Finding her feet: Hanny Allston finds solace running wild

Home » Uncategorized » Finding her feet: Hanny Allston finds solace running wild
a

After overcoming everything from an ankle reconstruction to anorexia, Finding My Feet author HANNY ALLSTON finds solace running everywhere from the Tasmanian wilderness to the French Pyrenees.


Hanny running in the Italian Dolomites on a Find Your Feet Trail Running Tour. Credit Graham Hammond

Hanny running in the Italian Dolomites on a Find Your Feet Trail Running Tour. Credit Graham Hammond

The winter solstice. A time of long, soup-fuelled nights that slurp into the shortest days. At this time of year, I crave the slow snuggliness that only the evenings can bring. Whilst departing from such comfort becomes harder in winter, the rewards can be awe-inspiring. The drawn-out sunrises. The tentacles of frost on crusted paddocks. The burning hot shower before spoonfuls of porridge.

This year the winter solstice is darker than ever, timed perfectly with a vacant moon and the clearest of star-studded skies. I dive deeper into my sleeping bag, thankful for the cocoon it brings as the Tasmanian wilderness encroaches over the van, a river gushing nearby. Right now, I savour the moment as tomorrow will bring cold, soggy feet and another inspired adventure. Tomorrow I will run 55km from this carpark, hidden in the heart of Tasmania’s mountain landscapes, to Cradle Mountain in the north. I will run towards the longer days, and towards spring, and summer. Tomorrow I will celebrate just how wild I have grown, and how much I now love simply putting one muddy foot in front of the other, following an icy trail, with no expectations. And I will celebrate naked Tasmania, and the love-affair now richly awakened between us.


Hanny atop Mt Anne in Tasmania. Credit Graham Hammond

Hanny atop Mt Anne in Tasmania. Credit Graham Hammond

It has taken me most of my 34-years to find such a deep joy of trail running in wilder places. I am no foreigner to mud and cold fingers, having grown up on a hobby farm just outside of Hobart. Heating was a simple wood fire located in the heart of our large, draughty cottage and year-round, our entertainment was always outdoors. Cubbies, climbing trees, mini-Olympics up and down the pot-holed gravel roads. My brother and our three friends formed a tribe of truant children, the ‘Famous Five’, who explored unapologetically beyond the neighbour’s boundaries and steep-sided walls of the valley in which we lived.


Hanny began adventuring with her family at an early age.

Hanny began adventuring with her family at an early age.

Shimmering chlorinated water and swimming togs eventually replaced my gumboots as I dived into an Olympic dream. I wanted to become a champion swimmer, to live at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra and meanwhile, to become a doctor like my mother. However, as the years progressed, and aspirations and breasts grew larger, I found myself shrinking into my bathing costume whilst becoming ever more rebellious at school. It was my French teacher who eventually remarked, ‘you know Johanna, it is the naughtiest students we remember the most!’ My impish spirit masked my growing discomfort of my maturing woman’s body, and the strictness imposed by our swimming coaches. Certain foods became banned. Skin fold testing regimes implemented. Endless hours of gut-busting sessions set for us. I was not yet fourteen-years-old.

Somewhat shadowed by my swimming, my family enjoyed adventures into the most obscure regions of Tasmania, first on scratchy, woollen jumper-cloaked bushwalks and then later, to seek the red and white flags that represent the sport of orienteering. In this unusual and lesser-known sport I found my tribe and my feet, eventually travelling to over 35 countries to compete. Orienteering taught me about what loving something really feels like, and that performance comes from a union of fitness, mental prowess and the fuel that is generated from absolute love and joy. It also taught me that at the core of my athleticism was a gift for endurance running. In the footsteps of Tasmania’s early trail running hardcore athletes I ran the entire 82km Overland Track at just seventeen years of age. I was falling fast in love with the feeling of edginess that one can only experience when you are beyond the realms of comfort. And it felt so damn good! But as I was soon to learn, we need to savour each glorious moment for what it is – a precious gift.


Running at Mt Painter in the Australian Capital Territory.

Running at Mt Painter in the Australian Capital Territory.

From the dizzying heights of international orienteering podiums, I found myself tumbling into a deep, confusing hole. First came an ankle reconstruction, then a family tragedy, medical university examinations and the splintering of our once close family unit. As I wallowed, pushed and clawed my way out of the hole, anorexia sidled up to befriend me. And so became a slow dance, a waltz that saw me become a World Orienteering Champion, the Australian and New Zealand marathon champion, a university graduate, and yet a bundle of skin and bones.


Hanny competing at the World Orienteering Championships, Scotland

Hanny competing at the World Orienteering Championships, Scotland

I returned to Tasmania in 2009, experiences tucked safely into my growing toolkit marked ‘adulthood’. Gosh, after living in urban Auckland and central Melbourne it felt so damned great to slip out my mother’s door and onto the silent trails of Mt Wellington. Squelching mud and chilly fingers. Husky cries from startled birds rising into a glowing sky. In these quiet moments I began to find my feet and a growing love affair, first with trail running, and later with Tasmania, Graham (who is now my husband), and then eventually with helping others to find their feet too. Through adversity and dream-chasing, and the scary feeling of losing my feet and finding them again, I was finding my best self. Hanny. A young woman still evolving. An idealistic blue-sky thinker energised by the pursuit of our authentic selves and I felt fuelled by a desire to share this joy with everyone around me.


Hanny running through the Dolomites in Italy. Credit Graham Hammond

Hanny running through the Dolomites in Italy. Credit Graham Hammond

My business, Find Your Feet, grew from this journey and whilst it lifts me out of bed every morning, I have come to learn that work and world champion successes do not define us. I am not my story, but rather the person who walked in the shoes while the story unfolded. We are also not what happens to us. I am not the incidents, deaths, injuries, accolades or relationships. Rather we are the attitudes, beliefs, values and emotions that define the way we respond to these moments. I am not the gift I am giving others. I am the one giving the gift and can only do so after I have given it to myself first.

Which is why, on the dawn of winter solstice I run in tune with my husband’s footsteps. As darkness gives way to blueness, as steam lifts gently from semi-frozen alpine tarns, mingling with fog partially obscuring the dolerite mountain skyline, we both whoop with joy. We are out here, running along a trail to somewhere beautiful, giving the gift of playing wilder to ourselves. Re-energising.


Running at Cradle Mountain. Credit Graham Hammond

Running at Cradle Mountain. Credit Graham Hammond

I wave goodbye to Graham at Pelion Hut and, pushing back the niggling nerves, I run alone towards the north. Grateful for his support and the taxi service he is providing me today, I slosh, slide, slip and spring my way along the trail towards Cradle Mountain… unapologetically. Other wilder adventures over the last three years have taught me the skills I need to thrive out here. The 92km, 12-hour traverse of Tasmania’s South Coast Track taught me that fear only highlights what is meaningful to us. Then the 45km, 11-hour rugged summit of Federation Peak was a lesson in understanding what success truly means for me – ‘a willingness to embrace the edge’. Last year, my 19-day, 700km solo traverse of the French Pyrenees Mountains from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean coastlines taught me that gifting yourself the time to pursue something that you love, unapologetically, only returns an energy and vibrancy for life that cannot be achieved in any other way. And finally, this year, my solo 60km day through the Western Arthurs of Tasmania highlighted to me that I truly love to play wilder.

I reached Cradle Mountain seven hours later. After the emptiness of the trail, the handfuls of day-trippers enjoying her beauty felt like a Melbournian shopping mall. On the porch of our lodgings I peeled off muddy socks and tip-toed to sit by the fire. Winter adventuring. Uncomfortable in moments. Rewarding in others. And just so damned good afterwards!

Read Hanny’s memoir Finding my Feet

Hanny Allston is a world champion athlete, trail runner, award-winning businesswoman and author. Her new memoir, Finding My Feet, is now available from Hanny Allston, Finding My Feet.



Pin it for later transparent.png

Facebook community

Explore Deals