Hillary Allen has faced huge challenges with accidents and injuries over the past few years but she keeps bouncing back. She’ll get another chance to show what she’s made of at this weekend’s Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. In the following interview, Hillary talks about the high that was placing second at TDS in 2019, the low that was dropping out of this year’s UTMB, and what she makes of the highs and lows of the MIUT course.
Hillary Allen Pre-2021 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Hillary Allen before the 2021 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. How are you, Hillary?
Hillary Allen: Doing great. Thanks for meeting me here. [laughs]
iRunFar: Yeah. Really rough. [laughs]
iRunFar: It’s a beautiful like cool but pleasant day here in Machico, Madeira.
Allen: Yeah, right by the finish line.
iRunFar: Quite literally 10 yards, 10 meters to our side here. You’ve been here for a little while in Madeira. What’s it been like?
Allen: Yeah. So, you know, you think about a tropical island pretty close to Morocco, that it’d be, you know, this paradise. [laughs] It’s actually been kind of cold. And that’s like up high, right? Some of the tallest peaks here are about 1,800 meters. So I mean, not too terribly high, but it’s actually quite cold. So that’s the thing that I’ve been most surprised by, that I’ve definitely used my rain jacket pretty much every day, either to stay warm or protect me from the precipitation. I mean, it’s humid, but it’s beautiful. It’s a very nice island vibe. Beautiful scenery.
iRunFar: Has it been nice getting to have a feel of the course and the weather conditions?
Allen: Yeah, honestly. That’s something I love to do, to see the course but not like, you know, too much of it, right. There’s something, to leave something to be anticipated for the race. But it’s cool to get a feel for just the different kind of ecosystems that you go through. It’s incredibly different from one side of the island, we’re kind of on the south side, to like the north side where the race starts, and then going up over the peaks like, we go through some incredibly different ecosystems. It’s really cool.
iRunFar: It is, they say, four seasons on one island at a given time, so.
Allen: Yeah. Maybe in the course of an hour.
iRunFar: Or the race, for sure. I mean, it’s a midnight start, goes up high early on the north side, which is kind of the wetter side as well. You got to be prepared for that. And then it could be baking here in Machico in the afternoon.
Allen: Right. Yeah, I’ve noticed that actually just even from just in the course of the day, like doing a run up high and then coming down below and just like, just the differences. Either it’s super hot in one place and cold in the other. So it’ll be interesting for the race, to be prepared for some more Colorado weather than I expected.
iRunFar: Some layering perhaps is in order.
Allen: I would think so. And it’s just, it’s so wet. Obviously, I’m not quite as used to the humidity. I’m from Colorado, as you know, we have like zero percent and here it’s more like 80. So you know, if it’s really hot it could be really hard to cool down. But then also you can get cold. So yeah.
iRunFar: Could be a challenge.
iRunFar: But you’ve had a challenging couple of years, more than a couple now I guess.
Allen: [laughs] Yeah.
iRunFar: Rewinding a little bit like you had a great race in 2019, taking second at TDS. Like how did that feel?
Allen: Oh man, that was probably just one of the highlights I think of my, obviously athletic career, but just I think life, because just to come back from something that I’ve come back from, working so hard and then to get on the start line feeling healthy and happy to be there, just ready for a new challenge. Just to race that actually, and to be so focused on the competition but also just internally like within myself for a race. It felt just so gratifying to cross the finish line in like, you know, within minutes of, you know, the first place after battling for almost a day. On one of the hardest courses and the longest courses I’ve ever done. It was just extremely satisfying. And it represented more than just, you know, just a race or a performance. Yeah.
iRunFar: Yeah. And then more recently you’ve been faced another challenge with your foot, which unfortunately took you out of UTMB. What happened there?
Allen: Yeah, so I mean, the foot injury, so I broke my foot in, let’s see. I was running on it for three weeks before I knew it was broken so severely. So I actually had surgery in early April. And, you know, you do the math. April I was, you know, this was actually an injury that was related to the whole accident like, my body has changed. So basically I had to take five weeks off, not doing anything. So then you put the timelines, it’s pretty amazing that I was even on the start line of UTMB feeling healthy. But basically that foot fracture, I’d had surgery and I have a plate in there now. It wasn’t quite 100 percent and I knew that going into the race, but I stepped on a rock perfectly and kind of, you know, re-aggravated that break point. And so I had to take a little bit of time off, got approval from the doctors to start running again. And here I am.
iRunFar: At least seeing you out on the UTMB course, it was kind of crushing. Yeah.
Allen: Yeah. You mean seeing me afterwards? Wait when did I see you? Yeah.
iRunFar: Would I have seen you in Courmayeur?
Allen: I think Courmayeur, yeah, because I stopped just before.
Allen: And it was, it was, it was so crushing because it’s like I worked so hard, you know, trying to use different training methodologies to get myself ready. I was feeling very strong, extremely motivated also. And it’s just yeah, it’s just crushing. Because I love to do these things. I love to challenge myself and you know, I think I’m, I want to compete at these really competitive and high-level races and then just having the cards not quite go into place was emotionally just, it’s pretty devastating.
iRunFar: But you bounce back yet again.
iRunFar: And ran three races at Broken Arrow. Did your doctor prescribe that, because I don’t know if that’s…
Allen: [laughs] No.
iRunFar: Okay, we won’t tell anybody.
Allen: He’s not going to watch this hopefully. Um, but yeah, so he definitely didn’t prescribe that, but you know, it’s like, for me, it was just, the Broken Arrow meant something to me emotionally because that was the first race that I did after you know, everything in 2017. And so, to go there again, was just kind of a celebration. And I think for me, it was like well, I want to, I have bigger goals. I want to do some longer races. And so for me the best preparation was to kind of do the Triple Crown. To do all three of the races and see how the body held up.
iRunFar: Mm hmm.
Allen: And you know, kind of once I was able to you know really push myself and actually really race those three races, it was kind of like okay, like, I think this is some momentum. And not only emotionally but also just physically. And I just kind of took it from there and took that momentum into kind of the next training block and it was after that race and I decided to put MIUT on the calendar.
iRunFar: Okay, it wasn’t it wasn’t there before.
Allen: No, it was after. Yeah.
iRunFar: Got it. And so you’re feeling healthy and strong and ready to go?
Allen: Yeah, I mean, obviously I think these races, they’re humbling. I mean, they’re, they’re hard regardless of the competition, but just the course itself. So I have an immense amount of respect for this island and the race directors and whoever put this crazy course together. You know, I actually have a history with Madeira. I’ve been here twice before for the Ultra SkyMarathon [Madeira] in 2016, 2017. And I love the feel. I love the organizations. The people are just so amazing. And the mountains here are rough. And so I think with all of that, I’m feeling excited. I’m feeling as ready as I can at this point and with everything that I’ve been through this year. You know, excited for the competition and excited for you know, the challenge of the course because that’s really what it’s all about.
iRunFar: What do you think will be most challenging about the course? You’ve run the whole thing.
iRunFar: What stands out in your mind?
Allen: I mean, everyone says the stairs. Yes, those are going to be hard to get a rhythm, but it’s such a brutal beginning of the course. And I think two things. The temperature differences are going to be a challenge. But like every single climb, there’s two climbs in the first 20 miles that are both vertical kilometers. And so, you know, and I think every climb actually every, like substantial climb is a VK and there’s three of them, at least in the course. And the other one, I think, is just a half or three quarters of a VK. So um, I think that’s going to be crazy, but then you add on top of it, the last 30k or the last, you know, marathon of the course, is actually extremely runnable. So you know, to have some leg speed and to kind of “save some legs for the end.” If you can do that in an ultra. Yes, I think that’ll be, that’ll be a good challenge.
iRunFar: Alright. Well, good luck with that and have fun this weekend.
Allen: Thanks so much.
iRunFar: Thank you.