Athlete Spotlight: Michelle Hiland

In athletics, and life, a resilient person pushes through the obstacles and hardships to adapt, and inevitably, thrive. Vulnerability, on the other hand, allows an athlete to openly share their struggles, ask for support, and grow even stronger. Frequently, we compartmentalize these two amazing attributes, but the truly great athletes embody both. There is no greater example of this than track star turned trail runner, Michelle Hiland.

Michelle started off her season with a win at the Dirty 30 Mountain race, a second place finish at the GoPro Games 10k, followed by a 5th place finish at the incredibly prestigious Pikes Peak Ascent. She then experienced a heartbreaking  DNF at the Rut Mountain Race in Montana.  During this time, she underwent a variety of injuries, supporting family members who experienced a traumatic experience, and moving states.  Michelle is open and honest about both her hard work and her struggles, making her an inspiration.

Embracing Vulnerability

After deciding she was ready to step up to the next level as a competitive trail runner, Michelle started to debate hiring a coach. Like many accomplished athletes, she wondered if a coach would truly help her. She explains, “I honestly was a little skeptical about getting a coach because I figured I knew enough to coach myself but after working with a coach I have found the real value is having someone who believes in you and supports that belief with evidence from all the training and work you put in together. Yes having a plan delivered to me and not having to think about my own training was nice but the accountability and motivation are what set me for success both physically and mentally which is big because once you are in good shape physically, the hardest part of any race is your mental game.”

Michelle began working with Coach Andrew shortly before the Dirty 30 in the spring of 2019, at a time when she was dealing with injury and questioning if she would even be able to finish the race. It was a place of true vulnerability that Michelle took the plunge to build up her team, making her even stronger. Andrew recounts beginning his work with Michelle stating, “Once I learned more about her background [as a collegiate athlete] I knew I was working with a very special athlete.” Together, they began working on plans to keep Michelle confident, positive, and healthy during her heavy summer of races.

Honest Communication

One of the biggest challenges for Michelle and Coach Andrew was keeping Michelle both race ready and healthy. The summer was one filled with injuries and stressors that hung ominously over goals. After racing in the Dirty 30, the two started troubleshooting the best ways to prevent a season-ending injury. Both Michelle and Andrew attribute her ability to say injury free with their frequent and honest communication. According to Michelle, “Andrew got to know me as a person and an athlete, which allowed for open and vulnerable communication , key to

success. Meaning I felt comfortable talking to my coach so that if something felt off, too tired or sick, he could adjust my training. I also had a season of injury and my coach helped me navigate this difficult time which would have potentially otherwise ended my season. With his guidance I was able to properly cross train, stay fit, and start the race with fresh legs, feet and mentally able to give it my all.”

Andrew agreed with Michelle, also attributing her success to her disposition. As Andrew explains, “The most remarkable thing about Michele is her overwhelming positivity and self-confidence. She is an athlete that I know is always listening and absorbing the dialog we have on a phone call. The phone calls always give her the ability to push harder, go into races with confidence and a positive attitude.”

While Michelle primarily competed in trail running races, she adapted a training plan which encouraged her to spend more time cross training. This flexibility in her training allowed for her to avoid injury while still getting the needed training in order to stay competitive. Of course, Michelle’s dedication to training helped her find ways to adapt to avoiding injury while remaining consistent in her training. Her honesty and hard work paid off in her amazingly strong finish at the Pikes Peak Ascent, three months after starting her training with Andrew.

Finding Resilience in a DNF

After amazing finishes at three previous races, Michelle was looking forward to putting all of her hard work into practice at the Rut Mountain Race. Her body, however, did not cooperate, and due to extremely physical illness, she had to drop shortly before mile 20. While it is not uncommon for an athlete to drop from such a technical and challenging race, Michelle stands out in her approach of humble understanding. While she uses words such as, devastation, defeat, shame, denial and disappointment to

describe her experience, she also holds an attitude of resiliency and gratitude. While recounting her decision to drop from the race, she states, ” I kept throwing up so as I sat there looking at the amazing views around me I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish like this. I also knew as devastating as it was that this was probably better for me in the long run considering continuing would most likely further damage my foot and IT band, injuries I had been dealing with for months that were already bothering me from the previous miles.”

Coach Andrew echos Michelle’s statement, looking deserving optimistic towards the future, “DNF’s happen to the most prepared and while I hate to see them happen as a coach – Michele is one of those athletes who can bounce back and see where she has the opportunity to grow and become better. This can’t be understated – her focus and attitude are a huge reason why she can have a bad race and bounce back without a dent in her armor.”

A truly great athlete is one who can learn lessons and grow from the difficult days. Michelle’s dedication and willingness to adapt and move forward show that she is among the strongest. The next season has great things in store for Michelle, as she says, “it’s tougher to know when to quit than it is to push through and cause more damage and it’s worth making the tough decision. I am now focusing on healing and coming back stronger next year.”