At 39, Solana Beach athlete’s passion is ultrarunning
Subject: Elizabeth Tenuto
Residence: Solana Beach
In junior high she discovered volleyball, then played it all through high school. Then came running and competitive road cycling. Through the years, she’s done triathlon, jujitsu, boxing, swimming and barre classes.
Today, her main sports passion is ultrarunning, entering (and often winning) trail races of 50 to 100 kilometers (31 to 62 miles), with a few 100-milers mixed in.
But she hates to focus on just one thing.
To stay well-rounded physically, Tenuto cross-trains, sprinkling in pre-work boxing and post-race swim sessions (among a variety of activities). She can’t imagine not being active. It’s like breathing.
“I just love so many things,” she says. “I just wish there were more time to do it all, more energy. I just love being active, the way it makes me feel. The people I’ve met through it are so awesome and positive and inspiring. I just like being in that world.”
She grew up in Folsom, east of Sacramento, the only girl among six kids. She wasn’t into sports when she was young but remembers being constantly active with her brothers and their friends.
“I was always a very energetic kid,” she says. “I could never sit still.”
After playing high school and club volleyball, she gave up the sport and moved on to other pursuits. She did her freshman year at San Diego State before finishing at Sacramento State with a degree in nutrition. Later, she made her way back to San Diego, following an older brother. She now works with him at the Insurance Office of America branch in La Jolla.
She enjoys the job (which she started about nine years ago), working mostly in commercial insurance with architects and engineers, and it gives her the time before and after work and on weekends to pursue her training and sports interests.
At one point, she left for a while to open up a personal training/nutrition business but decided it was actually better to keep her passions separate from her business life because she was training on weekends rather than racing.
“I basically would have to stop doing all the things that I really love, and I realized I really like my job,” she says.
In her early 20s, Tenuto fell in love with road cycling and at one point was in the USA Cycling junior development program. She cycled for several years but eventually gave it up as she approached 30 because she was burned out from the 400-550 miles per week of training and was afraid of the inevitable crashes in the sport.
She ran her first road marathon at 20 and her first longer race, a 50K, at 25, then transitioned seriously to ultras after cycling. She’s won the Cuyamaca 100K near Julian three straight years (last year winning the women’s division in 11 hours, 36 minutes, 54 seconds), and she has victories in races of various distances across California. Though she used to believe people who ran ultras were crazy, she found she loves the sport, too.
“I was always better at long distances (in cycling),” she says. “I’ve got the slow-twitch muscles.”
So, to get outside onto remote trails and use her endurance suits her.
“You’re in the mountains and it’s peaceful and you’re away from everything,” she says.
Recently, she had surgery to reduce a bone on the back of her left foot (called Haglund’s deformity) that was painful and rubbing against her Achilles tendon. It’s bothered her for years. She’s eager to see how much better she’ll be able to run.
She trains about 15 to 20 hours, often arising at 5 a.m. and doing boxing at a gym and a run before work. She also does spin and barre classes before or after work and sometimes rides her bike to her office. She likes to get in most of her activity in the early morning because it energizes her.
Her background in nutrition gives her a good base. She loves vegetables and fruit, avoids processed foods and many animal products but says she’s lucky because her activity level is so high that she can eat what she wants.
“I was born to eat food,” she says, laughing. “I’m Italian. I love food. But I feel better when I eat better.”
Williams is a San Diego freelance writer.