Parks are closed. Trails too. Events are cancelled and we are dusting off our road-running shoes. Yes, we are living in a sensation of limited freedom. But today I share how it is the choices we make that will give us back our wings. Here are my suggestions for ensuring that you thrive through these challenges.
What is Freedom?
We all value it, so what does it mean? Freedom is simply the ability to have choices. To choose what we want to do, when we wish to do it, and how too. The reason so many of us feel trapped right now is that it feels like our choices have been taken away. However, all that has been taken from us are our habits, our routines, our old normality.
Find your new normal
Without our old routines to latch onto, we can feel wobbly and unsettled. We can wake in the morning feeling edgy or unmotivated. We grasp onto media and social channels to fill in voids. Another cuppa to fill the emptiness. Awake at night with ‘busy head syndrome’. But if we recognise what is at the core of this unsettledness, a sensation of ‘stuckness’, then we have the capacity to choose our way out. Personally, I am choosing to ‘find my new normal’ and you can too. Begin by writing a list of all the options you still have available to you. Don’t forget to include all the new options that have become available, such as online yoga or camping in your back yard. Then begin to schedule this into your ‘training’ routines or my Training Planners.
The word freedom raises images of a bird spreading its wings and soaring higher. So, where do you wish to soar once the restrictions end? If you were the bird, what type would you be? An eagle striving towards its target? A dove peacefully watching the world pass? A chicken reworking its turf? A duck diving beneath the surface? Weird? Yes! Whacky? Definitely! But this analogy will help you to realise what goal you are setting and what attitude and values you need to adopt to achieve it. From now on, every time you head out the door or begin planking in the spare room, see it as training for this dream to come. (Need inspiration? Join me on one of my Find Your Feet Tours!).
Find the abnormal in the boring
I am getting so many requests from individuals about how to avoid road running. So, I would like to ask - why? Why avoid the road if it can take you on an adventure every day? A road is a window into a landscape. Along its verges you will see remnants of those who travelled before you, vegetation gripping with strength & ferocity to a precarious life, a day awakening around you, birds cheering you on, insects humming cheerfully, front yards to ponder, letterboxes overflowing with stories. Yup, there is so much to see when you run on the road… you just need to CHOOSE to see it! In fact, the other morning the highlight of my run was seeing a scorpion crossing the road. This simple something is what I would have missed had a chosen to not venture outdoors.
Find Freedom on the hills
It may be hard to find the time, energy or open space for exercising during these times. To get the most out of yourself and your precious time, head for a hill. If you are nervous about getting injured from road running, upgrade your running shoes and then find a hill. It is so hard to injure yourself running gently uphill. I am not asking you for hill sprints. In fact, I beg you not to! Instead, run up, aiming for consistency and great running form, then walk or jog back. Repeat. Again, if you find this concept ugly and awful, then you are choosing to find it ugly and boring. Perhaps choose to see the mindfulness, health, vitality and challenge in it instead? (I write lots about the virtues of hills and hill running technique in my Trail Running Guidebook).
Don’t make do
I am seeing lots of very worn-out running and walking shoes on the footpaths and local urban pathways. If you are leaving the gym, pool or trails and venturing towards the concrete or asphalt, this is not the time to run in dead shoes! Make sure you select something that has a little cushion and provides some protection to your feet and legs. You can visit my Find Your Feet store and ask one of our gurus for advice if you need help choosing the best shoes for you.
Do your strength activation
Lazy butt? Weak calf muscles? Grumpy back? Achilles grumbles? These are all signs of a lazy core and gluteal muscles. Pull out the yoga mat and YouTube galore! There are so many great exercises online. You may also like to join an online yoga class or reach out to your physio or PT who may be offering tele-consults. This is the perfect time to address the imbalances.
Find excitement in tempo running
If you are more experienced, this is the perfect time to up the tempo. I absolutely love tempo running and I implore you to get creative. Begin with a 15-20min tempo run but over time begin to adjust the terrain and durations of your tempo sessions. Add hills. Break it into 10-minute segments with shorter recoveries. Try a new route. Go longer. Bugger it… run backwards if you have to! Anything you do, so long as it is paired with great recovery, will be a step in the direction you choose.(Learn more about tempo running in my Trail Running Guidebook).
So, as you can see, we have choices. In fact, they are all around us and we are blessed to live in landscapes that provide so many to us.
Choose freedom in self-isolation.
Choose to keep a dream alive.
Choose to run along a road to nowhere and watch the world not pass you by.
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!
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?’
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?
As featured in Travel, Play, Live.
This year I hit the big 30. I had really been looking forward to this milestone in my life. On the day I turned thirty, I stood atop the final summit of my ‘30 peaks in the year before I turn 30’ challenge. Whilst it had come down to the wire, I felt wind-chapped & glowing from the inside out. That was until injury hit and I took a visit to my GP.
Sometimes you reach a point where you know some things need to change. In February 2016 I realised that it was time to audit my life after experiencing the devastation of raging fires in northern Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area, a back injury and turning 30 years old. I started journalling my thoughts and actions, quickly realising that I felt completely unharmonious between my intentions and actions. Furthermore, I knew that my body wasn’t healthy. I looked fit and was running strongly on paper, but underneath this there were old habits that were holding me back. Crunch point.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.