American Hillary Allen has always been known for her climbing prowess, and she capitalized on that strength to win the 2021 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail (MIUT). In the following interview, Hillary talks about the benefits and challenges of leading almost the entire race, how she focused on staying in the moment, and how the 2017 Ultra SkyMarath0n Madeira and 2021 MIUT now bookend the tough times caused by her near-fatal fall during a race in 2017.
For more on what happened at the race, check out our MIUT results article for the play-by-play and links to other post-race interviews.
Hillary Allen, 2021 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Hillary Allen after her win at the 2021 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. How are you, Hillary?
Hillary Allen: I’m feeling great, Bryon! I’m so psyched!
iRunFar: What a day out there you had. You went out in the lead and you stuck it all day.
iRunFar: Like, I don’t normally think of you like just trying to go out there off the front.
iRunFar: And send it. But you did. What happened early on? Was that intentional or just kind of happened?
Allen: You know, honestly going into this, that was not my strategy. Normally that’s not my strategy. And this race is actually kind of perfect for easing into it. Because it’s tough first race. So if you put yourself in position, you can like move up the field. But I don’t know, yesterday I just kind of went out at a pace and I wanted to kind of see if anyone would go with me. And no one really did. I mean, Ekaterina [Mityaeva] was there kind of like two minutes back after the first climb and descent. And then after like the second climb, I have put more of a gap and my gap kind of increased all day. But to be honest when I started on the lead I was like, “Oh, shit.”
Allen: Because that’s normally not my style. So it was, I was, you know, hoping, I was like, “Well, Hillary, alright. You did this so let’s keep going with it.”
iRunFar: So were you thinking about having a target on your back or were you, do you get comfortable with it over time?
Allen: No, I think that’s the thing about, I like to chase. So that’s more my comfort zone. I don’t like leading you know, until it’s like later in the race. So I did, I felt like I had a target on my back. I didn’t feel like I could ever relax during the race, which was really hard because I definitely did not feel the best. You know, as most people, you know, they don’t feel the best in these ultra races, especially one as tough is this. So it didn’t really allow me to ever relax, I think which is a good thing. It kind of keeps you honest.
iRunFar: Yeah. And did you, when you’re out there, do you have, you know, you keep going, you keep going, there’s huge climbs, there’s huge descents, and then the last 30 kilometers are kind of runnable.
iRunFar: Switching gears. What was that like?
Allen: Um, in one word, painful. [laughs] But I mean, I was kind of prepared for it. It feels, I mean, it’s a really huge mental challenge just because, you know, I was feeling really strong on every climb. The descents were getting very painful. I was cramping, just because it was so unrelenting. But knowing that you still have, like I think it’s actually even the last marathon is a pretty runnable marathon. It’s just I think, for me, it was a good practice to stay mentally tough. And just to keep moving forward. The terrain got a little bit easier. It wasn’t as technical the last maybe 15k of the race. But that even makes it like even more difficult. So for me, it was just a practice in mental toughness and just trying to stay focused.
iRunFar: Less physical than in your head.
iRunFar: Do you have any tips for that? I mean, any thoughts on staying mentally engaged?
Allen: Yes, actually, this is something that I was working, so I mean, I’m pretty open about it. I see a sports psychologist and I think the mental aspect of running is huge. And especially for me, you know, coming back from all of these injuries, I had to work a lot on mental toughness and resilience. And so for me, it’s really trying to stay in the moment. Not getting too far ahead. Because if I think too far ahead, even you know, at that point in the race like three miles felt like an eternity. So really trying to stay focused and present in where I was, at that moment, what I could do to take care of myself and to feel the best right then. It’s the ultimate practicing in like being, like, mindfulness and being in the present moment. And that’s what I love so much about running. And that helped me to kind of take my mind off of the pain if I could figure out ways to appreciate where I was in that current moment.
iRunFar: Did you have a time during the race that was particularly challenging, whether it’s physical or mental?
Allen: You know, for me, it’s always around that time, like, kind of in the midnight hours. So after the adrenaline of the race wore off, you know, after I was shocked, my adrenaline was shocked again when it was so cold at Estanquinhos. But it was like kind of right before sunrise. My stomach wasn’t really behaving. I just felt really like kind of low in energy. And then just thinking like, “Oh my gosh, I still have like more than half of the race to go.” So again, it’s a practice in like okay, like, what can I do now to stay focused in this present moment and then yeah, like focusing on the climb. So I’d say before going into Curral, I had a pretty low moment. And then yeah, after like Chão da Lagoa, that one was pretty tough, too, because then you just have a bunch of downhill and the legs are hurting pretty bad at that point. Yeah.
iRunFar: It must have felt good. I know at the finish line you were talking about your last good race before your big accident was here on Madeira.
iRunFar: To come back and, does it feel like maybe you bridged a gap or what did it feel like?
Allen: You know, yeah. So I would, it’s really cool to kind of bookend this like, you know, running pre-accident after and I remember running the Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira here. It’s a 55k race. Really technical, really steep, but knowing that there was the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail and thinking, “I’m never going to run something that long or that hard.” And after something, you know, that I never thought that I would run again after this accident and then being able to step on a start line and then have a great performance. It just feels really special. And all the hard work and the tears and the suffering, it’s kind of like worth it to you know, never give up on myself. So that’s kind of all the emotions that were going through my mind when I crossed the finish line. And it’s really cool to do that in a place like Madeira. When you know, the people, the organization, it’s just such a welcoming place and an incredible example of the ultrarunning community.
iRunFar: Totally. You wrapping up your season with this?
Allen: Oh yeah. I am so excited for an off season!
iRunFar: [laughs] Truth.
Allen: Yes. I’m excited to go back to Colorado. Hopefully there’s snow. Let’s do some skiing.
iRunFar: Alright. Well, congratulations on your great race and see you next season.
Allen: Thank you so much.