Hi, I’m Anna. I was born and raised in the UK and live in London. I have a career in Teaching and Education and have been lucky enough to have sport and running in my life for a long time. I enjoy the siple pleasures in life – a post run coffee/beer with friends close to home or while having adventures abroad. I met Hillary (I call her Hilly) through my number one, James Poole, a few years ago. More recently during Hilary’s time in the UK filming in Wales and on her book tour. I now class Hillary as a true friend and when she asked me to crew with Elise (you can read her crew story here) it was a simple yes and a privilege. Here’s my perspective as her crew team from UTMB 2022.

Her mother Glenda was a part of the crew too (a quick introduction from her)

Hi, I’m Glenda, also known as Hillary’s mom. I’m a retired parasitologist living in Fort Collins and I’m Hillary’s number 1 fan! I wanted to come out to support my daughter on this grand adventure and it was no question that I was going to be a part of her crew – maybe not inside the tent – but I can cheer loudly so I didn’t need to be. I went for several hikes the week of her race and I kept on thinking “How in the world does Hillary do this?” I was so excited to support her.

Now back to the race – Anna speaking

As the UTMB race unfolded we knew this positive vibe would be needed in her happiest and darkest moments in what was new territory. Let’s be clear I am not talking about the mountains as this (hilly)goat knows how to descend and climb. It was the reality of toeing the line to race 100 miles long, for the first time, in a seriously stacked woman’s field.

As only one person was permitted to enter the assistance zone (as Elise outlined in her crewing perspective of Hilly last week) it was an easy decision when it came to ‘who was going in or if we would rotate’.  Elise had crewed with Hillary before and had good systems in place, so Elise would go into the assistance zones, and I would be outside, along with Hilly’s mother, Glenda. Besides it was behind the scenes where the real glamour was happening. We had a system going too. Before Elise would head into the aid station, we had work to do –  slick packing, and reloading, making filtered coffee on the sidewalk, all while adapting nutrition to get Hillary’s relentless stomach problems under control. It’s amazing what sort of operation you can pull out the back of the boot (or trunk for you U.S. folk).

By Courmayeur, the 80km point, Hilly’s position had dropped significantly. To us normal folk this was still the pointy end of the field. However, entering Courmayeur in 28th position was a serious mental blow to Hillary as her fellow competitors were simply out of reach.

Up until this point I hadn’t really felt like I had done much for Hilly, she was in and out of Les Contamines in a flash, so all I could do was shout words of encouragement, but I had observed her body language and how she was moving early in the race –  which can tell you a lot, that Hilly is an expressive one. As we were waiting at Courmayeur for Hilly, I heard Glenda, Hillary’s Mum encouraging from afar. As Hillary approached I could see her distress and frustration as the monkey on her shoulder had taken a firm grip.

Having spoken to Elise earlier we agreed the focus was trying to get fuel in and work on Hillary’s mind-set. Hillary wasn’t physically injured so if she was withdrawing she had to own that decision. She would only hear those words from us if she was physically hurt or injured.

However, Elise had complete control inside the assistance zone at Courmayeur even with Hillary sharing her doubts about continuing.  In the moments that followed with tears and self-doubt Hillary was changing trainers and taking on some food. This echoed even at the lowest point the goat was tapping on the barn door to be released.

Just under an hour later Hillary was up and heading outside the aid station, towards me with the time gap heavily playing on her mind.

At this point I had seen a number of runners leaving looking like they had been at a late lock in at an Irish bar. Blurry eyed, shuffling past looking completely beat.  A reminder the mountains can chew you up and spit you out at any given moment and a place that should always be respected.

With all eyes on Hillary I thought to myself she might s?@t herself at some point but she is moving well under the circumstances, she is not injured and there is a big climb ahead. So with three out four on our side I was feeling positive.

Game face on Hilly speed walks towards me teary and deflated.  As we walked she shared with me her raw vulnerable side.  ‘I am so embarrassed, why am I even a trail runner? All my competitors are miles ahead; I can’t even run’.

If you know Hillary Allen she is fierce, stubborn and competitive so dancing around being honest is not fitting. I wasn’t there to massage her ego either because she needed honesty and words that would reignite the depths of resilience that run through her veins.

In true McNestry style I did just that and shared the top 10 goal was off the table. She needed to move the goal post as position 11-20 were reachable. There was still half the race to push through. I didn’t need the stats in front of me as I was taking note of how other runners ahead were moving.  I shared this with Hillary and that gains could be made on the climbs. After all there is a reason she has the nickname ‘Hillygoat’.

While performance was hugely important to Hillary and rightly so. We are only human and elite athletes have bad days too. Taking on 100 miles needs more than just ability and for Hillary to remind herself why she was doing it in the first place.

Elise and I knew it was for her, but she needed to be reminded out loud.  As the tears rolled I threw a final question into the mix and asked Hillary ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ Confused face but no tears ’one bite at a time!’ It got her to smile and as she continued to move forward there was a noticeable shift in her hiking cadence as she tapped off into the distance.

Jumping back in the car we headed to La Fouly. While Hillary was still battling the demons away she was more focused and measured. The turnaround in the aid stations was gaining momentum. A glimmer of a fight in Hillary was starting to come alive.

One might ask the question where does Hillary Allen get this fighting spirit from?  Look no further than Hillary’s Mum Glenda. The living legend who crewed with us every step of the way and is made of stuff you just want to bottle up and share with everyone.

Without Hilary saying anything, we knew this was a big deal. I wasn’t too sure whether Hilly was more worried about the 100-mile race or letting Glenda loose on us for 24 hours. I couldn’t help but gravitate towards Glenda as she roared ‘Go Hillary!’ or watch her face light up every time she saw her. It didn’t matter smiles or tears, her daughter was rocking it, digging deep and her Mum was her biggest fan.

A few tips if you have the pleasure of crewing with Glenda.

  1. Make sure she brings her passport if crossing any borders (armed guards approaching when we are on a timer could be tricky).
  2. Confiscate phones or Hillary will start throwing poles like an international javelin thrower.
  3. If seen walking towards Hillary in a not so subtle manner taking blurry photos, direct her back into the crew van.

With the energy of the crew lifted we navigate our way to Champex Lac. Places were being picked off, Hillary was keen to know how far runners were ahead, gaining places and pushing the self-belief every time we saw her. It was here and at the last crew point, Vallorcine that the fight was on to keep pushing for places. Hillary had the added lift from Bastian and the Brooks Team and I even got a hug and salty kiss. Could she creep into the top 15 from 28th? The simple answer was yes.

To see Hillary sprint into the finish in Chamonix was special. It would have been easy for an elite athlete to withdraw because the top 10 was out of reach. Hillary finished UTMB because she wanted to do it for herself. In true Chamonix style the crowd roared and honoured what a true role model she is to the sport and woman in trail running.

If being part of the crew has taught me anything it’s reminded me that elite or amateur, we all feel the same feelings when races are going to plan or if they are crumbling around us. The most important thing is having the right people around you to understand that and when needed give you a lift up.

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