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Sprinting down and flying above the world’s biggest mountains

Trail runner, filmmaker, sky diver, and dirt biker Allie Mac goes full throttle as a creator and athlete.

Morgan Tilton

September 23rd, 2022

8 min read

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Donned in padded bike gloves, full-fingered liners, and gaiters, Allie “Mac” McLaughlin ran a smidge less than full speed down the steep, slick, sloppy gulley onto Glory Rock and catapulted herself off the boulder outcropping. Crowds had gathered at this designated launchpad located at the bottom of the Mount Marathon Race to witness the harsh transition from the mountainside to the streets of Seward, Alaska.

Allie’s “jello” legs didn’t hold. Her knees buckled and gave out. She slammed down on the talus slope. Surging with adrenaline, the spirited 4’ 11” professional runner popped up like a pogo stick and sprinted .5-mile of pavement to the finish ribbon of the 2022 race, considered by many to be the toughest 5K in the world.

As a self-described athlete that “notoriously doesn’t prepare well” and “wasn’t a great downhiller” just years ago, Allie took an opposite and academic approach to July’s Mount Marathon. And it paid off with a win at the iconic race and course record of 47 mins and 09 seconds, which shaved 39 seconds off Emilie Forsberg’s former 2015 benchmark. “The fact it came together this year was a godsend,” says Allie, who exudes a contagious positive charm. 

As for flying down the steep slopes of 4,826-foot Marathon Mountain, Allie decided to wing the technique. “It’s rough coming down shale,” says Allie. “A lot of that preparation is mental — you have to mentally send it.”

Allie put more preparation into this race than she ever had before, flying to Alaska early to analyze and preview the course with other athletes. She made a detailed game plan. By race day she was confident, calm, and focused, which paid dividends. 

For her summer training plan, Allie ran the famous Manitou Incline every 10 days up and down. Near her hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The route is comprised of historic railroad ties that create 2,744 wooden steps up an abrupt slope, rising 2,020 feet in less than one mile. The segment reaches an elevation of 8,550 feet. Typically, hikers descend via Barr Trail, a 3-mile section of dirt singletrack. Instead, Allie practiced downhill footwork on the stairs, skipping steps, and running the jarring, flat 1.2-mile segment on asphalt back to her car.

Allie finishing the 2022 Cirque Series A-basin.
Photo by Josh Eades

Over the course of her running career, Allie has logged countless miles on the Manitou Incline. First, as a state champion runner at Air Academy High School in Colorado Springs, where her parents still live today. At age six, Allie and her older brother both started playing ice hockey followed by her recreational dirt biking and competitive lacrosse in middle school. She ran sub-6-minute miles during tryouts to impress her coach. “I loved the feeling of running fast and getting attention for being the fastest,” she says. When she didn’t make her A-team for lacrosse in 11th grade, Allie joined cross-country instead and “fell in love with running.” The Manitou Incline was a training tool for her team.

During her first summer back home after a year of collegiate cross-country running at the University of Colorado Boulder — where she placed 5th at the NCAA national championships — she set the Manitou Incline FKT, due to injury. Limited by tendinitis in her ankle, she powered up the vertical staircase three times a week for workouts. By August 2010, she had set a new standard on the route of 20 minutes and 7 seconds. “Those were the days when I had a Timex watch and no Strava, so it’s not officially documented but I had people with me,” says Allie, who competed in trail running after college, becoming the 2014 World Long Distance Mountain Running Champion on Pikes Peak and placing 5th at the 2017 World Mountain Running Championships. She respected her coaches through school but has been self-trained since graduation. “There was pressure to not disappoint my coaches, I was bound to be injured by doing every assigned workout, and the feeling of freedom from that was amazing,” she says. “I started staying healthy and things are going well.”

More recently, the race momentum from Allie’s Mount Marathon performance in The Last Frontier hasn’t waned. She snagged several more podium and Top 10 spots in the sport’s most challenging races. In June, the 31-year-old won the Vertical K at Broken Arrow Skyrace and 2nd place in the 26K two days later. Overseas, she took 6th place on the world stage of the 55-kilometer OCC in Chamonix, France, after winning the Snowbird, Utah, Cirque Series event, in August. This month, she finished 2nd at Cirque Series A-basin. Her other furrier half, Harley, a golden retriever puppy, ran alongside her to the finish.

“Harley has been a good support system and given me motivation,” says Allie, “like having a kid and someone to have purpose for.” She travels with Harley in her van to races and for her work as a content producer for Aravaipa Running and creative contracts for other organizations in the industry, including the American Trail Running Association.

Allie dove into the film production field in Nashville, Tennessee, where she moved after college during a hip labrum injury that required surgery. “It’s hard to see at the time, but all my big injuries including messy college injuries have really directed me in a life decision I’m so darn grateful for,” she says. Her Nashville connections blossomed into working on music videos as a director and in front of the camera as talent, and she was a hostess at a pizza place to help pay the bills. “It was refreshing to have a whole new community where people didn’t know me as a runner, yet,” she says, “but once a runner, always a runner.” And it wasn’t long until she reentered the competitive running scene.

The mountain runner also started balancing her efforts with another action-packed escape. During a dirt bike trip in Moab, Utah, she watched BASE jumpers leap from a cliff, and her interest was piqued. Allie joined a sky diving school on Nashville’s periphery and started jumping every weekend. With nearly 330 jumps under her harness, she still loves leaping out of airplanes, flying five times a month during the summer. Her run sponsor, On Running, even bought her a new parachute, and she made sure to soar through the sky in Switzerland after running the global Mountain running competition in 2017.

Allie at the wingsuit rodeo in Georgia. Photo credit Eugene Fernandez

As an introvert, Allie’s passion for adrenaline sports provides immersive spells that recharge her for everyday life. “When I’m dirt biking in the mountains, I don’t have service and that’s special. At the drop zone, we call it the matrix, because it feels like another dimension when you’re jumping and packing all day and my phone is put away. Trail running is the same, where I don’t answer my phone or wear a watch,” she says.

On the horizon, Allie dreams about paragliding and harnessing up Harley, when the pup matures, to come along on flights, and living full-time from her van. Winning the Broken Arrow Skyrace VK also qualified her for the U.S. Vertical Mountain team to compete at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships, so she’ll go full-out on a 5-mile route with a vertical kilometer in Thailand this November. “At this point, I’m in the middle of the journey,” she says, “work and running are perfect this year.”

6 responses to “Sprinting down and flying above the world’s biggest mountains”

  1. […] our featured article this week we check in with Allie “Mac” McLaughlin in the midst of a stellar racing season. And in the DFL, we emerge from a momentary lack of resolve as determined as a […]

  2. Keith Munch says:

    Your an inspiration to us all sista!

  3. Maggie Guterl says:

    Allie is probably one of the most fun trail runners to watch and a really rad person.

  4. […] Read the full story at Ultrasignup.com. […]

  5. Teri says:

    Allie really is an awesome runner and a great person too! So proud she is from my town of Colorado Springs/Manitou!

  6. […] We’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with Allie “Mac” Maclaughlin over the years and she’s made a huge impact on my daughter Sunny. Here’s a great piece on how she got to where she is that highlights, of course, her dog Harley… […]

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