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How did Hillary Allen fueled for an ultra marathon race?
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Hillary Allen's Dominant UTCT Performance

Q: What was the full experience of racing the UTCT like?

Well, I mean, a hundred miles is kind of new to me this year. It was a huge goal to like really feel like I could race it and nail it. And so that was something that made it so special to be able to feel like I was doing that – able to be competitive and stay on top of being in that mental space for that long. But really it just means so much for me to win that race because it was so incredibly technical. The entire hundred miles were just continuous rocks and very uneven footing.

It was such a cool experience [as my] second hundred miler. [It really felt] like I had put in the work from training, but also mentally to just go into that head space to really suffer and find a way to problem solve through the hard times.

Q: How do you stay mentally in the space you need to perform?

It certainly does ebb and flow; the hard thing about endurance running –especially these longer distances– is you can hit some low spots pretty early on in the race. In particular, because we usually start these races at night. So we started at 5:00 PM and had two hours of light before the sun kind of started to set. And so then, you’re alone on these trails, it’s pretty technical, and your mind can start to drift to certain places. For me, it's important I try to practice mindfulness.

Anytime I feel I’m getting ahead of [myself] or thinking in the future (like basically “oh my gosh, I have so much longer to run. If I'm not doing well right now, if I'm not feeling the greatest, how will I get through this?”). I try to just bring myself back to the current moment.

I try to focus on my senses, like what I can see, hear, and touch. Then I just kind of stick with mantras. If I'm on a climb, it's like, “one foot in front of the other”. For this race, a big mantra of mine was, “just keep moving” because I didn't want them to catch me.

A really important one for me is focusing on nutrition. Literally breaking up a race into half an hour chunks – making sure I'm getting in my nutrition [and] I’m drinking enough.

Q: How did you fuel for the UTCT?

I had plenty of training runs to practice my nutrition plan, but not many training runs of over 10 hours. That was the longest race that I’ve done kind of leading up to it. I knew what was tried and true and what would work well for 10 hours. I have a strategy of focusing on calories per hour just because I'm not running or working at a pace that's “super fast burning”. I didn't want to stress my gut too much by trying to consume too many calories, or specifically, carbohydrates.

For me, it's also important to mix my nutrition [with] things that are easily swallowed and digested like a gel. In that case, I was using Endurance Tap. First, I started with non-caffeinated and then switched to caffeinated gels. I also like to incorporate real food. So I would kind of mix between a bite of a bar (I was using JoJe´ Bars) and then a gel. That would [work well] for the long-endurance effort.

I also had some hydration in my flasks – like a hydration mix. I always have one with plain water and then one with a Skratch Labs drink mix. Keeping on top of that [was] the one thing I really had to focus on for this race as it was very hot. I was coming from Colorado and we already had snow on the ground [while] in Cape Town it was summer, so it was like 85 degrees. What I did there is I just made sure I was drinking to thirst. Then every time I was at an aid station, I'd make sure that I'd, you know, drink extra water making sure I was topping off my fluids.

I made sure I was topping off my electrolytes and then really listening to my salt cues for taste. So later in the race, I could definitely tell that I was craving salty foods.

Aside: it was funny because the race was the day after Thanksgiving and my boyfriend was crewing me. He came over from the US and brought dehydrated mashed potatoes and dehydrated stuffing with him. I was like, “there is no way I'm going to eat that. Like, no way at all”. He had it ready at every aid station and that [became] the only thing I wanted later.

Q: Specifically, how did the new Endurance Tap products work for you in that long of an event?

In my first hundred-mile race, which was earlier this summer, I did have some gut issues. I was having more traditional gels. I’m a big fan of real foods for fueling and I think that it really [helped to have] Endurance Tap being that it’s from a natural source. It has ginger and sea salt, so the ginger can help settle the stomach but it's very, very liquidy.

I really appreciated that about the endurance tap and it worked really well for me.

Q: How did you adapt to the changing food and nutrition culture while traveling?

I actually had a project to do with Brooks –my main sponsor– in Madera the week before. I had to travel there and then [to Cape Town]. So, it's a lot of flying time to get there. The water can be the main thing, although there are great water sources around the city of Cape Town, it is just a little bit different for those who aren't used to it. I just avoided that during race week – I stuck to what I knew and was able to cook. I was able to kind of have my own routine and then just had bottled water. Then, I got to experience the real food culture the week after the race.

Q: Would you implement anything differently for your next big ultra event?

I'd had a chance to figure out what didn't work so well during UTMB. It's always a matter of trial and error, but I think my strategy would be very similar. The thing that worked well for me [was] caffeine. Even though the race started at 5:00 PM, I just went through my normal caffeine routine – having a cup of coffee that morning, and then I didn't start caffeine until 4:00 AM. I didn't want to have any kind of unnecessary crashes due to caffeine. It was great that Endurance Tap has the caffeinated version.

I think the only other thing I would change is just trying out new flavors.

Q: What would you consider a vital part of your preparation for an ultra like this?

For me, it was back-to-back training days. I would do a lot of really tough threshold workouts on a Friday, then a long run (like 50km in the mountains, so six to seven hours), and then either a medium-length run or a long bike ride. So yeah, it's a lot of double days and back-to-back days. Then, obviously, all the other supporting things that you do is the mobility work and strength work.

You know, training is one thing, but for these races, you also need to practice that mental game. I took a lot of time with my sports psychologist to think about those mental strategies to use when you're not feeling so well but you still have to push. And that really helped.

The other key aspect was like practicing the ‘night start’. So I did a couple of training runs where I started at 5:00 PM and I ran until 2:00 AM. I got to practice my nutrition during the day to mimic a race day and then [I did] some other runs where I basically did double days; starting my second run as the sun was setting.

Q: What does recovery from that event look like for you?

I would be training a total volume of maybe between 30 and 35 hours, that would be what I would peak at. But, this includes running, cycling, and strength training. Then, my race [at UTCT] was right at 25 hours. So, yes, it was a lot because I was running a little bit in the taper week…but it's actually kind of a normal training volume for me. So I mean it's a lot of moving at one time, but I actually felt pretty good by the end of the first week post-race. I wanted to take an off-season though, so I've been more patient with that.

In the immediate days post-race, I didn't want to move. You get kind of swollen – especially in your feet. I just wanted to eat and sleep. So by Tuesday, I went for a hike, Wednesday I went for a mountain bike ride, and the same [activity] with Thursday.

Q: Were you able to come away from South Africa with some other memories?

Yes. A really big memory that I had were the baboons. They have baboons on the trails and every story that I heard about a baboon was directed toward women. Apparently, the baboons like to attack women because we’re smaller and timider(?). There were all these stories like, “they’re attracted to snacks too”.

I actually did have a baboon encounter the week after the trail race when I was running with an orange in my pack to this waterfall. There was a canopy and a bunch of baboons ahead of me – I basically had to make an alternate route and give the baboons my orange.

Photo credit: Mentz Germishuis

Avatar Carson Beckett

Carson Beckett / Monday, December 26, 2022