With a strong performance this weekend at Ultra Pirineu, Hillary Allen could win this year’s Skyrunner World Series Ultra division. In this interview, Hillary talks about her season competing in Skyrunning races, what her summer of traveling in Europe has been like, and some of the things she’s learned about traveling and racing abroad.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Hillary Allen Pre-2016 Ultra Pirineu Interview
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and it’s a couple days before the 2016 Ultra Pirineu. I’m here in Gósol, Spain, with Hillary Allen. Hi.
Hillary Allen: Hi, guys. Hello.
iRunFar: How are you doing?
Allen: Good. How are you doing?
iRunFar: So, we’re in this medieval fortress structure above the village of Gósol, which you’re going to run through somewhere like 70-ish kilometers in the Ultra Pirineu on Saturday. It’s September. It’s going on late September, so we’re kind of at the end of your racing season. How are you feeling?
Allen: Actually, I thought my season ended already after I ran The Rut, so this is kind of a surprise to be here. I’m beyond excited to be at the start line. I feel healthy. I feel no injuries which I feel like is…
iRunFar: A big deal.
Allen: A big deal. I don’t want to say ‘lucky’ because… yeah, it’s a big deal. Yeah, it’s definitely September. I was feeling tired. I had an epic summer traveling and racing. I did a lot of races in Europe. I did a lot of traveling abroad. I was ready to…
iRunFar: Have some chill time?
Allen: Have some chill time after The Rut. I love Montana. I’ve already started teaching this semester, so I’m kind of getting into that routine.
iRunFar: Fall lifestyle started back at home.
Allen: Exactly. Then I have a huge travel bug. After my place at The Rut, I’m now in the second position for the Ultra World Series (Skyrunning)… so many words in there… Ultra Skyrunning World Series…
iRunFar: Ultra division of the Skyrunner World Series.
Allen: Yes. After that, there was an opportunity to come for the final. If there’s an opportunity that if I do well and I feel good and I could win, I had to take that chance.
iRunFar: That’s basically why you’re here. After The Rut, numbers panned out, you’re in second position, so you’re here to try to win or work for the Ultra podium in that division?
Allen: Yeah, it was actually my goal at the beginning of the season to podium for the World Series. It means a lot to me to even achieve that thus far, so I’m pretty pumped. Regardless of the fact that it’s September, it is late for me. I don’t like to race much beyond the summer. Definitely when I get into fall, even though snow’s not coming yet, I’m definitely looking into cross training, cycling, climbing.
iRunFar: Just doing different things.
Allen: Just doing something different, yeah, and definitely getting my skis on.
iRunFar: ‘I want snow!’
Allen: The top of the mountain has some but not where I can ski yet. Yeah, we’ll see. It’s 110k. It’s definitely long. I’ll see how I feel going into it. I’m psyched. The excitement is there. The desire to race and be on the start line is there. That’s half the battle. We’ll see how my body holds up.
iRunFar: Walk us through your summer a little bit because you’ve been participating in the Skyrunner World Series Ultra division races. You also participated in the Skyrunning World Championships. Then you had a couple other extraneous adventures in there. Talk about your summer.
Allen: Yeah. Oh, boy. I don’t know where to begin. The first extraneous adventure began in February but in Haiti. I went with The North Face…
iRunFar: I even forgot about your extraneous Haitian adventure.
Allen: Yeah. I ran across Haiti which I can say in a sentence, but it was no easy feat. There was an entire story behind that. The North Face did a film on it. It’s called, ‘Further.’ If you want to check it out, you can. That was insane. Then from there it kind of went more into specific training for the Skyrunner series. That was in addition to what I wanted to do this season. I kicked everything off with Transvulcania, a race I’ve always wanted to do.
iRunFar: In May.
Allen: In May which is early—it snowed three feet in Boulder the day before I left. I was skiing that week, and then I went to a tropical island to run across a volcano.
iRunFar: To try to run in the heat.
Allen: It worked out. I kind of did a few sauna sessions before hand… maybe to warm back up rather than to train. Then I did Transvulcania. I had to come home actually and finish some stuff up with school for the semester and finish submitting all my grades and all that good stuff.
iRunFar: Do work work?
Allen: Do some work which I really enjoy. At that point, I’d already moved all my things into storage because I was planning to be away for the whole summer traveling, training, and racing. So I was kind of homeless for a little bit there, but I made it work. Then I left at the end of May to go to Portugal, a little island of Madeira, to do the 55k there (Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira), which was incredible. It was technical and amazing—so many shades of green.
iRunFar: All I’ve heard when people talk about the trails in Madeira, they say, “stairs.”
Allen: Yeah, and I have big feet. It was really difficult. Yeah, the people in Madeira are these little islanders.
iRunFar: It’s the small-footed island.
Allen: Seriously. They’re ‘this tall.’ They’re really small. I’m not trying to… it’s the truth. There’s not really any tall people there. Yeah, I have big feet. It was wet. It was a little bit of a challenge. It added more spiciness.
iRunFar: That’s hilarious—the big-footed challenge.
Allen: Seriously. Everyone else was going straight down. I had to turn sideways. It was fun though. Yeah, so I stayed there for a week and immediately went to Venice, Italy. I have a friend who used to live in Boulder. I’ve made friends all around the world just from when I lived abroad, anyway. He was kind of showing me where to go. Another friend of mine, I went to stay at her family’s… at her childhood home in this little teeny village, Pozzale. It was like…
iRunFar: Outside of Venice?
Allen: No, it was near the Dolomites near Cortina. I went to Venice first just to get a plan, and then I went there. This little Italian village—no one spoke English. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was staying in this bed and breakfast. I could do trail running and training every day just from my door. I was there for three weeks. Then I had a little side race—Cortina [Trail]. The North Face is obviously a big sponsor of Lavaredo.
iRunFar: It’s the shorter sister race to Lavaredo.
Allen: Yes, I initially was going to longer one, but I decided to back down because I wanted to do the Buff Epic [Trail], the World Championships. I did the Cortina Trail which runs right around Tre Cime in the Dolomites. Insane—the history and the landscape. It was so great. I got to hang out with some teammates there. Then from there I went to Spain. And thus began the crazy adventure that is Spain.
iRunFar: Sorry, Spain, but you’re an adventure.
Allen: Yes, definitely. It’s my favorite, obviously. I can speak Spanish. I can use my language skills now, but the schedule is just totally different. I think the first day I got there, I went to this little place, La Covatilla, which is this little ski station. There was going to be a race there, so I was helping to make a video to promote the race. It was crazy. I got there at 8 p.m. after having traveled all day. “It’s still early. There’s plenty of light.” So we go running for two-and-a-half hours. We don’t even have any dinner until 11:30 p.m. The kids are up playing. I’m falling asleep on the table. Spain was kind of like that… all over the place. But it was amazing. I got to go to Aragon and into Catalunya and all around the Pyrenees. I finally ended my stay there after the World Championships at the Buff Epic which was my first crack at 110k.
iRunFar: And it was epic for you.
Allen: Certainly epic in the fact that I threw up a bunch of times.
iRunFar: What happened in that race? Did you go into it sick or just feel off?
Allen: I think it was just the whole experience of traveling. I think my body was tired, and I wasn’t willing to admit it. I wasn’t really willing to slow down to really taper for that race. I think I’d still run 15 miles in five hours the Saturday before. What am I doing? But I couldn’t really… the reason why I chose to stay in Europe for the whole summer was because…
iRunFar: You wanted the experience?
Allen: Yes, and that’s just as important as any race is to me… in fact it’s more important. I wasn’t willing to follow a strict training plan just because I had a race. Of course I was training for the races and on the terrain and the more steep and technical terrain, but I only have one time to experience this or just one life and I want to experience as much as I can. So that’s probably my fault. I was maybe a little bit tired mentally and physically. I think what revolted was my stomach. I’ve actually never really had stomach issues. I could not eat for 10 or 11 hours. Yeah, the race took me 17 hours to do.
iRunFar: Did you see Jesus down there?
Allen: No, I did not see God.
iRunFar: ‘Where was he? Why didn’t he have food for me?’
Allen: I couldn’t have eaten it. Even the whole ultra Coca-Cola trick, I tried that for a little bit. But I was drinking maybe 10 milliliters in an hour or two hours. Even then, every time I touched it to my lips, I’d dry heave. Every time I went past a certain pace to try to push it, I’d just dry heave and throw up everything that was inside of me, which was awful. It’s such a horrible feeling. I try to take away positives from every experience. I never knew I could keep going. I didn’t know I had it in me. Every single ounce of me wanted to quit, but somehow I still kept walking out of the aid stations. I still kept going. I don’t know what it was. Every time, Oh, my gosh. I have so much further. I just want to quit. Why am I doing this? This is so stupid! Then once I realized… I had high hopes of maybe podium in that race. I think maybe I could have on a good day. Once that was kind of out of the picture, I was questioning whether I should just keep going because I wasn’t in the position I wanted to be. Then I was thinking to myself, That’s bullshit. I don’t do it because of that. I do it because I love it and to challenge myself. So I definitely got that.
iRunFar: Definitely got the ‘challenge yourself’ aspect of the day.
Allen: I finished. That was a huge accomplishment—my first 100 or 110k. It was a super-mountainous course. I think it had 28,000 feet up and then back down.
Allen: Yeah, wet rock. I fell. Yeah, that was also it. I fell within the first 20k. Then my stomach’s not working. It was a great day.
iRunFar: Let’s just call that one an off day. You came back to the U.S. shortly after that?
Allen: Yeah, I did. Then I went straight back to Scotland for Isle of Skye. There was a little project we did with The North Face there. I was visiting my home roots. My father grew up in Isle of Skye. That was really cool.
iRunFar: Did you see all the red-haired people of the world?
Allen: I did. There are so many.
iRunFar: This is where we come from!
Allen: But they’re pale. I actually hold a tan. They were looking at me like I’m some extravagant thing, foreigner, coming in.
iRunFar: ‘Who’s this dark-skinned creature?’
Allen: That was cool. Then I came back and two days later I started teaching at the small college or university that I’m at. Yeah, then The Rut shortly after…
iRunFar: So The Rut, when I think of Hillary-Allen-style racing, I think of The Rut as sort of right up your alley—lots of technicality and steeps. But at 5 a.m. the morning of the race, the route was changed.
Allen: Yes, it was.
iRunFar: To the anti-Hillary-Allen-style race.
Allen: To the antithesis of my style. I called it a track meet, and I did not run track.
iRunFar: It was a muddy track meet.
Allen: It was a muddy track meet. Maybe the elements were more my style because I feel like the more suffering and the more extreme the elements, I’m fine. I’ll go out in anything to run. That maybe suited my style a bit more because it was really cold and rainy and I was soaked…
iRunFar: But it was super runnable compared to the original course.
Allen: The whole thing was runnable. We still had a fair amount of climbing, so it wasn’t a flat track meet, but for me it was.
iRunFar: But you did really well.
Allen: Yeah, I was really surprised actually.
iRunFar: Do you think it was because the conditions were kind of way, way off?
Allen: Maybe, but I also felt really sad to be home. It sounds really weird, right? You should be homesick. I was kind of the opposite. I was already missing Spain.
iRunFar: You were homesick for Europe.
Allen: Yes, I was homesick for Europe. It was a great experience. I was already feeling off mentally. I think once I showed up to the race and saw a bunch of my friends and the whole community of trail running, I was kind of invigorated again. Again, it’s a challenge. It’s not my style, but I’m still going to try my best that day. Yeah, I just kept pushing myself. Once I reached the last climb, I was like, Oh, we’re here already? We’re at this last aid station? I kind of shed a tear when we passed the turn off for Lone Peak because I wanted to go up there so bad.
iRunFar: ‘I want to turn!’
Allen: Yeah, I pushed very hard to the very end. I was only 30 seconds back from the second place. Yeah, I guess I got some speed in me. I just have to find the right attitude to channel it, I guess.
iRunFar: One last set of fireworks here this weekend at Ultra Pirineu.
Allen: Yeah, literally. Aren’t there fireworks or something at the beginning?
Allen: It’s crazy. There’s 1,000 people in this ultra.
iRunFar: One thousand people who are going to start in this tiny, historic town.
Allen: Yeah, we were just talking about that today. It’s incredible.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you. May you wrap up your Skyrunner World Series Ultra division podium. Good luck.
Allen: Thank you. Thank you very much.