Hillary Allen started running at university as a means of clearing her head while studying neuroscience. I wasn't long before she was standing on podiums for long-distance trail races. In 2014 she was U.S. Skyrunning Ultra Champion and she went on to set course records at the Speedgoat 50K and The North Face Cortina Trail Path 48K. But in 2017 a near-fatal accident almost changed everything. We caught up with Hillary (AKA “Hillygoat”), to chat about life, role models and how she coped with that accident.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I've always been drawn to the mountains, but I haven't always been a runner. I played pretty much every sport growing up and was always outside. I played tennis at collegiate level and after college I returned to Colorado to get my master’s degree in neuroscience. That’s where I started long distance running and transitioned into trail running. I was curious about how far and where my body could take me. I was in love with the explorative aspect of trail running from the start and it's what encouraged me to try new, challenging races.
Tell us about the day of your accident - where were you and how did your day start out?
I was scheduled to run an extreme-style sky race in Tromsø, Norway, one of the last races of my season and final race before I returned home to Boulder (I had been traveling and racing in Europe for the three months). The day of the race was beautiful! It was clear and warm, though a little humid. I started out the day feeling a bit tired, I was exhausted from my series of races and had the mentality that I would enjoy this race and have fun. I was leading the Ultra Skyrunning World Series and this race result was not going to affect my ranking. About mid-way into it I was feeling pretty good, really enjoying the race and the scenery - I was on the most technical portion of the course, Hamperokken Ridge, feeling great. I remember loving that section and starting to feel strong and in a good position in the race.
How did the fall happen?
I don't remember the fall. It happened on a pretty bad spot, a ridge which had a lot of exposure and pretty much a 'no-fall' zone. I was told (via some eye witnesses) there was a shift in the rocks surrounding me - both under my feet and beside me - that were knocked loose or moved as I crossed over this section, causing me to fall with no time to react. I remember feeling like a rug was pulled out from under me and not even realising I’d fallen until I was in the air.
What was your first thought once you knew what was happening?
My first thoughts were survival. My mind was telling me 'you are going to die, brace for impact and try to stop your momentum.' That thought was on repeat as a continued falling and bouncing off the mountain side for a total of 150 feet (about 50 meters).
What got you through the recovery?
The belief that I would get better and that I would get back to what I love - moving freely in the mountains. Almost every day I wanted to give up - but I didn't. I held onto the belief that I would get better and become stronger from the journey.
What's the most valuable thing you've learnt over the past couple of years?
This is a hard question. One overarching theme is to 'honour the process' - to accept where I am at a given moment and work through it the best I can. To constantly evaluate and be able to problem solve, with compassion, patience and understanding, not judgement. I've also learned that adaptability is a great strength of being an athlete and person.
What advice would you give to any young women looking up to you?
To be patient and compassionate. Judgement - either external or internal - can be so dangerous and destructive. I encourage them to get in touch with themselves; to learn what makes them happy, joyful and free for no other reason than that. To ignore what society tells you 'you should be' and to follow what makes your own heart feel full. That's where true happiness begins.
In support of the #SheMovesMountains initiative, which female role model in your life has inspired you to Move Mountains?
I look up to many women in and out of sport. One woman, J'ne Day-Lucore, encouraged me to start trail/mountain running. She was a pioneer in the sport herself and is a spectacular athlete and person. She held the records on iconic mountain races throughout the 1980s. She coached me to run my first marathon and, at 57 years of age, she still competes at the international level as a triathlete.