Going Long: An Interview with Lucie Hanes

Photo: Peter Maskimow

I recently sat down with Lucie Hanes, a professional ultrarunner and rock climber based in Colorado. In addition to her athletic exploits, she’s also a journalist and Mental Performance Consultant with a Masters in Applied Sports Psychology. We had a great conversation about all the different hats she wears, where and how they intersect and interact with one another, her history with disordered eating and how studying psychology has played a role in her recovery, the importance of creativity in her life, her relationship with Precision Fuel & Hydration (and the changes she’s made in those regards since she began working with them), and a lot more. (Note: If you’re interested in trying PF&H products for yourself, check out this link and save 15% off your first order.)

Mario Fraioli: OK, where I want to start, from the outside looking in, you’re someone who appears to wear a lot of hats. You’re a multi-sport athlete, you are a sports psych consultant, you do some journalism. I’m curious, how do you think of yourself right now in 2024 with all the different hats that appear to be on your head?

Lucie Hanes: Oh gosh, maybe simple answer to that is “stressed.” I’m currently working to reduce the number of hats that I’m wearing, but I mean, it’s also just a facet of my personality. I’m not the type to be satisfied with just one thing and one avenue, and I have a feeling that as soon as I trim down one thing, I’m going to find another outlet to put it in there with. But yeah, I mean, every time that I do think about, at least in the athletic world, having to choose between the two, I just have this overwhelming sense of loss and that is just kind of what keeps me pushing towards both. I can’t imagine myself or my personality or my relationships without both running and climbing and then the creative pursuits as well. So it’s hard, but I make it all work, because it doesn’t feel like there would be another option and still being me.

From an athletic standpoint, what came into your life first? Were you were a climber before you were a runner or vice versa, or did they sort of come up together?

I started climbing in college, so that came first. My first sport was actually whitewater kayaking, so I’ve always been in the outdoor sport realm. I did that growing up as a teenager and then discovered climbing, which it seems weird, but it is tangential. I grew up in a town, Richmond, Virginia, where there’s a river running through it with great whitewater, but also pretty close rock, so a lot of that community kind of crossed back and forth between the two.

That and mountain biking, which I never got into, but I ended up kind of crossing over into the climbing realm in college and then was just running a little bit here and there for, I don’t know, fitness, boredom, and realized that it really spoke to me in a way. I’m on the autism spectrum and that’s relevant because I’ve found that both climbing and running kind of help me channel my brain in different but very effective ways. So, I think discovering climbing first and then slowly adding on the running was what helped me realize how great the combination could be.

Yeah, I mean, they’re two very different sports, in that climbing, oftentimes it’s you on the rock or you on the wall, and I guess you can climb with other people. Ultrarunning, I mean, it’s you primarily, but you can jump in races and compete against other people, and you’ve done quite well at that. But I’m curious, when you found running, was it something that you knew that you wanted to compete in? Or was it just something you enjoyed doing and maybe complemented your climbing? Basically how has your relationship with running evolved since you started just putting one foot in front of the other?

That’s a great question. I never planned on competing in anything. I thought that I didn’t have a very competitive drive and it turns out that I have the opposite—I have a very competitive drive. I just kind of see it differently than what I assumed was the definition of competition. I can’t healthily compete against other people. It doesn’t make me feel good, it increases my panic, it increases my stress, it deteriorates my relationships.

So I think of it more as competing against myself and competing against goals that I set for myself, and then however that aligns with other people, fantastic. But I kind of think of it as, yes, there are other people out there. They’re not necessarily my competition, they’re my fuel. They push me or I can chase them or I can interact with them, but viewing them that way has helped me view competition a little bit healthier and more sustainably.

I guess that was a roundabout way of getting to the answer to the question. It was a really off and on relationship with running especially, because initially it kind of fed into an eating disorder that I had for a solid decade during college, and afterward … I don’t necessarily believe in full recovery, but I’m at a point where I’m healthier at least and doing things a little bit more intelligently. But initially it fed into that and I had to pause for a while several times to kind of reevaluate my relationship with running and making sure that I was using it for the right reasons. Only over the past few years have I been able to really train at a competitive level and get myself into that competitive level. I think that I would actually attribute creating a healthier relationship with food and fuel and exercise for that, because I’ve been able to have a much more stable relationship with running.

That’s super interesting. I think our stories parallel one another a little bit in both of those realms. I mean, my background in running sounds like it’s quite a bit different than yours. I suffered from disordered eating in my early 20s. I’m in my early 40s now, and while I’m in a much healthier place and have been for a while, I still always feel like you’re in recovery from something like that, and constantly having to watch yourself and just keep an eye on different things. I’m glad to hear that you’re in a better place with that as well. I also like how you framed competition because similar to you, if I think about competing against other people, it does kind of stress me out, and where I’ve landed in regard to competition is getting the best out of myself on a given day. I feel like if I’m able to do that in the context of, say, a race, where you are on the same starting line and same course as other people, my hope is that those around me will be like, “He’s trying to get the best out of himself, so I want to get the best out of myself.” You end up having this relationship with the other competitors, but you’re just focused on what you’re doing, but that’s helping inspire them to get the best out of themselves and vice versa type of situation. It sounds like you take a very similar view to it as that.

Yeah, definitely. I think climbing really helped me with that, because there is competitive climbing. It’s a very different sport compared to outdoor projecting and things like that, so I’m not a part of that world, but when it comes to pursuing your own personal best in climbing, everyone’s working together. At the crag where I climb here in Colorado, it has some of the most complex, intricate sport climbs in the country. We’re all helping each other, we’re talking to each other like, “How did you do this move? Can we talk about the Beta here? Do you have a video? Do you want to walk me through it?”

Everyone is so excited to share that information. It’s not secret, no one’s holding it close to the chest. We want to talk about what we’re doing and the creative things that we figured out, and give those things to other people so that they can access their own personal best. It’s like everyone’s just fighting against themselves and the rock, and I think that when I’ve had my best running performances, that’s kind of the same mentality that I bring into that, where yeah, there are other people, and at the end of the day only three people are going to stand on the podium, but I don’t know, we can all help each other access the best versions of ourselves.

Absolutely. One string I want to pull on that you brought out earlier is how both running and climbing engage different sides of your brain. I’m curious for you, how does that differ? What side of your brain does climbing engage that running doesn’t and vice versa?

I’ve thought about it a lot. I like to say that climbing lets me think about nothing and running lets me think about everything, but in a controlled manner, because otherwise it’s just this awkward middle ground between both where I’m trying to focus on something, but all these different thoughts are coming in that I’m like, “Oh, I should focus on this and do this and this,” and then I can’t get anything done, or I get everything done and I’m exhausted.

So with climbing, it really helps me zone in on just the present moment where I am. If I am climbing at the level where if I lose attention or if I let my mind wander, then I’m coming straight off. The only way to be able to send is to be fully immersed, and the type of climbing that I do is so full body that you really have no option. Once you’re on, you’re on.

With running it’s kind of the opposite, but still in a tranquil way. You get into that flow state, and when you’re there, things flow in one at a time, it’s not everything all at once. You can actually think through full trains of thought. They both just organize my mind in different ways.

Do you feel like they balance each other out in that way?

I think mentally they definitely do, and people ask me a lot about physically if I think that they benefit each other, and in some ways I do think so. I would not tell a climber that wants to get better at their climbing to go out and run 100 miles, and I wouldn’t necessarily say to an ultrarunner who wants to get better at running to go get on hard sport climbs or boulders. But I think if you’re intentional about it, they don’t have to hurt each other, they can be neutral physically.

Photo: Charlie Postlewaite

You have a master’s degree in psychology. I’m interested in when you knew you wanted to go down that road and take a deep dive into studying that field?

I think it was when I realized that I had a choice if I wanted to let my sports hurt me or help me. For a long time, as I mentioned before, I was letting them hurt me by using them as a tool for my disordered eating and my just exercise addiction tendencies, where I was using it to just shut out everything else and pretend like I was just this inflexible pillar of athleticism. That was all that I was, so I was kind of using it to shrink myself. Then when I started actually recovering, I went through several periods of fake recovery where I was just kind of going through the motions, and when I started to realize how hard but powerful it was to actually change my relationship with these sports and see what they could add to me, I think that was the moment where I knew I wanted to explore more, not necessarily about that specific facet of it, but the power that the mind can play in sports-

Do you think that studying or committing yourself to studying it deeper played a role in your ongoing recovery from disordered eating and such?

I mean, even if I never used that degree for anything else, I would be really excited just to have it for myself. It’s been hugely effectual. I think the most helpful way that it’s given me more power is by shedding light on the power of intention. So now, as opposed to before, I’m always going into my training with process goals, and I think that’s such a small but powerful way to take back your ownership of these things and stop them from sabotaging your own interests and taking over your life. For instance, right now I’m really struggling with paying a little bit too much attention to metrics while I’m running, especially during my interval. So I’ll stop my watch and study the paces in between, and I’m just kind of ruining the whole point of the workout and making myself feel bad during it, and feeling like I have to continue getting better and better and better and better when the body doesn’t really work that way all the time.

So for most of my harder runs right now, I’m going in with the intention of I am going to have a fluid run, I’m not going to stop my watch once. It doesn’t matter what the pace is, it doesn’t matter how fast I’m going or how far I’m going, that is the goal. In the end, it leads to the outcomes that I’m looking for. Not guaranteed, but most of the time. I think just knowing that and being able to go into my training with that more active mindset just feels like I have my autonomy back and that’s a really beautiful feeling.

Let’s go down that road just a little bit further. So in addition to setting process goals, and I’m going to speak a little more broadly here, not just for yourself, but if you’re talking to clients who come to you and are just trying to get out of their own way, what are some other effective strategies that people can put in place to do that as an athlete, or even as just a person?

I love that, because it applies for so much more than just your training—it’s everything. That’s usually one of the first things that I end up working with people on as well as their values. It sounds kind of hippy-dippy but it’s really truly powerful. If you think about what are the things that matter the most to me in life in general, like who am I? What kind of impression do I want to leave and what relationships do I want to have? What impact do I want to have? Then making sure that everything that you’re doing in training aligns with those. I mean, most of the time, if you’re doing it from the heart, it already does, but making that connection and saying, “Oh, OK, these intervals that I really don’t want to go do, they feed into this value that I have of wanting to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone.” So, it gives a purpose behind everything so it doesn’t feel like you’re just doing something in the void. That can be a really helpful exercise to go through. Then another big one is this idea of naming and acknowledging what is going on with you. So we will all have negative self-talk, we will all have those thoughts and those disruptive barriers and self-doubts and things like that, and the goal is not actually to get rid of those, and I think that’s what actually makes people feel very daunted by the idea of addressing them. It’s like, “Oh, OK, if I admit that they’re there, then I have to make them go away, and I’m not sure if I can make them go away, and that’s just not really true or the intention.” We might not be able to make them go away, that’s just part of being human. 

OK, so two more things I want to touch on, and number one is creativity. You mentioned this earlier, how you have this creative side of you. Again, from the outside looking in, it appears one of the ways that you scratch that itch is through journalism and producing articles and such for publications. Have you always had that creative side of your brain, and what are some of the other ways that you have scratched that itch?

I’ve kind of gone through different phases of that in my life. I played violin very seriously growing up, and then was also a very passionate visual artist, a painter in high school. I remember being in high school debating if I was going to go to regular school, to conservatory or to art school, it was one of those three things. Then I ended up just going to a full-on university and just ended up majoring in English literature and kind of choosing the writing path there. My initial passions had nothing to do with sports, they were all very artistic. I did lighting design for theater in college, I did creative writing for my capstone project, and I played the violin and made paintings, and then I only got into sports in college. So it was kind of an interesting pivot, but I do see them all as coming from the same foundation-

What are the stories that you’re most interested in telling?

I do a lot of your traditional gear reviews and brand profiles, because that’s where the market is for a lot of things. I actually do really enjoy writing brand profiles because I like getting to know why someone is producing something and what the point of that is to take the edge off of the consumerism that’s out there. It’s like every so often you find a brand that really does have a very powerful story behind what they’re creating, and that kind of ties into creativity as well. I am interested in knowing why something matters and why someone wants to create it, so I really like telling those stories. Then I also write a lot of stories on mental health and mental training in sports. I’ve had a column with Trail Runner for the last little bit, specifically touching on mental training and mental health topics. 

Last but not least, I want to talk about your relationship with Precision Fuel & Hydration. What was your introduction to the brand and their product?

Yeah, I rather accidentally met them in Kona when I was down there covering the Women’s Ironman Championships last year. I was doing some writing on that and ran into them and ended up just hitting it off with the team there. We were just chatting back and forth about my background, and I had just come off of a second place finish at Leadville the month before, so I was kind of basking in that and just trying to figure out, “OK, how can I take this a little bit more seriously for myself?” I ended up getting a sweat test with them. My results were almost off the charts high, which was a huge eye-opener to me, and I think to the Precision team as well, because their original intention was to help people that had these really crazy sodium sweat levels, and mine almost perfectly aligned with the founder’s, so it was cool to have that conversation. Then we talked a lot about how the two sports interact and that unique approach that I do take to both of those, and how that can help them branch out beyond just the endurance world.

In addition to learning that you were an incredibly salty sweater, how have you altered your strategies when it comes to fueling and hydrating yourself, both in training and in competition? What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve made?

Lots of changes! I’ve been working for years to increase the amount that I’m fueling while I’m running, so luckily I already had a pretty solid foundation there, but I have been able to increase that even more, which that never occurred to me as a 5’1″ girl. I was like, “Oh, I don’t need this many carbs per hour.” Then chatting a lot with their sports science team, it was just really enlightening of how this kind of applies across the board, and they walked me through the science of it. And especially with my eating disorder background, I need the proof, I need someone to be able to show me that it does actually work. I’m not just going to take someone’s word for it. They understood that from the get-go, so that was really very helpful for me, and I’ve been able to take that evidence and slowly increase my carb intake per hour. Still not quite where I want to be, but I’m getting there, which I’m very excited about. Then the most drastic change was definitely increasing my electrolyte supplementation. I’ve always struggled with dehydration, and I thought it was just because I don’t like to drink water, which I don’t, and it turns out that there’s actually a biological basis for that. My body does not want plain water, it wants salt water all the time, so I’ve been able to really increase my electrolyte balance, which has been huge. I used to get chronic migraines, I still do sometimes, but so much less frequently, and I think that a lot of that can be attributed to working on my electrolytes with them.

OK, last thing, I promise. To round this out, and go back to the first question that I asked you: You mentioned how maybe you’ll end up shedding some things because you’re constantly stressed. So, if we look ahead a year from now, what is Lucie doing?

That’s a great question. Actually, I haven’t released this to the public yet, but you can. I’ve been freelance for a while as a journalist, and I just got a job with Backbone PR representing one of my favorite brands, Black Diamond, so I’m very excited to be exploring the other side of things. I’ll still be writing for a living, but doing more so on the marketing side, but in a way that makes me feel good. It’s not that soul-sucking way, because it’s a brand that I do really love and support. Then I’ll be able to continue supporting brands like Precision and SCARPA, who’s my shoe sponsor, with writing as well. So that’s really exciting, but it means that I’m going to be doing a lot less just throwing things out there and seeing what sticks, which I am excited to see what that looks like, trimming down one hat there, but definitely still pursuing some pretty big goals in both running and climbing over the coming year in the foreseeable future.

Photo: Mike McGonagle

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