and a bit more strength work in the gym which mainly involves core strength exercises. My younger brother sets my strength programs and it is keeping me healthy. I also have my osteopath, Kay MacPherson, watch videos of my training and racing so that she can pick up on any weaknesses before they become a problem. I’ve found that to be really helpful.
Who are you coached by now? Who are your training partners and sponsors?
Nic Bideau sets my running programs and my younger brother Lindsay sets my gym programs. Julius Achon, a Ugandan Olympian, has been training with me for the past 2 months or so and hopefully he will be able to do a lot more with me this year in Australia and then in Europe. Long runs I go with some guys from my running club and triathlete Chris McCormack is there every now and then too. My sponsors are Nike, Southern Sports and Health massage, Kay MacPherson Osteopathy, Shire Podiatry, Cloud Nine Hair and Beauty Gymea, Sportswell Tours and Phiten.
A number of runners, especially females, struggle with their weight and eating disorders. Was this ever the case for you, and how are things now? What advice do you have for runners out there who are obsessed with their diet and/or weight?
I’m aware that there are a lot of female distance runners who struggle with their weight and eating disorders. This is something that I’ve struggled with in the past and even though I know I’d never go down that road again, to be honest I think it’s something that might always be a weakness just because of my personality type, my discipline and drive to get the most out of myself. This has come against me in the past because what I thought were just habits of a strict, disciplined athlete were actually leading to destructive behaviour. Now I make sure that my thought patterns are aligned with what I want to achieve because my thought patterns and how I perceive myself will always result in either making wise or unwise decisions about my training and nutrition. I know that if my thought patterns are negative and fearful, this can lead to making unwise decisions about my nutrition and my training.
A lot of girls (including me when I was younger) fall into the trap of thinking that lighter will be faster, and it will be, for a very short period of time, before your body breaks down. I don’t know one girl who has ever flirted with lack of calories and gotten away without getting injured. Not one. It’s important for girls to know that sure it’s good to be lean, but lean doesn’t mean skeletal, it means strong and robust. At the end of the day if you watch all of the big championship races, it’s the ones who have the strength and power to kick at the end of a race who will win! But the only way you’re going to be able to kick is if you have strength and power and the only way to achieve that is to give your body what it needs to achieve the muscle you need to have that change in pace.
I would encourage any athlete who is struggling with this (and there is no shame in it by the way; it is very common) to see a psychologist and a dietician. Making yourself accountable to people is super important to turning the corner in any bad habit you have developed as result of negative thought patterns or disillusions about what it takes to improve in running.
Pictures: Thanks to jonathanwellings.com
What is a typical training week for you?
Monday- 2 easy runs plus gym
Tuesday- AM easy cross training (usually bike or elliptical)
Wednesday- AM 60-70mins recovery run
Thursday- 2 easy runs or one longer run
Friday- threshold run with a few hill strides at the end
Sunday- long run -90mins -1hour 45
Anything else you think that runnerstribe readers might be interested in?
A team of people are setting up a foundation on behalf of Ugandan athlete Julius Achon who is training with me over the next few months. Julius grew up in war torn Northern Uganda and was kidnapped at the age of 12 by the LRA rebels. He escaped and overcame all odds to become a two-time Olympian and five time world championship representative. We are now setting up a foundation called “Love Mercy Uganda” to help support his efforts to rebuild his village in Northern Uganda after 20 years of war. Our work will include fundraising for a clinic and a school in the village and sponsoring orphans and children in the village to be clothed, fed and educated. Keep a look out for a new website coming soon with more information, events, and ways to support the fund.