I recently toed the start line of the 102km Tarawera Ultra Marathon and I am not ashamed to say that my motivation was three pronged – to experience being ‘back in the action’, to see this beautiful New Zealand landscape, but also to prove a point to myself – I am an athlete!
I am an athlete.
This simple phrase is like a sensitive funny bone – I don’t bump it very often but when I do it tingles madly and damn well HURTS!
‘It would be great to see you as an athlete again Hanny!’
And it was this comment uttered by a well-meaning individual that recently knocked this funny bone and set off a painful tingling. It sent shock-waves through my entire body, a searing discomfort that had me shaking out my limbs, and beginning to fidget, then sway, and then… enter a race!
Am I an athlete!
This was the thought that I carried with me as I left the start line and chased down the lead girls on the early single tracks and then wider forestry roads. I wasn’t necessarily hunting them, I was hunting my athleticism.
Let me now back-track to 3 years ago when I tried the ‘athlete retirement thing’. My Swan-Song was a long 100km race through Australia’s Blue Mountains, chasing down the younger whippet and now friend, Lucy Bartholomew. Throughout those ten hours I constantly heard my head saying, ‘It’s time for the athlete to retire’. In hindsight this thought stemmed from a long sporting career and then employment at the Australian Institute of Sport where I was surrounded by the constant drumming – ‘you must ensure you have a plan for after you retire from sport’. Yes, eventually we all need to move on, or grow up… don’t we?
In the three years post- ‘retirement’ I discovered that athletic retirement is damn hard to do and somewhat akin to cracking a macadamia nut with your bare hands. That is, it is pretty much impossible! Once you know that intoxicating feeling of holding onto a high-level of fitness that can carry you on any wild adventure; the grace of moving with ease over hills and trails; a brain flooded with endorphins and that motivating ‘what next?’ question; and then that blissful sleep that comes after a long day outdoors… yup, retirement seems like a really dumb concept! So, it was with this realization and alignment of values that my inner athlete quickly re-awakened and she has since lead me on some epically wild adventures! I can honestly say that what I have achieved in the last 3-years are by far and away my greatest athletic achievements, such as: running the very remote, technical Federation Peak; my 19-day, 720km and 45000m vertical solo traverse of the French Pyrenees Mountains; and my recent solo & fastest known 60km traverse of the Western Arthurs Mountains in South-West Tasmania. Yes, the athletic bug has gripped me more than ever and it has just felt so, so dammed good to feel on the top of my A-game again.
‘It would be great to see you as an athlete again Hanny!’
Tarawera 102km was not to be my day. I absolutely had the mindset and skills for performance, but I had failed to acknowledge the gradually building fatigue accumulated from the last 6-months of wild adventures. Further to this, my athleticism has morphed into something a little rougher and less-refined – perhaps more akin to shaggy, leaping sheepdog than to a racing whippet? At Tarawera I went out with the lean & mean leaders, and gave it my absolute best. Even when The Wall loomed I felt equipped with all the tools in my toolkit to leap gracefully over it – from a powerful mindset, to race strategy, to nutrition – but nothing could ultimately sharpen my heavy legs on this day and I caught my paws at many of the hurdles.
In every tough day there is always something to be gained. For me, the highlight of the day was definitely the bond of relationship that I found in other athletes on the trail, moving through a beautiful landscape, with our individual highs and lows. However, the greatest gift that received at Tarawera 102km, a perfect present on the eve of my 34thbirthday, was this -
We are all athletes!
We do not need to reach a finish line, or the top of the mountain, or run with a race number pinned to our chests to allow our inner athlete to shine. Nope. Nup. Definitely not! If racing lights a fire in your belly then GO FOR IT! Charge your glass with electrolytes and let us toast your racing adventures! But if, like me, you feel curiosity beckoning you to a quieter trail, then let us celebrate this sense of adventure too!
Whether our journey leads us to a start line, or a finish line, or even a point in between where the body says, ‘not today!’… or whether our calling is to a remote mountain ridgeline or a local mission from our front door… Yes indeed, we are all athletes because we do the work to keep sharp, we gather evolving skills, and we know how to lean in when the going gets a little tougher.
When I entered the Tarawera event I thought I needed to thrive to ease the discomfort in my funny bone, to prove to myself once and for all that I am an athlete. However, in ‘failure’ I have found even greater clarity than I could ever hope for – I am not just an athlete…
…I LOVE BEING AN ATHLETE! And a wild one at that!
An unlikely story of strength and resilience
I am completely fascinated by the strength of our minds so over the last 12-months I have been studying advanced coaching techniques, such as Neurolinguistics Programming (how to reprogram our internal dialogue), hypnotic skills and visualization. This study has brought a huge year of growth and change, a welcome addition to my peak performance coaching.
The other major change that I have welcomed in the last 12-months is a home, a little wooden chalet on 4-acres on the slopes of Mt Wellington. The quaint property is littered with pademelons (small marsupials), wallabies, bird-life and even frogs on the nights when the rains finally fall. However, due to the dry conditions this summer the frogs have rarely sung and the mammal lawn mowers are finding their grass supply waning. To counter this, my husband and I have been throwing our veggie scraps out the back door. We also fill large metal bowls scattered around the lawn with water. Every night, our evening entertainment is to watch the nature channel’s chaos unfolding outside the loungeroom window – the pademelons’ mothers and babies lap at the water, the males assert their dominance and the birds swoop into the mix. Lord Packenham, our resident possum, might strut his stuff, and occasionally a rabbit might join the fun.
My husband and I are slowly being welcomed. When we step outside our marsupial residents rarely flee in fright, but rather hop warily backwards to allow us to take center stage on our lawn. I love these little guys with all my heart and when a pademelon pauses his or her earnest foraging, sometimes our eyes lock. It is as if a love story is slowly unfolding. Each night as I turn for bed, thrust open the window and listen to the munching outside, I think I can sense them all saying, ‘Thank you for loving us’.
My alarm usually hollers around 5am. I instantly roll out from the bed’s strong grasp, pad downstairs and slip straight into my running attire which I always lay out the night before. I then tug my pajamas back over the top, a symbol of self-compassion whilst I boil the kettle, sip tea with a dash of homemade soymilk, munch a handful of organic dried fruit and gently limber up my muscles as I stare aimlessly across the paddocks. I try to always be gentle to myself in the morning, to start slowly and allow the heart, mind and body to speak their truths. When I am ready to step outside I will peel off my pajamas, quietly tip toe past the stairs to the bedroom where Graham is usually still sleeping, and slip out into the dawn. I love this moment of solitude, when I lace my shoes and feel the anticipation of the morning’s explorations ahead.
Today’s session is a solid 21-minute uphill tempo. I am excited, knowing soon that my lungs will be drawing in the cool, dewy air whilst my legs will still yelp for more. The rhythm of the arms swinging back and forth, back and forth. The spine tall. Head held proud. Feet rising and falling. I believe running is art in movement.
Running hard uphill on an asphalt road is tough on the good days and even tougher on the days when your head isn’t completely in the game. I usually thrive as I leave the start point at the wafting, roast-barley-valley-ambience of the Cascade Brewery, heading uphill towards the junction of Huon Road & Strickland Avenue on Mt Wellington. This junction that marks the end of the hard run just so happens to be a mere 300m from my front door. However, not every day can be a celebration of mojo and flow state running, and today I found my legs cringing sharply with lactic acid. As a result, my confidence wavered then returned, wavered then returned, pulsing with my heart as it raced to keep up with the effort I strived for.
So, this morning I looked into my ‘toolkit’, a collection of tips, tricks and techniques which I have actively sought and collected over the last 15 years of my running & coaching career. I considered using ‘The Whip’, mentally whipping myself into action or the ‘Get Out Of Jail’ card and backed off the intensity. I thought about ‘The Ignore Button’ and disassociated from the discomfort by entering ‘My Bubble’, a space I reserve for digging deep and blocking out the searing squeals of my legs and lungs. But rather I chose one of my teacher’, techniques called ‘Picture the End’. So, whilst still running hard up the hill, I began to create a picture of the end of the tempo – to see the roads meeting, the bus stop number, the cars whizzing past, the child waiting for the school pickup. I added sounds, such as the birds’ chorus and the belching bus. I imagined the zingy feeling in my legs as I saw myself stretching past the bus stop that marked the finish and coming to a gentle walk. I almost felt the high five slaps I gave my running buddy as we celebrated our success.
Yes, this morning I was able to create a vivid image of the tempo’s ending. Even when I was still ¾ of the way up the hill, the image was so vivid that I could almost touch it, smell it, hear it, feel it! I grew in strength. Then I found myself imagining a rope tied around my waste and it winching me closer and closer to this finish line. I instantly felt my pace increasing and an extra spring in my step as I I lifted taller and prouder in my posture. Suddenly, and to my absolute surprise, I had an overwhelming image of our resident pademelons grasping onto that rope and pulling me closer and closer to the finish line! In my mind’s eye, they appeared to be expressing their gratitude by helping me reach the finish line of my tempo run!
Yes. That’s right. The pademelons gifted me a new Personal Best Time on my training run this morning!
You may think I am nuts. And maybe I am?! But what I have learnt this year is that every tiny step you take towards being wilder will make you stronger. Being wilder is my term for the summation of all the small actions that you take to empower yourself, such as recycling your plastic, ruminating on your values, eating cleaner, turning off the lights, expressing your gratitude, using a Keep Cup, looking out for your neighbors, studying new skills, journaling, exercising consistently, and loving nature in all its beauty. Every step you take towards knowing yourself and being the best version of you brings you a greater sensation of strength which you can draw on when the going gets tough or you need to add fuel to your mojo – in running and in life.
So, can I dare you to ask yourself… ‘what am I doing today that can help me to feel prouder, lean in with more confidence and realise my greatest potential?
Look after the pademelons!
Sometimes you just need to shut the textbook and make up the rules for a moment. Sometimes it’s when you make up the rules that you realise there aren’t any rules.
...I think that so many of us don’t let go of our ‘shoulds’, and let go of our guilt, and let go of our fears and anxieties and our thoughts that we need to kind of live life by the text book, when sometimes the textbook just has a bloody error in it...
I think that’s probably what I learned on this journey, that traversing these mountains kind of became traversing my own inner mountains and I reached the other side and I realised that I’m still the same Hanny. But I’d also found another side of Hanny... and that was pretty cool. I brought that person home, and I’m really proud of that person, and I love that person in my relationship and I love that person in my team at work. And I love that person when I’m just sitting quietly at home in my house and when I’m just rambling on a podcast with you. I’m not embarrassed to say that, and I don’t believe I have an ego in saying that, it’s just I’m cool with being me. So that’s the Pyrenees...
- Hanny Allston (EP#48 The Pyrenees Traverse with Hanny Allston)
Megan Holbeck writes for Outdoor Magazine to unravel the appeal of ultra running. It was an honour to be featured in this article...
This is a transcript from Find Your Feet Podcast Episode #48: Running the French Pyrenees. This podcast was a quiet ramble with myself, reflecting on this huge adventure that unfolded in July 2019. I hope you have the opportunity to listen to this podcast too..
THIS ADVENTURE NEEDS AN INITIAL EXPLANATION:
Dense cloud, loitering over and around me, hanging grey and heavy. Darkness has just departed through the door to this steep-sided valley, creating space for dawn to enter. I move methodically and powerfully up the mountain slopes where alpine rhododendrons cling to the rocks, bravely holding out against Summer and her brother, Winter. I am alone out here and the silence is so silent that I can hear every deep breath and footstep that I take, and every crease and rustle of my movements as I climb higher and higher. Rounding a bend, I am confronted with the world spilling away from me, a trail marked by steep cliffs on the upper-side and deep cliffs below. The track meanders forwards along the precipice and as I run, stepping up, over and around each small obstacle along its course, I know that there is absolutely nowhere else that I want to be. That I need to be. Most importantly, there is no one else that I must be. I am a runner, an athlete, a woman, a wife, and an adventurous spirit who needs wild time to thrive. In its simplest form, I am Hanny… and finally, unapologetically so
AS PUBLISHED IN TRAIL RUN MAGAZINE AUS/NZ, AUGUST 2019 -GRAB YOUR COPY HERE TODAY!
Former world champion orienteer racer, elite trail runner, young businesswoman of the year, tour guide, podcaster and coach, Hanny Allston is one multi-talented, multi-layered, prolific and powerfully driven individual. So what fuels it all? We discuss her fearsome passion for playing wild in the outdoors. INTERVIEW: Chris Ord
A female runner utilising my training planners recently asked me my thoughts about training around the monthly female hormonal cycle. She wanted advice on how to adapt the wave training principles to her menstrual cycle. Here is my reply:
Today I received an email from a reader with an important question - 'What do I eat before race?'. She had read in my The Trail Running Guidebook where I recommend to simplify our diet in the last few days before a race, focussing on lower fat, lower protein meals. In the book I suggest - WHITE, FLUFFY, STARCHY. So her question was, 'What are some examples of white, fluffy and starchy foods that I should eat in the days leading up to a race?' Here is my reply:
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.
I recently shared 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.
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!
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?'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.