High Speed with Hillary Allen
Allen is a specialist when it comes to charging hard on rough trail. The new VECTIV shoe line is helping get her where she needs to go, fast.
Endurance running is brutal enough as it is, but The North Face athlete Hillary Allen has had a tougher road in the sport than most. Blasting onto the trail scene in 2014 as the US Skyrunning World Champion (only two years after she ran her first marathon), Allen tackled a number of big-name events around the world, placing in the Top 3 in the Skyrunner World Series for the next three years. She not only took numerous golds in endurance races from Italy to Utah to Portugal, but set over half a dozen FKTs, including course records for the Speedgoat 50K and the TNF Cortina Trail (48km). Along the way, the 32-year-old earned the moniker “Hillygoat” due to her reputation for charging burly, technical mountain terrain at breakneck speeds.
But in 2017, only a few years into her professional career, Allen took a 150-foot fall on the uber-technical Tromsø Skyrace in Norway, catapulting off a rocky ridge. She barely survived the fall, but had broken fourteen bones. She fractured multiple vertebrae in her back, cracked ribs, and broke both feet, in addition to severely tearing a ligament in her right foot. It was a miracle that she came away from Tromsø alive and without paralysis.
Running again would be tough. Competing at the ultramarathon level would be out of the question, according to her doctors.
She didn’t take no for an answer. Allen made rehab and recovery her prime focus, and less than a year later she was walking away from a second-place finish in Tahoe’s Broken Arrow Vertical Kilometer race. She completed the event’s 52K the next day, and a week after that placed first on the TNF Cortina Trail in the Italian Dolomites. In the latter event, she finished only a few minutes shy of the course record of 5:15:56 (which she’d set herself in 2016, prior to her injury). “I was just determined,” said Allen. “I wanted to write my own story.”
Back at the elite level, she was just starting to hit her stride. Then she badly broke her ankle, a scant two years after her debilitating Tromsø fall.
Surgery… again. Relearning how to walk… again. Relearning how to run trail… again. It was a painstaking process, one that she was all too familiar with. Most would come back out onto the trail with baby steps. Not Hillygoat.
The same year, she went on to take second place in the Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS), an extremely formidable 148km event in the Italian Courmayeur, and the longest race of her entire career. That November, she set a course record and took first place at the TNF Endurance Challenge Chile (80km), and did the same at the L’Echappée Belle (87km) the following year. Allen was competing at the top-end of international ultrarunning—again.
The VECTIV Lineup
Given both her penchant for techy terrain and the extensive injuries she’s had to overcome in her career, Allen knows better than anyone the importance of reliable, durable trail shoes. She played a role in testing and improving the VECTIV Infinite, Enduris, and Flight shoes from the very beginning, and they’re now at the top of her quiver.
“My races might often be shorter in terms of kilometers, but they take a long time,” Allen said. “It’s a lot of time on my feet, and it’s always technical, engaging terrain. So I need a shoe that’s really responsive to the rocks but also comfortable, one I can wear for a long period of time.”
When she began testing the VECTIV models in 2019, Allen was just coming back from her ankle break. Downhill and technical running was scary, and she was hesitant. One of the key technologies in the VECTIV Infinite, the specially engineered rocker midsole, was integral in helping her regain confidence running downhill. “Having a shoe you can really trust, one that is an extension of your body, that was critical,” she said.
Allen’s input was also a key part of the development of the VECTIV Infinite’s upper, which is an abrasion-resistant Matryx® build made with Kevlar® and polyamide. She also gave critical insight as to the where to place the 3D Pebax® plate and how much foam layering it needed around it.
She was so stoked on the Infinite that she convinced the TNF team to let her race the Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie in an early prototype pre-launch, becoming the first TNF athlete to race in a prototype shoe. “It was still in development and under wraps, of course, so they had to disguise the shoe so the media couldn’t pick it out,” she said, laughing.
All three shoes play a critical role in Allen’s training and race lineup. Here is her breakdown.
The Enduris ($139)
The Enduris provides a softer feel for longer training miles, or racers who are going to be out racing for 30 to 40 hours. If you want a little extra comfort and cushion for long, long days on the trail, the Enduris more than delivers.
The Infinite ($169)
The Infinite could be everyone’s go-to training shoe, but is also amazing for medium distance and more techy, burly races. I’d race something like this in the UTMB or TDS, where you need a little more protection and cover. It’s the perfect race shoe for me, because for the trails I’m racing on I really need to protect my feet.
The Flight ($199)
The carbon-plated Flight is what you want for speed workouts, or non-technical, short and fast trail runs. If you need a responsive, fast shoe for a speedy race or workout, the Flight is excellent.
All told, Allen is incredibly stoked on the progress of the VECTIV line. It represents an exciting first step for The North Face, a brand well-known across the outdoor industry for top-notch athletic wear, but with little foothold in the trail running space. Since TNF is relatively new to footwear, to come and hit a grand slam like this early on bodes well for things to come. “I’m so excited that they’re investing this much in trail,” Allen said. “It’s really impressive that this is the first go around.”
This is a large part of the reason Allen was adamant about racing the TDS in the Infinite prototype, because she was so confident in the shoe’s potential, and it more than delivered. With the all-new Infinite, Enduris, and Flight taking up the top slots in Allen’s arsenal, she’s already testing prototypes of future TNF shoes.
“It can only get better from here,” she said.