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How do you fuel for ultra distance trail running?
Athlete Stories

HPT Athlete Interview: Hillary Allen

What was your path like to ultra-running?

I was a tennis player in college when I was in grad school for my master's in Neuroscience and Physiology. At the time I was burnt out with grad school, couldn’t play tennis, and just kind of turned to running. Living in Denver, CO at the time I just kind of “happened” to get into trail running. I fell in with some awesome ladies where I’d run with them in the morning before I went to Lab.

I fell in love with the process of being able to see yourself getting better. Of course I have some talent and some knack for it…but I noticed I had a knack for endurance and uphill running. Within my first year, I ran my first marathon and then the following year I ran my first 50k.

Within two years I went all in on trail. I found what I was good at, this thing called Skyrunning. It’s basically the most technical form of trail running. We have some in the States and my first year doing this series I [ended up] winning it.

It’s like “cue the Disney music” of what trail running really is. The “home” of it is in Europe, so after my first season, I went over to Europe and ran in Chamonix. From there, after my master's degree, I was teaching and would take the summer off, pack up, and head to Europe.

You’ve talked about your accident in 2017, how has that experience reshaped your relationship with the sport?

It’s a thing not many athletes talk about; how you recover mentally and not just physically. Its something that will be with me forever, ya know, I’ll have these scars with me forever. It’s definitely a pivotal moment in my life and also my career.

It shifted things for me and [given me] perspective as to what’s really important. Of course, sport is important, but it’s not the only thing. It sounds funny, but in the world of professional athletics –where you are measured by your best result or last race– it’s helped me to figure out what’s really important. It’s about the pursuit of being your best athlete self regardless of time or place. Yeah, there is going to be a time when you are going after podiums or course records, but when that goes away does that mean you abandon sport? For me, the answer is no. You can always be the best version of yourself and an athlete.

(in reference to doing other sports now) It’s taught me to be a whole athlete and not to put too much pressure on one side of my life. And with that, too, things that make you a whole person.

Is there anything specific that you think contributes to your success and consistency as a distance runner?

It’s kind of hard to do, I’ve been in this sport (professionally speaking) since 2016. Especially with Ultras, that’s a lot of time and it’s costly on your body. I think before the accident, I was leading to burnout. I had this mentality of like “I’m only as good as my last result” or “if I didn’t podium it wasn’t worth it”. What has allowed me to get back to the sport at a consistent and high-level years later is that I’m really in love with the process of getting better. I love the process of training, for going for a run or workout and not really knowing if I can do it…

I’m really in love with that process and what it takes to get to the start line, so much so that it’s not about the results [and takes the] pressure off. It’s more about the process of what it means to be an athlete every day.

How was your UTMB experience?

It feels like the “Superbowl of Running”. It’s the pinnacle race: the longest distance (108mi) around the Mont Blanc massif), and climbs about 31,000ft, and the cut-off for the race is about 2 days. There was a record broken on the men's side of about 20hrs, which to me is like breaking the 2hr marathon. The competition level is incredibly high and there are 2,000 people in this race running 100mi across the Alps.

It’s one of the gnarliest races out there. I had so many ups and downs, there are so many emotions [because of the] pressure and hype, but at the end of the day it’s just running and you figure out how to work through it.

How do you manage fueling for an ultra effort?

I love The Feed because I have always been someone who likes variety. I use a combination of gels, bars, and drink mix for calories and electrolytes. This is actually important because you are not only running through the day, you are running at times when your body is not used to eating, at night, staying awake for more than a day…

While I use a combination of gels, I’ve started to incorporate other solid foods.

(in response to her UTMB fueling) The reason why this works for me is because when you start at 6:00pm it was my plan to have something that stimulated digestion – so not just having liquid calories or a gel form. I started out using a few gels but when it turned into the night section I shifted into eating bars so that I could stimulate digestion but also not experience a caffeine crash. I waited until 2-3:00am to take my first caffeine and to combat the sleepiness you might feel I tried to incorporate bars with some protein in them because it helps with wakefulness.

Once the sun came up, I just stuck with my plan of a combination of gels and bars…but at the aid stations, I was actually having some real food like salted potatoes or something. Especially for Ultras, you are running “fast” but you aren’t running “super fast” so you can still eat fairly well for these things.

(in response to daily strategy) I drink to thirst but, however, with food I need to be more regimented.

How has introducing a coaching role been for you?

The more I race and the more I run makes me a better coach. My injuries actually made me a better coach because you are just more human. It’s a really cool way to give back to the community and I absolutely love it.

What’s an ideal training day for you?

Europe: Bike to a trailhead, do a big mountain loop (with at least one tart/coffee stop), and then bike home. Ideally, I’d be out with the sun and riding back with the sunset.

USA: Very similar but I’d bring my own snack to have at a summit. The ride-to-run-to-ride is awesome, though.

Hillary’s Favorite Products:

Joje Bars

Gu Stroopwafel

Neversecond C30

Spring Energy

Skratch Labs Chews

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The Feed. / Tuesday, September 13, 2022