Run for the Sky with VECTIV in Your Sole
Words: Olivier Lasselle, Altitude Sports writer
Why do we run? The urban runner weaving through the streets, setting his pace against the chaotic movement of the city has his own reasons. As does the trail runner escaping into the quiet of the mountains and the trees, paving her own trail in the dirt. We all have our own reasons for why we choose to put our bodies through everything from the daily jog to the marathon. But what motivates The North Face athlete and champion sky runner Hillary Allen to compete in some of the most difficult races in the world? Her background as a scientist might help answer that question.
Like many great scientific discoveries, Hillary discovered running by accident. In her early university years, tennis was her sport of choice. Looking to focus on academics, she stopped playing while working on her PhD in neuroscience and physiology at the University of Colorado Denver. To occupy the little spare time she had, she joined a local running club. There she began to train for her first marathon and was soon introduced to trail running. The one they now call “Hillygoat” then found her way into the high altitude world of sky running.
Sky Running got its start in Europe in the early ‘90s, and offers some of the most challenging races in the world. As Hillary tells us, “A typical 50 kilometre race would have a minimum elevation gain of 12,000 feet (sometimes closer to 14,000 feet).” After winning the US Sky Runner Ultra Series in 2014 and a third place finish in the World Skyrunner Series in 2015, Hillary was invited to join The North Face team.
The Scientific Method
The North Face has been pushing the boundaries of outdoor exploration for over 50 years, which have led to many innovations in gear and apparel–staying true to their mission, they Never Stop Exploring. But you can’t have innovation without spending plenty of time at the drawing board and rigorous hours of testing. And this is why The North Face has athletes like Hillary constantly testing out their gear and pushing themselves to the limits.
So what brought together a scientist and one of the biggest outdoor brands in the world? In Hillary’s own words, perhaps it’s their shared appreciation for the scientific method: “To be a great scientist you always have to be inquisitive, to ask questions and push boundaries, to be daring and smart with your approach.” The scientific method requires a systematic approach. It begins with careful observation which often leads to an all-important question being asked. In this case, the question for The North Face is not ‘why do we run,’ but ‘how do we run?’ How can runners find the energy to go further and faster than they’ve ever gone before? How can a sky runner like Hillary go beyond her limits, over 50 km of gruelling trails at high altitude, where everything that goes up must come down?
The North Face believes that the answer to these questions is VECTIV.
Introducing their new proprietary technology to the market just in time for Spring, The North Face hopes to take the next step in the evolution of trail running. With the help of Hillary and a team of athletes, they tested their design over the span of almost 10,000 km, setting numerous records along the way. But before heading out into the field, the technology, like any other, first took shape in the lab.
With VECTIV, The North Face isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but their approach to the design of this new trail runner is a reinvention of sorts. Senior Product Director of Footwear Michael Thompson tells us how the two-year long process of research and development started with, “a unique opportunity to bring carbon fiber and composite plate technologies to the trail running and hiking markets.” For amateur trail runners and weekend warriors, the latest design will be felt in the increased stability it offers, the lightweight design, and the added cushioning for tougher terrains.
The North Face has taken the design of a road shoe and fine-tuned it for the trail. But if we go more in-depth, how does this design translate into performance? The VECTIV design combines “a 3D carbon plate against the sole, a finely tuned rocker midsole and SurfaceCTRL outsole.” For an athlete like Hillary, whose feedback was essential during the testing and development phase, she found that the innovative design helped “propel you further on the trail, while minimizing energy loss for those extra long trail races.”
Never Stop Exploring
So what motivates trail runner Hillary Allen? Science is one piece of an insatiable curiosity: “I'm curious of my limits and I'm willing to chase them, to challenge what seems plausible and to go after risky, scary goals. My curiosity to discover my limits has pushed me to compete in some of the most challenging races in the world.” It’s the same motivation that drives a brand like The North Face to discover how far gear can go. Science is a validating tool, but the experiment has to start organically from that motivation.
It starts with curiosity and taking those first steps. Hillary started running by accident. You might start running to stay in shape. At some point you might ask yourself, ‘Why am I continuing to push myself to the point of exhaustion?’ Only you know. Luckily, athletes like Hillary run and inspire us to do the same. It may not be with the goal of competing in marathons, but eventually you’ll hit the proverbial wall and from there, you'll have to dig in and push beyond your limits.
And how do you find the energy to propel yourself forward? VECTIV.