The following blog post is a recent interview I did with James Kuegler on my experiences with the Six Foot Track Marathon.
I do have a Training Planner available for this event if you are interested in taking on the challenge of the Six Foot Track Marathon Race and would like a guide for a sustainable training method that I use.
As a coach, I value all my athlete interactions, as they are all meaningful. It is edifying to engage with people who are trying to create a new normal and put themselves through something that, regardless or the outcome, will be ultimately transformative. Taking that view, all my athlete’s successes are meaningful to me, however I feel comfortable saying that sometimes a performance will stick. One such performance is Hobart resident and former orienteering world champion Hanny Allston’s 3:34:50 course record setting run at the 2015 Six Foot Track Marathon.
The Six Foot Track Marathon is one of the oldest and most storied races in the Australian trail running Calendar. Taking place every year in Katoomba in New South Wales. The 45 kilometre event, which some consider the toughest trail marathon in Australia, was first run in 1984 to mark the centenary of the Six Foot Track- which gives the race it’s name. As with most of the best races out there, the SFTM (as we will now call it) raises money for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and the Six Foot Track restoration trust and is a proudly grassroots event.
Continuing with the proudly grassroots feel of the event there is a classically detailed long form course description at the SFTM website which details the race turn by turn. In short, however the SFTM course descends for roughly the first third of the race, to the lowest point at Cox’s river, before a massive sustained climb with undulations before dropping down into the finish at Jenolan caves . The race has a mix of fast trail, fire road, meadow, and narrow, more technical terrain at the start. The key challenges that you face are the difference in terrain, the sustained descending and climbing and the temperature, which can get to over 30 degrees at this time of year in Katoomba.
I would suggest that to become an able runner you have to learn the discipline and craft of running, that is, training frequently with good form, a solid aerobic base, with periods of time spent training at an increased effort. We’ve been doing that forever because, well, it works. I would consider however that applying cross training principles to a race like the SFTM is especially important due to the makeup of the course. You will need a strong core and posterior chain to cope with the initial long sustained downhill sections (where it is all too easy to get carried away when you feel like you’re flying) and then maintain excellent form and high leg turnover as you grind up some brutal sustained climbs in the second half of the race. Even though SFTM is considered a descending course, with an overall net descent of 260m (1528m total elevation and 1788m descent) one should not be fooled. You will pay for any early excesses in the latter part of the race.
Why I am talking about cross training specifically is that yes, core strength is vital, and we should all incorporate some aspects of core work into our weekly routines, but what we need for an event such as SFTM is plyometric strength. Plyometric strength comes into play with someone like Kilian Jornet, who is able to bound up hills, thanks not only to his aerobic capability, but to his ability for his muscles to contract explosively. Plyometric strength is important as it is what gives us that “running bounce”. If we think back to earlier articles, high leg turnover should mean that each leg is spending less time in contact with the ground, ergo our footfalls should be lighter, our muscles don’t load up and we run in a more energy efficient manner. To do this, we need plyometric strength. A varied training plan, with a focus on cross training, can be helpful to develop this strength.
As I’ve described in the sample week’s training, Hanny’s workouts leading up to the SFTM were a mixture of speed work, strength work, water running (to maintain physical integrity) and hiking. There was comparatively little ‘straight’ running in the training load. Leading up the the SFTM this mix of time on feet, recovery, strength, and some speed work gave Hanny all the elements she needed to set a blistering course record that still stands. You could take my word for all of this, or you could hear it from the source herself, As I spoke to Hanny via email about her recollection of the event.
What do you believe are the key training requirements for someone planning to take on the SFTM?
Base fitness. You need to really be able to run consistently as under foot, the terrain is very fast. That is, major trails, fire trails and even some almost road sections. Then it comes down to great running form on the hills. You need to learn how to get into granny gear and grind up a hill for a very long period of time. Finally, it is strength and conditioning the legs for prolonged downhills. If you are not used to running downhill, often at a high intensity, for a long duration then I can guarantee you will struggle to walk for the next week after the event! So, in this order my training focus would be:
My memory of you running SFTM in 2015 was about not getting caught up in the excitement and energy at the start, and running your own race hunting the guys down towards the end. How did you manage to temper the excitement of the race with sticking to your processes around intensity and strategy?
Yes, this was absolutely my plan. I had a lot of pressure on me to break records and be a front runner, but I knew that my performance would only be as strong as my ability to execute what I wanted to in the race. So I have created this ability to get in ‘my bubble’. This is my place where I go to focus on my running technique, keeping myself fuelled and hydrated, feeling the rhythm of the run and observing the day around me. I know that if I am running in my bubble I am conserving energy. And that if I do all of this right, then the result will take care of itself.
Psychologically and physiologically what are the constituent sections of the event?
Physiologically, the aim should be not to burn too many bridges over the first very long downhill and runnable sections to Cox’s River. You should be focussing on feeling light and fast, without pushing too far. This is a period for really keeping on top of your energy levels so that you have lots left for later. Then you hit the big climb out of Cox’s River. Here you need to get in granny gear. My motto on this is, ‘how slow can I go?’ It wasn’t so much about slowness, but about remaining comfy and really finding my rhythm. Then, when you get to the ‘top’, there is this undulating 10km or more of running. This is definitely where the race is won. You need to be able to really hammer this section at full throttle, because after this it is all downhill to the end. I saw so many people coming unstuck here because they hadn’t kept enough in the tank. This section should be your absolute focus in this race. Then the last 10km or so to the finish is about trying not to get too caught up in your head and your own pain. By now, everyone is hurting. You just need to focus on staying fuelled and hydrated, trying to get out of your head, and let the legs roll beneath you to the finish. It is definitely tough because by now your legs feel a bit like pulp, but hopefully you have trained for this.
Anything else you think worthy of mentioning?
Fuelling and hydration is everything. You can be the fittest athlete in the world, and give everything to your training, but if you muck up your nutrition and hydration on the day then you can wave goodbye to a great result.
Cross training is beneficial because it helps us to be a better animal. Cross training uses different muscle groups, it is psychologically refreshing, and can aid in limiting stress on the muscles that we are using regularly in our consistent training. Cross training can be done within running, rather than say doing plyometric exercises or swimming, experiment with different shoes, terrain, carry a backpack sometimes if you don’t normally. This will change up the load on your body and be beneficial. Plyometric exercises, ones that have our muscles contracting and expanding quickly, are especially useful for runners. Box jumps are an ideal form of Plyometric exercise
Hanny Allston Sample Week leading up to SFTM
Monday. 1:00 Strength workout. 0:45 Water Run
Tuesday, 3:00 Hike
Wednesday. 0:45 Water Run. 1:00 Tempo Run
Thursday. 3:00 Hike
Friday. 1:00 Strength workout.
Saturday 1:00 Aerobic Run
Sunday 1:30 Off-Road Run
Hanny on caffeine...
As a performance coach specializing in trail and ultra-distance running, I am frequently asked about the use of caffeine a supplement to performance. With almost every sports nutrition brand providing caffeinated options, from gels to chews to beverages, I believe it is important to address the question – to caffeine or not to caffeine? Sadly, as you will soon find out, whilst there are some good rules to abide by, everyone is different. Using caffeine requires you to understand the science, your own body’s response to this common stimulant, and then to deliberately practice and observe its effects during exercise.
Caffeine is a stimulant
Let us begin with the most important concept. Caffeine is a stimulant. It acts to give you a false sense of energy, helping to heighten alertness and enhance wakefulness. In trail running, these effects can help someone to feel more responsive to the challenges of the trail, overcome fatigue (both physical and mental), and to also mask pain (more on this soon). However, herein lies the caution. If caffeine is a stimulant and can help someone to feel like a relative of Superman, then it is likely that this individual is working at a heightened level of physical and mental exertion. Underlying this is still the same body requiring the same amount of energy, if not more, to maintain its level of performance. If you are someone who uses caffeine, then it is highly likely that you are chewing into energy reserves faster than you would in a non-caffeinated state. Unless you are ruthless about putting this energy back in whilst on your caffeine-high, then you can be digging your own energy hole that may be difficult, or near impossible, to return from.
Caffeine is a diuretic
The same concept holds true for the effect that caffeine has on our hydration. As caffeine is a mild diuretic, it can give an athlete the sensation of needing to stop behind a tree, all the while thinking,‘great, I must be hydrated’. If you are zinging along the trail on your caffeine high, it is also imperative to keep on top of your fluids, preferably using an electrolyte higher in sodium.
Caffeine has different effects on different people
I am a tea drinker and even a small influx of caffeine will hit me hard, so hard in fact that my mind begins to race and I begin to feel a little bit jittery. My husband on the other hand loves a coffee, or two, or three. Whilst I opt for the tea leaves, he will grind, filter and create an espresso with negligible effects on his physiology or psyche. Out on the trail, the enormous difference of caffeine’s effects on our bodies continues to be evident. For me, even a portion of a caffeinated gel is like putting a firecracker in a tin can. The nearly instantaneous pulse of caffeine resonates throughout my body, causing me to feel zingy, jittery and uncomfortable. However, for my husband, he will really, really notice the lack of caffeine in his system if we begin early in the morning or are running for extensively prolonged periods of time. For example, if he skips his morning coffee, or those later in the day, the lack of caffeine leaves his normally caffeinated body feeling lethargic and stagnant. Utilising a caffeinated gel during these lower periods makes a lot of sense, albeit carefully ensuring that enough energy is also replaced to combat its stimulating effects. This is imperative to avoid crashing and burning later.
Caffeine and women
Fascinatingly, studies are now coming to light about the role of caffeine on a woman’s body, and how the effect varies depending on her hormonal status. For example, information is coming to light to show that the metabolism of caffeine during the first two weeks of a woman’s cycle is similar to that of men, but then in the second two weeks women show higher peak levels following ingestion, meaning that the caffeine will stay in her body for longer. This is also true for many women using certain forms of birth control. I would recommend that if you are a woman and are sensitive to caffeine, begin to notice and document its effects on your body at different times of your menstrual cycle. You may observe that your sensitivity to this stimulant may go up and down with the changes in your hormonal levels, thus requiring you to adapt your approach during exercise.
Caffeine and stress
Some athletes are highly susceptible to pre-race exercise stress or anxiety. For these athletes, I would strongly recommend steering clear of caffeine prior-to, or in the early phases of a race as it has the potential to enhance the cortisol stress response. Too much stress too early on can lead to burning more calories than desired, leading to a potential deficit later in the event.
Caffeine for pain
Interestingly, one of the greatest benefits of caffeine during exercise is that is becomes a potent masker of pain. That is, during exercise, it can have an effect of similar proportions to that of taking two Panadol tablets. There have certainly been occasions when I have had to tap into this during the depths of a long, difficult ultra-distance run. For example, on one such adventure I had a sudden, sharp onset of ITB syndrome with symptoms of jabbing pain in the front of my patellar. No amount of hobbling helped and deep down I knew that this compensation would only make the problem worse. Within 10 minutes of consuming a caffeinated gel, I had not just climbed out of this hobbling hole, but the pain had completely disappeared! I believe that this was also due to my heightened ability to improve my motor patterning, once again tapping into the strength of my gluteal muscles that had become lazy and non-responsive due to mental and physical fatigue. Amazingly, I experienced no more knee pain for the remaining 6 hours of this long mission.
In summary, caffeine certainly does have a role during exercise. It can help us to feel alert, agile and responsive to the demands of the challenges we have set ourselves, and not to forget its effects on pain. However, it is imperative to remember that it is a stimulant. For these reasons, I would urge all athletes to develop insight into how it affects them on an individual level, and also to consider keeping it up your sleeve as a trump card for later in the race. This will help you to experience that sensation of finishing with fire, whilst also helping to prevent digging energy deficits due to overexertion too early in an event.
I am running along a wild trail in Japan, entering into the Zen state that occurs soon after the ‘I am getting a little tired’ point, and shortly before the second-wind gusts you back onto your feet. In this internal bubble, time loses all meaning, and thoughts come and go like the breeze that hits me each time I crest onto another jagged ridgeline. Sweat is dripping down my forehead, seeping down my neck, before finally making it into my undies. Moving along this trail, far from the wandering crowds, and well beyond reach of emails, phones and all that ‘life’ stuff, I think I am in heaven. And, from the depths of this meditative state, I feel completely connected to my rawest self.
This experience in Japan is my first multi-day, lightweight mission. All I am carrying on my back is a small five-liter running vest pack. It contains only the bare essentials – a change of undies, a singlet, shorts, thermal, rain jacket, toothbrush, electrolytes, sports gels, cash, phone and a few tea bags. (As I learnt last time I visited, even in Japan I can find myself in tea deficit mode. On that occasion, I had reached a teahouse surrounded by tea plantations only to find that they only served coffee!) On each day of this spontaneous adventure I am aiming to cover anywhere from 35 – 55km through relatively remote, mountainous terrain on the Kii Peninsula which lies to the south of the mega cities of Osaka and Kyoto. As I would later find out, I had been all too dismissive of the word ‘mountainous’, which in Japan really does mean huge, sharp climbs in excessive of 1000m, followed be slippery freefalls back down the other side, only to repeat again.
On rare occasions the trail dips into the valleys that gently cup small, remote villages where a rural life of rice paddies, tea plantations and persimmon trees adorn. Here, I am greeted to a hospitality unlike anywhere else in the world. Stooped women eagerly grasp my empty water bottle, or offer me some, ‘chocolate, just for you’when I step into their home, which also serves as a café. When the time comes to stiffly stand back up and bid farewell, she will stand at the hearth of her home, waving madly like I am her daughter. I feel so connected to them even though our homelands are waters apart, and our native tongues struggle to express our gratitude.
In this rural region of Japan there is also attention to detail simply everywhere I turn. Small rest stops enroute are cleaned to 5* hotel standards, with the toilet paper carefully folded into a ‘V’ shape to highlight just how carefully prepared it is for my sweaty bottom. And when I finally arrive weary, muddy and salt-crusted at my ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) for the night, I am greeted by unphased, cheery smiles, along with a pair of slippers and a white fluffy towel. Later, as I soak in the healing onsens and revel in the warm fuzzy feeling of a day of adventuring, little do I know that my futon bed is being carefully prepared by Japanese pixies.
Prior to this personal four-day adventure, I was leading a group of trail runners on one of our Find Your Feet Trail Running Tours. Each day of the tour, we host a tradition of sharing our highlights of the day with one another. This is a beautiful insight into the small moments that can, at times, be life changing for our guests. It provides not only a connection with one another, but also allows our guests to connect with a side of themselves which may feel unfamiliar and nuanced. At the end of this particular trip, we also asked each guest to share the one element of Japan that they wished to return home with. It was, without a doubt, the most remarkable conversation as unanimously, collectively, the group’s highlight of the trip was the Japanese custom of generosity and compassion, given so freely and with no sense of entitlement in return. Yes, it is this missing sense of entitlement, replaced only by unwavering generosity and trust, that connects me to this unique country and continues to prod me in my heart me as a plod, huff and puff my way along the weaving trails.
Out here, on a trail to somewhere, I love to watch the way neighbors connect in the street, chatting gaily to one another. To marvel at the lack of fences and their community gardens. To watch them sweep, clean, and live alongside one another. Individual lives, connecting together and being enjoyed collectively. And yet beyond this camaraderie, there is another Japanese custom that profoundly strikes me – self-compassion!
In many of the small towns which provided my bed of the night, the onsens are also frequented by locals who would tug off their gumboots at the entrance, and pad their way down carefully cleaned corridors in a pair of slippers. Many of the women would be stooped from years of toiling in the rice paddies, tea plantations or vegetable allotments. From labour to self-love, the onsen is where they come to nurture, preen, show mindfulness, and leave renewed. When I step into this steamy environment at the end of the day, my dirty feet padding a contrasting pathway across pristine white tiles, I cannot help but observe the relaxed nature of the Japanese women sharing this space alongside one another… and me. We are all nude. We are all different, some with more curves here, and some with less there. Taller, shorter, rounder, smaller, it doesn’t appear to matter. These women will look at themselves in little stumpy mirrors whilst poised on small plastic stools. They appear to observe themselves with a peacefulness that could only come from a lack of self-judgement, and a lack of judgement of others.
Contrastingly, back home many of us are warriors in the bathroom. I, for one, am far too quick to judge and rush through a routine of in, out, dried, clothed and on my way again. It is about time… time… time… or lack thereof. But in Japan, there is always time. Somehow, the days feel spacious, the heart fuller, the body more capable of brimming with self-gratitude. And of course, connecting to both oneself and others.
My adventure has now passed and this morning I am back in the more concreted landscapes of Osaka, awaiting my flight home. I cannot help but pine for those hazy memories of steep mountains and unknown pathways still to come. So, in the shadows of dawn, I pull on my running shoes one last time and slip from the hotel, weaving my way out onto the foreshore overlooking the manmade island now forming the impressive Osaka Kansai International Airport. Rain clouds are boiling with potency around me, and as the sun begins to bead light onto the earthen walls where families and fisherman throw their fishing lines into the sea, a bold rainbow manifests. I pause briefly, revel in the fact that I have had this glorious experience, and continue onwards, never once occurring to me to share this moment with the unfamiliar faces around me. However, I am soon pulled from my inner glow by another jogger. He is waving madly at me and then madly at the sky, all the while hosting a broad, goofy smile. ‘Rainbow, rainbow!’He is calling to me, connecting with me, wanting me to see what he has seen. We pause together, two individuals connected by an appreciation for nature’s finery, each exchanging unfamiliar words of excitement before continuing along our solo pathways. Moments later, just as two nattering women in broad, floppy hats are wandering towards me, the rainbow has spread into a two-layered beauty with an arc from ocean to ocean. I wave madly at them, and then up at the sky. I know I am sporting a goofy smile but I cannot help it. They stop in their tracks, conversation now on pause, and look up. Then they are squealing, pointing, waving at all the other wanderers as they wander. We become bundled together, connected by an arc of colour, all pointing and cheering. ‘Rainbow! Rainbow!’
Had that first gentleman not taken that moment to connect with me, I would never have learnt that generosity can be as simple as sharing an arc of colour as it seeps across a sky. Had I not connected with those women in the onsens, I don’t think I would have ever fully understood the gift of self-compassion when I now turn on the taps in the quiet of the bathroom. We need connection, both to ourselves and to others. It makes the rainbows shine brighter, judgement to seep away and compassion to rise to the surface. It allows us to stand on a set of steps and wave goodbye to someone we do not know. And it gives a sense of having more time. More time to to greet a neighbor in the street. More time to share a random act of kindness, with no sense of entitlement in tow. More time and excitement to explore wilder trails, knowing that you will be taken care of, both by yourself and by others.
Lee walks softly through the sliding doors into my living room, a converted 1960s garage which we rent from generous friends who live above. For three years we lived humbly since we sold our home in Canberra and thrown everything into our Find Your Feet adventure business here in Tasmania. Lee meets my outstretched hand with a quiet confidence and yet boyish nervousness. I feel like I am looking in a mirror. ‘Well this should be interesting!’ he remarks with a husky smoothness laced with an accent I cannot place.
I flick on the microphone and watch the sound bars jump up and down as we begin to reminisce about adventures along Tasmania’s remote wilderness trails, the escapades which have profoundly shaped us. Frenchman’s Cap with its landmark Lorax cliff face plummeting into Lake Tahune hundreds of metres below. Federation Peak with its wallowing hippo-friendly mud. And our local icon, Mt Wellington with is plethora of rabbit-warren trails etching a runner’s paradise across her north-eastern flanks.
For fifteen years Tasmania has been my home to a wicked combination of adventurous runs, heavy-legged recovery days and interval repetitions up brutal climbs. It shaped me as a person, elite runner and ultimately, a World Champion. The mountain’s beauty has always helped to spark a belief in my dreams during times of adversity and has become a place for celebration after moments of accomplishment. As stories unfold during my conversation with Lee, I realise that we are sharing a deeply profound moment of, ‘me too!’
Today Lee is a sixty-nine-year old recreational athlete whose greatest claim to fame, aside from the significant accomplishments in cycling to triathlon, running to trail running, is the fact that he has never been injured. How is this possible? A celebrated ecologist with an inquisitive mind that allows him to ask the deepest questions of humanity, Lee has adopted a belief in a theory called Punctuated Equilibrium. Tasmania is his Petri dish. I am rivetted.
“It is not the external world that needs to change. Transformational shifts happen from upgrading the internal world – your patterns of both thoughts and actions. These pattern shifts might just begin with moving beyond the drive for high performance; beyond the search for peak experiences; beyond being able to do more in your life. While the peaks are important and wonderful, the transformation of living more fully daily begins with a fundamental commitment to organize your life to be you at your best more often; to be more present, more grounded, more joyful, more playful, more focused — more “switched-on”. That way of living requires an investment in recovery: proper sleep, proper hydration and food intake, plenty of movement and an optimal way of thinking.”
This year, Federation Peak formed a huge punctuation mark in my life. Over eleven hours of wading through mud and scrambling through a maze of horizontal scrub I overcome fear after nervous fear, driven by the knowledge from an early podcast guest, Dr Clive Stack, that fear serves the purpose of highlighting what is of greatest importance to us. Being out there on that back-jarring trail, running and wading my way to the summit, was vitally meaningful to me. And in the depths of one mud-hole, at a moment of ‘what am I doing!?’, I found a heightened realisation that we can only reach our greatest performances, our wildest ambitions, when we are grounded by a strong sense of self and what we love. Yes, discomforts aside, I love this side of Tasmania, and it helps me to uncover my truest self.
As a performance coach and consultant, time and time again I have observed the phenomena that when individuals have a profound understanding of their values and an ability to empower themselves; when they are then willing to play wilder and find the child within; only then do they reach their greatest levels of mastery and to strive for performance. Be wilder, play wilder, perform wilder. Stability. Fun. Perform… a constant cycle of self-exploration, playfulness and striving after which it is critical to return to our inner foundations and to ensure that they are still serving us.
“Regardless of what you are aspiring towards, you do need elements of stability”
As Lee explains, we grow in waves, with internal and external forces pushing us to rapidly adapt. And if you are aware of how we as a species grow like this, then you can self-inflict the punctuation marks. From his steady home-base, this is how Lee has come to grow as an athlete.
“We have to be careful of not all heading for the middle ground. I think we need to pick up on our strengths and at times, create the punctuation marks.”
In summary, it is vitally important to learn to be more to do more. For me, I know that the old way of do more to be morehas passed and now been replaced with a desire to be wilder, play wilder and perform wilder. In doing so, I slowly believe that I am finding the pathway to finding my feet.
Listen to the full Find Your Feet Podcast episode with Lee Belbin here:
As featured in Travel. Play. Live Magazine, Autumn 2018
Mud between my toes. Mud etched into the lines of my hands. Mud spots on my cheeks, both facial and I am sure, other. Mud masking the scratches across my legs, the downside of this dense south-west Tasmanian scrub. I have pain in my lower back, jarred from all the ducking beneath and leaping over the maze of toppled trees, their lifespan shortened by the roaring forties that rip through here. If I am not buried in this confusion of fallen limbs, I am vaulting from button grass to mud bank, trying to avoid the deepest holes. I can hear Dale behind me. Deep breaths expired, the squelch of his shoes and the occasional humorous remark at our predicament as he flings himself across, and sometimes into, each muddy void.
Just four hours earlier I had lain, clean and cosy beside my husband listening to the rain beating onto the metal roof of our van. Surrounded by absolute darkness, the only indication of our remote location was the sounds of wind in the ancient Gondwanen forests and the swollen, rushing river. Into this dark night I had uttered, ‘I am scared’. Despite the knot of anxiety in my stomach, I had clambered out of the down parlor, the beam from my head torch highlighting the breadth of the growing puddles. As I had tugged on long scrub socks, shoes and raincoat, set a match to my stove and prepared my tea pot, I went through a mental checklist:
As I poured the boiling water onto the tea leaves and finished preparing my vest pack, I knew that the only failure in this adventure would be not leaving the comfort of this van. Fear should never be the barrier to our dreams.
In May 2017, I had taken a giant step back from competitive sport. Ready for a change in attention, I was forced to address the questions, ‘Who is Hanny and what does success really mean for her going forward?’ My new normal became playfulness and it was on the silly adventures, most notably in the wilder environments of Tasmania, that I slowly came to a very important realization - success is not about reaching summits, winning medals or hitting business targets. Rather, it is a willingness to walk to, and then along, the edge of discomfort. To be willing to be uncomfortable in the pursuit of the meaningful.
By the time I had hugged my husband one last time, rain beating down and my watch reading 4:30am, I was completely committed. I followed Dale into the dense, saturated undergrowth, our torches dancing together. Whilst the summit of Federation Peak was our aim, twenty-two kilometers along this overgrown hiking route, I knew that I had already succeeded by being 120% engaged in this adventure. That is, success had been emotionally checking in for today despite the adverse weather conditions.
Now, four hours into the mission, I feel nervous. Dale and I are ‘running’ towards the base of Moss Ridge, the notorious 1000m climb onto the plateau that marks the start of the final precarious ascent to the summit of Federation Peak. We can see the clouds boiling above us, the summit’s sheer beauty obscured by their wet contents. I have noticed the temperature has dropped again and I find myself needing to stop to pull on more layers. I am wet to my skin, my shoes filled with the fine silt from the mud and every time I bend over my back is jarring. Deep down I can distinguish that my emotion is not so much fear, but rather vulnerability in the face of the challenge ahead.
To help remain positive, Dale and I begin to break the adventure down into smaller moments. We encourage one another to keep fueled, warm, and to continue for another short period of time before we decide on the feasibility of a summit attempt. We cut through the tension with laughter for what else can you do when you are soaked to your undies, muddier than a hippo and running like a wombat? As it happened, this was the exact moment in this adventure where success occurred. Our willingness to persevere and laugh in the face of our discomfort created a positive spiral that soon after had us whooping and huffing, puffing and clambering all the way to the plateau. From there we had gingerly scuttled up and then down steep scree-filled gullies, teetered our way around narrower ledges and then, with frozen fingers, pulled our way up the final rock faces towards the summit where cold and dangerous conditions had us hightailing downwards before even a happy-snap could be taken. Not once, in those uphill endeavors, did we consider turning back. Success at the base of the mountain had helped us to realise our dream of summiting.
It was a long, muddy waddle home. However, high on the adrenalin of accomplishment, we giggled, found tranquil silence, experienced peacefulness in our deepest selves and then finally bumped into my husband Graham. After 11.5hours and 43km, we popped back out of the undergrowth to the welcome sight of the van. The sun was shining.
Every element of that adventure to Federation Peak should have been miserable and yet, when I reflect on it, all I can find is joy. I am so proud that we overcame the temptation of comfort to embrace the conditions, that we found delight in the discomforts, and that we didn’t turn around in the face of fear or vulnerability. It just makes me even more empowered to share what I know about success – that it is not the outcome. It is about your willingness to walk to the edge of discomfort, and then remain there.
Adventure can truly be your avenue to self-development. It can strengthen you in moments of weakness and showcase what you truly love. Adventure can highlight where you have room to grow, and where you have already grown. It requires patience and perseverance, preparation and planning, humility and humour. And if the stars align, you will walk away many memories richer.
The perfect pack for ultra-running
Farewell Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 3 Set vest pack. It is four years since we met, united in our purpose to run wilder trails. Today we are nearing the sad finale. The moment when one of us has been stretched just one too many times. Farewell Bestie – my Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 3 Set vestpack!
My Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 3 Set vest pack has accompanied me on so many missions that I cannot name them all. South Coast Track, Overland Track, Federation Peak, Frenchman’s Cap, Larapinta, Dolomitii Skyrace, Hong Kong Skyrace… together we have travelled far and wide in search of the favourite trails. Here is my Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 3 Set vestpacks’ resume:
South Coast Track Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvxUA7STiX8&feature=youtu.be
Welcome Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set vestpack
Now approaching retirement, I have replaced this beloved friend with the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set. I believe that the virtues of these Salomon S-Lab vestpacks are too often overlooked, with most people not realizing their capability of travelling the longer distances. I can absolutely promise you that your gear for long distances races, even the Ultra Trail Australia 100km, will fit into either the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5 Set or the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set. Let me explain why these are my pick of the vestpacks on the market:
Performance of the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set vest pack
Full or not, the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set vestpack is extremely comfortable. Even when bulging with gear for a wickedly wild day on the trails, it does not wobble or feel uncomfortable on your back. I try to not overfill the feed sacks on the front as they are made of the stretchiest fabric and they can get a little wobbly if too full. Otherwise, the pack performs exceptionally. Here are some final tips:
We are moving slowly, large lumbering steps up towards the grey heavens. Rain pouring down in grey sheets, causing rivers to flow boldly down the path beneath our feet. Hoods on, hands tucked up inside the sleeves, we progress upwards until the terrain begins to level out. I love this place. The West Coast of Tasmania is as wild and rugged as you will find anywhere on the planet, and the Tyndall Ranges here are a dramatic representation of this wild beauty.
As we reach the top, the wind begins to buffet us backwards and the rain comes down as heavy as ever. Graham turns to me, a grey outline against a grey background.
“I should be miserable now!”
And yet we are not. This is the christening of our new The North Face Hyperair Goretex Jackets. We started with the hoods on, climbed over 1000m vertically, ran across the ridgeline and yet I am only mildly clammy beneath this single-layer of Goretex fabric. The idea behind these jackets is to create an incredibly permeable and yet fully waterproof jacket specifically for high-intensity activities such as this run we are doing up the Tyndall Ranges.
The jacket is fully seam-sealed, hooded and has a new Shake Dry technology which means that it permanently repels water to avoid moisture being held in the fabric of the jacket. Like water off a duck’s back! This jacket was designed for the Japanese trail running market where conditions are definitely at the epitome of wet and sweaty.
I have never had a jacket that has really, 100% kept me dry when the rain hammers and I am exercising intensely. And yet, after over 90 minutes running through this torrential rain event, I am still completely dry and only slightly clammy, albeit no more than normal when participating in such activities. We haven’t taken our hoods off at all and I am so surprised that I do not feel too hot or uncomfortable.
As we begin to make our way down, the rain slightly eases and I am able to observe that my jacket is beading. That is, the water sits like tiny little water droplets on the top of the fabric until I shake and it bounces off. By the time we have bounded and skipped our way down the track I realise that I am 100% dry again inside my jacket. Any sweat that I had produced on the uphill had evaporated completely whilst running back down! Incredible!
In summary, this groundbreaking new jacket by The North Face has been made for active endeavors in wet and cool conditions. The shake dry technology throws the water off beautifully and the single skin membrane means that no pit zips or ventilation zones are required. The jacket has a thin, slightly rubbery feel and comes in a super sleek dark grey coloring for both the men and women, with unique tailoring for the girls so we feel slightly special. There is so much attention to detail in this jacket, for even the detailing on the cuffs of this jacket, with their tailored shape over the hand, is amazing. There is a fully waterproof rear pocket for stowing your essential items too.
This is my absolute ideal rain jacket for trail running, cycling and lightweight missions. However, the thinner technology means that I would not be using it with more than a lighter vest pack on.
I have been slow to learn this golden rule but… having the right product really does mean that you can play wilder and with more confidence in the outdoors, even when the conditions appear against you. Put down the weather app, done The North Face Hyperair Goretex Jacket and get playing.
Shop The North Face Hyperair Goretex Jacket Men’s Style Here RRP: $350.00
Shop The North Face Hyperair Goretex Jacket Women’s Style Here RRP: $350.00
I really enjoyed my banter about health and balance on ABC Radio last night. After two years of coming to understand more about my own motivations, and having enjoyed working and sharing the journey with others, I feel confident speaking about this topic. I hope you enjoy the discussion.
Originally written and published in the Women's Outdoor Adventure Magazine Travel, Play, Live.
A red orb of sun rises over the expansive, glass-like ocean. Red shoes gripped to vast slabs of granite whose prominence rise into a sky speckled with clouds. The landscape is painted with the hue of dawn. Right now, right here, I am ticking off a meaningful mission. A skyline traverse of Freycinet’s Hazards Traverse. Out here I am my own athlete carrying the lessons from my elite running career in my vest pack, lessons fueling me with the knowledge that I can keep myself safe and content in this rugged terrain.
Balancing here on the edge of a shear drop into the ocean below me I feel poised between the lifecycle of the competitive athlete and the adventurous freespirit that I am beginning to identify with. To reach this position I had to navigate my own race, a warren of emotions, nagging internal chatter and external opportunities. The race lasted years. I would readily grab at the chances to race, and with it, the sponsorships and media engagements. At first this seemed to quiet my fear who whispered, ‘This might be your last chance…’
I have begun to realise that the more we begin to love something, and give it the attention it needs to grow, the more doorways will open. When we begin to master our craft, not only do we subconsciously begin to stretch towards further and more allusive doorways, but we also join the extended family of our craft. We meet friends, we chat, share stories, fuel on one another’s excitement. We race and receive brochures for the next. We are only limited by our own limits. Racing has become a global industry and with internet at our fingertips it is becoming easier and easier to find open doors beautifully carved with the with the announcement, ‘Opportunity!’
Despite these amazing opportunities, I began to realise that these opportunities were actually beginning to bring surmounting internal pressure and were clipping my wilder wings. The races and focus to preparation they required were stealing me away from wilder adventures, family time, Tasmanian hibernation and my creativity, all of which allows me to foster my truest self. Training became intimately tied to racing, rather than about being outside for the simple reason of loving being outside.
Over time I began to feel a dilution of my energy, a feeling of never fulfilling endeavors to my greatest potential, and a sensation of being constantly on the run… literally and in its non-literal sense. I began to miss both the quieter version of Hanny, the one that likes to snuggle up on the couch with a fascinating book and a massive mug of tea, as well as the adventurous free spirit that I find today on these rough granite slabs of Freycinet at day-break.
Today I am awakening to a realization that perhaps it is time to close a few doors? Can I confront my F.O.M.O (Fear of Missing Out) Syndrome, and in doing so, look at blazing my own trail along a ridgeline less travelled?
Closing doors, as opposed to opening them, has been exceptionally difficult for me as it evokes a fear and anxiety that I may miss that golden opportunity. We have been educated to think in this way, educated to ‘Seize the day!’. I get the beauty of this, truly I do. However, I am only just coming to the understanding that this doesn’t necessarily mean filling my life with every event or opportunity to the detriment of my own self-growth, creativity, values and freedom of spirit.
As I have begun to close doors, and in doing so learnt the art of saying, ‘not now’, a strength has boomed that flows into other arms of my life. The other day at work I was grappling with an incredibly difficult decision. Suspended in this process, I could sense a niggle of deep discomfort, a grumpy imp in my gut arguing, ‘Are you striving for long-term fulfilment or short-term satisfaction? Is this F.O.M.O playing out again?’ I would pause in my musings, shake my head and let out a sigh. My internal imp was most likely right. In a moment of self-absorption, my ego was overtaking my values. Removing F.O.M.O the decision became far simpler.
Leaving doors ajar
From my own experience, I just want to quietly caution that the open doorways to racing will always exist. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should always take them, especially if we are on social media and suffering from a bout of F.O.M.O. For sure, races can be a joyful way of exploring some of our greatest potential, and for partaking in journeys alongside other brightly attired individuals, all feeding off one another to thrive. However, too many and we can begin to dilute our potential, partaking without racing, being there without experiencing, running rather than soaring. If we let ourselves, we can fall into the trap of frequently handing over our energy to a race, leaving our own creative spirit, valuable relationships and dreams to play runner-up.
Today I am learning to leave doorways ajar. This is me boldly saying ‘not now’. When it comes to racing, whilst I am currently not toeing the start lines, I still want to view myself as an athlete exploring for my version of excellence. I aim to live each day in a way that allows me to strive for my greatest potential, training in a way that fuels my ambitions but also with a gentility that enriches my soul. I want to strive when I can whilst rest before I must. I want to learn what nourishes me and to discover my guiding values so that my greatest dreams can evolve. From here I can look at the doorways left ajar. I can choose to either toe a start line or simply to scale peaks, traverse a skyline, shrug off the scratches, and bathe in the icy ocean at the conclusion.
Hanny’s Top 7 Tips for choosing races
• Only choose an event that makes your toes tingle. Try never to catch Fear of Missing Out Syndrome (F.O.M.O)
• Allow a minimum of 5 months between your main goals. That is, race less to race more. Ensure optimal preparation time between each event.
• Train consistently, not just for your race goals, but because you truly love the sensations and experiences being out there, every day brings to you.
• Never race injured
• Set goals for each race based on process not the outcome. Aim to come away enriched by the experience, not merely crossing a finish line.
• For every 10km you race at near maximal effort, allow 1 week for recovery.
• Ask yourself, ‘could there be an alternative adventure in this idea?’
Sometimes the concept of a race can plant a seed for an even wilder adventure!
Be brave. Find your feet. Find your own start line!
In the last weeks of my twenties, I can honesty testify that I thought nothing needed to change. I was a happy Tomboy, chasing dreams and living life as I had always done – a car cruising along the highway on automatic pilot. However, as I turned the corner into my thirties, I suddenly felt like I was confronted with an enormous junction, a confusion of dead-ends, back roads, and stop signs. It was overwhelming and I was afraid to look back to where I had come from for fear of what I may see. At the end of 2016, I wrote a reflection of this experience titled Planting My Feet. This piece was a very personal account of the journey I went on after I turned 30 and how I navigated this crossroads, discussing how I began working on ‘self’ to find greater purpose in my relationships, sport and career.
As I moved into 2017, my greatest intention, call it a new year’s resolution if you must, was to consolidate the positive experiences and hard work of 2016. I think I can honestly say that I have done so, and here is what I have learnt from this wild ride of the year just gone:
What has helped me to overcome this fear of failure has been to rewrite my definition of success, which has slowly become to ‘seek craftsmanship and strive for beauty’. And my modality for achieving this is, ‘be wilder, to play wilder, to perform wilder’. Gone are my days of butchering onwards, thinking more is better and rushing for outcomes. I now strive to find ways to feel more beautiful in my intentions, so that I experience more joy in my actions, so that I can, in turn, strive for mastery in the outcomes I aspire for. I believe that this has to be the order of priorities… Be, Play, Perform.
It is definitely easy to drift from the truth, sometimes slightly and other times wildly. This usually happens when Ego is winning the war and I find myself saying to myself, ‘She’ll be right…’ The most frequent example of this is when my body is pleading with me to be kind to it and instead Ego encourages me to battle on through. This has resulted in a few injuries, such as currently with my Achilles. Sometimes I find that the truth feels shameful, like realizing you are not as strong as you thought you were. And it can be uncomfortable, like admitting you were wrong in your judgment. Other times I find the truth confusing, especially in relationships. And sometimes, like when you stand alone on a remote peak, it is wildly exciting. What I have discovered, using wilder adventures and business as a method of discovery, is that to live truthfully is to live in the NOW. When I am in the moment, not thinking about my past or future, I am being honest with myself and finding positive outcomes. When I am in the NOW, there is little room for Ego who is forced to return to his corner, trunk between his legs. And amazingly, as he does, fear abates too.
2017 was beautiful, albeit busy. The highlights have definitely been:
With the new year now upon us, my intentions for 2018 are to:
I hope that you are also looking forward to a wholehearted year ahead! May it be the ride that you wish for.
I really appreciate all your continued support. If you haven't already done so, please check out:
Written by: Joonas Pääkkönen.
Reading Osho’s When the Shoe Fits, while having breakfast felt like a nice way to start my day off at a hotel in Tampere, Finland last July. It was time for the Junior World Orienteering Championships (JWOC), a busy week filled with competitions. Later that day, though, I only had one meeting scheduled on my calendar: an interview with Australian JWOC team manager Hanny Allston.
I have been fascinated by the mental aspects of endurance sports all my life, alongside with the Eastern traditions of inner work, including various forms of meditation. Interestingly, my conversation with Hanny turned out to cover many such topics.
At the lobby of a hotel located in a picturesque Finnish landscape, Allston, known to be the only non-European to ever medal at the World Orienteering Championships, sat down for a chat.
“Can I offer you a cup of coffee?”, asks Allston with a friendly Aussie intonation when I enter the lobby where we were to meet. She seems more than ready and happy to talk about her various endeavors.
I was all ears. I kept nodding while listening to her talk. It was obvious that running was not just a pastime for her. Neither was it just a competitive sport. She definitely had a deeper connection with running, with competing, with confronting herself, and with being alone in the wild. Alone in the wild for hours. Where nobody can find you.
She is now, among other things, a successful business woman. With her company Find Your Feet, a multi-faceted company specializing in tours as well as education and outdoor retail, she goes running with people like me and you, to some of the most spectacular places on the planet.
"...it’s lovely to win a gold medal but at the end of the day, I want be able to do this forever. Again, when we were talking about “Do I want to support this system in Australia in orienteering?”, my heart struggles with that question because my husband doesn’t orienteer, my life is in a state which is not an orienteering location and I have these opportunities to use my skills for both myself and for other people in other ways..."
... Read more by downloading the file below.
Joonas' is a freelance writer, an orienteering and running coach, a Taoist qigong instructor, and a Ph.D. student in telecommunications.
Joonas is available for contact via email:
I have to say, before I even start this review, that the Petzl Head Torch range is phenomenal and definitely comes with my highest recommendations. What makes these torches so awesome is the comfort of the housing and the fact that they do not bounce at all. This is an absolute must when you are playing on trails an any movement in the housing will create a disconcerting, unsteady beam of light.
Out of the entire range, I absolutely love my new beefy, brighter-than-car-headlights Petzl Nao+ and its less-bright but still ridiculously bright sister, the Petzl Reactik+ Reactive Head Torch. Graham and I own both of these two head torches. Technically, the Petzl Nao+ is mine, whilst Graham owns the smaller, less bright Petzl Reactik+ Reactive Head Torch. However, throughout the winter I used both as each has great advantages (and few disadvantages!).
This year, the Petzl Nao+ head torch underwent some updates. The most notable improvement was an increase in the maximum brightness of the torch, from 575 lumens to 700 lumens. I cannot begin to tell you how bright this is! You will honestly need to shield the torch with your hand when facing oncoming runners or traffic as it will blind them! That said, the torch is still reactive. What this means is that the torch has a sensor in it which monitors the reflection of light back onto you. This allows the torch to automatically dim the brightness when you are looking at something nearby, such as a map, sign or the trail at your feet, but then as soon as you look up the brightness intensifies into a 700-lumen beam again. This is just so, so good for picking up the definition of a trail, seeing the trail’s pathway off into the distance, and moving without hesitation over the terrain. Furthermore, the battery life has increased. If you have the torch on a constant 700-lumen beam, you can get 90 minutes of running out of it. However, it would be rare that you really need this brightness for a prolonged period. Instead, if you let the torch do its thing on the reactive setting, you can get a lot longer out of the battery life. On its dimmest 120-lumen setting, which is still super bright, you get a whopping 12 hours out of one battery charge, which takes approximately 6 hours to completely recharge.
COMPARISON TO THE PETZL REACTIK+ REACTIVE HEAD TORCH
The Petzl Reactik+ Reactive Head Torch is the baby sister to the Petzl Nao+. The biggest differences are in the construction and in the brightness. The Petzl Nao+ has the battery pack situated on the back of the head. There is where the power of the head torch is stored. Conversely, the Petzl Reactik+ Reactive’s is located within the front housing of the torch. This makes it far less bulky and much lighter in weight, albeit not as bright.
To summarize the main differences, here is a comparison table between the two:
In conclusion, I truly believe that either the Petzl Nao+ or the Petzl Reactik+ Reactive Head Torches are the best for athletes wishing to run or play harder and wilder on the trails. The brightness of the beams and the reactive nature of the head torches ensure that you never need to slow down or alter your activities. If you want brightness, go for the Petzl Nao+. If you want packability, then select the Reactik+ Reactive Head Torch.
I am a proud Tomboy. Always have been. Skirts, dresses and anything ‘girly’ were never, ever on my radar until just two years ago when I acquired a bright blue Salomon S-Lab Sense Skort. At this point, something inside me clicked! A switch was flicked and suddenly I was a proud chick, running playfully around the trails in a skirt. I loved the sensation of freedom from the skirt, with the super light fabrics bouncing and breezing as I bounded, darted, squelched and ducked along the trail.
When I heard that Salomon skorts were going to be hard to come by in Australia I was really, really concerned. My beloved Salomon S-Lab Sense Skort now has mud stains and has faded to a duck-egg blue. What was I going to do? So, it was with slight intrepidation that I decided to give the new Salomon S-Lab modular clothing system a go.
Salomon S-Lab Evolution
In 2017 Salomon made an interesting decision to overhaul their S-Lab shorts, skirts and skorts range. The new styling is actually a 3-piece modular construction, requiring the user to purchase an inner brief (boxer length or longer), and integrated belt (for hydration, fuel and stowage), and another short or skirt (in three lengths). Ideally, you choose what will work best of you in whatever combination you like.
What I look for in a Skort or Short
When I choose a short or skort, what I am really choosing is comfort, especially over the longer distances. I look for lightweight, decreased chances of chaffing and quick drying. That is really why I loved my old Salomon S-Lab Sense Skort. The comfort of this was really in its liner. I just loved the super stretchy, incredibly light-weight, great wicking fabric of this inner short. It was the ultimate in comfort.
I have never been much of a fan of compression garments as when I am running I feel that my muscles are crying out for blood flow and with it, oxygen and nutrients. Restricting this just doesn’t feel right for my body and makes my legs ache. The only time I use compression is on aircraft or recovery after a long, challenging day on my feet.
Trialling the new Salomon S-Lab 3-piece Modular Construction
Inner ShortIn Australia, we are only able to access the compressive Salomon S-Lab Exo Half Tight or the the Salomon S-Lab Support Half Tight. As mentioned above, I try to avoid compression garments and so chose to trial the Support Half Tight option. This inner garment is made from a very lightweight, stretchy fabric that doesn’t shift or move and provides excellent next-to-skin comfort. They also have two stash pockets for gels and other small accessories, such as car keys. I have to admit this is a very comfy option.
Outer Short or Skirt
The new Salomon S-Lab modular range was created to have three outer variations for the girls – a 3-inch short, a 6-inch short and a 4-inch skirt. The idea is that any of these garments can be worn over the inner half tights. Sadly, in Australia we have only been able to access the 3-inch short and the skirt which is of a similar length. That is, they are very short! However, I absolutely loved the fabric of these outer garments. Super stretchy, incredibly quick to dry and it literally felt like you were wearing nothing. My only hesitation is that they are REALLY short. One day I tried to wear the 3-inch short without the inner half-tight and I realized that this was a massive mistake. I just felt too exposed. I am sure that if we could access the 6-inch length short this would be much better for wearing in isolation, especially in hot climates.
So yep, both the short and skirt are very, very comfortable but definitely need to be worn over the Salomon S-Lab Support or Exo Half Tight.
Okay, so this is where I started to have struggles with this Salomon S-Lab Modular Constructions. The belt felt a little cumbersome for me. See, the integrated belt is designed to snap onto your chosen inner short or brief, and then nestle snuggly to your waist. The belt has four pockets distributed around the entire circumference, with two longer pockets across the front and back, and two smaller pockets on the hips. This allows you to carry plenty on you without a pack. This is seemingly a good idea except that I do not always want to be carrying things with me. What I loved about my old skort was the sense of freedom it provided. Pull it on, lightweight, simple, and out the door I could go. I do not really want to wear the belt unless I am going longer distances.
Therefore, I have begun to trial wearing the inner and outer shorts without the belt. This appears to work really well although judging by the narrow waistband on my outer shorts, I am not sure that they were designed to work in this fashion. Anyhow, I am getting away without the belt and it feels like the most comfortable daily-use option for me.
SUMMARYIn summary, irrespective of the price, I would recommend the new Salomon S-Lab clothing range. I definitely think it is an awesome option for ultra-distance, trail running races and there is a lot of value in the price point. I think it is a great start from Salomon but I would like to see where it continues to evolve too.
Admittedly, I still run amok in my old blue skort, I am just really hoping that they can bring back a S-Lab Sense Short into the mix, and to also provide a longer short or skirt option to us trail chicks here in Australia.
I’m lying on my back on a scratched, leather lounge, trying to block out the intrusive airport intercoms announcing the next departure. Two hours down and only three hours more to go till my flight home to Hobart. My brain is filled with jetlag and my previously clear thoughts have been replaced by a murkier mess. Somewhere between Finland and Melbourne self-doubt has crept into my grey matter, leaving me wondering one of the big questions in life, ‘Where does empowerment come from, both my own self-empowerment and the ability to influence others?’
Today I am returning from Finland where I was assisting the Australian Junior Orienteering Team with their preparations for their World Championships. Amongst the forests and lakes, I had felt my skills, academia and life experiences uniting to support each team member to perform wilder. I would start each day with an early morning explore, cruising along the lake’s edge, finding animal paths through the forest undergrowth. The lake was often mirror calm so after the run I would slip into the gleaming water. For one week, this was my shower. And after rewarming myself with two or three cups of tea, I can honestly say I was ready to empower anything, even the moose and giant slugs populating the forest! My team fondly nicknamed me ‘Nanny Hanny’ after the copious cups of tea I enjoyed as well as my early-to-bed habits. I am confident the nickname does not reflect me driving.
Interestingly, the word Empower actually has two meanings: To give (someone) the authority or power to do something; and, to make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights. The origin of the word is slightly more complicated, with the ‘em’ thought to actually come from either the Old Frech or Latin word “en”, meaning “in”, “to look” or to “come”. This suggests a word derived from the Old French or Latin meanings of looking or coming for power. Today we see a hugely prolific use of the word, from personal development to business. It feels like everyone wants us to be empowered! So, how does this occur and who has the permission to influence me finding this inner power?
I believe we give ourselves permission to be empowered by someone when we gain a sense of their authenticity and self-connectedness. If I think back to those who have touched my life in ways that enabled me to achieve beyond what I had dared to dream alone. Max Cherry jumps to mind. At 80 years of age, bumbled under an old track suit and a tartan beret, it was his bellowing voice from his car whilst we ran alongside, his handshake at the start of training, his gentle hug when we ‘did good’, that taught me there is no such word as can’t and to see my talents in distance running. Jackie Feathweather nee Gallagher also helped to highlight the importance of vulnerability. One hell of a listener, she allowed openness, demanded honesty and coached me to strength as a marathon runner. Jeremy, with his bike shoes under the table, empowers me to seek authenticity in my own marrow. So many amazing individuals, all with authenticity visible bubbling from even the smallest of handshakes, nods or eye contact.
In Finland, the natural environment inspired me outdoors. Mornings in the sunshine, forest scarps stuck to my hair, mud spatters up my calves, this is where I connect strongest with myself. This is where I find inspiration and self-connectedness. And I took this empowered-self to the competition arenas where I truly believe I passed the empowerment through to these young athletes. I saw them begin to dream bigger and perform wilder, seeing physical, mental and emotional strength unite to create optimal performance.
As I boarded the first or many flights home I began conceptualizing an article on the beauty of empowerment. And yet here I am now, face up on an airport lounge questioning my ragged attempts to do so. I feel as stale and unexcited as the airport terminal itself. So, I do what I know best – rip open my bag, scrounge for my slightly stale smelling running attire, draw tight the laces of my shoes and go exploring.
To my great surprise Melbourne Airport has the most fabulous trail running on its doorsteps. Out past the smokers’ precinct, round behind McDonalds, down around the runway lighting, across a ditch and ‘pop’, into an open parkland I find myself. As the noise of the airport begins to fade and the evening light dapples through the open eucalypt forest with dancing grasslands beneath, I begin to shake my head. How can I possibly conceptualize empowerment from a stuffy, crowded airport lounge where alcohol and donuts are readily consumed? I run with my thoughts through an old gate, parallel with a fence line with more holes than wire and upwards towards open skies. Where does empowerment bubble up from? The realization comes to me as I summit a small hill and confront a 360-degree view of Melbourne and its outlying suburbs.
The process of empowering others is a reflection of our ability to empower ourselves. I choose the word process carefully because I believe that empowerment requires a slow building of trust, not just with the other person, but with yourself. Out on this hilltop with aircraft skimming overhead and rusty rays streaking across a darkening sky I feel inner strength and confidence returning. I am breaking the norm, escaping the concrete and in turn empowering myself. A quick decision to do something that makes me feel good about myself has switched me from moping mess to excitable adventurer. I could have had another cup of tea, or indulged in some smarties (my traveler’s Achilles heal). I could have opened my laptop and tried to strategically think my way out of my muddle. But this simple act of inspiration has replaced the negatives with positives, the internal critique with a gentler voice of compassion, and restlessness with excitement. I feel like racing back to the airport to grab my husband Graham and drag him out here with me to experience this too. And therein lies empowerment. Au natural, bubbling up deep from within.
I guess the moral of this muddled story is that we cannot empower others unless we first empower ourselves. This empowerment comes from taking daily actions, (as well as perhaps the occasional big F$%k-Off adventure!) that inspires you. Recently, I have tried to focus on the small things that uplift me, from a plant-based diet to early nights, time camping under the stars, and my mini-morning missions before opening my laptop. I also find creativity, fostering rich friendships, and self-nurturing also stimulate richer thoughts of authenticity. With guidance, I have spent time thinking more consciously about my values and reflecting on these in my journaling. I have also launched my Find Your Feet Podcast because I love the act of learning from others and the act of freely sharing this with our broader community. All these little things add up!
When I first started Find Your Feet back in 2009 I was simply trying to find my own feet. I had fallen out of love with my running and had let my health tip into the unhealthy, ‘underweight athlete’ zone. However, I was super eager to help other adults fall in love with the sport of running and meet new friends at the same time, using both running groups and life coaching as my means to do so. After around six months one of my regular clients and someone that I am now proud to consider a friend pulled me aside – ‘Hanny, you have the potential to give us all a beautiful this gift. But if all we see is someone who doesn’t nurture themselves then we will never be able to truly appreciate the gift you are trying to give us’. After all these years I finally, truly understand his words of wisdom – empower yourself to empower others.
Look backwards to where we have come. We are anonymous. No one knows our pathway more than they know our future. A sodden trail leading upwards, substituting the sparse understory of the lower forest for a non-existent canopy. Frozen, white fingers mimicking the silent stags guarding the history of this forest. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
The buttons of the Buttongrass dance a silent tango, intimate and yet rarely touching. That’s where we belong… intimately a part of Tarkine’s waltz. Observing without touching, admiring without desiring. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
Opposites attract. Light rain feeds the vegetation whilst we shrug deeper into our jackets. Grey undergrowth to grey skies on grey alpine soils. Red raincoats a reminder of our differences. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
Roads dug through deep culverts, winding us from one sensory overload to another. A white bridge spanning a rusted river, jade moss clinging to its edges like the silvery mist clinging to the ridgelines. Once again, we look to the white stags spreading their fingers towards an inconspicuous sky. If we could take flight like the Currawongs we wouldn’t need the roads. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
Her peat soils hide her wealth. Gold, tin, iron and more. She produces beauty so heightened we often rip off her surface to expose her emotions. Inevitably she will bleed her pain into the surrounding waterways as slurry is dug from her heart, feeding outside investments. Tarkine. Our wounded Tarkine.
She cannot hide. Vast Myrtles a true giveaway of her affluence. She cannot escape. Let her beauty not face the fate of the Thylacine and Tarkine people. Tarkine. Our trapped Tarkine.
Flick off the leech, swat the marsh fly, wave away the mosquito and wash the mud off down spinning drains. We barely belong here but we are Tarkine’s caretakers. Stave off those bearing down on our Tarkine! Wave them away like an insect. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
If we can learn to run we can learn to say no. Say no to her helplessness.
If we can learn to speak we can learn to say yes. Say yes to her protection.
Without a voice, she needs our help. Stand up for her freedom like we avidly protect our own.
Tarkine. Let her become your Tarkine.
How much of an endurance challenge is mental or physical? I have always been at a lost for an appropriate response and grabbing at random numbers. Seventy percent physical? Forty percent mental? Or should this be fifty-fifty? Or… Just days away from the my first 100km trail running event I can now respond with more conviction. Breaking down any endurance challenge into only mental and physical components is over simplified. Right now I can testify that there is a huge emotional element to endurance performance too and I believe that we often overlook the incredible power that our emotions hold over us. This begs the question - are we putting enough emphasis on emotional intelligence as we strive to succeed in endurance challenges?
But what is success when it comes to endurance? For me now, success defines my willingness to sit on the edge, to lean in to the discomfort that is inevitable and to accept whatever the outcome is. Conversely, to fail is not a failure to reach the summit, but to shy away from this discomfort and seek an easier way out. Therefore, success is not a result that I find on the finish line but rather an experience I undertake during the journey to the summit.
So what stops us from perching on the edge of our comfort zone? I see this ‘edge’ as the point at which success and failure merge and where some of our greatest self-growth occurs? As I prepare for tomorrow’s daunting 100km run, undeniably what has me begging to step back from this edge is fear. For me, fear normally kicks in during the last few weeks as the big day approaches. It replaces my sense of control and focus, leaving me filled with self-doubt and the inevitable question, ‘why on earth am I doing this??!’
During a recent Find Your Feet Podcast episode with Dr Clive Stack, we found ourselves discussing the concept of fear, especially in relation to my impending run at Ultra Trail Australia. Dr Stack has devoted his expertise to researching human emotions and the purposes these serve. He has come to believe that fear highlights a moment when things are about to change for the better and that instead of running from fear we should lean into these moments, finding courage to strive for another week, day, hour or even minute until we finally break through to the other side where empowerment, personal growth and success lie. So, when intimidation has us withdrawing into ourselves and self-doubt wakes us at 5am in the morning… that is when we must disregard our fear and crawl to the edge. In this moment of self-doubt we need to have faith to lean in.
I think too often we set a goal and then focus on our physical and occasionally our mental preparedness. But I firmly believe we need uncomfortable experiences to foster emotional resilience. Emotional preparedness comes from experiences that hold us in a space beyond our comfort zone. I find my greatest strength when I am active outdoors in a foreign location or immersed in the elements. During the depths of my 100km, when the sun sets and I am alone on the course, I know that I will not be relying so much on my physical fitness, but rather I will be drawing strength from past adventures and the tougher moments in life that I have experienced.
As we strive for new summits, I implore us all to begin acknowledging the presence of our emotions and the role they play as we near ‘the edge’. If we are able to accept their involvement then we will be less surprised as emotions emerge, especially during those critical last weeks or when we are digging deep on ‘summit day’. If you are experiencing fear, hold tight for another day, hour or even minute. For things are about to change for the better. Back yourself. Trust yourself. Take faith in your preparation but especially in the moments when you have been physically, mentally & emotionally challenged.
In summary, I truly believe that fear and emotional turmoil will be intricately involved in any preparation when we strive towards new summits. After all, we seek these hefty challenges as an opportunity to grow, learn and frighten ourselves a little. I know that my 100km run through the Blue Mountains tomorrow will be an intricate blend of physical, mental and emotional resilience. And if that fails me, then perhaps it will become a spiritual experience as I pray to the gods for the finish line!
Listen to Dr Clive Stack on the Find Your Feet Podcast:
It was 3pm in the afternoon and I found myself lying on my single wooden bed atop rough wooden floors in the hostel. I rarely lie down in the middle of the afternoon but I found that it is what you sometimes need when you are so emotionally challenged by your environment. Graham and I visited Nepal for the first time, there to hand out running shoes to the children and villagers living in Batase, some 35km outside of Kathmandu over imposing mountain foothills. This assortment of secondhand shoes had been collected by members of our Find Your Feet community and it was an honour to deliver them to the village.
On embarking on this trip I had a vision of mountains, monasteries, prayer flags and wild spaces. I guess that is the Nepal we see clearly in the photographs and yes, it is there for sure. In fact, we spent two nights living in a Buddhist monastery rarely visited by Western travellers. From here we ran into the national parks protected by the Nepalese army, ducked beneath prayer flags stretching across the trail, and even encountered a leopard. But the real Nepal, the one where most people live, is either in Kathmandu or in the outlying villages perched on the sides of the foothills. In Kathmandu the air pollution and dust rising off the congested untarmaced roads is so heavy that I found myself wrapping a scarf over my nose and mouth. It is so hard to think clearly about the imposing Stupa in front of you when you are finding it hard to breathe. Furthermore, the destruction of the earthquake that struck the region just two years previously is still hugely apparent, with cracks extending down buildings and rubble piled amongst the rubbish-strewn sidewalks. Further out into the countryside and the air becomes cleaner. However, the rubbish strewn through the beautiful national parks and farmlands hurt my heart. Added to this were buildings after buildings, and thus livelihoods after livelihoods, destroyed by the earthquake.
Over the course of the week, we ran and hiked through national parks and villages, experiencing a side to Nepal mostly overlooked by most Western travellers to this country. Then at night we would return to Batase and eat with the local children living in this hostel, children who had left their homes as orphans or as ‘one-too-many’ in their families. Dinner was cooked on an open fire in a corrugated iron shed, built as a replacement to the original stone and thatch buildings that crumpled with the tremors of mighty earthquakes. We would eat standing outside under the stars or with a light mizzly rain falling, chatting to fellow travellers or volunteers working in the village whilst the children babbled away over their rice & dhal inside the tin shed.
The children and villagers of Batase are blessed. Whilst life is tough it could be a whole lot tougher. They have people like us with prosperity who care for them. They have shelter and livelihoods and prospects. They can receive some form of education. However, many in the surrounding villages and towns are not so lucky. That is the hardest part and why I closed my eyes at 3pm on my single bed to ‘comprehend’.
Whilst our trip to Nepal raised the question of ‘How can we do more?’, it also made me realise that we need to really, really appreciate and protect what we have here in Tasmania and Australia. We need to stand proud of our natural landscapes and make sure that we protect them with fierce determination. What we have here in Australia is unique but it will need all the help that we can provide to ensure it remains beautiful for our children, and their children and every living species that relies on it.
Here is a further reflection of what we travelled with to help you with packing for your own third-world travels. Please note, Graham and I were able to avoid all sickness despite not drinking one bottle of bottled water. Instead, we used the Cambelbak All Clear UV Purifier which lasted the entire time on one USB charge. We also took our jetboil and our own utensils so that we didn’t have to risk picking up germs from communal kitchen arrangements. Finally, we avoided eating anything fresh and all meat products. The only fresh food we had in our time in Nepal were bananas which are safer to eat due to their skins.
What I wouldn’t leave Australia without:
What wasn’t essential but I was stoked to have with me:
Foods to avoid sickness:
What we ate lots of:
Further tips for not getting sick
I have been testing the new Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set trail running vest pack for the past few months in the anticipation of using it for the Ultra Trail Australia 100km. Whilst I know this will be a challenge, I now believe that the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set trail running vest pack is capable of carrying the mandatory gear requirements.
Absolute credit to Salomon for creating such a lightweight pack capable of going the long haul. I have used this pack for long missions, training runs and hopefully soon a race. The absolute benefits are:
I have to admit, whilst this pack is pretty awesome, I still do not love this version of Salomon’s S-Lab vest pack series quite as much as my original Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Set vest pack which I reviewed in 2016. Whilst definitely not deal breakers for me, my small negatives are:
So, in summary, I am satisfied to recommend the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set vest pack, especially to athletes who want an allrounder pack capable of going up to the longer distances. This pack will suit you if you:
Finding a shoe that will meet most of our requirements as a trail runner is really difficult. Not only do races throw multiple challenges at us - single tracks, rougher terrain, roads - so too does the weather! What happens when the rocks get slippery or the scale of muddiness increases? Then of course we all partake in training or ‘missioning’. Whilst I enjoy the freedom of the trails on my daily jaunts, there are times when I find myself cruising the roads and footpaths too, be it for recovery, long runs, speed or access to new trails.
Asking one shoe to do all this for us is quite a challenge! However, I honestly believe that the all new Salomon SLAB Sense Ultra trail running shoe gets damn close to achieving this for me. Details and technical specs is not my strength so here is my ‘layman's' review of this shoe.
Typically, Salomon has produced many shoes for ‘European feet’ - longer & narrower. However, the new Salomon SLAB Sense Ultra trail running shoes have a broader toe box, whilst still maintaining the glove-like fit around the mid foot & heel. Even though I have the SLAB blessing of narrow feet, I love the feeling of allowing my forefoot & toes to spread out as I am sure it helps me with stability & propulsion. Do you have a slightly wider foot? I believe this shoe could be good fit for you.
Wow, this is a huge change! Whilst I enjoy my other SLAB shoes, especially my Salomon SLAB Sense 6s and Salomon SLAB Speeds, I had often found myself craving a more cushioned shoe for the longer distances or harder surfaces. The new cushioning in these Salomon SLAB Sense Ultra trail running shoes is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! This morning I took them for a spin on a longer, faster road run and they rivalled my road shoes. So, if you have also had this concern with Salomon shoes in the past, you will be nicely surprised by the plush cushioning of the new Salomon SLAB Sense Ultra trail running shoes.
Heel to Toe Drop
Most of Salomon’s SLAB shoes have either been quite minimal (your heel is only 4mm higher than your forefoot) or heavier on the drop (your heel is at least 10mm higher than your forefoot). I love the feeling of running wildly amok in a low profile, minimal shoe but my legs do begin to hate me after a longer period of time, especially if I am not running on diverse, uneven terrain. The Salomon SLAB Sense Ultra trail running shoes are an 8mm drop. Whilst this may sound higher, I can honestly say that it doesn't feel like you are too far away from the ground. I find that I am still getting responsiveness back from the ground but am loving having a little bit more support from my shoe.
Protection from shapely rocks hasn't ever really been a concern of mine but I have to admit that I currently have a bruised nerve in my foot from a hard jab from the trail. I am enjoying having the rock plate under the balls of my feet to protect me from such items. This combined with the extra cushioning is helping to settle the discomfort in my foot.
It is early days but I have already been pretty hard on my new pair of Salomon SLAB Sense Ultra trail running shoes. We started our relationship together on the granite of Freycinet and then headed for some missions amongst the Dolerite peaks of Cradle Mountain. Since then we have done plenty of road, fire-trail, single track and vertical mileage on Mt Wellington. So far so good!
The upper fabric of this shoe is still highly breathable. I am sure it won’t be quite as tough as the sturdy uppers of my more aggressive trail shoes but as per the above statement, so far so good!
A shoe has to look good. I am not a girly girl but who doesn’t ask themselves the question, ‘Does this shoe look good?’ In the traditional black and red colour-way of Salomon… I love them.
My Final Say
These are my ideal shoes for quantity training and also the mid to longer trail races. I am just so stoked to have a shoe that protects my feet and legs on both the easier terrain and the gnarly stuff too. They have been a popular seller at Find Your Feet, especially with individuals lining up for the 25km to 100km distances. The most common comment I receive is, ‘I love the cushioning!’ This is not something we have heard often when runners describe their experience with Salomon SLAB. I think the Salomon SLAB Sense Ultra trail running shoe will be a winner with many trail enthusiasts!
This year I hit the big 30. I had really been looking forward to this milestone in my life. On the day I turned thirty, I stood atop the final summit of my ‘30 peaks in the year before I turn 30’ challenge. Whilst it had come down to the wire, I felt wind-chapped & glowing from the inside out. That was until injury hit and I took a visit to my GP.
I walked into her sparsely furnished consulting room in urban Hobart with a few concerns. Mainly girl stuff. I expected a stethoscope, perhaps a poke and a prod and in the worst case a jab to steal some blood. What I didn’t expect was for her to quietly look me up and down, tuck back her hair and say earnestly, ‘Hanny, I think you need to embrace your femininity’.
Ninety dollars poorer and none-the-wiser, I sat in front of Dr Google. What is femininity and what relevance could this possibly have for this 30-year-old tomboy with a phobia for dresses and lipstick?
For a few days, Dr Google became my morning reading and I studied the topic religiously. I learnt that we are all a unique blend of masculine and feminine traits. Our masculine traits are related to strength, independence, stability, focus, competition and self-confidence. Our feminine traits are related to empathy, compassion, sensuality, nurturing, patience, loving and living with ‘flow’. Males can display greater feminine traits and women may express more masculine traits, neither or which are right or wrong.
The more I learnt, the more pressured I felt. I must become more feminine! The harder I tried to be feminine, the more I resented the skirt I was wearing.
I never found what I was looking for from Dr Google but I have through honest self reflection and inner work found some answers. Nothing can prepare you for the discomforts of looking deep inside yourself and pulling apart your personal assumptions, barriers, rules and truths. I enlisted the support of a performance psychologist to ask the difficult questions you are never really prepared to ask yourself. After a few sessions I was still grappling with the concept of finding femininity. I had somehow evaded the most difficult questions until one day we journeyed into foreign territory.
‘What do you do for self-compassion?’ he enquired with that intense focus that makes you squirm. ‘I had a massage last night,’ I mumbled in reply, grateful for this worthy evidence of my self-com- passion practice. After a few minutes silence he replied, ‘For self-compassion or physical recovery?’
That was my possum-stuck-in-car headlight’s moment. My wake up call not to sit on the road and play chicken with the truck roaring towards you. A truck carrying a whole load of.......femininity.
As I was paying the bill for this perplexing session, he quietly drove the nail into my understanding, ‘Hanny, femininity is not just about wearing dresses’.
It was days later on my frosty Mt Wellington, solo run and scrunching my thermal around my frozen fingers that I found enlightenment. The lone burrawong’s chorus cut through the sharp cries of the yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos. Light was dancing off the water as it gushed through healthy streams. Whilst fatigue had plagued me when I laced my running shoes, I eased back the effort and became acutely aware that my stunning surroundings were leading me into a state of flow. I felt like I could run forever! And therein lay my first true awareness of femininity – self compassion, sensuality and living with flow. Femininity felt amazing!
Through a lifetime of athletic & academic practice and a hobby farm upbringing, the tomboy has lived strong inside me. The masculine traits of goal setting, competitiveness, independence and pushing through when ‘the going gets tough’ have strongly dominated my persona. These traits were reflected in my daily routines, exercise habits, nutrition and meal preparation, business, athletic racing style and even the way I showed Iove as a fiancée, daughter, sister and friend.
But I have breasts. And when a family member hurts, I want to wrap them in a bundle of compassion. I love to listen and believe empathy is one of my stronger virtues. I find peacefulness when I am in nature and my greatest creativity when I don’t force it. These are some of my many feminine qualities.
My GP sent me away to ‘embrace my femininity’, not ‘be more feminine’. I don’t have to wear a dress or apply lipstick. I just need to love being me, a unique mix of ferocious tomboy, compassionate sister, fun loving fiancée, empathetic friend and loving daughter. I am a young woman just learning about self-compassion and embarking on a long pilgrimage towards womanhood.
If you too are struggling with femininity and if this notion also feels foreign to you, here are my words of advice. Stop trying and start with self-compassion. I have found the easiest place to find my femininity is outdoors on a mountain trail, with the wind in my face. Where will your femininity take you?
Sometimes you reach a point where you know some things need to change. In February 2016 I realised that it was time to audit my life after experiencing the devastation of raging fires in northern Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area, a back injury and turning 30 years old. I started journalling my thoughts and actions, quickly realising that I felt completely unharmonious between my intentions and actions. Furthermore, I knew that my body wasn’t healthy. I looked fit and was running strongly on paper, but underneath this there were old habits that were holding me back. Crunch point.
Today I want to share the 11 steps that I have taken so far to re-find my feet:
1. Beginning the ‘Internal Work’When I visited a new doctor at the start of the year she looked me up & down and said, ‘Hanny, you need to find your femininity’. I had not a clue what she meant but when I was handed the name of a performance psychologist in town I new she must be serious. For sure, I was experiencing a nasty back injury & was feeling a little directionless but by no means did I really feel I needed to ‘chat’. However, when I began to audit my life I realised there were (and always will be) a number of areas for self-improvement. At this time these included: a lack of feminine hormones; a constant need to be busy; quick to react to stress; physical niggles; adapting to a growing leadership role in my business; increasingly large sporting goals; and a concern about nourishing nutrition (or lack thereof).
This year, I have worked with Jeremy, a performance psychologist, on my ‘internal self’. It has been one of the more difficult and yet rewarding experiences I have ever had. It has opened my eyes to the extraordinary power of our minds, emotions and actions stemming from deeper, mindful intentions & values. I have found greater purpose in my relationships, running, and business, as well as an understanding of femininity & self-compassion. And this journey is just beginning…
2. Loving the ‘External Self’As I started the ‘internal work’, I realised that I was often neglecting my ‘external self’. In fact, I almost felt disassociated from my body. One day, Jeremy asked me what I did for self-compassion. I racked my brains before proudly jumping to the notion of massage. “I get massages!’ He looked me squarely in the eyes and replied, ‘for self-compassion or for recovery from training & sport?’ I had never realised there was a difference.
Though self-exploration and monitoring my actions I am slowly developing an awareness that self-compassion starts with accepting who I am and how I look & feel. I started by exploring small ways to nurture myself. Here are some of the actions I have taken, although I know there are many more to foster:
3. Learning through listeningI love to learn but was becoming frustrated that I wasn’t investing in formal learning. Through the encouragement of my friends I began exploring the beautiful world of podcasts. I was hooked! And because I loved listening to podcasts so much I began exploring ways to have more time to listen to podcasts. This lead to getting back on the bike, running more on my own and using rare times in the car to unwind with a great episode playing. Learning doesn’t need to be formal and what I am learning through other peoples’ stories has not only increased my motivation but also made me feel more connected to society. I am now in the process of launching my own podcast through which I hope to share my community’s stories. I honestly believe stories are the gold through which we can learn to enrich our own lives. Here are my current favourite podcast series:
4. Understanding through writingI wish I could find more time for writing but journaling has become the key to unlocking my understanding. When my head is full or I feel like I am becoming stale, I pick up a pen and start writing. I am always amazed at what my mind has stored up that I was unaware of, and the insights that I shed when I write without judgment. Don’t get me wrong, there is also a lot of garbage that gets written too! Writing allows your mind to let go of the unnecessary thoughts, release subconscious mulling, and then act on the ideas that spark your imagination, creativity & passion.
5. Acceptance through meditationWow, never thought I would admit that I love to meditate! I started in this world with a need to relax. Using free YouTube videos & the encouragement from Jeremy, I started practicing whole-body relaxation before I went to sleep. This certainly enhanced the quality of my sleep but I also found that I had a clearer mind the next morning. From here I began to explore more and more YouTube videos: Guided meditation; Chakra Meditation; Hypnosis etc. It really is an interesting world. I try to put thoughts of religious association aside and just observe what happens when you willingly have a go. I have also begun practicing self-guided meditation, especially when I am lying quietly in bed at night.
6. Plant-Powered NutritionI also never thought that I would admit to exploring a 100% plant-based diet. I have been a vegetarian for 17 years now with the occasional salt & pepper calamari in there, but I honestly have never enjoyed any form of animal meat or fish. When I audited my life I realised that I had some shockingly unbalanced habits when it came to diet and I know these have stemmed from struggles with disordered & restrictive eating in my blacker past. These included an absolute love affair with cheese. Whilst I was eating enough in an energy sense, I didn’t feel good. I felt heavy after lunch and the skin on the back of my arms and legs were covered in Keratosis, a dry skin condition that looked like a constant bout of goose bumps caused by excessive keratin build up. The more I researched, the more I was pointed to the ill-effects of dairy and how it can cause Keratosis. Furthermore, I knew that my mother is lactose intolerant.
Removing dairy from my diet has changed everything! Not only has the Keratosis almost completely disappeared but my mind is clearer, my moods are more constant, my hormonal cycle is regular for the first time ever and I feel energised beyond measure. It has also opened up a whole new plethora of amazing foods that I have barely experienced and a need to be more creative with preparing meals. None of it has been hard, but rather it has just required a willingness to shift my thinking and crack some old habits.
7. Simplifying StuffThe flow on of changing my diet and removing toxins from my lifestyle lead to a realisation that I have a lot of ‘stuff’. I am just beginning to think about how I can master the art of living simpler. I would love to set a radical goal of spending at least one night a week in our van for the entire summer (and maybe winter too!). I am also about to embark on a big ‘culling’ session around home. When I do need to buy something, I will be looking for lasting quality and where & how it was made, rather than the price. Buy once.
8. Intention & Values not GoalsI no longer have strict goals and for now I am not planning any races. When I started feeling richer in other areas of my life I found that the drive to set goals had diminished. I am not saying the need for goals is gone completely, but perhaps setting goals had been a way to plug holes in a leaky lifestyle? I now feel filled with purpose and a motivation to just live & be wilder. I am driven by intentions that bubble up from a deeper place within me. And because of this I am playing… hard! I don’t think I have every felt so fit and I have big dreams that I am working towards. That is far more exciting for now than any goal I could set myself.
9. Learning the Art of PresenceI am a shocker for trying to plan, plan, plan. But isn’t there a saying, ‘life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans’? That was me in a nutshell. I am now trying to not get too far ahead of myself because I also think my planning brain kicked in when I was fearful, nervous or struggling to slow down. I also read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Whilst heavy and often a little too ‘out there’ for me, I found the concept of intentionally trying to be present in what I am doing highly invigorating. When I am on a run I am on a run. When I am listening to a podcast I am listening to a podcast. When I am making a cup of tea I am focusing on this task. When it is time to go to bed I am literally going to bed to rest. Being more present has reduced stress and increased space in my life for creativity & enjoyment.
10. Recognising the importance of PatienceNot my greatest strength! It was Jeremy who said to me, ‘Han, I think you need to learn the art of patience’. With all this energy and enthusiasm I am constantly looking for how I can give back more and more. But Rome was not built in a day, nor are dreams, or health, or lives. Patience may end up being my most difficult obstacle. Lucky I like a challenge!
11. Measuring health by the health of my hormonesThis is a personal note to end on but a lack of regular menstrual cycles has been my biggest fear in life. I had seen so many specialists and been put on so many supplements and drugs over the years to solve this issue. However, the deep internal work, the decluttering, the planting my feet in nutrition that nurtures… this has been what has allowed my body to embrace its femininity. I have learnt that the greatest measure of my body’s own health is the health of my hormones. So, over medals, business, records and more, I think finding health in my hormones is the accomplishment I am most proud of in 2016.
For 2017 I am setting my intention to consolidate 2016. I want to learn more and find routines in what I embarked on this year. Underlying this is a desire to ‘Be Wilder’ - in my actions, intentions and thoughts. Getting uncomfortable every now and then will be at the heart of this too.
It is with great excitement that I wish you all a wonderful start to 2017 and I hope that this coming year can provide an opportunity for you to find health, vitality & wild adventures too.
I didn’t really need a watch. I had always loved my Suunto Ambit 3 Sport GPS watch and it had become a trusted companion on all my trail running adventures. But when the all new Suunto Spartan Ultra Limited Edition Copper GPS watch landed in our Find Your Feet store, all self restraint failed.
See, the thing is, I don’t think there are many GPS watches out there that look this nice! The first night I brought my new Suunto Spartan Limited Edition Copper watch home I happened to be going to a very formal cocktail function. First a sneaky run, then a quick shower and out the door I whizzed, hair mostly done and yes, in a dress! I didn’t get one comment on my dress or the fact that you never, ever see me in high heels. Rather I received a multitude of compliments on… my watch! The contrast of the copper trim and black casing just looks super eye catching and fitted into the jazzy evening.
The new Suunto Spartan watches are really sleek and streamlined. The GPS unit is now built into the watch rather than on the strap, an especially big perk for us girls with smaller wrists. This was perhaps the biggest criticism with the Suunto Ambit Collection and the reason why I never could comfortably sleep with my Suunto Ambit3 Sport at night. The relocated GPS is also one reason why the Spartan doesn’t look like a sports watch. For sure, the watch face is large but ‘big is in’ and I find this makes the digital display much easier to read when I am moving, especially over technical terrain or at speed. And if you have any concerns about the watch being big AND heavy, I can easily calm these concerns. The watch is heaps lighter than my older Suunto Ambit3 Sport.
What I also loved about the new Suunto Spartan Watches is that you can adjust the face. Need a second hand? No problem. Prefer a digital display? Too easy! But please don’t get me wrong… this is NOT A GIRLY WATCH! The other day my watch went missing and was finally relocated on Graham’s wrist.
My greatest hesitation when I heard Suunto were bringing out touch screen watches was functionality. A long time ago I had used a Garmin GPS watch with a touch screen and it was a nightmare, not too dissimilar to when you try to use an iPhone with wet, sweaty fingers. But technology has changed a lot and the watch responds to sweaty or damp fingers very easily. You can also opt to use the buttons over the touch screen technology any time.
When it comes to accuracy, I know that the Suunto Spartan GPS watches have copped some criticism. But, to be honest, I have not had any issues. For sure, I am not the most tech savvy person on the planet, nor the most meticulous about keeping records. But I can guarantee that this morning’s interval session felt tough and my Spartan watch agreed! I love that if you ensure your personal data is accurate, the watch can determine how much recovery you require from a session. And if you do not listen to its wise advice (for instance I am told by my Suunto watch that I need around 38hrs recovery from this morning’s harder session) then it will keep accumulating recovery after each session. I think I am up to about 45hrs of recovery from this week’s training. This feels pretty accurate. Today I am weary but once rested I know that by Saturday morning I will be raring to go again.
The other criticism that I have heard about the new Suunto Spartan watch collection relates to the accuracy of the altitude recorders. I can confidently say that mine has been excellent and far more accurate than my Suunto Ambit 3 Sport watch which could be anywhere from 100-400m vertically out after a longer run. With the Suunto Spartans, you can also choose to swap between a compass and barometeric altitude recorder to suit your needs. To be honest I haven’t done this but it is interesting to know that the watch can allow this functionality.
The other thing I am loving about my Spartan Ultra GPS watch is the battery life. My old Suunto Ambit3 Sport was great for what I needed at the time (it had up to 10hrs battery life) but now that I am venturing further afield my watch can continue to be my companion. The Spartan Ultra watches have up to 20hrs battery life on the most accurate 1 sec GPS recorder. Don’t need one this long? Then opt for the Suunto Spartan Sport GPS Watch which has 10hrs battery life. You can always change the accuracy setting of the GPS recorder if you need to go for longer - I think you can get up to 100hrs battery life on the Sport or 200hrs on my Ultra. If you are not actually using the watch you can get around 2 weeks before you need to charge it, a simple affair with the new magnetised USB charger.
In summary, this is my ideal watch. It can meet my most technical needs out on the trails but then I can live in it, sleep in it and feel proud of it on my wrist. The new updates by the Suunto developers appear to have mended any of the earlier teething issues and so I am confident to honestly say, ‘Suunto, you have really nailed it!’
This article was featured in the latest "Travel Play Live" magazine:
I am doubled over. With hands on hips, I gasp air into my lungs. My head feels heavy and achy… a dull throb enhanced by the altitude. This Italian mountain is a beast! I look up to where the trail squiggles near vertically above me and try to make out where the track crests the pass. It is somewhere up there where the bare rocks merge into the mist. I look down. My hotel where everyone else is still sleeping is just a mere 100m below me. I have barely started and I am feeling… vulnerable.
Until this awakening I had used exercise, nutrition and perfectionism to combat emotional discomforts, especially fear and what I now recognise as vulnerability. When I was faced with career ending injuries, a fracturing family and that famous question, ‘who am I?’, vulnerability and shame screamed in my face. There was no hiding from these moments and I found myself tugging on my vulnerability armour and kicking into self-protective overdrive. Whilst I achieved successes during these years, the accomplishments were like eating Weetbix for breakfast in Italy - a little dry and leaving me wondering why I didn’t just eat the cake. And so I strived for a tastier goal, one that would surely say ‘you are enough’ when it was accomplished.
On and on I ran.
At the age of 30 I have finally stopped running. Not literally. I still love a trail, especially one with a mountain finish. But 10 years and a Brene Brown TED Talk later, I have finally realised that on my current pathway to destination Enough there will never be enough. And no matter how fast I run, vulnerability will always accompany me.
So doubled over near the base of my Italian mountain I decided to confront vulnerability. I stopped, acknowledged my fear and looked outside of myself. Shear mountains rose up into the mist and the sun was painting small highlights onto the contrasted green meadows. Marmots cheeped. In this moment I realised that despite my fear & vulnerability, there was no where else on earth I would rather be, especially not indoors. I turned towards the trail and told myself to take just one step. Then another. Soon my hands were pumping my thighs, turning my legs into pistons that powered from my greater sense of purpose. As I headed up and up with increasing courage I realised that at last I really understood the power of vulnerability. This is what I learnt.
After sliding and whooping my way back down the peak with scree slopes shifting beneath my feet, I pulled up somewhat breathless at the doorway to my hotel. Here I was greeted with a cheery grin from a local mountain guide. Through a smooth Italian accent he asked, ‘Where did you venture this morning?’ I pointed to up there. After following my gesture he looked straight back at my sweaty face. With a slight rise of his eyebrows, he claimed, ‘I can see it in your eyes - you really like to run!’
I ate cake for breakfast that day. And Nutella. I was highly satisfied.
And so here I urge you to never settle for Weetbix when there is delicious cake on offer! Get to know and accept your vulnerability. Befriend it and listen to what it is indicating. Then take a deep breath and step in any direction that shifts you from comfortable to uncomfortable, onto the pathways less travelled. Because from here you can dare greatly. And afterwards you can remind yourself, “I am enough’.
This article was featured in the latest edition of Travel Play Live
Dawn was breaching through the darkness as I pulled on my running tights, thermal, beanie and gloves. From my lounge room window I could see Mt Wellington and my beloved trails covered in a thick blanket of snow. Winter has arrived!
Winter training poses many challenges to all of us. Increased darkness and cooler temperatures disturb our homeostasis and require alterations to our exercising habits. Developing an understanding of the physiological changes your body goes through during winter will assist you to maintain healthy, safe & sustainable exercise routines this year.
Physiological changes during winter
Add more carbohydratesThrough the door… kick off the running shoes… flick on the kettle then head to the pantry. This increased hunger and search for nourishment is partly caused by an increased baseline metabolic rate as your body uses more energy for warmth. Furthermore, research shows that genetic changes sparked by the onset of winter are also responsible. During winter, genetic up-regulation causes your body to naturally store more adipose tissue (fat cells) and switch to greater carbohydrate dependence. No wonder I crave a big bowl of steaming porridge after a cold morning run in winter! For endurance athletes, this research suggests that our ability to efficiently burn fat for energy during winter exercise is slightly reduced. We lean towards a higher carbohydrate dependence for driving the muscles and consume greater quantities of oxygen. This can create increased lactic acid production during intense bouts of training at this time of year. To avoid carbohydrate depletion during sessions longer than 60-90 minutes, take a source of glucose-based energy, such as a sports gel. Ensure adequate cool downs and replace your carbohydrate stores afterwards. Add quality carbohydrate to all your meals, such as whole grains, pumpkin and sweet potatoes.
Be flexibleYour circadian rhythm is a hormone driven process that determines your sleep & wake cycles. The average individual has an internal circadian clock that ticks on a 24hr11min cycle. That’s right, for most of us our circadian rhythm would actually extend beyond one day if it wasn’t for light. The presence of light resets our circadian rhythm so our body remains in sync with the time of day. However, in winter the shorter days and longer nights create changes to our sleep & awakening cycles, and lead to that 2pm slump hitting you a little earlier in the afternoon. Altered circadian rhythms can make clambering out of bed in the morning even more difficult and could be the reason behind lethargy on your morning run. If possible, in winter try to have days where you can allow your body to awaken naturally and shuffle some of your runs to periods of the day when you feel most energised. This will help to keep your stress levels reduced and enhance recovery from exercise. So, turn off that alarm!
Get your restMany of us could relate to the sensation of entering winter hibernation. This is likely influenced by the increased production of the hormone Melatonin, otherwise known as the hormone of darkness. Melatonin has a strong influence on the length and quality of our sleep, and is often used as an alternative to sleep medications. In individuals who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Melatonin is shown to be elevated. The moral of this story? When Melatonin-induced hibernation kicks in, have your daily dose of exercise then get your ZZZs! As the body does most of our physical recovery during the earlier stages of the sleep cycle, enhancing the quality and duration of your sleep will ensure that you recuperate faster between exercise sessions.
‘Listen when the body whispers’
A study published by British and German researchers showed that over one quarter of the genes in our body become more or less active during different seasons. This impacts on our mood, sexual behaviour, metabolism and now it appears, our immune defences. Their research also suggests that genes responsible for promoting inflammation also become more active during the coldest, winter months and are particularly elevated in Australia’s southern-most states. Whilst inflammation has an important role in healing, excessive inflammation can generate discomforts and diseases, such as the common winter ailments of arthritis and cardiovascular disease. With increased inflammation involved, perhaps niggles in our active bodies whisper louder during winter? It is critical to moderate exercise routines to avoid unnecessary injuries and sickness. One option is to see Winter as an ideal time for gentle base training, building up to races in Spring or Summer. Furthermore, winter is the ideal time to focus energy on strength weaknesses in the body. Therefore, preempt the danger months by switching to aerobic base training, pre-habilitation exercises and cross training. Protect the immune system with quality nutrition, sleep and self-nurturing.
Don’t become chilled
Physiological changes become more dramatic when your core temperature drops. To avoid this, layer thin thermal clothing ‘like an onion’. This traps warm air closer to the body and layers can be removed to help effectively regulate your temperature. However, also be aware of exposed regions of skin. When skin is exposed to cold air, vasoconstriction of blood vessels prevents excessive heat loss and helps to maintain a warm core temperature. If vasoconstriction occurs during exercise, blood flow and nerve impulses to muscle fibres in these regions is reduced. This will lead to reduced exercise performance and unnecessary discomfort. On very cold days where the ambient air temperature has plummeted, keep the entire body warm with layers of clothing and full length garments. And wear gloves or beware the hot shower after a cold run in winter! Cold fingers that have turned numb and a pasty shade of grey will yell at you as they begin to defrost.
Be prepared to pee!
There appears to be a urination goblin around whenever the cold sets in. This goblin is actually a result of the vasoconstriction processes just mentioned. Vasoconstriction limits the available blood vessel space for our blood, raising our blood pressure. The increase in blood pressure then triggers the perfusion of kidney nephrons, triggering a faster released of urine into the bladder. Whilst urinating is a natural process, the combination of the increased fluid loss through urination and sweating from exercise can lead to a sneaky build up of dehydration. Therefore, during winter aim to drink more, especially electrolytes to replace your exercise & urinary losses.
In summary, the onset of winter should not lead to your trail running shoes being relocated to the closet and the bike being banished to the garage. Understanding the physiological changes that occur during winter and cold weather training can assist in making smart decisions that will keep you exercising throughout the coldest, darkest months. So layer up, listen to the whispers of your body and play hard this winter!
Quick Fact Sheet Physiological changes:
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I used to be a camel. I would pride myself on my ability to guzzle fluids before I headed out the door on a long run. Off I would trot, my stomach sloshing and multiple layers of thermals & rain jackets wrapped around my waist. Despite my proud claim of rivalling one of the slowest species in the animal kingdom, unlike the camel I found I had a lifespan on a training run or race of around 2.5 hours. My water stocks didn’t seem to last as well as my humped animal role model, my jacket would begin to unravel and flap around my legs, energy levels would begin to dip and the negatives stemming from discomfort would start to set in. My world had become limited by my inability to rival the camel. Until… I was given my Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Set vest pack in 2014. Gone are my camel days!
I have now owned my Sense Ultra Set Vest pack for 2 years. It has been on literally hundreds of runs, been my go-to for every single ultra race, my companion on missions and a survivor of the brutality of my washing machine on a weekly basis. However, what confirmed this vest pack as my best friend in my trail world was the mission I completed with it on the Tasmanian Overland Track last winter.
This Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Set trail running vest pack is deceptive. It is comprised of a mesh lining with a stretch sleeve on the outside, and multiple small pockets on the front. There are also two zip pockets built into the pack under the arms. When you look at this pack, you assume that you might get a thermal and possibly a rain jacket squished into it. However, on my wintery 65km traverse of the Overland Track last summer my trusty vest pack carried:
That said, this pack is absolutely ideal for Skyrunning and any race with less mandatory gear requirements. I have used it comfortably & successfully in: the Buffalo Stampede, Dolomitii & Hong Kong Sky Races; the Surf Coast 50km; and a road marathon. Full or empty, this pack can be the carrier of your nutrition & hydration, or your life’s possessions.
These articles are a collection of my writing. If you have feedback or questions, would love to hear from you!