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Somewhere over the Arizona desert early one morning last week, trail runner Allie McLaughlin relaxed for just a moment and felt a Zen-like calm come over her that made her very excited for the upcoming year of running and racing.
Then she hit terminal velocity—she was literally freefalling at 100 to 120 miles per hour—pulled the ripcord on her parachute and calmly floated to earth, her Hoka Mach 5 performance training shoes touching down easily in the center of the drop zone near Eloy, Arizona, to conclude another successful skydiving experience.
Although McLaughlin has been skydiving more than 330 times in the past six years, this was no typical jump. On this occasion, with Droplyne Balloons an hour southeast of Phoenix, she went up in a hot air balloon that rose about 10,000 feet above the ground, then, while wearing Hoka running apparel head to toe, she climbed over the edge of the balloon’s transport basket, looked into a camera, and said “Fly, Human, Fly” before swinging out into the air on a rope swing affixed to the top of the balloon.
Clutching a GoPro 360 camera on a selfie stick in her left hand, she nonchalantly spun around as she swayed about 50 feet from the balloon, momentarily hanging on with only her right hand as she filmed herself and the balloon before letting go of the swing to begin her terminal velocity freefall toward earth.
In doing so, McLaughlin, a.k.a., “Allie Mac,” combined three of her favorite things—trail running, skydiving, and videography — and created arguably one of the coolest promotions in the history of running, as she used the reel to announce her new partnership with Hoka on her Instagram account with a few bars of Dire Straits “Money for Nothing” serving as the soundtrack.
“It was just so cool,” McLaughlin said. “But I was the first one out of the load, so it was kind of scary because I didn’t get to watch anybody do the rope swing. I mean, we’ve all done rope swings, but it’s a little different when you’re at 10,000 feet.”
The 32-year-old from Colorado Springs is nothing if not original, especially among elite-level trail runners. She had an extraordinary year of running in 2022, winning the daunting Mount Marathon race in Alaska, placing among the top five in several Golden Trail Series races, and collecting both gold and bronze medals in the inaugural World Mountain and Trail Running World Championships in Thailand.
But, while she’s committed to trail running, she’s also a skydiver, paraglider, base jumper, off-road motorcycle rider, van life enthusiast, entrepreneur, video content creator, and more. Being a competitive runner on the international racing circuit was intriguing to Hoka, but so too is her charismatic personality and diverse range of interests, says Mike McManus, Hoka’s global director of sports marketing.
“She’s a one of a kind, for sure,” McManus said. “She’s capable of winning just about any race she lines up for.”
This winter, after two years running for On’s trail running team, McLaughlin found out that other brands were interested in partnering with her and willing to pay her more. Although her previous partnership ended on December 31, it took a few weeks to work out a new deal with Hoka. Once the contract was signed on January 19, she began locking down her race plans for the season, as well as planning a few skydiving adventures.
Contrary to what some observers might think, McLaughlin isn’t an adrenaline junkie. But she loves rich experiences from what she calls “air sports” as much as she loves trail running.
“People always say, Oh, you’re an adrenaline junkie. And mostly I just let it go and smile or whatever,” she said. “But actually, I really kind of dislike that saying because, sure, there is adrenaline involved and it’s a good feeling, but really it’s so much more than that. In this day and age, my brain is going in 50 different directions between social media and everything we have going on. But when I’m on the plane getting ready to skydive or jump out of a balloon, it’s a moment when I am literally focused only on that moment, my gear check, my reserve chute, the angle I’m going to jump. You have to be extremely present in what you’re doing and that’s similar to what I feel going for a long run.”
Speaking of long runs, McLaughlin is opening her 2023 season by running the 50K race at the Tarawera Ultramarathon by UTMB on February 11 in New Zealand. (She ran a 25-mile training run in the Arizona desert the day after she jumped from the hot air balloon.) She’ll also be representing the U.S. in this year’s World Championships in Austria, in June, returning to the OCC 54K race, as part of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) festival in Chamonix, France, in August, and running Colorado’s Pikes Peak Ascent on September 16 as part of the Golden Trail Series.
In the meantime, she has several other jumping events planned through the spring and summer. And while there are obvious differences between jumping out of a plane and running a long trail running race, there are elements that carry over, and each type of experience tends to balance the other, she said. While running is very physically taxing, skydiving, generally speaking, is not.
If there’s a common element that stirs her soul, it’s the moment of being locked in and ready to perform.
“I like to call it being in ‘the matrix’ because you’re just in this space where you’re just very just focused in the moment,” she says. “It’s the same in a race where all the stresses I’ve had beforehand just disappear and I’m not thinking about anything else. You’re just immersed in the moment and focused on what’s happening, and I love that feeling.”