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!
I am thrilled to be featured in the latest edition of Sharp Traveller! In this article we delve into how the Find Your Feet Tours started, and why we're so excited to be guiding our inaugural Flinders Island Find Your Feet Tour during November!
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)
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
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.
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?'
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.
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?’
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.
A Recap of the World Orienteering Championships, Scotland
Elite athletes are constantly asked to focus on routines in the lead up to competitions. These include when to arrive, how much to train, when to sleep, what to eat, how to execute your race strategies and what to do for recovery. However, I have come to learn that routines cannot and should not dictate how you approach orienteering races. This year’s World Orienteering Championships once again reiterated that for me.
Returning to the Junior World Orienteering Championships as a coach was a fascinating experience. The pre-camp training sessions, long days in the starting quarantines and grappling with appropriate words of encouragement for my athletes post-race were some of the challenges. I can confidently say that the two-week Bulgarian experience increased my coaching knowledge and skills. However, added to this came a huge personal revelation that highlighted the difference between youth and adulthood.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.