Why live a life that’s perceived as mad?

Why live a life that’s perceived as mad?
It’s 3am. I’m surrounded by darkness and a crisp breeze. Goosebumps line my skin, I feel groggy, unmotivated and tired. I lace up my running shoes, as I try to silence the voices in my head: “You’re going running again today? Why so far? Why so long? Why?” . . . . I stare into the darkness, turn on my headlamp, start my watch and go.


I was living a life perceived as mad. My family didn’t understand, most of my friends thought I was crazy, sometimes I didn’t even understand why I running. I didn’t understand until I was out there, moving; when I was feeling the mountain air, listening to my footsteps, breathing and pushing my body forward, it all made sense. All questioning dissipated, it didn’t matter what they thought, what anyone thought, I was in my element, my own world. A runner.


I haven’t always been a runner, let alone an endurance mountain runner. I was on track to a life defined solely by my job, the amount of money I made, the car I drove and the house I lived in. Not a life guided by my passions, providing freedom to dream and pursue goals other than those associated with a job. This transition, to be a mountain runner, an ultrarunner, to a life focused on the outdoors, has been met with skepticism. Most people didn’t understand what I was doing. Why was I running? What was I running from? What was this ‘obsession,’ this gratuitous hobby?

At first I didn’t know. It’s unexplainable and complex; this desire to run extreme distances through technical terrain, over high-mountain passes through unexplored territory. Is it mad? Some days I think it is. When I’m suffering and battling through the pain, the desire to stop, the raw state of my body exposed to the relentless mountain. Is this life mad? No. In fact, it’s the opposite. In these raw moments I find strength. I find the power within myself to continue and face any challenge that comes my way. It’s a feeling, a place where my mind is clear and I am connected with the world, my heart, and my thoughts. It is the place where I feel the most at home in my own skin, where I can challenge myself, learn, grow and become stronger. It’s a deeply personal form of self-exploration, yet it transcends into every aspect of my life, making me better. It’s powerful, rewarding and beautiful. This madness, is not really madness at all, but a steadfast desire, guiding my heart, mind and soul to a greater purpose and belonging.





Strictly speaking, balance is defined as the ability to remain upright and steady due to an even distribution of weight. This is definitely applicable for most trail runners – although falling is inevitable at times. However, I’d like to talk about a different kind of balance, one dealing with the stability of one’s mind and state of being. I’m constantly striving for balance. Maybe you laugh, scoff even, that an ultra runner knows the meaning of the word. Balance? Indeed, I am familiar with the term, and I strive for balance in my daily life.



First, I start with running. It’s a huge part of my life, and my favorite way of enjoying nature. However, I don’t want to overdo it. This is to prevent over-training, but even more importantly, to prevent burn out or lack of motivation in my running/racing. I balance my training: mileage, hours and vertical gain.

Now, it’s not always easy to maintain this balance. Heard of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)? What about YOLO (You Only Live Once)? I fall victim to these ailments, especially when I’m traveling or exploring a new area. All I want to do is get out and run for hours and hours up every mountain I see! Of course, I will get after it, but I’m constantly monitoring how I feel. I allow myself the freedom to slow down, skip a workout, take an extra rest day, or go longer that day if I’m feeling good. I am dedicated to my training plan, but want to maintain a playfulness and happiness with running. This balance keeps me hungry for more.



I can’t run all the time, and even if I could, I don’t want to. Another important aspect to maintain a balanced mind is work. This is something us runners don’t talk about a lot. We assume that if someone is a sponsored runner, that’s all they do. Wrong. In fact, the majority of ‘professional’ trail runners have a day job too, a family and other interests that they are balancing. For me, it’s science.



I’ve been a scientist since before I could walk. I’m pretty sure my first words were ‘miller moth,’ you know, those moths that come around in hoards once a year and get stuck in your house? Yep. I wanted to be an entomologist for as longa as I can remember, dressing up as an entomologist on career day in kindergarten, or for every Halloween.


This love of science and curiosity in the natural world motivated me to earn an undergraduate degree in Organic Chemistry and a Masters degree in neuroscience. I worked or volunteered in labs starting in middle school.

Currently, I’m teaching chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology at a small college outside of Boulder, CO. It’s the perfect way to motivate the next generation of scientists. Plus, it’s challenging to teach the material well.


Science, teaching and running are major parts of my life, without each piece I am not whole. I’m a better teacher if I prioritize running before class. I have more energy and more focus. Then, when it’s time to run, I make it count no matter what the training is that day (even rest days). Balance is more of a way of living, rather than an achievement. It allows me the freedom for change, constantly adjusting my life as my interests evolve. I also coach runners, I ski, and rock climb. I do yoga, cycle, read, cook and travel. Now, of course, I can’t balance those daily, but I can incorporate them in my lifestyle as a whole. Each adding a unique value to my life, while contributing to entirety of me.


Check out more pots on Trails Sisters



Past the Limit

Ultra running is a niche sport, an extreme one at that. It can take many forms as far as terrain, but the definition is simple: covering a distance more than a marathon. Covering that distance in one piece however, is not so simple.


I first discovered ultra running in the form of mountain running. This quickly turned into a love for an even more extreme form of mountain running known as skyrunning. Here, courses take you from the sea to the sky, in the most direct path imaginable. This year I’ve been lucky enough to compete in La palama (Transvulcania 75km), Madeira (Madeira ultra sky 50km), the Dolomites (Cortina Trail 50km), and the Pyrenees (Buff Epic 110km). I find motivation and challenge in skyrunning, due to the demanding technicality and steep grades. However, my most recent race, the Buff Epic, at the skyrunning world championships in Valle de Boí, forced me to places I had never been before.


I’m not going into the details of a race report, but for background, this race was 110km with 8000m of positive gain (about 69 miles and 26,500ft). Extreme.


I knew this race would challenge me, maybe even break me, but never did I expect the day I had.


I started comfortable, anticipating all the climbs, letting the steepness dictate my pace. I felt comfortable, calm to be running. Within the first 20k I had already managed to go off course for a few minutes, to fall on some slippery rocks, but even that couldn’t get my spirits down. I knew I was going to be out there all day, mentally I was ready to be patient.

Then, all of a sudden it hit me. Nausea. I was being proactive about my nutrition, but suddenly, around the 25km mark, even the smell of food made my stomach turn. I would vomit when I tried to eat anything!

I thought things would turn around if I stuck to liquid calories and salt to get back in some electrolytes, but things just got progressively worse. Sipping coca cola soon lead to vomiting and by the 50km mark I was stuck to drinking a salt solution provided by the aid station, with very little caloric value. I was worried and I wanted to quit.

I had an amazing support crew who were meeting me around all sections of the course (which were really hard to get to), so perhaps that was a source of motivation. But, for me, running is so personal. I won’t simple do a race or a run because someone tells me to, I must be convicted to do it myself. So I kept going.


This time, every uphill, or slightly steep pitch I was dry heaving. Pushing my body past a certain pace caused me to double over with nausea. I was 67km in.

My mind was spiraling. I worried about my place. How I was competing – I wasn’t competing. I wondered what people would think about my performance, it was the world championships, I wondered if I was a horrible runner now. I thought about quitting simply because I wasn’t in a podium position like I imagined I would be. Right then, I stopped on the trail, and told myself out-loud: ‘That’s a horrible reason to quit Hill, and it’s not why you run.”


So I kept moving forward. Around 75km now.


I wanted to quit! Why wasn’t I quitting?? Should I quit? Am I causing myself damage? How am I able to walk up this mountain with no food in me??


I carried these questions with me into the last major aid station at 81.5km, convinced this was the time to call it quits. I had run 50 miles – that was good enough. Plus, I didn’t want to run in the dark. I was ready to quit, like I had told myself around the 30km mark.


My crew had everything prepared. My headlamp, water, more water – water was the only thing I could stomach now. I looked at their faces to confirm my defeat, but they told me they’d see me at the finish. I didn’t believe I’d make it. But I got up, making my way towards the door, hesitant. I wanted to quit, to end the suffering, but I was still moving toward the door. I left in a slow trudging jog.


Where was the hope, the perseverance, and this determination within me? Why were my feet still moving me forward? How? Why won’t my stomach stop hurting? How in the world am I still dry heaving? Why am I not quitting?? I still want to quit.


These words played like a broken record within my head. Repeating, circling, questioning, begging myself to quit. I really had no idea how I was still moving or if there was anything to be proud of with my performance. I was absolutely defeated. Yet, still moving. How were these two things possible?


The last few hours of my race were all a blur. The dull ache of my stomach and my circling questions made time irrelevant. I came to when I say the 1km mark on the side of the trail. I had made it to the finish, but not in a triumphant manner, or with any extra surge of energy. I was relieved and confused crossing the finish line. Why and how did I keep going? How did I make it hear.


Over the next few days, I kept reliving my experience and I still can’t explain what transpired that day. I’ve always said I run for the challenge, and the strength it gives me as a person. That day I felt the weakest and most challenged in a race or run. Extraordinarily, I still had something more. Nothing tangible or explicable, but I had something deeper that kept me moving forward, something that wouldn’t let me give up or give in to the pain, the challenge and doubt.


I wouldn’t have discovered this silent strength, this powerful force within me, unless I was pushed past my limit. I would have never known I possessed this immeasurable strength if I had not kept going that day. This is my silver lining, and the true reason why I run. There is strength in the struggle and grace in the challenge. All I must do, is simply run.



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Thank you to The North FaceSky RunnerUltimate DirectionSkratch LabsSwiftwick Socks and Real Athlete Diets (RAD) for their continued support.


You Don’t Look Like a Runner

I only had 5.5km left, all downhill. I told myself to focus for thirty more minutes, extra time never hurt. This course was brutal, a 55km race bragging 4000 meters (13,000ft) of gain. Technical, steep, hot – just what I like. It was a very competitive race and I had pushed into 2nd place. As I rounded the final corner to push up one final hill I finally let myself feel it as chills ran over my skin. There was excitement, relief, accomplishment, a need for more water and to take off my shoes. I had made the podium and I had fought for every single second of it. I was proud, happy to be done, and pleased with my strength and patience throughout the race.


After some rest and recovery the athletes and volunteers gathered for congratulations and dinner. It was great to celebrate. We relived the race, our ups and downs, the views, and the terrain; assuring the organizers they had put on a tough race.

Everyone kept telling me how strong I was, how hard I pushed on the uphills, that I was a machine. Then one of the local runners had a question for me:

sky running

“How much do you weigh?” he asked, comparing me directly to Gemma Arenas, the winner of the race, who was standing next to me at the time. She’s about 5’ tall, and petite. Not only am I 9’’ taller than Gemma, but we have completely different builds; I, being, the more muscular of the two. Then, another question, ‘”How is it you can run so fast when you weigh so much more?’

Strength, machine, powerful, animal – those were the adjectives used to describe me. Not fast, or skilled, or talented, or even the word ‘runner.’ Was it because of the way I looked? I couldn’t help but be slightly offended, hurt and extremely self-conscious. I had just finished second, amongst world-class competition, and I was asked to explain my performance and myself.


photo credit: Ian Corless

Immediately, the first thoughts in my head were “Why am I here? How did I run that fast? I don’t look like I’m supposed to look?” I let those comments and doubts interfere with celebration of my achievement. In fact, that night I let myself stagger in confusion and self-deprecation, crying and wishing I could change how I looked to avoid future speculation from others and my own critical eye.

Like many women – and runners – I have had an eating disorder. However, trail running is what motivated my recovery. When I started running, is when I decided to take care of myself, to listen to my body and respect it. Although I am recovered now, it’s a dynamic process and one I can never ignore. That fact made clear by my shear devastation brought on by a comment about my weight.


So I challenged that doubt and fear. I don’t need to look different to be considered a runner. I am one. I challenge that thought in all of us. Take a breath, and decide to take action. Maybe the action is an out loud declaration, quiet introspection or venting. For me it’s an all out battle inside my head to accept those uncomfortable thoughts that are urging me, convincing me that I ‘don’t look like a runner’ and that I must change my physical state to match a certain standard. They’re bullshit. Complete. Total. Irrational. Bullshit.

I can run. I can move. Uphill. Strong. Fast. Running. I am a runner.


What is a runner supposed to look like anyway? I am a runner and so are you, no matter the size and shape of our bodies, no matter the distance covered or the terrain encountered.

I was made to run. My soul feels it; my body knows it; my heart longs for it. These are the thoughts I listen to. I am a runner. I chose to run toward that truth.


For more articles and inspirational stories check out the Trail Sisters Blog!



From the Sea to the Sky

Skyrunning has quickly become my favorite form of trail running. The rules are simple: start from the sea and run to the sky and repeat. This form of racing is popular in Europe and is growing popularity in the US and around the world.

Besides the views, I love this race style for its simplicity. Courses are encouraged to find the most direct (and steepest) climbs, exposed ridge-lines and most direct descents, usually technical. The challenge is something I love.


I’m competing the the Skyrunner® world series this year, in races all around Europe. The first race kicked off with Transvulcania, an epic 75km race across a volcano! This race is one i’ve wanted to compete in ever since I started ultra running. Not only does it bring the world’s best ultra runners, but the trails are stunning and unrelenting. 13179426_765219168288_6401162083133656090_nskyrunning

photo credit: Meghan M. Hicks

This year at Transvulcania, the women’s filed was stacked. I was nervous to compete, but excited to explore new trails. Getting around on La Palma is quite difficult, so the course is actually the most efficient way to see the entire island.


photo credit: Jordi Saragossa

The variety of terrain on La Palma is incredible, including lush forests, ferns, pine trees, sand, ridge lines and volcanic terrain. But the best part of this race, for me, was literally running into the sky. La Palma is situated such that thick layer of fog roll in constantly and just sit at around 5,000ft. The result is an inversion. We ran through this dense mist to the ridge-lines above. All I could see for miles and miles were ridges, rock and sky. This is sky running at its finest.

The course at Transvulcania is quite runnable and pretty fast. It’s famous for its unrelenting 8,000ft descent off the high point of Roque De Los Muchachos, about 51k into the race. The descent is technical and once you reach the cities by the harbor of Tazacorte there’s a fair amount of pavement to fully annihilate your quads. I was severally undertrained for this downhill. I couldn’t practice this amount of descent, nor steep grade on my Colorado trails due to snow. I was quite surprised when I moved into 5th position on this descent and finished the race with a lot of energy remaining. I left a lot out there, so i’m encouraged to see how fast I can run next year. Ian Corless does a great write up of how the race played out. Stellar performance from the winner, Ida Nilsson.



Madeira 55km

The second race in the Skyrunner® World Series was the Madeira 55km in Madeira, Portugal. This island, although quite near to La Palma, is completely different. Even though it’s volcanic, it lacks an arid environment and is entirely green, lush, humid and wet. It’s a perfect location for a sky race, since the island is filled with mountains and ridge-lines. Plus the organizers weren’t afraid to make some new trials especially for the race; adding in more distance, vertical and technicality. The competition was top notch again.

I have to say this was on of the hardest races I’ve done yet. It’s unrelenting. Climbing over 5000ft in the first 8k of the race was just the warm up. The race ended up with about 13,000ft of elevation gain over the 34 miles (55km) it covered. Even with those extreme stats, there was a fair amount of flat running as well. The technicality was top notch too. Good thing I got in my sight seeing before the race started.

Although I tried to put myself in a good position in the beginning of the race, I wasn’t feeling that strong so I held back. Thankfully, I was able to catch up in the back half of the race and I caught Anna Frost on last climb of the course (which was a vertical kilometer – super steep, on tired legs). This was after we had run through a river for 1/2 mile🙂


Overall I was very happy with my patience and overall race. However, what I remember most from these tough races is the incredible terrain, the challenge and how much I enjoyed the journey. Another aspect I was impressed with was the organization of this race. They had everything dialed and I can’t wait to go back to Madeira to explore and compete again.


Thanks to my sponsors, without whom this would not be possible: @thenorthface, @skratchlabs, @ultimatedirectionusa, @swiftwicksocks, @skyrunner


Team Tassy: A Hillygoat in Haiti

When The North Face approached me with an expedition idea in Haiti, I jumped at the opportunity. They are partnering with Team Tassy, an incredible organization changing lives in the Haitian community.

tassy-running-young-girl(photo by Taylor Rees, Outside Magazine)

In 2010, a catastrophic earthquake killed almost 300,000 Haitians and left about 1.5 million people homeless. Ian Rosenberger was anxious to help, but quickly realized the need to work together to rebuild communities and develop resources, including healthcare, education, and employment. This was the beginning of Team Tassy. They put together a fundraising run, and not just any run, but an outrageous 230 mile run, across the entire island. You can read more about the full story in this article by Outside Magazine – Runners: You’ve Never Seen Haiti Like This

Despite being incredibly inspired to run with Team Tassy, I was scared. I knew it would be a challenge for me. The route is epic, a 230 mile run from Cap Haitian (the northern point of Haiti) all the way south, and along the coast, ending in Jacmel. Distance wise, this will be the farthest I have ever run. The terrain is also different, much flatter than I am used to; my specialty being mountainous terrain. Climate is another challenge; the humidity and heat in Haiti are the antithesis of the conditions in Colorado in late February (Boulder is still thawing from the 18 inches of snow). Additionally, I’d have to worry about clean water and mosquitos, carriers of Malaria and Typhoid.

FullSizeRender (9)     FullSizeRender (8)

But, despite these issues, the opportunity is one I can not pass up due to fear or doubt. I know it will be hard, I know I will suffer, and therein lies the beauty.


I’m excited to start this journey with fellow North Face teammate Dean Karnazes, and Team Tassy. Together we hope to prove that Haiti is not a place to be afraid of, and with our continued effort we can end global poverty by funding access to medical care and education.

The run starts February 20-27. We will be sharing our journey along the way, so follow along on my facebook twitter and instagram as we #RunAcrossHaiti! Also, check out some other videos to learn more about the cause, and be sure to follow Team Tassy on their instagramfacebook and twitter.




Run The Rut 50k

This year, I was really looking forward to Run the Rut 50k. What’s not to love? The race is in beautiful Big Sky, Montana, it’s a super technical course, has a ton of climbing, and attracts stout competition. I had run the race last year, so I knew what to expect (as far as difficulty and technicality), which mentally helps a great deal.


Coming off a win at Speedgoat, where I had broken the course record (previously held by Anna Frost), I now knew I could hang with the top ladies. I just had to race smart, something I’ve been learning to do all season. My technical running had improved throughout the summer, so I was confident in my abilities to run technical descents, and on courses with big elevation gains and losses.

lone peak

Despite all of these reinforcements, I couldn’t help feeling tired. Not only physically, but mentally. I had reached an unambitious point in my training, but mixing things up helped like cycling, rock climbing and peak bagging. I still did a few workouts prescribed by my coach (Mike Aish), however some were unsuccessful due to either lack of motivation or the feeling I might be getting sick. This had me worried to race, since I knew my competition would be fresh or such seasoned racers they could constantly compete at a high level.

I did what I always do; forget about the competition and focus on the event, the location. I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to travel to Montana to run around Lone Peak, or let outside pressures get in the way with my enjoyment of ultrarunning. I got to the race early enough to watch all the events. The Vertical Kilometer race on Friday was a blast. I did the course before the race started to wake up my legs and do my favorite climb along the ridge to Lone Peak. The 25k on Saturday was impressive; for the competition, the technicality and steepness of the course. My friend David Powder Steele ran the whole 25k course with an American Flag on his back!

VK   david

The 50k was sunday, and I was thrilled to discuss my race plans with Meghan Hicks during my first interview on iRunFar:

pre race

Race morning was chilly; 22 degrees, dark, still and clear. I focused on maintaining an even pace on the first climb, before heading downhill and then hitting some flat trails around a lake as the sun came up. Early on I became discouraged. Maybe it was my legs which felt heavy in the cold, or my stomach, upset, telling me I couldn’t eat too much that day, or my 5th position, I wanted to be higher. Regardless my head wasn’t in it. It took extra effort for me to focus my thoughts. I contemplated dropping (only 10 miles in). I scolded myself for getting caught up in negatively and urged myself to see the positive: the beauty of the course, running in Montana, going up Lone Peak.


Still, I was struggling. I was in 4th position going up headwaters and I could see 1 of the girls ahead of me. I kept pushing. I saw my friend Myke Hermsmeyer at the top of the climb. I burst in to tears. My stomach hurt worse now and I was still discouraged, defeated and tired. He urged me forward as I took on the first technical descent.

The Rut 2015 Photos for Competitor Web Gallery. Photos by Myke Hermsmeyer. / / @mykehphoto on Instagram and Twitter

Hillary Allen descending on Headwaters Ridge at The Rut 50k on her way to 2nd place. Photo Myke Hermsmeyer / / @mykehphoto

When I reached the aid station atop Swiftcurrent lift I still hadn’t snapped out of it. I even managed to go off course for 3-5 minutes, which frustrated me further. I saw my teammate, and race director, Mike Foote at the aid station, still in 4th position. I told him I needed new legs, that mine were feeling dead. He could tell I was discouraged and assured me I was running a great time. If I hiked steadily up to Lone Peak, he told me, my legs would come back. His words stuck with me as I urged myself forward, behind Anna Mae Flynn, trying to close in on Martina Valmassoi (who had overtaken me when I went off course).


I am a strong hiker and as I closed the gap on the girls ahead of me, I started to formulate a strategy to finish the race. I was confident descending off of Lone Peak and I overtook Anna Mae here, pushing forward to catch Martina, who I could see just ahead of me. I knew Emelie was in the lead (which was impressive, since she had competed in the VK and the 25K the two days prior to the 50K).

The remaining part of the course was mostly downhill, so I pushed myself as hard as I could on the uphills to get to them. I passed Martina on the ascent to the final aid station to learn I was only 8 minutes back from Emelie. I was ready to get this thing done, and to not anyone pass me!

On the final uphill of the course (about 1 mile from the finish) I glanced at my watch:6:22. I realized I was running a fast time, and could actually finish under the course record from last year (set by Emelie Forsberg)! I had held my 2nd position, and when I finally crossed the finish line I had goosebumps and couldn’t stop smiling. Not because I finished in 6:30 (under last year’s course record), or that I had qualified for the World Mountain Running Championships next year in Slovenia; I was so pleased I fought through to the very end, I didn’t give up, and pushed through when I wanted to quit.


My Mom even came to cheer me on, and my friend John Fitzgerald. It was great to see them along the course and celebrate at the finish. I even had a little dance party at the finish (a warm up for the ‘Cowby-up’ party later that night).


2015 The Rut photos for CBS consideration. Photos: Myke Hermsmeyer / / / @mykehphoto

Check out my post-race interview with iRunFar and USL.TV (and a little round table action with USL.TV):

Thanks to Myke Hermsmeyer Photography for all of his amazing photos: Myke Hermsmeyer / / / @mykehphoto! To The North Face for their support, Hammer Nutrition, Swiftwick Socks and team Run Steep Get High. Huge thank you to Mike Foote (@mikefootemt) and Mike Wolfe (@wolfepaw) for putting on such a spectacular event.