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.

course

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!

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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.

start

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. michael.hermsmeyer@gmaill.com / mykejh.com / @mykehphoto on Instagram and Twitter

Hillary Allen descending on Headwaters Ridge at The Rut 50k on her way to 2nd place. Photo Myke Hermsmeyer / michael.hermsmeyer@gmail.com / @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).

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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.

momfriends

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).

dance

2015 The Rut photos for CBS consideration. Photos: Myke Hermsmeyer / michael.hermsmeyer@gmail.com / mykejh.com / @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 / michael.hermsmeyer@gmail.com / mykejh.com / @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.

Quest for the Crest 50k: One Hell of a Sky Race

Quest for the Crest 50k, advertised as the toughest 50k in the world, had crept up on me. After battling with an injury earlier in the season, I was nervous my fitness wouldn’t be up to par for this race. I managed to get in a solid month of training (focusing on more technical ascents and descents) before I hopped on a plane to Asheville, North Carolina.

I had never been out east for a race I was excited but also scared . . . for a couple reasons. One, the humidity could destroy me and two, they boast some of the most technical trails in the U.S.. Sure, I’ve run technical terrain in Run the Rut 50k and Speedgoat 50k back in 2014, but from the pictures I had seen, the stories I had heard, and the constant warnings posted by Sean (Run Bum)’s race website, I was beginning to get a little scared.

snake

Plus, the race required me to carry my whistle, an emergency blanket and a jacket. Why on earth would I need all these? I thought it was a bit much to have these requirements . . . it wasn’t until Friday, on my shake out run, that I realized why I would need them. These mountains (the Black Mountains of North Carolina) are remote. Unlike in colorado where there are many roads that can intersect trails, there are very few points of access to these trails, a fact made explicitly clear by having only 2 fully stocked aid stations on the entire 50k course. On my shake out run, I made it over to Mount Mitchell trail (the final descent of the race) to test out the trails. Rooty, rocky, gnarly. This race was going to be fun!

mt mitchell

I planned to carry all of my own fuel (200 cal per hour, so 14 hammer gels, and a couple Hammer bars for good measure). I also filled up a bladder to carry along with two Ultimate Direction soft flasks. My pack was so flipping heavy, the heaviest pack I have ever raced with, but I didn’t want to chance not having water or food. I was definitely nervous about racing. I wanted to do well, I wanted to win. But, above all, I wanted to have fun. I was psyched on exploring these gnarly trails and the technical ridges and rooty descents. This was why I came to North Carolina, to play in the Black Mountains and explore new trails.

hills

On race day we were all shuttled to the start: a junction of two country roads out in the middle of nowhere. Once everyone arrived Run Bum started us off running up the road to a trail on the right. The first mile of trail was runnable, but then it got steep, fast. We were starting the 50k with a vertical kilometer, climbing about 3500ft, in about 5km, not an easy thing to do. I was impressed. Properly steep trails through lush, green, dense forest. I couldn’t see where we were going, just up up up.

At this point in the race I was ahead, but Becca Much and Sarah Woerner were pretty close behind. I wasn’t trying to push things too hard on the VK,  mostly because I couldn’t. My calves were screaming at me! So much so, that I had a nauseous feeling in my stomach. OH well I thought, hopefully I feel better on the second uphill. I tried to focus on the beauty of the terrain and to drink water, since I was basically already drenched in my own sweat.

The course was simple: 3 climbs, and 3 descents in about 31 miles. I was almost done with the first climb, looking forward to stretching my calves out on the downhill. But first, I had to stumble my way through some overgrown grass and rocks before I could really open up. We had 4.5 miles of downhill only to turn around and run straight back up. It definitely was a runnable climb. I tagged the table at the aid station, grabbed a salted potato and some M&Ms and was off. I was with Becca ad Sarah at this point, but as soon as we started the climb I found myself alone again.

trail

My race strategy was to fuel, DRINK, and run as much as I could. My calves felt a lot better and it was fun to see all the other racers coming down the hill as I ran/hiked up. I was really enjoying the trail.

Running on the ridge was breathtaking, sweeping views of the green forested hills in every direction. The trail threw me around a bit, but I was feeling pretty good, confident that I had two climbs over and only one more to go! But first, I had to tackle the technical descent from Colberts Ridge (6100′ down to 2700′ in only 4 miles). My quads were gonna be toast! I focused on quick feet as I danced and jumped down the rocks and roots. By this point I was needing the mile 18 aid station, my bladder of water was empty and I was soaked in sweat.

view

I couldn’t drink enough water.  I was quick at the aid station. I re-filled my soft flasks and was off. I had managed to catch a few guys and made the goal of breaking into the top 10 overall. I needed to catch a few more guys to do this (and keep my lead). I had no idea where the other ladies were, but I figured they were close behind.

We had a 7 mile climb until the next aid through “switchback hell”. This climb was a tough one. It was all runnable grade, but on tried legs it’s hard to run all of it. I made the goal of run/hiking. This is a really good strategy for me late in a race to keep a good pace moving forward during the hardest miles of the course. I usually hit a wall close to the marathon point, so I play games to break up the trail into run sections and hike sections. It really helped.

runnable

On this climb I ran into some new friends I’d met the night before. I passed Tim Sykes early on, he seemed to be having quad cramping issues (humid conditions were brutal), then Michael Owen. I was pleased to see Michael on the climb, it was great to have some company. We definitely helped each other work our way up this climb, doing our run/hike routine, and chatting to keep our minds off the never ending switchbacks.

We were both out of water at the top, and we had to run along a never ending ridge-line before reaching a spring. I got a bit frustrated on this ridge-line because it was hard to move fast despite it being fairly flat. The trail was so overgrown I had to be very careful I didn’t twist my ankle. We finally reached the spring and could only get a bit of water before heading up a steep riverbed to reach the highest point on the course. I wanted this to be over quickly so I really turned on my power hike. Sometimes I just have to get angry at the hill. It definitely hurt.

After stamping my bib at the top of the climb I let out a yell and then a big smile and started to run down. I didn’t see anyone heading up while I was descending the riverbed . . . Yay! I just needed to run strong on this downhill and I had the win. The ridge-line was tricky though. Super uneven footing and overgrown trail with hidden rocks and branches to trip and slip on. I passed Michael Barlow on this section with cramping issues, this course was brutal . . . I think the GU roctane gels saved me from cramping.

I was moving well, but my mind was starting to wander, I was definitely ready to be done. I knew I had to focus for the last descent, since it was equally as technical. However, I was a bit discouraged that my watch ready over 29 miles at the last aid station with about 4.5 miles to go. Time to focus and dig deep. So I took a gel, concentrated on my breathing and quick feet as I descended  through the rocks and roots. I was so impressed with how consistently technical the course was. There was no letting up, EVER.

roots

The last few miles of the descent were familiar from my shake out run a few days earlier. I was getting closer. Progress. I tired to keep a positive mind and focus on my feet, moving well. It wasn’t until I rounded the corner to enter the campground that I smiled knowing that I had won the women’s race. I finished right around 7 hours  (7:02:39) and took 8th place overall.

It was a great feeling to finish such a technical and difficult 50k even though I didn’t’ feel so great during it. The beauty of the course was worth it. So remote, technical and steep! I can’t wait to come run again in the Black Mountains and explore other areas out east. Run Bum did not disappoint on this race.

mewin

March Madness and an Antsy Allen

March did not go according to plan for me – and I love plans. After competing in the Way Too Cool 50k I was excited to get back to training in Colorado again. I felt like I was getting fit and I wanted to keep pushing.

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BUT, my body told me otherwise. I kept on having issues with my right calf. It was infuriating! When I would land on my right foot or push off, it would feel as if my leg might collapse . . . this sensation of pressure and weakness radiating down my right lower leg. There was no pain at all, just a nagging sensation that something wasn’t right.

I tried to push through it, ignore the fact that I was starting my runs limping  – until things loosened up. I was stretching, resting, but things weren’t getting better. I was getting increasingly more frustrated. I was scared to run, to feel that sensation of weakness and that I didn’t have control over my body. It was overwhelming. I felt helpless. Since there was no pain I wanted to keep running through it, but my fear and anticipation of that feeling would lead to tears, negative talk and stress. I decided to do something about it. I needed answers.

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I went to see several PTs (i’m a skeptic, so I needed multiple opinions). This is where I discovered dry needling and an imbalance in my hips. These people really knew their stuff! The imbalance was causing me to put extra strain on my right calf (and let’s be real – my calves work hard enough running uphill as it is, so this added stress was making them very unhappy).

I had developed really deep knots and my calf was so tight that It was pressing on the peroneal nerve (causing that weakness and pressure). I was relieved to find the root of the issue and to start a treatment plan: dry needling, massage and hip strengthening. I do well with plans. The part that was the hardest was the rest part. Remember that 4-letter word? Yes, rest. I hated it.

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But, as much as I hated rest, I needed it. I’ll admit, I became a slight head case, ranging in severity from day to day . . . imagining all the fitness I was loosing, saying my race season was screwed, becoming antsy, impatient, sad – I realized (after talking and crying to some wise friends) that all of this panic would do nothing to help me get through this set back. A positive outlook changes everything and I definitely needed to adjust mine.

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I took the time off from running to go crazy in the mountains a different way. Spring time skiing is the best, so I decided to ski some 14ers. Something I never thought I’d be capable of doing. I ended up skiing 3 of them – Quandary Peak, and then Grays and Torreys Peak in one, epic link up! Although, boot packing is a son of a bitch.

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I also got on my road bike. The biking in Golden and Boulder is spectacular, plus it’s always so fun to explore the foothills in a different way . . . say going 45mph down some hills 🙂

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My coach, Mike Aish, even taught me the ways of aqua jogging . . . although sometimes I still feel like i’m trying to kick something underwater. Goats don’t swim.

I focused on rock climbing too, and of course resting. I realized that I needed to find a way to be happy with my training and do it because I love it, not because I should or needed too. Movement is the best way for me to relieve the stress I feel from graduate school, work through problems, mediate and relax. But, I can experience movement in many ways, not just through running. Although running is where I feel the most free, I discovered it’s not the only way I feel free – an important lesson to learn.

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I never want to get caught up in “shoulding’ myself to run. I want to do if for the enjoyment, because I love it . . . I want to push myself, and I also need to listen to my body. It needed a break and my mind needed to be reminded that running wasn’t the only way to experience the mountains. Plus – I just needed to chill out. Several of my friends helped me to realize that one.

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Now i’m back to running and it feels so rewarding! Although it didn’t happen as fast as I would have wanted, and i’m keeping it in check, i’m happy I can address a problem that would have eventually come to haunt me. I have to think of these set backs as character builders, or else I drive myself into an antsy frenzy. I found the silver lining, and sometimes I have to keep looking, but I’m letting go of expectation so I can enjoy the journey.

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Gains in the off season and plans for 2015

For the past several months I have taken a break from running. I told myself after my last race in 2014 that I would take a real off season: 2-3 months of low mileage and no long runs. I’ve never done this before and it’s been a struggle at times. I feel at home in the hills and my free time is spent exploring new trails (or planning new explorations). So I had to find a way to channel that energy.

I started by setting several goals for the off season: physical rest, mental rest, and strength training. I wanted a way to build strength and get outside so I focused on skiing. I got my first back country (alpine touring) set up and I’ve never had so much fun skiing. I went all over the front range: Cameron Pass, Berthod Pass, Butler Gulch, Loveland Pass, Vail Pass. I even got to ski a ton in Aspen (which was incredible).

backcountry aspen

Back country skiing is amazing! Not only does it feed my desire for exploration, but I can spend long days in the mountains with low impact activity. I’m still learning about snow conditions (took an avalanche 1 class) and got my essentials: probe, beacon and shovel, but despite the danger it’s so fun to explore new lines (especially through the trees, where I usually scream because I’m having so much fun).

ski aspen ski fun

I can’t wait to explore more backcountry areas and improve my skiing skills (uphill and downhill) It really does translate to running and help with confidence, especially in downhill running. And it’s great for building strength.

aspen ski

In addition to all the skiing, I started rock climbing! I’ve done it a little bit in the past, but was never very good. I’m super excited to build strength in new areas (very humbling) so I have yet another excuse to get outside and explore the mountains in different ways!

climbing

Another highlight of my off season came in December, when I accepted an offer to be a part of the National Team for The North Face in 2015. I’m beyond excited to be working with this incredible company and to have the support of such inspiring athletes. In addition to The North Face, Hammer Nutrition and Swiftwick will support me for 2015.

TF_3 TNF-2

Photo credit Myke Hermsmeyer:http://instagram.com/mykehphoto

Although I wasn’t completely resting (I don’t think I could do that for more than a week at a time anyways), the new sports and exploration gave my body a break. It also gave my mind the chance to rest and plan out 2015. I gained something invaluable: motivation. Not only am I excited to train again, but i’m inspired and rested (this is what an off season is rumored to do!) I feel ready to take on new challenges, in races and in training. I’m super excited to work with Mike Aish, at Aish Interactions Coaching (http://aishinteractions.com/) a super speedy 5k and 10k Olympian, who now races ultras. He has me putting in the work to get strong, which I really do enjoy.

fun run TNF

Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer http://instagram.com/mykehphoto

I’m looking forward to some awesome races this year, including the Mont Blanc 80k which is the race I chose to compete in after winning the US Sky Running Ultra series in 2014. Here’s my tentative race schedule for 2015, with a lot of new challenges to surmount.

Way Too Cool 50k: March 7th

Quest for the Crest 50k: May 30th

Mont Blanc 80k: June 27th

Audi Power of 4 50k: July 19th

Run the Rut 50k:  September 5th

Flagstaff Sky Race 55k: October 3rd

TNF 50 mile championships: December

I’m planning some exploration and route finding on the Nolan’s 14 route this summer, as well as some early spring adventures in the Dark Canyon in Utah, and Flagstaff area (perhaps the Grand Canyon). I’m excited for what 2015 has in store, and I’m beyond thrilled to represent The North Face, Hammer Nutrition, Swiftwick and Aish Interactions Coaching in my adventures around the US and abroad.

!tnf

Rest: a runner’s 4-letter word

Take it easy, take some time off, put your feet up . . . lie still . . .  When I hear these phrases I get an overwhelming urge to go for a run. This might be irrational, and I embrace that dichotomy.

Running feeds my soul, and never lets me down. Even on a bad run, I’m never disappointed that I got out the door and into the fresh air, trails and mountains. I’ve grown from running and it’s a part of me, so when there comes a time when I can’t or shouldn’t run, there’s always an inner battle to fight.

Logically, I know my body needs rest and recovery to keep performing and running without injuries, but sometimes my mind tells me a different thing. Especially during taper weeks for races, when I feel fat, lazy and inactive. My mind plays tricks on me, that I’m losing fitness, or getting slower . . . I have to constantly remind myself that these times – where I move more slowly – are necessary, just as necessary as my long training runs.

I learn best through trail and error. I learned a valuable lesson about rest this season. So let me take you through what I did first:

1) No rest after tough races.

My first 50 mile race was in June this year, Big Horn 50 mile (you can read my blog recap of it: https://hillygoat.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/bighorn-50-race-report/). I raced it pretty hard. The steep, uneven, off camber downhill left my quads and IT bands wrecked.

But, I soon forgot the pain of the race and was still riding my adrenaline high, so I rested for 2-3 days and started running again. I knew I was tired and my muscles were still beat up, plus I had a weird pain in my foot (when I would propel myself uphill). But, my IT band was the real issue.

I had a huge knot in my left quad and even with stretching and rolling, it was difficult to relieve. But the real issue was my left IT band. It was tight, going downhill hurt my left knee had this clicking noise. Every time I would extend/bend my knee it would click/snap . . . I learned this was because my IT band was so tight, that it was snapping over the bone at the connection point in my knee, coming off its normal ‘tract’ . . . basically not good.

I still kept trying to train on it, but I soon realized I would have to cut back if I wanted to run Speedgoat 50k in less than 3 weeks. This race was pretty important to me, being my first big competition race, so I really wanted to compete and see what I could do.

I had to alter my training, I had to take more days off and focus on stretching and rolling. I could run flat without it hurting, and biking was fine, although I had to be careful to not climb too much. It was really frustrating. I also had to be diligent with daily glute and hip flexor strengthening exercises. If one day I forgot those, or to roll out, I would suffer for 2 days with pain and the clicking knee.

rest

It wasn’t until I had 4 days of running pain free that I decided to run Speedgoat 50k, and even when I stepped on the start line I knew I wasn’t 100% recovered. Not a good feeling, especially since Speedgoat was notoriously hard. During that race, I hit a wall by mile 15, and had already started to feel my IT cramping up. Plus, I stepped on several rocks, so my feett felt horrible too! The only thing that got me to the finish line was me repeating to myself “I’m taking a whole week off after this!”

 

So now I will tell you about scenario #2, where I take significant time off after tough races.

2) Listen to your body, quiet your mind and REST, damnit!

I literally couldn’t walk normally for a day after speedgoat. So it was definitely time to rest. Even by Monday, my mind was wandering and telling me to run, but I was stubborn and went to yoga insteadd. I made sure to stretch, roll, do easy yoga and sleep for 7 days straight. It was challenging to switch up my routine (remember I like this running thing), but it was a needed break, physically and mentally.

Once I started running again, I was surprised at how strong I felt. I hadn’t lost any fitness, but was motivated, and ready to start training again. I eased back into the training week and before long, I was out doing big loops in the mountains, feeling really strong. I made sure to keep up my foam rolling and strength exercises for my IT, I definitely didn’t want that issue again.

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My next race was Run the Rut 50K in Big Sky Montana, and I was feeling strong. I raced very smart and was very pleased with my 5th place finish, but most of all, with how I felt during and after the race. My IT didn’t cramp up, and I wasn’t completely thrashed after the race. To me this says I trained smart, since my muscles were recovered and ready for such a hard effort. A stark contrast to Speedgoat (which was an easier race). 2 short weeks after Run the Rut, I was even able to race Flagstaff Sky Race, and win the US Sky Running Ultra Series.

 

This is definitely a plan I will be sticking to. Rest is a 4-letter word I have learned to like.

relax

 

 

 

Flagstaff Sky Race: US Sky Running Final

I distinctly remember saying to myself that I would never do another sky race again. This was during Run the Rut 50k, while I was throwing myself down loose talus and steep off trail sections.

But that declaration didn’t seem to matter to me anymore, because only two days after the rut, I found myself signing up for Flagstaff Sky Race, the final Sky race in the US series.

My main motivation for doing this race was my typical hankering for adventures, road trips and a long day in the mountains on new trails. But there was an added curiosity. I was ranked 4th in the US sky series and I wanted to see if I could podium in the series by competing in Flagstaff.

I was nervous (as always) but more interested as to how my body would respond to racing only 2 weeks after Run the Rut. Kinda like a little science experiment with myself, gathering data on my limits.

My dad decided to do a road trip with me to Flagstaff where we camped at KOA campgrounds (normally not my style, but showers are really nice to have after long races). Once we arrived on Friday I made sure to get in my shake out run near the start of the race. Although I didn’t find the course markings, these runs help so much with my nerves.

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Packet pick up, early dinner and race preparations rounded out my evening. It was going to be hot for race day! Although Flagstaff is at 7,500ft, it is dry, exposed and hot. 75 degrees on friday afternoon felt very warm. Despite this fact, I decided to go fast and light with a hand held and a feul belt filled with my trusty hammer gels (espresso and vanilla of course) and some Endurolytes Extreme salt pills.

Race day was chilly in the morning, but our 6am start had enough light to run without a head lamp! My plan for this race was to start conservative (I don’t like going in a hole early on) but to run more aggressively on the downhills early on and run everything that I possibly can. The gun went off and everyone took off. I wanted to start in front so I probably started too fast, but it was flat and I wanted to get warm.

start

The first climb was pretty mellow. I ran every step of it and felt very comfortable. Some guys were going pretty hard early on, I let them go. I reached the top of the first climb (Mt. Elden) leading the women’s race. Becca Much was close behind and as we began the first technical descent (and I made sure to take the correct right hand turn) she caught right up. I knew she was strong on the downhills so I wanted to prove I was too and kept a quick pace going on the rocky descent. I knew right then It was going to be a tricky foot work day . . . I kept scuffing my shoes on the rocky terrain.

The course was sparsely marked compared to the rut. There were a few sections on the first downhill where I didn’t see a marker for at least a half a mile (which was more mentally stressful than anything). But the wrong trails to take were clearly marked.

course marking

Now for the second climb up Mt. Elden. The sun was coming up now and it was getting hot already! I made sure to take my Endurolytes Extreme early and often and keep drinking/eating. My goal was every 20-25 min, but my stomach wasn’t having that for some reason. This climb was steep, so I transitioned into a power hike (not part of my race plan, but it was early still). I soon put a gap on Becca and that was the last I would see her, although I kept imagining her catching up to me throughout the race.

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As we summitted Elden again, we ran through beautiful changing aspen groves, and the view of Flagstaff from the top was gorgeous. This was about mile 14, and I knew it was time to start pushing. Which meant, run hard on the downhills and run all the ups until I hit the off trail section (yea, the 4000ft climb that was waiting for me at mile 27-32).

Flagstaff trails are quite technical and rocky. Big boulders, roots and lava rock kept trying to trip me up. I was looking forward to mile 18 aid station where my dad was going to meet me, and I got excited because there was some good, runnable climbing in the section before then. I like those climbs.

As I came into mile 18 I was still in first place (which I was surprised by). But my dad wasn’t there! I told the aid station people to watch out for a loud, british man and tell him to meet me at the other aid station.

Now to begin the hardest part of the day for me. Hot, dry, 2-3 miles of climbing and then a rolling, rocky section. The climb was good. I ran it all, and I was really enjoying the fist downhill, really opening it up, until I reached the twisty, rocky single track at around mile 21. I was concerned with staying on course and in my distraction, I caught a toe and banged up my knee. It wasn’t too bad, since it wasn’t throbing while I was running, but there was a lot of blood. “Makes me look more hard core,” I thought, “or clumbsy?” . . . I went with hard core and kept running.

Around mile 23-24 there was an aid station where I tried to chug as much water as I could. I was starting to feel the effects of the heat, and my stomach wasn’t letting me eat as many calories as I should during a race. Thankfully they had ginger chews . . . I took one to settle my stomach (didn’t work).

Miles 24-27 felt like death for me. It was rolling and a slight uphill grade. I was in a mental low spot and I told myself if I get lost i’m dropping out. I was just being over dramatic due to fatigue and stomach aches. Plus the anticipation of the climb at mile 27 was killing me!

Finally I reached mile 27 and my dad was there cheering and asking me if I was ok (he saw my knee). He told me to go get it and he would see me at the finish. That was enough to lift my spirits and begin the climb. I think mentally I was ready to start climbing. I let my feet and legs propel me. My yellow Salomon Sense pros moving onwards and upwards, a yellow blurr mixed with the purple glow of my Swiftwick Aspire 4 socks.

off trail

At first the climb was pretty mellow, all runnable and I was determined to run every step until I couldn’t. We were running switchbacks that kept crossing underneath power lines, and I knew the off trail section took us straight under those. After about 1000ft in 2 miles, we began the off trail climb to 9,500ft. And after all that hard work we bombed down about 500ft before climbing back up again to the aid station (Mid way) at around mile 31. This was also the finish.

midway

They announced my name as the first woman but I had no idea how far back second place was. I saw my dad there cheering again and I began the 5k of death (2000ft in 2 miles) to the top of the ski lift. I tried to power hike as fast as I could underneath the ski lift . . . looking at my altimeter and willing it to read 11,500ft.

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After a few yells, I finally reached the top to greet Jamil, (I wanted to punch him so bad after that climb) and other familiar crew faces. I took some potato chips and a gummy worm and threw myself downhill while talking to Jamil and his go pro. I had 1.8 miles and 2000ft of descent. OUCH!

top

I kept on thinking I’d see the second place girl chasing after me, so that propelled me to run as fast as I could over the loose rock, uneven grass and jump over the dips in the ski slope. I was doing it, somehow I was going to win. I wouldn’t let myself smile or believe that thought until I saw the finish and heard people cheering (specifically my Dad’s distinct yell “goooo Hillary!”).

finish

I finally started beaming and ran as hard as I could across the finish line! It was the greatest feeling to win the final race of my season and take home a big trophy and check! But the sweetest victory of all was winning the US Sky Running Ultra series. I never thought that would happen and I was so unbelievably happy to claim that achievement.  I even got an interview with  Robert Goyen at Ultra Sports Live.TV  Check it out here: http://www.ultrasportslive.tv/hillary-allen-flagstaff-skyrace-2014-first-female-55k/

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Now I get to plan a trip to Europe to compete in a World Series Sky Race. An awesome dream that is now a reality! It was so special to share this moment with my dad, who kept bragging to complete strangers about my accomplishment and insisted that I was one tough woman (even tougher than him). Now time for rest, reflection and relaxation after one of the best, adventurous and demanding seasons of my life.

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photo credits to Derrick Lytle Media

Run the Rut 50K: a crazy-talus-filled-super-technical mountain race.

The first thing I see when I roll into Big Sky on Friday afternoon is Lone Peak. Massive, alone, barren, terrifying! Especially since I knew I was going to run up that beast the next morning.

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I had recovered well since my last race (speedgoat) and was really enjoying some quality training in the high country. I had heard Run the Rut was even more difficult than Speedgoat and even more competitive (it was the the world series sky running championship race!) so I was doing my best to prepare for a grand adventure. I’ve realized that no matter what I do, I will be nervous as hell at the start of the race (and the day before) but all the preparation is done and it’s all out of my control. As soon as I start running it all comes together. Clarity in my breath and footsteps.

The first climb of the race wasn’t terrible, about 1500 feet in a few miles. The only difficult part was that there were a lot of people on a single track trail in the dark. But that only lasted for a few minutes and we soon descended onto Ullery’s Lake Loop trail just as the sun was hitting Lone Peak off in the distance.

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I knew after this lake the climbing would begin! I was trying to execute my plan of eating every 20-25 minutes (to try and keep a few extra hammer bars/gels down) since I knew this was such a demanding course. In this point I was 8th place. My plan was to stay conservative and move up as the race progressed so I could finish strong, my goal was to finish top 5, so it was kinda driving me crazy that so many ladies were ahead of me.

As we made our way up and down we descended over some pretty loose rock fields and I knew we were in for a treat during this race. Before we reached Deadgoat ridge there were some runnable flatish sections . . . the climbing in this race was very concentrated. Deadgoat ridge had me pumped up as soon as I learned the name of it (since my nickname is Hillygoat, I definitely didn’t want to be a Deadgoat at the top).

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It was steep, loose, off trial. Awesome! Geoff Rose was even there encouraging us and snapping photos of the ‘pain cave’ faces. Once we reached the top of the ridge we had a pretty technical descent on loose talus rock and some off trail sections. My favorite part was when we reached a roped section to help us down some loose gravel ‘trail’ where I bypassed the rope and glissaded down the rocks/gravel. I cut my hands a bit but it was worth it.

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After we descended off the technical terrain we ran some hilly off trail sections underneath the ski lift. I realized I had forgotten to eat for some time and was feeling quite tired whenever an uphill started again. Espresso Hammer gels are good for that!

I was anticipating the huge bone crusher ridge and ascent up to lone peak all day. I couldn’t wait to see what big sky looked like from way up there. Sprout Films had set me up with a go-pro before the race, so I was trying to get as much footage as I could of all my ups and downs.

Lone peak was fantastic. Super technical trail and STEEP! I was a little scared to run downhill on the loose talus rock fields, but I flung myself down the rocks so Ellie Greenwood wouldn’t get too far ahead of me. Ellie, Becca and I were fighting for 4-6th position all day.

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The talus field and off trail descent made me say to myself  “i’m done with these sky races” . . . . but I didn’t mean that at all, pretty sure I just needed to eat again. I get hangry during these races! Plus I had a tumble on some icy spot, so I wasn’t too happy about my bruised and scratched bum.

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The descent into the woods was gorgeous. Flowy, single track mixed in with some open service roads. I was having a blast trying to catch 5th. I knew there was one big climb (and a little one at the very end), so I made a plan to stay strong on the climbs and bomb the downhills. I was holding back a bit until now. I was very encouraged when I saw Becca and Ellie only 30sec-2 min ahead of me. I told myself that I only needed a couple minute cushion and I could really push it up that last climb 1 mile from the finish.

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When I reached the last aid station I was ready to gun it. I knew there were some girls behind me and 5th place was only 10 seconds out now. I raced by her and challenged myself to push it the remaining 5 miles to the finish. I knew the last 1.5 miles very well (I had run on them the day before for a shake out run. Best idea ever!) so I was mentally prepared and waiting for the last climb up to the finish. I couldn’t believe I had clenched 5th place. I finished beaming! Emelie Forsberg even gave me a hug of congratulations! Maybe next time I can race more agressively, but I was super pleased with my race and so proud to have conquered such a beautiful and technical mountain race.

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