The Pro’s Kit: Hillary Allen
In our new Prokit series, we go behind the scenes with some of the world’s best. Each interview covers the nuts and bolts of how they do what they do — favorite gizmos, gadgets, gear; what they read, watch and listen to; and the hacks and habits behind their mental and physical health.
Last week we looked at what’s in the kit for ultrarunner Michael Wardian. Today we talk to mountain runner Hillary Allen, aka “@hillygoat.” Hillary is a science nerd who knows how to move through technical mountain terrain like few others. She also knows too well the depths of overcoming setbacks.
In 2017, while at the top of the Skyrunning World Series standings, Hillary fell off a 150 foot rocky ridge during a race in Norway. Lucky to be alive is an understatement, and with too many surgeries and broken bones to count, she was told she’d never run again. Eleven months later, Hilary placed second in Lake Tahoe’s Broken Arrow Vertical Kilometer race, raced a 52K the following day, and won a mountain race in the Dolomites the next week. In 2019, after another broken ankle, she returned to Norway to the race that nearly killed her.
One of my favorite books of all time is Why We Run by Bernd Heinrich. I’m a huge science nerd with a master’s degree in Neuroscience and structural biology so I really like the science book as well. One of my favorite science books is The Dueling Neuroscientists and The Disappearing Spoon.
I love science podcasts, Radio Lab is an all time favorite. I grew up listening to NPR with my dad, and always would listen to Radio lab on the radio before it was a podcast.
Planet Earth or the discovery channel! I always like to learn something, and could get lost in these shows. My favorite movies are anything based on a true story, like Remember the Titans.
Resources: Apps, gizmos and gadgets that help you do what you do?
I never go without my Coros watch when running. I can download maps there and track all of my data. If i’m following a new route (running or cycling) I use Komoot to help me figure out where to go.
My Wahoo bike computer and Komoot are always with me on the bike.
Nutrition and Hydration: What’s your strategy for a big event?
I’m a real food person. Aside for the actual activity where I eat Skratch Labs energy chews or some hydration mix, you can find me eating real food. In fact, on a long ride or run, (a run or ride over 4 hours) i’ll make my own food to bring with me (usually a savory and sweet version of rice cakes).
As a female athlete, who’s physiology is pretty well fat adapted (that goes for all ladies by the way), I eat a small something before every run or ride, that way I can get the most out of my training and don’t have to worry about bonking or being low energy.
Fueling well afterwards is super important too, so I always make sure to prioritize eating a good meal (with fats, protein and carbs) or recovery shake within 30 min of finishing. I’m not the best at drinking water throughout the day, so I bring a water bottle with me everywhere I go to remind myself and make it easier to hydrate.
Nutrition: Anything unique about your philosophy?
Cooking is just like chemistry, so I really enjoy making food and I love using the real ingredients. Vegetables and color are two of my favorite things, so I try to cook colorfully and find natural sources for protein, fat and carbs. If it comes from the earth then it’s probably making it into my mouth.
Protein is super important for endurance athletes, so I eat a variety of protein sources including meats, fish and plant based proteins (beans are amazing!). Another important thing about nutrition for me is sharing it with people. It’s more than just fueling your body, it’s about fueling your soul. I think eating is communal and sharing a cooked meal with friends, family or training partners is icing on the cake to a good nutrition plan, and yes, I do eat cake too.
Mind: Anything you do for mindfulness or to maintain your mental health?
I journal and write a lot. Positive self talk and visualization is really important and I try to practice that daily, or at least catch myself when I’m saying negative things to myself.
Communication and friends is another big factor to strong mental health, not feeling isolated or misunderstood. So prioritizing good relationships and surrounding myself with good people all adds up to a great environment for mental health. My coach and training partners are some of those people. I also see a sports psychologist to talk about all things training, life, body image as a female endurance athlete and managing the ‘job’ side of things.
Sleep Rituals or Habits
Sleep and nutrition are two of the most important factors for an athlete (If I had to make a list, I think). If you take care of those two things, it’s the easiest way to see improvements in performance. So, I prioritize good sleep.
I get 8-9 hours of sleep a night, and if I have an early workout, then I make sure to go to bed early too. Sleep hygiene is a thing, and to make it easier to go to bed, I have a sleep routine which consists of tea in the evenings and reading. Makes me feel cozy just thinking about it.
Strength and Mobility
I’ve had a lot of injuries in the past, so strength work and mobility are high on my priority list. I work with a strength coach and am of the belief and practice of lifting heavy. I do some sort of nearly mobility every day (I’m not perfect) and lift about 2-3 times a week depending on the time of year. In the winter time I really prioritize lifting to rebuild for the season.
The best recovery for me is eating well and sleeping well. If I prioritize those my body feels good and I can do a lot with it. The other thing for recovery, I think, is a good social network, for training and or relaxing. It doesn’t have to be a huge group either, my social network consists of a few key people who I can talk to, train with or just grab coffee and talk with. I think it’s about the mental recovery too.
What did you learn about overcoming setbacks after such a horrific accident in 2017?
One of the most important things during my accident recovery was holding onto hope and belief that I would recover and get back to what I love in some capacity. I had to expect and welcome that I wouldn’t be the same, and that it’s ok, in fact, it’s part of the beauty of the process of change and growth.
This podcast is with my teammate Dylan Bowman, and we get into the accident recovery. I’ve also written a book that comes out April 2020, so that could be a good resource for people. You can pre-order it at my website here.
Anything unconventional about your approach to training, mindset, nutrition or life?
For me training is playing. I haven’t always been a runner or endurance athlete and to this day, I still get nervous about speed workouts and they never feel that natural, but I like working hard and showing up and I find huge satisfaction in that. But for the most part, I don’t take things too seriously and use training and races as a way to explore the world or my backyard.
Can you share who’s in your crew?
My crew!! My coach Adam St. Pierre – he’s gotten me through a lot and his belief in me sometimes surpasses my own. My strength coach Matt Smith at Revo Sports and Performance (In fact all the guys over there, Matt is just my main squeeze). My sports psychologist Julie Emmerman who keeps me calm and collected (well, sort of), and my training partners (runners and cyclists a like).
Gear: Favorite items in Hillary Allen’s Kit?
For gear, The North Face kits me out for all things mountain and running, some of my favorite pieces for winter are vests and layers.
For cycling I’ll still layer with my running gear (sorry cyclist, i’m no that stylish), but I have gotten some key pieces for the bike, like water proof booties and gloves for those cold days. Also transition lenses for cycling are clutch!! The clear lenses remind me of my chemistry days and always make me smile – I use Julbo. I’m also a fan of cycling bags, I use apidura to carry extra layers (jackets) and all the snacks.
Go-to running shoes
I would say running shoes are like bike tires, you can have different ones for all different types of terrain. I have spent the last year testing some new shoes for The North Face, called Vectiv, where they are integrating a carbon plate for speedy, poppy running on fast, non-technical trails. That’s like the Ferrari of the line, but there are lots of other shoes, most with a rock plate for protection, and varying levels of cushioning to protect your feet for super long races.
I’m not a fan of minimal style shoes (like 5 fingers), or maximal (like HOKA), but I feel like every shoe has it’s place for the different type of running you want to do. I tend to find myself somewhere in the middle of shoe cushioning (comfort) and protection (rock plate), without being too heavy so I can feel the ground and rocks on a technical trail (call me goldilocks). I have a general rule of thumb to rotate shoes during the week so that I work on strengthening my feet, calves, ankles and ability to adapt.
Go-to bikes and tires
Well, I have 1 bike, and a second bike being built with a mullet cassette – 52 ring on the back (for steep things). Haven’t tried it yet, but i’m so excited to! I’m not a total bike nerd yet 🙂
My first gravel bike race was Dirty Kanza 200, the first tire I repaired (successfully) from having a slashed sidewall was in Dirty Kanza. So I’m still learning a lot about the gear for riding bikes.
Are you partnered with any brands or causes?
Sponsors: The North Face, Saris, Jaybird, Coros, Swiftwick, Skratch, Julbo
Listen to one of Hillary’s favorite podcasts with her friend, @mariofraioli.
Hillary Allen’s Tedx Talk
📸 Courtesy of Hillary Allen
Questions for Hillary? Ask in the comments!