Lucie Hanes is a professional ultra runner, a professional climber, a journalist, and a sports psychologist. Those potentially conflicting pursuits actually complement each other, as evidenced by her second place finish in her debut 100 mile race, the 2023 Leadville 100 Trail Run. Remarkably, that achievement came after health issues forced her to stop training the year before. She discovered how much mental health affects athletic performance and now helps other athletes through her mental performance counseling practice, Inside Out Athlete.
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Lucie grew up whitewater kayaking, swimming, and hiking. She enjoyed being outside and being active, but as far as running went, “I was that kid in high school that would walk the mile test because I hated it so much,” she recalls. She started running almost by accident.
“I started climbing in college. And I was like, ‘Climbing is great! I love this.’ I also wanted to move my body in a different way on my rest days in between. The major difference between training for climbing and training for running is that you can’t climb as often as you can run healthily. You can really only climb four high-quality days a week, as opposed to a lot of runners tend to run six days a week. So I would have time in between those sessions and decided that I wanted to start running a little bit, mostly just to occupy my nervous energy, of which I have quite a lot. I took to it really quickly and it just kind of slipped in there by accident and the two ended up complementing each other quite well.”
Part of it is physical. “The nice thing about climbing is that it takes care of a lot of the strength training that a lot of runners miss and that I personally hate doing. So I don’t have to do nearly as much as some other runners probably should for injury prevention. It really helps with power generation. It helps with learning what it feels like to try really, really hard for a very short amount of time, which transfers very well in running to things like really steep, unpleasant hills or intervals, or even just the feeling of discomfort when you’re 90 miles into an ultra and everything hurts.”
Just as importantly, they work together mentally. “I like to say that when I’m running, I can think about everything and when I’m climbing, I can think about nothing. And both of those elements, those two extremes, are each really helpful for my brain in their own way.”
Still, Lucie didn’t start running seriously until she moved to Colorado after college. “I lived literally two minutes from some of the most amazing trails in the Western Slope, and I just started spending so much more time out there, realizing that I loved trail running and the act of trail running so much more than I enjoyed running on roads. It just unlocked this new perspective on running for me, that it could be more of this adventurous mindset, that it could be more varied. And I found more mental space on the trail aspect of things, and I ended up just seeing a lot of progression without really trying and deciding that I wanted to run a marathon, but not a road marathon. I wanted to just dive right into the trail world and did the Leadville marathon.”
She didn’t go all out, but she finished 45th overall and 10th in her age group. “I remember being like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of interesting. I wonder what could happen if I put more effort into it.” She hired a coach, and after only a few months of having dedicated coaching, finished sixth female in the Silver Rush 50 [mile] in Leadville. “That was a huge accomplishment for me. I felt on top of the world. I was like, ‘This is my first race of the distance; this is my first race where I’m actually taking something seriously.’ I was just full of energy, full of life, full of joy, full of pride. That was a huge day for me. And then right after that, I really started to struggle again with a long eating disorder history that I’ve had since college.”
Lucie hadn’t been deliberately underfueling. She actually thought that she was doing well, but the estimates that she and her nutritionist were going by simply weren’t enough for her level of activity and her metabolism. After the race, she says, “I didn’t bounce back. I took off the amount of time that you should take off after a long hard pinnacle race. I had another 50K planned three months later, and I ended up having to drop out of that because even two months after the Leadville 50, I felt like absolute poop, like crap on a stick. I didn’t have any energy. I was irritable all of the time. My weight had gone down. My hormones were in the tank. My focus was nothing. I couldn’t get anything done during the day. I could barely get out for my training, and for me, when I’m struggling, I can usually still get the training done, sometimes even to a high level, and it’s the rest of my life that suffers. But after this race, everything was suffering.”
She wound up taking a year off of training, and it was hard. “I was an absolute mess. I did not want to take that time off. I was so mean to all the people around me, to myself. I had to completely relearn how to function as a respectable, kind, human being without having the structure of training in my life that I had built things around. It was a really low time in my life. Every day of that time was a struggle to get through. It was days where I would wake up and the second that I would wake up, I was just praying for the day to be over because I couldn’t stand to be awake and alive in my body that didn’t feel like mine, in a life that didn’t feel like mine.”
When she came back, though, her performance improved rapidly, both physically and mentally. “I didn’t feel the same fatigue. I didn’t feel the same dread. I didn’t feel like my legs were made out of lead every single day when I woke up. I felt excited. For someone that hates speed work, I found myself laughing during intervals and enjoying it. And all of that, combined with the performances in my races that year and my climbing performances, all of that was just exactly what I needed to show me that I had done the right thing and I made the right choice, not only for performance but because it was just this huge sign that my body was responding well and that it trusted me again.”
Both her struggles and her successes made Lucie want to better understand the power of the mind, and she got a master’s degree in sports psychology. “It is so fascinating to learn how different brains absorb different techniques. And how different people apply those in what they are doing and how you can find your different strengths and weaknesses mentally and make up for these gaps that people think that they have physically. It’s just made me realize how yes, these are physical sports and you’re training your physical body. But when it comes down to it, so much of performing at your potential or even reaching the higher levels of sport has much less to do with your physical body than one would think.”
Now she uses what she’s learned, not only in her studies but from her own experiences, to help other athletes through her practice, Inside Out Athlete. “I find that real mental strength comes from flexibility, comes from compassion for yourself, and comes from being able to understand your own body and mind well enough to distinguish between ‘Hey, this is something that I am uncomfortable with, but that’s okay because that’s what we’re here for,’ versus, ‘This is something that is causing me deep mental or physical pain, and it’s something that I need to address and figure out, and not steamroll through.
“Having this attitude of, ‘I’m going to tough it through everything, no matter what’ doesn’t leave any room for embracing your humanity and embracing the emotional variability that we all have. That can be a superpower; you can turn that into energy. But if you turn that off, then you’re just a robot and you don’t get that extra source of life energy. You’re cutting yourself off from something that can be a power.”
Thank you to HydraPak, Tracksmith, and Precision Fuel & Hydration for sponsoring this episode.
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