Heidi Greenwood has grown accustomed to taking life’s changes — and running — in stride.
And, as a distance runner, that approach helps pass the long miles she logs, albeit at a much faster clip than most.
Prior to arriving on the University of North Dakota campus in 2003, Greenwood (Evans at the time) was a standout athlete growing up in Roseau, Minn.
She planned to primarily focus on volleyball at UND while competing in track on the side. Unsure she wanted to take on the demands of two sports in college, Greenwood said she viewed track as something on the back burner.
Inherently driven, Greenwood said she enjoys setting personal goals. It was on campus, where she played volleyball for four years, that Greenwood also discovered her love for running.
It helped set her on the path she finds herself today.
As a standout runner for UND, Greenwood earned All-American honors in both cross country and track, and capped her senior season by racing to the 1,500 meter outdoor championship at the 2008 NCAA Division II meet. She later earned a graduate degree, married her husband (former UND football player Michael Greenwood) and moved to Ohio.
Now Greenwood, 31, is based in Sioux Falls, S.D. She’s an elite distance runner with a handful of sponsorships, including one from Oiselle, an athletic apparel company, and writes a personal blog.
She is days away from the biggest race of her career.
On Saturday, Greenwood will be among the select few women who qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles, where a highly competitive field will chase three spots on the team bound for Rio later this summer.
Greenwood said she thought it might be possible to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials after a strong run at the 2012 Columbus (Ohio) Marathon. She trained for the next 12 months and finished the 2013 Columbus Marathon in 2 hours, 42 minutes, 8 seconds, securing a spot on the Trials starting line. A year later, she ran nearly the same time at the Chicago Marathon.
Similar to the buildup for Columbus, she’s dedicated a year to training for the Trials. Last May, she won the women’s half marathon in Fargo.
Her main sponsor, Oiselle, features Greenwood on its website, where she said “running is liberating and gives me a great feeling of accomplishment. The fulfillment I get from running never diminishes.”
Often times a solitary sport, Greenwood cherishes running with friends.
Come Saturday, she will run with some of those friends — at least a handful are also sponsored by Oiselle — and compete alongside the country’s best marathoners.
On the cusp of the Trials, Greenwood took time to answer some questions for Addicted to Running.
Question: Reflect a little about your running career. You grew up running in high school in Roseau, Minn., and later earned All-American honors at UND. And at what point did you decide you wanted to pursue the marathon?
Greenwood: I never in a million years envisioned that this is what my life would look like at age 31. Growing up my first love was always volleyball and I just liked working hard and found great satisfaction in setting goals and working towards them.
Q: Your qualifying time came during the 2013 Columbus Marathon. What stands out in your mind about the race?
Greenwood: When I think about the Columbus Marathon I think of being in a constant state of flow. Everything just felt smooth and easy. Going into the race my coach thought I was fit enough to run 2:45, but my personal goal was to get the Olympic Trials Standard (2:43:00). I wasn’t sure if I could physically do that, but I told my coach that I was going to go for it. I didn’t really feel pressure that I had to run 6:12 pace for 26.2 miles, but I looked at it as a challenge. I believe this mind set is what I need in order to run my best. No pressure, no expectations, but just as a fun challenge.
Q: What did your buildup to the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trails look like?
Greenwood: My build-up for the Trials has been a little different than the past two marathon build-ups — mostly due to living in South Dakota versus Ohio, and in Ohio I had the luxury of being surrounded by a good handful of other elite post collegiate runners. Additionally the previous two marathons I trained for were fall marathons and with the Trials being in February the bulk of my quality work needed to be done in December. Overall training volume was pretty similar as the past, but workouts had to be adjusted when I needed to be on the treadmill or on South Dakota State University’s indoor track. I raced a half-marathon on Jan. 3 in Jacksonville, Fla., which was great to get some quality work in and was planning on racing another half marathon on Jan. 17 in Naples, Fla., but the race ended up getting canceled the morning of because of a terrible storm that went through.
Q: How do you feel about the training that you’ve done for the Trials?
Greenwood: I feel OK about my training. Not great, but not terrible either. I was struggling a little with motivation in December and early January. Mentally I was exhausted.
Q: Can you share more about your training and key workouts?
Greenwood: In the past 12 weeks I’ve averaged 87 miles per week and took one total day off during that 12 weeks. I have actually only taken three days off of running since July 18.
Q: Are there any race/course specific principles you’ve incorporated into your training?
Greenwood: I did most all my tempos and lots of my workouts on flat, hard roads which is exactly what the LA course will be like, but didn’t really practice taking a ton of turns though. I did practice doing my tempos on a 1-mile loop so I could mentally practice repeating loops in my head. And I guess running on the treadmill several times in a room where it was 72 degrees will help a little as race start time isn’t until 10:22 a.m. and it’s expected to have a high of 75 degrees that day.
Q: Very few people qualify to run in the Olympic Marathon Trials. When did that become a goal for you?
Greenwood: December 2012. After I miraculously ran a 2:47 marathon in late 2012 after not even “purposefully” training or doing any specialized long runs I decided that God must have given me some talent and thought I should try for a year and see if I could qualify for the Trials.
Q: Did you always believe you could compete at such a high level?
Greenwood: No, I really had no desire or interest in competing in competitive road racing. I really just loved setting personal goals and having something to work towards daily.
Q: Since qualifying in 2013, you’ve run in several races, including winning the 2015 Fargo half marathon. What have you learned since your race in Columbus that helped you in other races and during preparations for 2016?
Greenwood: I have learned a ton about myself and I am continuing to learn more and more. Honestly I still feel like a rookie. One thing I have learned though is the importance of truly running “easy” on your easy days. If you do not run easy enough on your easy days your body will break down and you will not be ready for your workouts. I used to think running easy meant you weren’t working hard, but actually you are being smart to run easy when that is truly the purpose of your workout. Knowing the purpose of each and every workout is key. I use heart rate monitor training as a tool to gauge my daily effort level and to know if I achieved the purpose of my workout.
Q: What motivates you as a runner?
Greenwood: I am self-motivated. It is me vs. me. In the competitive world of road racing this is definitely a big weakness.
Q: What is your goal for Los Angeles?
Greenwood: To toe the starting line physically healthy and mentally eager to be present in the race. Enjoy the whole experience. If I can do those things the result will take care of itself.
Q: Do you have a strategy for the race? How do you approach it mentally?
Greenwood: Tentatively, I am planning on packing up with 5-7 other Oiselle teammates of mine at 6:05-6:10 pace. The power of the pack should help us pull each other along, manage mental fatigue, and hopefully save some physical energy to finish strong.