Q&A with Glen Ellingson
“Early on I didn’t compare myself to others, I just put my head down, grinded every day, and tried to be the best I could be.” – Glen Ellingson
One could argue that Glen Ellingson is the most successful distance runner to come out of Moorhead High School in Moorhead, MN. And for most of his high school career, he was not even the top guy on his squad! That was Lukas Gemar, the 2011 graduate who shocked Minnesota when he became the first sophomore male in 30 years to win the 2A MSHSL State XC race in 2008. During that season, Glen was not even a prominent fixture in the top ten of Moorhead’s deep artillery of runners.
In 2009, Glen missed his XC season because of a now infamous crash in a pre-season triathlon. In 2010, his junior season, he made incredible gains throughout the fall, and in the spring of 2011, he did his own Gemar impersonation, winning the state meet in the 3200 in a school record time of 9:16. The race, viewable here, is one of the best MSHSL youtube clips out there, and is sure to bring a chill down your spine. I can’t imagine the feeling of being at Hamline University on that day and seeing Glen work his magic.
But, great high school athletes have come and gone in Spud history. What makes Ellingson unique is how successful his collegiate career was, as he continued a gradual progression to elite, All-American status as a harrier at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD.
Before a spring which saw him hit some insane times during the indoor track season (4:11, 8:09, and 14:19 in the mile, 3k, and 5k respectively), Glen hit up the Seder-Skier and Facebook and came down to Alamosa, CO to our Seder-Skier High Altitude Training Facility (SSHATF) for a 2.5 week training stint. During that time, we bonded over a few long runs on the famous Adams State stomping grounds, a day out skiing in powder at Monarch Ski Resort, long conversations about anything from the state of education to philosophy to theology, and of course, a trip or two to Calvillos, the all you can eat Mexican buffet staple of downtown Alamosa. It was a special treat to have Glen with us, and a memory that I’ll always cherish, not just because I appreciate Glen as a friend, but because I admire him for his drive and initiative to do whatever it takes to maximize his athletic potential. Maybe, if I ever do the ‘live out of a van for the sake of training for Olympic glory’ stint, Glen will be a partner in crime.
We reached out to Glen recently to catch up with where he’s been, where he’s at, and where he’s going, and he even gives us his Mount Rushmore of D-crew athletes.
What are you up to these days? (work, living, coaching, etc.)
I am currently living in Valley City, ND where I am coaching cross country and track and field and pursuing my Masters of Arts in Teaching at VCSU.
How did you end up in Valley City?
I was assisting coach Ryan Milner at MSUM for the fall 2019 cross country season. At the time Laquone Robinson was an assistant track coach there. Laquone and I were previously familiar with each other since he was a graduate assistant at Augustana during my freshman and sophomore year of college. One day when I was running on the treadmill at Nemzik Fieldhouse, Laquone came up to me and said he had accepted the cross country/ track and field head coach position at VCSU. He then asked if I would be interested in being his GA at VCSU. I thought it over a bit and eventually accepted his offer.
What is your favorite aspect of coaching right now?
I love having unique and engaging relationships with all of my athletes. They have taught me that everyone has incredible qualities within them if you give them a chance. I enjoy interacting with them as individuals and being able to train them and watch them grow magnifies this experience.
What are somethings you didn’t expect to experience in this role that have been either challenging or rewarding?
Coaching has very little to do with actually coaching and physically training your athletes. You become a mentor, counselor, graphic designer, manager, massage therapist, strength trainer, accountant, trip organizer, recruiter… the list could go on forever. Some days this can be frustrating because I barely have enough energy to coach due to all the other things I have to do. But overall, I have come to enjoy becoming a ‘jack-of-all-trades.’ I feel like I have gained a unique skill set from doing diverse activities throughout my life and this is the first job that truly requires me to dip into everything I have learned.
Let’s go back to the start of your running career. What were some of your first memories in the sport?
The first time I actually ran for an extended period of time was the mile run in elementary school. I was one of the first in my class to finish every year. I was never naturally good at most sports, so being up front during the fitness test mile was thrilling. The spark was truly lit when I became the fastest kid at Probstfield Elementary in 4th grade by beating Isaac Borgen.
How fast were you in junior high school?
I don’t have my record books in front of me so I am going off memory here. I was a solid runner in 7th and 8th grade, but I was far from a standout. I was probably around our 10th runner in 7th grade and would usually crack our top 5 in 8th. I never won any races in cross country and was never close to the fastest runner on our team though. I did have some moderate success in track. I won a few races here and there and was 3rd or so in the mile at the All-City track meet.
You had kind of a crazy high school career considering where you started and where you ended. When I was a senior, on your team, you were out because of an injury in the Glen Ellingson Memorial Triathlon. You came back at the end and ran at Nike Cross Regions and I want to say you ran just a tish under 19 minutes. I remember a lot of us were shocked that you had run that time, because the previous season, if I recall, you hadn’t dipped under 20 even. 15 months later, you run 9:16 and win the state two mile. When you were a freshmen and sophomore, did you have visions of doing something like that?
I never thought I would be someone who could win a state championship in the AA class in Minnesota. I remember watching Lukas Gemar win the state cross country title when I was a freshmen and I was in absolute awe. I think one reason I had as much success as I did is I ran because I loved to race and be apart of a team. It wasn’t until later in my high school career that I was motivated to be the best. Early on I didn’t compare myself to others, I just put my head down, grinded every day, and tried to be the best I could be.
What were the keys to making those improvements?
Above I just mentioned both not comparing myself to others and truly loving the sport. Two other things that stick out to me are running in the winter and weight training. Yes, running in the summer and training hard during the year are important. But any runner worth his salt does those things. I literally never missed a day during winter training. Even when it was -20 windchill and a blizzard, I would put on extra clothes and trudge through a 10 miler.
As far as weight training goes, I have always been somewhat intuitive when it comes to training for running. I was convinced I needed to hit the weight room to be the best I could be so I signed up for a strength and conditioning class junior year. This ended up being the year I won a state title in the 3200.
I would also have to add that I was extremely lucky to have incredible coaches and teammates to look up to and learn from. I was coached by Jane Sederquist, Tom Dooher, and Jeremy Blake. They are all legends in coaching and were stellar at their jobs. I also had the pleasure of being around Lukas Gemar, Jakob Lindaas, Tim Lillehaugen, Matt Nicolai, Joe Dooher, Matthias Valan, Ryan and Dan Sederquist… too many to name. The list of smart, hardworking, talented runners at Moorhead from 2008-2012 is absolutely insane.
What are some of the ‘untold’ stories or memories from high school? Things that are special to you that maybe aren’t obvious or that you don’t usually talk about, but you will always remember (late night chats with a teammate, routine in training or before a race, a special route, etc.)
My freshman year, Joe Dooher, Sam Klungevidt, and Ryah Vesladahl took me under their wing. The guys around my age (including myself) were far from responsible, so running with those three formed me into a much more responsible runner. We also had so many fun conversations together during runs which were even more meaningful because I looked up to the three of them so much.
Bonus: Cross country sleep-overs at Mathias Valan’s farm were legendary. I’ll leave it at that.
What is your top 1-3 fall running/xc memories or traditions?
The Minnesota State Cross Country Championships were truly special. An incredible atmosphere, great course, some of the best teams in the nation, and a chance to show what the Moorhead Spuds had to offer to the rest of the state.
Then you went off to Sioux Falls and had a stellar NCAA career. What was, in your opinion, the moment, race, or accomplishment that you are most proud of or that you think was the hardest to do (ok to brag here!)?
I am most proud of my 11th place finish at the DII NCCA Cross Country Championships. Getting a trophy (top 15) at the championships has become a very difficult task due to the increase in talent in Division II over the past 10 years. I think I passed over 30 people in the last few miles and was in a flow state… something I’ve only achieved a few times when racing.
I also will forever cherish being a school record holder. I ran school records in the indoor 5k (has since been broken) and 3k my senior year. Being able to see my name on the wall of a historic program like Augustana fills me with so much pride.
What is something you feel you ‘left on the table’ or wish you could have done but didn’t?
I was not as responsible the summer after I graduated high school and my freshman year of college as I should have been. I wasted almost a year of training and it set me back for years. I think if I had been more dedicated to the sport around this time, I could have been a true national caliber athlete for a good portion of my career.
I also always wanted to win a national championship (team or individual). I have come to terms with not doing so, but it would have been the perfect cherry on top.
Could you talk about your post-collegiate career a little as well. I know for a little while you were out in Boulder. What did you do for work, what did you do for training and racing, and what happened during those years before your current position at VCSU?
I moved out to Boulder, CO after I graduated college to pursue a career in professional running. I joined Roots Running Project and was coached by Jeff Boele. I worked at a puzzle factory called Liberty Puzzles to pay the bills and trained like an animal outside of that. I trained hard for about 7 months and think I was in sub 14 5K shape. About a week or two before I was supposed to fly to San Francisco to race a 5k, I injured my posterior tibial tendon. I spent about 4 months attempting to recover and I could not seem to shake the injury. There were also some issues going on with our training group that weighed on me as well. I had been injured consistently during the years before that, so I decided to call it quits and let my body recover.
Even though this was devastating, it was also eye opening. I realized all I had been sacrificing for running. I bought a ski pass that winter and skied over 40 days, I hiked several 14ers and I bought a mountain bike. I would have traded all of that to run well again, but those activities were a blast and were great outlets for when I was sad about not running.
I moved back to Moorhead after about 2 years in Boulder and did contracting work for the summer and then helped coach at MSUM and worked as a para in the Moorhead School District in the fall.
Do you have any running goals that are still hanging out there?
When it comes to running these days, I do it because I enjoy it. I run hard when I want, and slow when I want. I do have aspirations to try to run a fast marathon, but I have accepted that it may not happen.
You’ve had a lot of teammates and friends in the sport. Who would you say is the most talented runner you’ve known or run with?
See Mt. Rushmore list.
Hardest worker/most dedicated? Why?
Also see Mt. Rushmore list.
Ryan Evans. Ryan was a senior when I was a freshman at Augustana. Ryan had dreadlocks down his back and loved to have fun and make jokes. I would go over to his house and we would watch Workaholics, play video games, and laugh. When I say laugh, we would laugh, man. For hours on end we would bullshit and laugh. On my recruiting visit at Augustana, Ryan, some other guys on the team and I drove around wearing clown masks and stared at people. It was hilarious.
Glen, thank you for your time in answering our questions – one final Q: Who is on your Mount Rushmore of Distance Runners — All-time? 1. 2. 3. 4.
- Lukas Gemar
Lukas was the first runner who made my jaw drop. He ran one middle school race when I was in 7th grade and he was in 8th and I’m pretty sure he won by about 2 minutes. After that he ran the high school races. I also remember literally tingling when I watched him collapse after winning the Minnesota State Cross Country Championship as just a sophomore. My junior year, I trained side by side with Lukas and finished second behind him in almost every race. He taught me what it means to be a champion runner.
- Travis Beniak
Travis is the definition of a grinder. This guy would run hard every chance he could get. My freshman year at the Outdoor NSIC Championships he won the 5k, 10k and finished 2nd to teammate and All-American Harold Karbo in the steeple chase and it blew my mind.
- Karbo Brothers (Tom and Harold)
The Karbo’s are Augustana legends. Their accomplishments seem almost infinite. They both have serval top-10 finishes at NCAA championships and Tom kicked down Kevin Batt to win an NCAA title in the DMR. (Editor note: THIS might be the coolest race I have ever seen on video as well…an absolutely crazy comeback by Karbo..) If Lukas taught me how to be a championship runner, these guys fine-tuned me. They taught me so many little tips and tricks when it comes to training.
- Matthew Centrowitz
If you know anything about professional running and Matt’s personality you are probably rolling your eyes right now. But, hear me out. Centro was the first American in 108 YEARS to win a gold medal in the 1500m and he did so wire to wire. If you asked any young runner what they would want to win a gold medal in they would say the 1500m or they are lying. Matt stuck it to the doubters and simply went out and did it. I still watch the race consistently to this day.