Can Trail Running Save A Rainforest? Interview with Hanny Allston
Described as one of Australia’s extraordinary trail runners, Hanny Allston loves getting outdoors – being an advocate for the environment she explores daily, only but comes naturally. When she’s not out running or competing in orienteering at an elite level, she’s training others as a coach and running her outdoor adventure business, ‘Find Your Feet’.
Just like the tracks she trails on a daily basis, achievement runs through Hanny’s blood – She recently set a new women’s record for the 6 Foot Track Marathon, a podium finish at the World Orienteering Championships in Scotland, is an Oceania Skyrunning Champion, and a top 10 finish overall at the Ultra Trail Australia 50 – to name a few.
It’s not only running and orienteering achievements Allston holds, She’s now fighting one of her bigger challenges – to protect the forests of the Tarkine region of Northwest Tasmania. What is the Tarkine? It’s home to one of the last tracts of old-growth Gondwanan rainforest in the world – and is currently at the mercy of destructive extraction industries, including timber and mining.
We caught up with the Tasmanian local to help answer the question “can running save our forests?
Hi Hanny, thanks for sharing some thoughts with us. Before we dive into the conversation of Tasmania’s forests, can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get into trail running?
I had one of those blissful upbringings involving organic farms, extensive opportunities to roam, build cubby houses and a broad interest in sports. Our small 12-acre property was 30 minutes south of Hobart, although I attended school in the city.
Whilst notoriously uncoordinated, I found strength as an elite swimmer, before transitioning into the sport of orienteering. Here I found my true youthful calling and I used running and trail running as a medium to train for this. At the end of 2005 I faced significant adversity, with two parallel events tearing apart my family and also risking my ability to ever run again. Determined to climb out of this darkness, within 6 months I found myself as both a Junior and Senior World Champion, becoming the only athlete outside of Europe to ever claim these titles, and the only junior to win both the youth and senior titles in the same year. This really catapulted me into the spotlight, and I struggled quite a bit after this point to find my feet, both in sport and in my medical studies. In 2009 I started ‘Find Your Feet’ as a hobby whilst I ‘worked out what I wanted to do’, I knew I wanted to assist other adult runners with their biomechanics and knowledge of training & running. The business has grown in a very natural and authentic journey, now shared with my husband, we’ve moved into: coaching & education; trail running tours; and an enormous adventure retail presence in the Australian outdoor retail market. In 2015 I won the Telstra Young Businesswoman of the Year for Tasmania! Thanks to this exposure, I have also taken on the role of the tourism, recreation and business advisor in the Tasmanian National Parks & Wildlife Advisory Council.
What is it about trail running that has you hooked?
I came from sports and a private school upbringing that was very results driven. As I grew into my place in the world of elite sport, climbing the international orienteering ladder at a very young age, I faced significant adversity at critical points in my youth & development. The trail running came to become a really important outlet, a place where I found both inner and outer peace and tranquillity. Further to this, as I became more adept on the trails, each trail became a window into a landscape, to different regions and cultures all over the world.
I am so grateful that I found trail running, because it has brought out the inner child within me, the one who grew up on an organic hobby farm and was a true rebellious tomboy at heart. Trail Running has also helped me to find my feet, and has given me a way of understanding my story and what I have to offer the world. In other words, it has given me a greater sense of self, joyous experiences, and helped me to find my voice.
Takayna is the latest film produced by sustainable outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, documenting the importance of protecting the takayna / Tarkine region. You are fighting to save the Tarkine region and gaining global support. Can you inform us on what is happening in the area? What should we know?
I think the question really is, what is not happening in takayna? This area is extraordinarily beautiful, with its globally significant undisturbed tracts of temperate rainforest, its extensive button grass plains and then long stretches of pristine coastal habitats – all containing valuable insights into our Tasmanian Indigenous culture. There is such an opportunity to showcase this beauty to the world, especially through sensitively developed hiking trails. Furthermore, large portions of takayna are not protected and threatened by mining leases, forestry operations and damaging recreational activities such as ATV & 4WDs. If we can create a shift from these devastating and unsustainable developments, to a sustainable tourism and conservation approach then I believe we can protect this region. Optimally, I would love to see this area protected as part of the broader Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and if not this, then as a takayna National Park with a well-crafted Management Plan to protect her uniqueness & absolute global significance.
In what ways can the women (and men) reading this interview support you and the Tarkine region?
I believe that one of the best ways you can support this region is to come and see it with your own eyes. Once you see takayna’s expansive beauty, with trees whose girths are larger than many Australians backyards, and the pristine white beaches that stretch into the horizon supporting middens that form sand dunes reaching back into the plains behind, then you will also want to protect it. If our Tasmanian Government can realise the demand for this area to be protected then we have a far greater chance of realising our dream of takayna as part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
Furthermore, I am so grateful that Patagonia is stepping into the forefront of campaigning to protect takayna. I strongly encourage your readers to visit their website, to watch the film, and sign the petition requesting the Tasmanian Government to consider takayna for World Heritage Protection change.org/takayna.
When you’re out on the trails, what are some tips you have to “leave no trace” and make sure the only thing you leave behind is your footprints?
I am really thankful that on-the-whole, trail runners are really conscious of protecting the beauty of the landscapes that they enjoy recreating in. Obviously, we always need to adopt minimal impact bushwalking principles too, such as leaving no rubbish, or gel wrappers, and keeping to the formed tracks. However, I also believe that we need to encourage trail runners to consider their impacts further afield than the trails and races themselves. I call this ‘Being Wilder’, and it is about self-empowerment. What can you do today that can make a smaller impact on our planet? For instance, I refuse to accept paper coffee cups as a need in our society, at cafes, events or even aboard aircraft. There is no excuse for not bringing your own carry cup these days! And don’t get me started on plastic bags! So, the question is, how can you change small ways, such as saying no to coffee cups, choosing organic or avoiding plastics? It is these small changes that will make a huge difference to the preservation of our wilderness regions. For as long as we continue to unsustainably and un-thoughtfully consume, we continue to put pressure on wilderness being munched for resources.
What race are your next looking forward to?
Actually, I have no races planned on the horizon. I am really looking forward to hosting a number of tours across Tasmania and further afield, helping to educate trail running participants on the joy of adventuring and seeing the trails as windows into a landscape. However, I also have a plethora of wild missions on my own bucket list! I dearly hope to run the length of takayna this summer, and to also return to the Wilderness World Heritage for some wild adventures to remote peaks. For me I have noticed an internal shift from performance to playing. I also find these wild missions a really wonderful opportunity to observe the health and well-being of our wild areas, and to feed these insights back into my conservation work as a Tasmanian citizen, within Find Your Feet, and in my role on the National Parks & Wildlife Advisory Council.
You offer a lot of advice as a coach with your business ‘Find Your Feet’. What’s the best advice you have had from another coach, runner or mentor?
In some ways there is not one piece of advice that jumps out at me, but rather an accumulation of life experiences and the wise words of my mentors that has culminated in a deep-seated personal philosophy. This is:
- Be Wilder – we need to really come to understand the ‘ME’, at the core of our being and our values. At the heart of being wilder is a need to be proud of who we are and what we have to offer, to be self-empowered.
- Play Wilder – Then I believe it is vital to learn about what we truly love. What makes us tick? What makes our toes tingle? This is where we should concentrate our efforts and use our passions to learn, grow and experience.
- Perform Wilder – Only then do I believe we are ready to perform wilder, to seek out ways to test our skills, capabilities and to strive for mastery. Without the first two stages this experience would be shallow and unsustainable in the long term.
What’s nest on your ‘life-to-do” list? Any exciting new projects with your business, conservation or running?
I am really keen to continue striving for ways to explore my place in the world, and where I can have my greatest impact. I see now that my 20s were about experiences. I now see that my 30s are shaping up to be about consolidating my knowledge & growing as ‘Hanny’. That is, to be more to do more.
Further to this, I am absolutely committed to assisting other individuals to share some of the experiences and knowledge that I am blessed to have had access to, and to continue to push my learning about tourism, recreation, leadership and performance back into my business & directorship roles. I’m also itching to continue to play wilder on the trails, and to use these runs to shed light on the need to conserve and sensitively enjoy our wild spaces. I used to think this love of running was a selfish act, but I have come to realise that through my legs and love of running,
I have a voice. And I will continue to use this voice in any way that I can for the sustainable development of Tasmania, for our communities, and the adventurous individuals within them. My Find Your Feet Podcast and Find Your Feet Trail Running Tours are a vital source of storytelling and sharing of knowledge for me.