The rain batters louder onto the sloping sheets of exposed tin above my head. Light glows faintly through narrow slits in the timber walls of this old cow shed, its exposed earthen floors emitting a musty dampness into the small room. We lie side-by-side like cucumbers under doonas and sleeping bags, cocooned, riding out the stormy night. Just outside the rickety door a cow begins to bellow, calling to her calf. Separated from its mother, the calf is also shut up for the night in nearby barn. The owners want the mother’s milk in the morning to make gloopy piles of cheese. I close my eyes, listening to the storm rage and echo through the valley, a drum beat to the higher pitches of cows, chickens, horses, goats and humans. As my eyes close I find myself expressing my gratitude for this opportunity to be here. Once again, I find amazement for the opportunity to run through this landscape, a place on beginning to hit the tourist map. As far as I am aware, we are the first trail runners to run across this mountainous region. - ‘Thank you for this night and to the trip now drawing to a close.’Then I sleep.
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Leading a running tour to Albania begun as an off-hand comment from an attendee to a spontaneous talk we held in Hobart at Find Your Feet back in 2017. During a day on the retail floor we met Rok, a travelling Albanian and Patagonia sponsored kayaking athlete striving to protect the last wild river of Europe, a snaking length of water running through the Valbona valley in the heart of the northern mountains of Albania. Rok had come to Tasmania to discover more about how Tasmanians had fought to protect the natural flow of the Franklin River. After his informal slideshow evening at Find Your Feet, we added Albania to our longer-term bucket list. But as the last guests left the premises, one lady pulled me aside. ‘Have you ever considered a Find Your Feet Running Tour to Albania? My daughter owns a lodge in Valbona. I can give you her details if you like?’From pipe-dream to forming plans, it looked like we were off to Albania.
Two years on we were joined in Tirana Airport by thirteen intrepid trail running enthusiasts from Australia. Amidst the buffet breakfast around sleek tables atop gleaming floors, we began to explain the plans for this inaugural tour to Albania. ‘This trip is exploratory. That is, we haven’t been here yet either… I am sure there will be many adventures in store.’As the waitresses bustled around us, delivering fine espressos and soy milk lattes, little did we really know what we were in for!
The first tastes of the country came half-an-hour later as we boarded a compact, dated minibus and headed towards the major A1 highway leading north. Half-built buildings dwarfed dilapidated homes now neglected as a sea of petrol stations popped up around them. Fields of corn and maize hugged them closely, enwrapped by the arms of small streams reaching down from the mountains. Litter dangled like cheap jewelry from the small shrubs lining the creeks, a sad sign of neglect in an otherwise beautiful landscape. Chaotic cities came and went, then the mountains lifted us into their midst, first dry but eventually tinges of green joining the pastel painting. The heat in the bus was stifling and we stopped on two occasions to take a break from the twisting, turning, gut-gurgling bus ride, eventually reaching our final destination with bewilderment and an overwhelming sense of displacement. As we disembark, chickens pecked the scratched earth, a pen of sheep peered through the roughly weathered timber of their yard, a dog barked, a cow bellowed and a family wandered into the scene to greet us. English is very limited in this northern region of Albania but with generous hospitality we were seated at their outdoor table and presented with a feast for lunch, all prepared from the fruits of their farm and their labor – homemade bread, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, setting a tradition for the remainder of our trip. Not ideal food to run on for our upcoming afternoon jog but delicious non-the-less!
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Each day of the tour we awoke early to the calls of the pigeons, or cows, goats, sheep or children playing. Breakfast looked like dinner, albeit with the addition of fig or plum jam, and our picnic lunch was a simply slab of break, a tomato and freshly harvested cucumbers. Vest packs donned, we would turn on our Suunto Spartan watches and navigate towards the trails, always blessed with a large climb through forest to meet the alpine meadows and their swaying heads of wild flowers, a bobbing sea of beauty. Past stone and log shepherds’ huts we would walk or run, waving enthusiastically at the children, women or weathered males. Occasionally we would be asked in for coffee and tea, the latter a blend of mountain flowers seeped in hot water. It was hard to gauge the ages of the individuals who braved summer and winter up there in the mountains, the sun, wind, rain, snow and shepherd lifestyles etched into their faces like a map of their territory. We tried to comprehend living in their shoes, especially when the winter would once again descend upon them, but sadly we couldn’t. It was just too far removed from our privileged lifestyles back home in Australia.
The mountains of Albania (and Montenegro and Kosovo when we crossed their borders too) reach up to over 2500m. A mixture of gnarled, white limestone and lush green pastures create a green and white tapestry that stretches to the horizon. The Accursed Mountains were especially spectacular, their jagged peaks erupting into the sky like the teeth of scissors, cutting Albania and Montenegro apart by dramatic alpine passes. It was through this landscape that we travelled, overnighting in the valleys before ascending again come morning.
We traversed three countries on this Find Your Feet Running Tour and there was a distinct difference between Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. Albania felt slightly rougher around the edges, and despite generous hospitality that stemmed from their gardens and their herds, there often felt like a wall between them and our western ways. The buildings were more rustic and whilst clean, there was always a feeling that their walls and floors had seen a lot of life, and maybe hardship. Then, when we crossed into Montenegro there was a clear difference in the language, lifestyle and our guesthouses. The architecture was sharper, the timber fresher and the smiles of the hosts more apparent. We especially loved Lilly and her brother Arben who welcomed us into their brand-new guesthouse with open arms. Their father had built it, their mother our generous chef, and Lilly and Arben a wealth of knowledge about growing up in a land of richness and poverty.
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On the last morning of the tour I awake in our cow barn, kicking back my sleeping bag and waiting for the sound of rain still falling. However, the weather gods are now silent and instead I am met by the continued ruckus of the shepherding lifestyle echoing around the valley. Easing my way out the creaking doorway I wander out into the meadows, marveling at the strength of the horses as they flock together, waiting the journey that also lies ahead for them as they transport our bags across the last lift of mountains and into the valley of Kosovo just beyond these hills. What a privilege to guide a group through such a rich landscape! I am humbled as I pull on damp, smelly running gear and prepare for breakfast.
On this last day of running we reached Kosovo, a country torn apart by war in a short three-month period in 1999. To reach our transport home we skirted around the country’s highest peak, past more shepherd huts and alpine glacial lakes scattered across the naturally barren plateaus. After descending from these lofty heights, we were met with our horses who had lugged our luggage across the mountains to meet us, and then our 4x4 transport back towards civilization where we were confronted with a plethora of graves and memorials littering the roadside’s fringes. This is a country torn apart by three-months of war in 1999, and now in a frantic phase of rebuilding. Houses, memorials, commercial complexes and yet more petrol stations were in varying stages of redevelopment. We all fell silent as we watched this all slip by.
The tour concluded back in Albania with a night spent in our Panoramic Hotel in the town of Kruje, a short bus ride from Tirana Hotel. The beating shower and fine dining such a contrast to our previous night’s accommodation in a cow shed. Sharing our highlights of the tour around the dinner table reinforced to us just how extraordinary this tour was and just how much more exploring we all want to do now. Yes, we are never too old or too busy to play wilder!
This morning I was moving along a winding trail on Mt Wellington, my office for the morning. I found myself reflecting on a coaching consultation I had hosted yesterday with a mother in her mid-50s. For the purpose of this conversation I will refer to her as Sarah.
Four years ago, Sarah’s two children had flown-the-nest and now her inner-city townhouse where she lived with her husband felt gapingly large. She now enjoys intermittent exercising and travel adventures with her husband, and finds strong purpose in her teaching work in women’s health issues. Trained in Swedish and Thai massage, and with a strong self-compassion routine, in our consult she still sat across the table from me and said, ‘I know I should try to get fitter, loose some of this…’, she slaps her thighs and next her upper arms, strong and quite lean from her swimming workouts, ‘I practice self-compassion and gratitude. But I am just not as dedicated to exercise & wellbeing as someone like you.’
I have come to learn that whenever someone says, ‘I am…’, this is an identity that they have attached themselves too. In a positive application of this, Sarah had exclaimed early in our conversation, ‘I love my role as a teacher. I am good at teaching.’ So, here she holds the identity, values and beliefs of ‘Teacher’, and this enables her to action her teaching with excellence.
However, there are many instances where the identities we hold are unhelpful. For instances, Sarah slapping her thighs and biceps suggested that she has formed the identity of ‘lazy’. This means that somewhere, deep down, she believes she is fat and lazy, and then as a byproduct of this, she actually values her laziness and weight. Identifying as lazy and overweight has become an excuse to not action fitness, to avoid better health routines & to not set her alarm earlier so she can climb out of bed to pull on her bathers. In many ways, it is an identity that she is hiding behind.
I know this may sound extreme – that Sarah could actually value her fatness and laziness? Yes, I truly believe this and Sarah is not alone. We all hold multiple identities, some helpful and some hindering. If we hold onto our unhelpful identities, never challenging ourselves to break free from them, we will only be reinforcing the unhelpful actions associated with them.
Highlighting this to Sarah was the first step in moving her forward. I then asked her, ‘If you had all the time, money and support in the world, how do you see your optimal life?’ Sarah paused for a while, closed her eyes, and let out a big sigh.
‘I don’t know how to not be a mother anymore. When I was a mother I had routines and I also wanted to be a great role model for my children. I found it easier to take myself swimming earlier in the morning, to make us all a healthy lunch, and spend more time outdoors with the kids in the evening. But now that they have grown up and left home, I know that I am no longer a mother and I am now lazy. I guess if I had all the time, money and support in the world I would just like to be more self-compassionate and maybe to even try some trail running so I can join my friends when they go out on the weekends? I want to feel like I have more invigoration for my work again, and to travel more too. My husband is so supportive and gives me all the support I need, so I feel like I am letting him down the longer I feel like this.’
In response to Sarah’s comments, I asked, ‘Do you still see and talk to your children?’
‘Oh yes,’ she replied and her eyes begun to sparkle, ‘At least twice a week we chat on the phone to share news and what we have been up to. And next week we are off to London to visit Lizzie.’
‘Why do you call Lizzie and what made you want to visit her in London?’
Sarah looked back at me perplexed. ‘Because I want to keep an eye on her, I miss her, love her and want to make sure she doesn’t need me. London is such a long way…’
Sarah then paused, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath in, and opened then again to look me directly in the eyes. ‘I am still a mother, aren’t I?’
I didn’t need to reply. A mother will always be a mother. Just because Sarah’s children have grown up doesn’t mean that she needs to lose this identity nor the positive actions that she adopted as a mother. She can still support them and also be a positive role model through exercise, nutrition and her self-compassion, sharing these when she speaks to them on the phone or meets up with them on her holidays..
Sarah later left the room with a twinkle in her eye, a spring in her step, and goal to join her friends at a trail running event in 3-months’ time.
In conclusion, it is important to begin to hear those inner voices that say to you, ‘I am…’. Try to understand the identities that are helpful, as well as the ones that hinder. Begin to identify with old identities that no longer serve you, but to also rekindle those that need to remain, that can hold you strong, such as Sarah’s identity of 'A Mother'. Finally, ponder on the difference between self-compassion and self-acceptance. Too frequently I work with clients who take baths, change their diets, have massages and exercise – all in the name of self-compassion. But here I challenge us all, ‘is this for self-compassion, or to make me feel better about myself, to mask an unhelpful identity that still grasps me?’ I truly believe that there is not just a difference between self-compassion, but also a sequential order at play. Self-acceptance must proceed self-compassion. In Sarah’s case, self-compassion was a mask hiding a woman who was not yet able to accept were she was at and where she truly desired to be.
So, what identities are you holding onto? What need to be rekindled and which can be gently waved goodbye?
I recently posted a social media post on the topic of stress and its impact on our ability to optimally recover from training loads. Given the flurry of interest, ongoing questions and requests for support I received afterwards, I wanted to provide an excerpt on the topic of stress from my Trail Running Guidebook. I feel that stress and its impact on our hormones is poorly understood, so I hope you find this article helpful.
I have found more and more frequently that many well-documented training theories are hard to implement with adults without triggering an overtraining complex, leading to unnecessary injury niggles, sick- ness, suppressed mood and more.
Stress: The fight-or-flight response
Stress is the body’s reaction to a physical, mental or emotional change in our normal, balanced state. In an ideal world, our body would deal with all stressors one at a time via the fight-or-flight response. Our body’s fight-or-flight response activates the nervous and hormonal systems when the stressor (the ‘tiger’) pounds towards us. The nervous and hormonal systems ensure that the heart and breathing rates accelerate; blood is relocated to the heart, lungs and muscles for movement; functioning of the gastro-intestinal tract is inhibited; and mobilisation of energy sources occurs. Then, once the danger is dealt with, we return to our steady state.
However, there are two interesting things about the human stress response:
Hormones and stress: A tight link
The stress response is controlled by both the nervous and hormonal systems of our bodies. However, I have found that one of the most interesting impacts that stress has on us, especially as athletes, is how it affects our hormonal system. To understand the significance of stress on our hormones, we need to understand the incredible role our hormones are playing at every minute of the day. They help us to:
Healthy hormone function relies on pregnenolone, our ‘master hormone’. Pregnenolone is critical for the production of:
Each of these hormones is found in both females and males. However, oestrogen and progesterone are found in substantially higher amounts in women, while testosterone and growth hormone are found in significantly higher amounts in males.
Oestrogen has more than 400 functions in the body and is the main female hormone. It shapes the uniqueness of our female bodies and emotions, makes us feel sensual, brings a glow to our skin, moisture to our eyes, fullness to the breasts and clarity to the mind. Importantly, it gives us the feeling of female energy and sensuality.
Progesterone reduces anxiety and has a calming effect on our mood. It helps us to feel happy and calm, increases sleepiness, helps to build and maintain bones, slows the digestive process and prepares a female for pregnancy.
TESTOSTERONE & GROWTH HORMONE
Testosterone and growth hormone are produced by both males and females, although to a much lesser extent in females. Without testosterone, the body’s ability to repair musculoskeletal tissue is hindered. Testosterone is the main male hormone, and assists a male to feel masculine and energised, and creates muscle bulk and strength.
When we are in a calmer state of balance, there should be ample master hormone, pregnenolone. The body should be able to make adequate amounts of our sex hormones, as well as the key stress hormone, cortisol. However, if stressors compound, such as through poor diet, exercise, insufficient sleep, lack of relaxation, and internalisation of emotional stress, we can fatigue our adrenal glands. When this occurs we effectively are entering a chronic state of stress. The need to produce vast quantities of cortisol overrides the production of our sex hormones, an occurrence that has become known as pregnenolone steal.
Living with chronic stress
Up until this point, I have inferred that stress is a negative occurrence. However, sometimes it can include positive events, making it harder to recognise the build-up of stress, the onset of pregnenolone steal and the sneaky slippery-dip into chronic stress.
Positive stressors include:
Negative stressors include:
Accumulating stressors in the context of inadequate physical and mental rest can lead to a chronically activated fight-or-flight response and can disrupt hormonal balance. Degeneration will begin to occur to our body’s tissues, increasing our risk of injury and poor wellbeing. These changes include: alterations to sleep-awakening patterns; gut irritability; suppressed appetite; weight changes; agitation accompanied by poor concentration; restlessness; muscle loss; decreasing bone density leading to stress fractures or joint issues; immune suppression; and overall fatigue. Furthermore, if you are finding yourself required to cope with too much stress then you may be at risk of long-term changes to your mind, body and playful spirit.
I cover these effects in more detail later in The Trail Running Guidebook in a chapter on Overtraining Syndrome. Further to this, the book is filled with information on the training principles I believe can enhance performance through adequate recovery.
BUY THE BOOK:
If you haven’t already purchased a copy of The Trail Running Guidebook, paperback and eBook formats are available from my website. hannyallston.com.au/trailrunningguidebook
This blog contains information that I recently shared with the 809 athletes who are utilising my Ultra Trail Australia Training Planners & The Trail Running Guidebook for the upcoming 2019 UTA100, 50 & 22km events. The advice is relating to how to conduct your longest training missions which for the 100km athletes is up to 8hrs in duration. I hope you also find it useful!
During mission tips that will carry beautifully over into race day too:
• Begin with an athlete’s mindset. I call this ‘athlete’ mode – check in with your body and ensure you listen to what it is telling you. How do you feel mentally, physically and emotionally?
• Then try to conjure up your inner wilder child. Try to play, explore, laugh and learn how to immerse yourself in the experience. Enjoy leaving ‘race’ thoughts behind and instead ask yourself, ‘right now, where else would I want to be?’ Hopefully, you find excitement and positivity in the answer to this question!
• As the hours' pass, think about shifting into the meditation zone. I find this is my ‘warrior mode’. Turn inwards and feel the rhythm of your running, your breath and the dancing nature of trail running.
• Don’t forget to also practice your hiking skills and long sustained uphills where possible. I suggest walking anywhere from 20-40% during this long mission as you will likely find yourself walking at times on race day and it is important to prepare mentally and physically for this.
• Throughout this whole period remember to refuel frequently. I strongly encourage you to keep a constant supply of jelly beans and glucose tablets on hand, as well as your race day nutrition. Practice, practice, practice and learn!
• Towards the end of the mission, check back in with the athlete’s mindset. How am I feeling now – mentally, physically, emotionally? If you still feel confident and strong then play for the remainder of the Mission’s duration. If you know that you might be at risk of digging a big hole that may be difficult to recover from then please call-it-a-day. Learn from the experience, work out what you did really well and what you could improve on for next time. You will have one more mission to practice in before event day.
• After the mission, your focus needs to be on recovery, recovery, recovery. I write at lengths about this in my Trail Running Guidebook. I would strongly recommend booking a massage for yourself as a reward for your hard work in training to date and your long mission. Then, take your time returning to training. Take as long as you need to recover before you jump back into my planner. We don’t want to take any risks!
In preparation for the upcoming challenges, now is a good time to gather the rest of your mandatory gear together. Whilst we are all crossing our fingers and toes for fine weather in May, consider how you can prepare for either wet or hot conditions.
However, despite all of the above excitement and as we move into April, it is a brilliant opportunity to remove some of the pressure you may be feeling about race day. I believe that Autumn is a time for ‘letting go’. Let go of some of the fear and nerves you may be carrying. I highly recommend listening to my podcast with Dr Clive Stack – Listening to your emotions. A good way to unwind is to carve out an hour a day for you. Use this time to do whatever makes your heart sing or reenergizes you. Then, add some more time with friends, try different activities or new running routes. Keep it fresh & playful!
This piece is for all the individuals out there who can feel like a zebra - like your stripes are telling you apart from the crowd. It is also for all the individuals who feel a pull to shed their old identities and begin again, and to those who aren't quite sure where to start. It is packed with honesty in the knowledge that you will not judge me for the humanness of these experiences.
A zebra. That is what I kept likening myself to as I wandered in and out of various presentations at the Australian Institute of Company Directors Annual Governance Summit. What a mouthful! As I sat there, surrounded by 1500 other delegates, each in their grey suits, with the occasional blue pop on a male, or a fling of red or white from the women, I honestly felt my stripes yelling to the room. I don’t own a suit jacket, or corporate skirt, or black shiny heels. In fact, I don’t own anything that would help me fit into that room. Add to this my short spicy white pixie cut, youthful looks, my white slacks and turtleneck jumper, yes, I really was the zebra here. Many individuals bravely stated, ‘You don’t look old enough to have done all that!’ when I shared dribs and drabs of my story and how I came to be attending the conference. So, for me, the two-day summit and AICD councillor’s meeting prior to it, has not only provided insights into the principles of good governance in Australia, but also raised one question, should I be trying harder to fit in?
My mentor & transformational coach, Alice, has always said that you can find all the answers to our questions in nature. When I sat back to deliberate on my question, this is precisely what I have subconsciously done. Why was it that I picked the zebra as my way to describe my discomfort in this environment? And if I was the zebra, what did this make everyone else? Assume for a moment that they were horses, gorgeous stallions and wild brumbies. Yes, let’s consider this scenario for a second. If you were to put a zebra in the midst of these horses, to give it the same food source, water, love and attention, it will remain a zebra. The horses may try to teach it to trot, canter and follow their lead, but it will still have the traits and qualities of a wild Africa animal, one with white stripes and black. It can act like a horse, but it will undeniably still be a zebra. We could trim its main, shod it, and make it look more ‘horse-like’, but it will retain its stripes… it will still be the zebra.
So is that the answer here? If I know that I am a zebra, and this is a room full of horses, each of various breeds and beauties, I cannot change the essence of who I am by changing what I wear and trying to fit in. No, I don’t believe that I can. I must be proud of those traits and qualities that make me different. Proud of my age, my experiences, skills & my story. In truth, I must be proud of my identities, formed from my values, beliefs, actions and environment. If there are horses in that room who see me and accept me for these stripes, then I am willing to canter alongside them and enjoy the rush of the wind in my face and the new lessons I learn from them as we roam the lessons of great governance. However, to those who turn away, confused by the wild creature before them, then I respect them too. Zebras are not for everyone.
The second part to this story is that whilst happily a zebra for now, I too am still trying to understand my complete identity. Even a year ago if someone had asked me, ‘How do you see yourself?’ I would have responded with, ‘As an athlete and a businesswoman, as well as a daughter, a sister, a partner’. And if pressed, I might add, ‘World Champion and young businesswoman’. However, in truth, I am coming to realise that these identities are changing and I am still wrestling and trying to reconcile with this. This begs another question for me - What do you do with a beloved, love-worn jacket that you now know you need to retire? Should you keep on wearing it because it seems a waste to cast it aside, especially given how much you have trusted & loved it for protecting you from the elements? Now dismiss it after it has shared many wilder journeys with you? Or should you take it off, hang it in the closet, or pass it forward to someone who needs it more than you, someone who can grow into it? Just like this well-loved jacket, taking off an old identity can be terrifying. You can suddenly feel naked, feel the loss of its warmth and protection, forcing you to wrap your arms tighter around you. As you do, you will undoubtedly wonder, ‘How on earth you I find another jacket that is as good a fit as that one?’ Now imagine that you gifted your jacket to the local Vinnies shop, and a few weeks later, as you pop into the supermarket and feel the chill of the refrigeration section hit you, you suddenly see someone else wearing your jacket. This vision brings on a sudden pang of jealousy, a sudden desire to tug it back on and revel in its comfort. Yet deep down, you know this jacket no longer belongs to you. Now you feel sadness as you try to fill your basket with your groceries. You look down at the basket, and the items that you always enjoyed now no longer seem as appealing. For a short moment, you feel cold, alone and a little saddened without your jacket. Your old identity.
For me, this is exactly what has been happening, With the love and support of Alice, we have torn down barrier after barrier, peeling off the old jacket to help me uncover what my new identities are, and how my values feed into these. Most of these barriers come in the form of unresolved emotional traumas, and an incongruence with my actions, emotions, thoughts and identities. Unresolved anger, grief and sadness were hidden in the depths of each and every one of my cells. These stemmed from incidences that I had forgotten, dismissed or thought I had already overcome. Often the blocked emotions were not to do with an incident itself, but how I responded to the situation, or how someone close to me responded. It was about the choices that I made, or didn’t make in those moments, with the lessons not yet realised, the growth not yet experienced. So, as the barriers were torn down and reflected upon, at first I grieved, ached from the bruises of experiencing once again, and then rapidly felt myself coming back together, stronger than ever with clarity fuelling the flames of new desires and enhanced purpose.
For as long as I can remember I have lived by the identities of athlete, daughter, sister, protecter, hard-worker, talented, achiever, Tasmanian. Proudly so. Fiercely so. They have served me well, and taken me to the heights of sport and business accolades. Yet, despite the successes, lumps, bumps and dips in this road, somewhere along the way these identities had become shaken up - my environment had changed, my beliefs, actions and relationships too. In fact, my values had shifted and until working with Alice and trusting her to take me down deep into my subconscious, I didn’t release just how far I had moved beyond these old identities and how some of them have never actually served me. I had accepted them as a given and never thought to pause and ask the simple question, ‘Is this jacket for me?’
Sitting in the huge theatre in Sydney, the distant voices of the presenters floating towards me, I couldn’t help but find my mind drifting. Why? Because I have suddenly realised that there is no part of my identity that is a businesswoman. No, not at all. Despite having won two business awards, business is not a part of my identity… not at all. However, what is, is learning about the people who interact with the business. What motivates them, their dreams, aspirations and how they lead themselves there, or lead themselves away for that matter. It is the why and the how that fascinates me in business, not the what or the outcomes. During the conversations that erupted during the tea and lunch breaks at the conference, I found that my brain couldn’t attach to the stories that people were sharing with me unless we reached the human element at the bottom of their story - once again, their why and how, not their what - the accolades, successes & business outcomes. Similarly, earlier that morning, I had taken myself off to the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre to spin my arms and feel my body move silently through the quiet waters of an awakening swimming pool. As I began to ease into the movements, I couldn’t help but feel that athlete is no longer a part of my identity either. I no longer feel like I am competing against myself or others, that I am no longer driven by accolades or results. No. Instead, I feel like with every stroke that I take I am eager to see if I can make it my best stroke, to feel the water catch more firmly on my hand, to feel myself rise out of the water and how the resulting glide can feel more effortless. I can recognise now that this is not the mind of the athlete, but rather the mind of a learner, an explorer… an artist.
With guidance from Alice, I realise too that I now need to move beyond my identity of ‘young Hanny’ - the daughter, sister, and timid, young girl growing up in the big, wide world. At thirty-three years of age it is finally time to embrace my womanhood. I want to now look in the mirror and embrace the curvaceous breasts that greet me, the slight curve on my hips and the skin maturing from exposure to life, sunshine and the elements. I want to move beyond purely the practical underwear and sometimes pull on my big woman panties, the ones that make me feel a little more sensual and feminine. At night I want to go to bed and enjoy the feeling of sleeping in sleepwear that makes me feel beautiful and capable of mature intimacy with my husband. I want to see his eyes light up with ‘that look’, to know that whilst our relationship is absolutely 100% grounded in friendship and indefinite love & respect for one another, that there will always be a romance alive there too. I want to walk into a room and hold my head up high, rather than letting my gaze drift to the shoes of the adults. Then to sit across the table from them and feel empowered to share my thoughts. I also want to sit across the table from my brother and speak as equals, and to take the advice and wisdom that he shares with me as adult-to-adult, rather than simply as his little sister. Further to this, I want to visit my mother as Hanny, and yes, whilst still her daughter, I also want to know in my heart that I am an adult creating my own life and with a plethora of choices in front of me. More importantly, I want to share a meal with her knowing that she feels the same freedom and ability to make choices too. When I speak to my father on the phone I want to know that I can open myself up to vulnerability, sharing the joys, highs and lows of our lives lived, sometimes together but more frequently apart. And finally, to know that within each of my special relationships there is no judgement.
Therefore, in the recent months I have learnt that identities evolve. When it becomes apparent that we need to, we must peel off the layers - the athlete, the daughter, the sister, the youth, the businesswoman - and try on some new ones. The laciness of womanhood. The stillness of the writer. The creativity of the explorer. The colours of the artist. The compassion of the healer. The voice of the coach. From this place of strength & understanding, my ‘be wilder’ state, can come the exploration of values, beliefs and actions.
I am sure that many of the things I have discussed here today will change by tomorrow. However, this is absolutely okay and please do not judge me if I do profoundly state tomorrow that I am once again an athlete! Change and evolution, confusion and then clarity, this is all a part of the human experience. We must wrestle with the known and the unknown, with the feelings & experiences that we can put words to, and those that we cannot yet. We must be willing to be brave in our vulnerabilities so that we can turn these into our vitalities.
Like Alice has done for me, today I write to give you the permission to also turn inwards and identify the identities that you are wearing, those that serve you, and those that no longer do. For if we all go on this journey, not only will it be less intimidating and lonely, but we will be helping to make the world a better place. The world needs more zebras. But it also needs more lions, buffalo, hippos and tigers. It needs more cats, dogs, ponies and goats. It needs more plants, grasses, and towering trees. It needs more diversity and individuals living a conscious life.
This blog stemmed from a client's email query: 'I live in the UK where it is super cold at the moment. How do I prepare for your relatively hot Australian conditions?'
When you live in a cold environment, acclimatising for an event in hot conditions is incredibly difficult. In 2005 I was heading to the peak of Japan's summer for the World Orienteering Titles. It was expected to be >37 degrees celcius with humidity of over 90%. As I began preparing for the races, snow lay in a thin blanket across the lumpy paddocks of our family's farm in Tasmania. Without too much experience or guidance, I dusted off my bike, set it up on a friend's spin trainer by the hearth, stoked up the fire, shut all the doors, decked myself out in all my thermals & tracksuits, and began one incredibly uncomfortable 10-day streak of training.
Yes, if you do not have the luxury of arriving well in advance of your race, acclimitisation is pretty tough. Here are my tips:
For Sports Nutrition that will assist, visit Find Your Feet's Nutrition & Hydration Collection.
Preparation for our athletic dreams requires a harmony of focused recovery combined with enough strain to see gain. Baby steps.
However, in the face of injury we need to respond quickly. Baby steps don’t suffice. When injury strikes, there is no such thing as ‘meeting in the middle’. We either want to listen to our body or we don’t. We either want to get better or we won’t. We must acknowledge the weaknesses that led to the injury. We must take responsibility for the road back.
Whilst it is imperative to hear the wisdom of the gurus around us, at the end of the day we are the ones who knows what is at stake. We are the ones who knows what our body wants to say to us… We set the dream. We take the steps. We reap the rewards.
An interview with Find Your Feet Australia.
In 2013 you broke the women’s record by around 75mins that year and finished 4th overall. Describe the run that you had – was it more mental, physical, strategical or all of the above?
To be honest, this was a hard year for me. In the leadup to the event, and even during it I had this real knowing discomfort in my knee. A month or so earlier I had been racing in China and tripped, knocking my knee on a rock. I found out weeks after the Overland event that I actually had a hairline fracture in my patellar. So, I guess I explain this because I don’t think my best races come from physical. The UTA100km in 2017 was a classic example of this. In that circumstance, I was super physically prepared, but not there mentally or emotionally at all. It made it a very, very long day out. In the 2013 Overland Track event I was just so eager to be at the event and running down the trail which transects my favourite regions of Tasmania. I had been living in Canberra for years and really missed this pristine landscape. It is where I feel most at home. Where I feel my love of mountains and the intimacy of all the natural elements combines with the rhythm of running. So, toeing that start line I was filled with eagerness, albeit a little apprehension. I had no strategical plan other than to run by the feel of my body, to monitor it carefully and listening to it, just as I was listening to the landscape and its own rhythms as the day unfolded. As it turned out, I ended up continuing to bump into Matt Cooper who was one of Australia’s top male ultra-runners at the time. He was having a tough day in the office but there was this quiet companionship and admiration at play. I didn’t ever run with him for long, but it was like a yo-yo, his coming and going as he found energy and then lost it again. I found that emotionally keeping an eye out for him and wanting to help him gave me strength too, and I ended up feeling on cloud nine all day. I certainly didn’t know anywhere near as much as I know now, such as about nutrition, hydration, equipment and strategical racing. I just ran with heart, spirit and tingling toes. I am so stoked still with that result. It was just a wonderful, long day outside.
(NB. Hanny finished 4th overall that year in a time of 8hrs13mins. In the last three years, no woman has come within fifty-five minutes of this time.
How did you focus your preparations in the last week before the event?
In the week before the event I was conscious of not overloading my body nor mind. I was doing a lot of coaching at the time so that made it quite tricky. I was also living in Canberra where it was really hot. Therefore, I did a little more swimming, early morning gentle jogs, tried to focus on consuming more electrolytes and simple foods, and generally just enjoying the excited nervousness that comes before a race. Sleep is critical and that should always be your number one priority pre-race. After travel, I like to also lie with my feet up a wall as it takes away a lot of my lethargy and is proven to help reduce cortisol levels.
What do you think is the optimal mindset for long distance races?
You need to be able to tune into your emotions, hear what they are saying, and then utilize this knowledge to your advantage. The importance of this is to be able to stay strong but still be human. I find that when I am too ‘switched off’ to what I am feeling when I am out there, it leads to not enjoying myself. I become robotic and unable to appreciate why I am out there and what I am seeing. On the other hand, when I am too vulnerable and ruled by my emotions I can find it hard to stay strong and lean into the discomforts. So, it is a very fine balance. I personally work a huge amount on understanding ‘self’ and ‘my story’. I want to know what sits below the surface of me and to feel the vulnerability & strength that comes from this knowledge. I then find I am really able to tap into the adventures and missions that really are making my toes tingle… easily able to answer the question, ‘Why am I doing this?’ This is so important. Knowing you are out there for the right reasons will definitely give you the strength to lean into the discomforting moments, which are always prevalent when you are walking towards the edge! The other thing that is important is to understand what your definition of success is. And be warned, in Tasmania, this cannot be about time or places, or otherwise the raw wildness of the landscape will chew you up and spit you back out again!
What is different about racing & ultra-running in Tasmania?
I know we always use the word, but Tassie is definitely wilder. The trails are more remote, with many points of no return. The tracks are usually rougher too, with more roots, rocks, mud and sometimes, exposure. Therefore, I think you have to approach running in Tasmania with a slightly different mindset. You can’t easily say, ‘well, I’ll start and see how it goes’. You have to be far more prepared for that. To know that when you toe the start of a trail you are 100% ready for that. I think this is why I became one of those athletes who never raced half-baked. I always needed to be 100% confident in all my process – from my training leading into the event or mission, to my nutrition, recovery, equipment and psychology. I guess this is where Find Your Feet has grown from – a really willingness to highlight the importance of preparation and preparedness with our community of eager trail enthusiasts.
What final tips or tricks would you have for anyone preparing for this year’s Overland Track Ultra or another upcoming event?
I have come to learn that the half-way mark of an ultra-distance event is definitely not the half-way mark! I find that the game really begins sometime after the 2/3rds point of the event. Therefore, I like to determine a point that for me heralds this ‘true ½ way mark’. In the Overland Track race, I had the half-way mark as when I reached the northern shores of Lake St Clair which comes at around 62km into the event. Even though I had run the event previously and really enjoyed this section, I knew that most participants mentally & physically struggle in this section. So I knew it was important to pace my race so that my energy tank was still more than ½ full for this remaining 20km of the race.
A place where growth is not limited to garden beds and trimmed hedges. The known, the kept, the manicured. It is a union of sun, rain, wind and soils home to the vegetation that lives there, stretching, seeking growth. A place where we bask in the rays of our mentors, water ourselves with self-compassion, lean into the headwinds, and strive upwards… forever growing.
A state where pruning occurs only to allow us to walk a faint trail to somewhere even more remote, scenic and worthy of our spent energy. A state where we lean into the head winds, get buffeted by the horizontal blasts, and pushed forwards by a gust from behind. A state where we teeter bravely through the challenges, bound forwards when the terrain evens out, then finally stand atop a mountain, sunburnt and grinning with a pulsing heartbeat. Toes tingling.
When we strive each day to make ourselves proud, willingly leaving the known trails to carve our own pathway. When the smallest individual actions add together until one day you realise you are running towards your best self.
When you feel so self-empowered that you no longer look behind or to the actions of others.
When your steps surmount until you are standing near the edge, marvelling at just how far you have come, and realising that YOU were the one who got yourself there. For me, that is the art of ‘Being Wilder’
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
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.
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.
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.
2. Ego is the elephant in my room:
After turning thirty, I spent twelve-months working with a performance psychologist. After a few sessions, he suggested that there was an elephant in the room with us. I knew he was right. I could feel the beast lurking in the corner, poking me occasionally with his trunk and occasionally stomping on my toes. This year I have finally come to identify him by name and to bring him out of the shadows. Everyone, meet Ego! For the most part, Ego likes to take long naps and doesn’t bother me. However, when the high-pitched, feminine Fear squeals, ‘Don’t fail!’, the dominating, male presence of Ego the Elephant heffalumps to my rescue. ‘Just do more. Train more. Work harder. Try more. Say yes! Don’t say no!’ And so the tug-of-war starts, feminine Fear on one side and Ego the elephant on the other. Until we all get so damn tired that we put down the rope, call truce, and make a cup of tea.
3. Honest ends the tug-of-war
Honesty is, and has always been, one of my strongest values but I actually didn’t realize its quieter, positive influence in how I live my daily life. Whilst I find it easy to be honest with others, this year I have come to truly understand that I am the best version of Me when I am truthful with Hanny. This is because it halts the tug-of-war between Ego the Elephant and my feminine Fear.
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’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:
These articles are a collection of my writing. If you have feedback or questions, would love to hear from you!
keep in touch!