Hi, I’m Elise Mordos, I was born and raised in NYC and now reside in CO. I have a career in assets management (yay for spreadsheets and math!) and enjoy trail and ultra running as a pastime. I met Hillary, aka Hillygoat, 3 years ago when I was looking for a running coach. Fast forward to today, we are now good friends! After hearing about UTMB since the day I met Hillary, I knew I wanted in on team Hillygoat. Here’s my perspective of crewing her at UTMB 2022, from inside the crew tent.
At 3:45pm, team Hillygoat set off for the first crewed aid station. The race hadn’t begun yet, but road closures prompted us to get a head start on the crew life. Les Contamines (crewed aid station #1 at 31.3km / 19.4 mi) is a small mountain town that comes to life during UTMB and where we would spend the next five hours, waiting for Hillary to arrive. We watched the start of the race on a large screen near the aid station at 6pm. Thankfully, Hillary was easy to spot in the field of 2,500 runners since she started in the front and sported an easily identifiable blue Brooks hat and pink shirt.
Unlike in the U.S., there are a lot more rules when it comes to crewing in Europe and specifically at UTMB. Each runner is only allowed one person in the assistance zones. We are also limited to one bag that can be no more than 30 liters in size, and we are only allowed to enter assistance zones 10 minutes before the runner is expected to arrive. Hillary decided that I would be the person to enter the five assistance zones, and the rest of the crew – consisting of her mother, Glenda, and good friend, Anna – would spread out around the assistance zones to cheer Hillary on.
Les Contamines was the most crowded and chaotic of crewed aid stations – it’s early on in the race and runners start out blazing fast! But this section is crucial, the next crewed aid station is 50km away, in Courmayeur, after runners start to run through the night. Once I was given permission to go inside the crew tent, I laid out everything we had planned out pre-race — mainly her nutrition for the next segment, plus real food (pizza and potatoes), soda, seltzer, first aid and blister kits and a new shirt and sports bra.
At 9:13pm, Hillary appeared, she informed me that her stomach was bothering her, she was still eating at this point and moving well, the front pack of ladies were only minutes apart. Without much more to do, I restocked her hydration pack with new nutrition and bottles, and set off into the night.
Despite not showing it, I was very worried about Hillary’s stomach. I know that nutritional issues almost always result in a slowing pace and feeling of intense fatigue, make the lowest of low moments even lower and, if bad enough, can put you on the fast track to a DNF (sadly, I’ve experienced all of the above myself, and believe, me it is not fun). After Hillary left, I messaged her coach, Adam St. Pierre, who told me to reduce her salt intake and avoid serving things like fruit juices – thinking it was something acute that was causing the issues.
The next crew stop was Courmayeur (80.9 km / 50.3 mi). Just before 4am, the lead ladies started to arrive. Some looked very strong and fresh, while others already appeared wiped. Looking at the tracker, I saw Hillary’s pace slow and placement worsen. My fears over her stomach issues were likely the cause of this, and I knew Hillary would arrive unhappy. Once I entered the assistance zone, I laid everything out and anxiously waited for her arrival.
At 5:33am, Hillary entered the gym, crying and immediately telling me that she wasn’t sure if she could continue this race. She and I both knew she was behind schedule by an hour. She was physically low, not able to eat much at all during the night and her muscles were cramping because of it. Mentally she was equally low – but I didn’t want her to DNF.
Although, I have crewed 100 milers before and non-medically necessary DNF talks have occurred, in these past times, I was helping a friend, like me, who runs as a pastime. This time was different. Hillary is an elite athlete and very poor placement are unacceptable race outcomes for a professional runner. There’s a different kind of pressure, and although Hillary runs because she enjoys it, the pressure she must feel to perform when she’s not having a good day can weigh heavily. Plus, having known about Hillary’s significant accident and injuries, I know she approaches racing differently, she’s not willing to risk her physical health for a race result.
Rather than rush the decision to quit or continue, I encouraged her to sit down and try taking in some food and liquids, and then we could assess the situation together. She was not showing signs of injury and after a little coaxing, she was able to eat and drink without throwing up–very good signs! As she continued speaking, I could tell that her elite runner status was another source of issue. She felt embarrassed at her performance and projected finish time. She had had a really strong training cycle and was fit enough to place in the top 10, and this race result was not going to showcase this. On top of it, she felt guilty for wanting to stop because a lot of people came to France to support her.
After hearing all of this, I became optimistic about how this race could end for her if she gave it a bit more time. She still had 90km of the race remaining, and she usually does well at the end of ultras, when many others start to fade. If her stomach and body started to cooperate again, she may actually end up getting close to or within the top 10. I also know from crewing and running 100s that the dead of the night, especially the 1 to 4am stretch, is usually the hardest time for many 100 mile runners, and that part was over. I wanted her to at least make it to the next aid station to see if she could salvage this race. I knew her coach would likely make the same suggestion, so I called coach Adam.
I gave Hillary the phone. Coach Adam who was home in the U.S. has finished numerous 100 milers (including Hardrock!) and thoroughly understands the psyche of both the distance and Hillary. As I suspected he would suggest, Adam told her to sit at Courmayeur to take in some calories and fluid and that there is still time for her to do well in this race. She got off the phone and didn’t seem entirely satisfied. She wanted a clear answer on what to do next.
After the call, I said to her that I was going to start getting her pack ready in case she wanted to proceed on. Then she agreed to change tops, shoes and socks–all of which were intended to trick Hillary’s mind and body into continuing this race with the feeling of being refreshed for the next section. Thankfully, she did not fight me on any of this.
Now to convince her to keep going to the next major aid station at La Fouly (112.9km/70.2 mi) She complained about how far away it was. She was not wrong, it was another 20 miles away, but La Fouly was the next spot where we could see her. I pulled out my phone and we talked through the elevation profile: “see it’s just one big uphill, a traverse and a downhill,” she looked at me with eyes that knew I was underexaggerating it’s difficulty – Hillary had run this section in training. So, I struck a deal with her—if the race was still an absolutely atrocious experience by the time she arrived at La Fouly, then she could drop out there, “ok?!” I said, “you just have to make it to La Fouly!” But this race was far from over–it was simply too soon to call it quits. After almost an hour at the aid station, she left.
About five minutes later, my phone rang. It was Hillary. She never calls people during races, so I knew this was not a good sign. She was crying and again telling me how terrible and un fun this experience is. She then went on to again express her embarrassment for the race performance and how much pressure she was feeling to perform at her very best because she is an elite runner and she was not doing that right now. I listened and told her that sometimes you have to do things for yourself—right now maybe she needed to continue for Hillary Allen and not Hillary Allen the Brooks runner or Hillary Allen the elite athlete. Maybe something clicked, because after she said “Ok,” she then informed me that a climb was starting so she had to go.
On our way to La Fouly, we all hoped that we would see a happier Hillary there. Sadly, we did not. As she descended down the mountain to the aid station just after 12pm, we were greeted with more tears and complaints. She was using her poles on the descents, since they were still very painful, and according to her friend Luke (a photographer for Brooks) a rouge jab might have gotten a bit too close for comfort.
Since no crewing is allowed at this aid station, we were limited to words of encouragement. She was beginning to pass ladies, climbing in rank from 28th at Courmayeur, to 20th position at La Fouly. She looked better than some of her peers ahead. We informed her of this, and she heard us but gave off the impression of not caring. She remained very unhappy with her race performance, but in the next breath, she exclaimed that she wanted to finish this race. It was not the mental state breakthrough that I was hoping for but I would have taken anything at that point. We peered through the aid station tent from afar and saw her grabbing some food and drinks. She looked amazingly composed considering how angry she appeared to us just moments before. At least her stomach was improving. We cheered her on as she left and then made our way to the next crewed aid station at Champex Lac (126.4km / 78.5mi).
Even though the Champex Lac aid station is near a beautiful mountain lake, this is where a lot of carnage takes place. As I waited for Hillary to arrive, I saw numerous runners showing clear signs of immense fatigue and contemplating whether or not to continue–a very normal scene for mile 78 of a 100 miler, since the runners are far enough to feel like trash but still hours away from the finish line. A fellow runner from Boulder was unfortunately one of these runners; she ended her UTMB journey at this aid station about five minutes before Hillary arrived. As I paced the aid station waiting for Hillary to appear, I was arming myself with bullet proof skin and mind, expecting angry words or poles to come my way any minute now.
At 2:33pm Hillary rolled in looking like a new person. The angry and crying Hillary was now the determined and focused Hillygoat. She informed me that she felt much better and didn’t know what happened. I chucked because I knew exactly what happened. She was able to take in enough calories to help her mind and body to recover from a rough evening and was letting some of the immense pressure that she puts on herself to perform at the very top level to simmer down. The irony was, her placement was continuing to improve – more ladies ahead who were within reach of passing. She changed into a dry short sleeve shirt, ate some pizza, drank more soda and seltzer and then promptly left. The Hillygoat spirit was alive and well again.
The next two aid station stops (Trient and Vallorcine) and last viewing spot around mile 98 were largely uneventful experiences. Hillary turned a corner mentally and physically, and crewing became easier and much more standard. At each of these three points, we informed Hillary of her placement and distance and time separating her and the other ladies ahead. Thankfully, no ladies were chasing her down; she was the chaser now.
Personally though, while the act of crewing became easier, I did not start to relax until the last aid station at Vallorcine (153.4km / 95.1mi). From the time Hillary left Les Contamines until that last aid station, I was afraid that Hillary would be contemplating dropping out. I desperately did not want a DNF for her. She attempted UTMB last year and had to drop out around mile 40 due to a foot injury. I saw how upset she was then, even though the DNF was necessary. This time around, however, was not the same. She was doing no long-term damage to her body by continuing to race, and I knew DNFing this race a second year in a row would be extremely hard for her mentally—exponentially harder than running a slower time than she was planning to run and missing a top 10 placement. Plus, a finish at UTMB would mark her first 100-mile finish and give her some sense of closure since she has been wanting to run UTMB for many years now.
Around 11:05pm, we were in the streets of Chamonix. I knew Hillary was close before I could see her because the crowd erupted with cheers and happy birthday tunes (it was Hillary’s birthday when she started UTMB). She crossed the finish line sprinting, even catching another women as she entered town. With a finishing time of 29 hours and 9 minutes, she finished 14th lady and the 3rd American. This was pretty amazing considering how terrible the first 20 hours of the race were! I was so proud and happy to be on team Hillygoat, and help her reach that finish line.
One week later, it was time for me to go home. As we said our goodbyes, she started to cry. She expressed to me that she didn’t understand why I could be proud of her race and that she let me down because I came all the way from Boulder, CO for a mediocre race performance. While I am not a professional athlete, I know a thing or two about ultras and crewing. When races go well, you barely need a crew—their function is almost entirely to help save time at aid stations. I have crewed races like this, and the crew experience is usually boring and can feel meaningless. When races go astray, however, the crew becomes your lifeline. For this reason, it was worth every mile traveled to be a part of team Hillygoat. That is not to say that she finished because I was there (or because she had a crew team)—she finished the race due to her own willpower and physical and mental strength. But I know that the whole crew team helped make the race just a little less bad with the help of pizza and French fries and reminders that she is way more than a runner wearing bib number 49. I hope one day that she, too will be proud of herself for finishing. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the professional runner identity and the associated fears of judgment from pro runner peers and sponsors when you finish in a time slower than you trained for or compared to the top finishers. But Hillary did not let these obstacles stop her. She chose to run for herself—to prove to Hillary, and Hillary alone, that her mind and body can do this race and tackle a distance that so many never even dream of attempting. Welcome to the 100-miler club, Hillary, and can’t wait for the next Hillygoat crew life experience!