Trail runners around the world hold a special affection for Colorado born-and-raised Hillary Allen. Her infectious smile and world-class skill in the most difficult skyraces launched a career that was set-back by a severe fall this summer. Hillary stopped by #UDHQ to fill us in on her recovery and how the injuries have impacted her physically, mentally and emotionally. Leave a comment if you can relate to recovering from injury and battling the mental and physical trials along the way…
YOUR INJURY: DESCRIBE WHAT HAPPENED…
My specialty is skyrunning. I really enjoy the technicality of this type of running, often using my hands to scramble and navigate ridges. It’s the steep terrain and technical trails that keep skyrunning interesting and challenging. I was competing in an extreme skyrace in Tromso, Norway (they call it “extreme” due to its demanding terrain, ridges and elevation profile…it’s STEEP).
This was my last race of the season (in Europe) before coming home to focus on a personal project (the Sierra High Route FKT, the RUT and potentially traveling back to Europe to claim my World Sky Running title).
That all changed on August 5th.
At the halfway point, I was on Hamperokken ridge (the very technical bit) and I fell off of the ridge, at the worst point possible, falling 150 feet, 50 of which were a free fall. This was followed by a succession of impacts down the mountain until I finally came to a halt.
I don’t remember the fall at all; what I remember is a dream-like state of floating through the air and coming to with Killian Jornet, Ian Corless, Martina Valmassoi and a racer (Manu Parr) all around me.
It wasn’t until 3 days later that I realized the accident and the fall happened to ME. It was like a rug had gotten pulled out from under me and I was airborne with my brain telling me that I was going to die and I should brace myself for impact. That repeated itself until I was knocked out and came to with the doctors, helicopter and hospital. I was told (by Ian Corless and Martina Valmassoi, both photographers who witnessed my fall) that there was rock fall that moved as I crossed over the ridge, causing me to fall.
My injuries were extensive yet I was extremely lucky. I broke both wrists and arms, I broke two ribs, bruised a lung, I broke two vertebrae (L4 and L5), had a concussion, broke four bones in my right foot, popped a ligament in my right foot and severely sprained my other ankle.
WHERE ARE YOU IN THE RECOVERY PROCESS NOW?
The recovery process has been extensive. I wasn’t able to use crutches since I had two broken wrists. I wasn’t able to walk well on my severely sprained ankle so I had a scooter. I’m off of the scooter now and easing back into activity on my own two feet. It’s about four months post-accident. The hardest part is my feet. The ligament fracture in my right foot is a lisfranc fracture (like an ACL in your knee); it’s essential to proper foot function, so healing is very important for a return to running.
My “supposedly” good foot is actually not good at all. I sprained the ankle so severely, that its mobility is very limited, even four months post-accident, and this is limiting my movement even more than my operated foot. But, I am not paralyzed, which I could’ve been given my L4 and L5 fractures.
I am able to hike and jog downhill although I have to be careful with jumping and stability since both of my feet are unstable. I hike with poles to help with that. I can go up almost just as fast as running (especially when it’s steep) but the actual running will take a while since I don’t want to force it and cause compensation issues. I can ski (carefully downhill), but I’m happy to get out and do some touring. I’m also doing PT diligently every day at Revo Physical Therapy. Oh and cross training…I might break the stair climber machine at the rec center :).
I still have another surgery to do in February where they will remove the screws in my foot. This will help me to return to running and training. After the recovery period of course.
WHAT IS YOUR PRIMARY MOTIVATOR THROUGH YOUR REHAB?
My primary motivator is just to get back to enjoying the outdoors; to not take running for granted and to explore with my own two feet.
Also to not let myself down.
WHAT UNIQUE CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED?
Showering. Being completely reliant on other people. Not being able to drive for 10 weeks and still having to get to work and do my PT and the grocery store and do normal every day things.
Every daily task initially was a challenge, from getting dressed to cooking to figuring out if I could eat dinner at a restaurant with friends.
Going up and down stairs on my butt was a fun challenge. To be in the middle of my season, winning the Skyrunning World Series, to then being completely immobile and incapacitated, that was intense, emotionally draining, depressing, and at times impossible.
I still struggle with this helpless feeling from time to time.
DO you think you’ll be back to full strength & racing in 2018?
I’m not setting any racing goals in 2018. What appeals to me is my FKT attempt on the Sierra High Route (SHR). I was supposed to do this back in August, but with the accident, that was impossible. I think doing the SHR would be a good challenge for me, a year out from my accident, it would give me a chance to train and given the nature of the SHR, it might suit me well, since it’s more of a fast packing/trekking route than an all-out run.
But I’m keeping it relaxed. I will see how training goes after I’m cleared to run after my second surgery in February. I would like to do some later season races (fall) if I’m feeling ready. My main goal in 2018 is to get back to enjoying training outside and getting as strong as I can.
HOW HAVE YOU EVOLVED AS AN ATHLETE SINCE YOU FIRST STARTED TRAIL RUNNING? DO YOU Still have the fire burning?
I have most definitely evolved as a trail runner and athlete. I’m fortunate to be a part of brands (like Ultimate Direction, The North Face and Skratch) that allow me to dream and to explore. It’s about running fast during races, but more so now, it’s about challenging myself and others to push themselves to places they never thought they could go.
The other side of things is evolving as an athlete. I want to combine running and climbing routes, to become a better mountain athlete as a whole, not just a trail runner.
Hillary was seriously banged up – now she’s looking great – being around her is gonna make me stop complaining about all my little owie’s, and suck it up!
Your owie’s matter Buzz 😉 Thanks for the post!
I saw Hillary in San Francisco hanging out at The North Face 50 mile champs late November. She was so positive and chipper, and walking around well, that you’d never guess she was recovering from so recent a horrific accident.
Thanks for reading and sharing that comment, Gary!
Thanks Gary! It was so good to see you in SF!
I follow Hillary on Instagram, and I’ve just been so impressed with her positivity in such difficult circumstances. I like how she has been so honest about the mental challenges in recovery! Not everyone addresses it, but I feel that any injured runner knows the isolation and doubt that can come from it. She’s proving how important community is in healing. Sending all the best healing vibes, and can’t wait to see her back out there!
I was in a car accident in mid-August that left me with moderate-severe whiplash injury to my neck and a concussion. Having Hillary share her recovery process has been so inspiring and helpful for my own recovery. It is really hard to have to ask people for help all the time maybe especially when you start to get better but still have to be mindful to not over-do it. It is also really hard having to say no all the time to adventures and fun things and just longing to be up in the mountains. Thanks Hillary for sharing your story so I don’t feel alone!