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This week, Sonya and Hannah sat down to answer your questions.

Sonya Looney is a professional mountain biker, Word Champion, 4x National Champion and has taken on and won the hardest endurance stage races and 100 milers around the world. She has her Master’s of Science in Electrical Engineering, has completed pre-med coursework, and is a Certified Health Coach from Vanderbilt University’s Department of Integrative Medicine. She also is a mental performance coach.

Hannah Otto, professional mountain biker and gravel racer for co-title sponsors Pivot Cycles and DT Swiss. She has a degree in Athletic Training (healthcare) and Exercise Scientist, is a USA Cycling Coach and a Board Certified Athletic Trainer. Hannah was a 2020 Olympic Long Team Member and the 2022 Leadville Champion, and 4x National Champion.

“Personally, I use power to inform my perception. And so if my power and my perception are in totally different places, that’s all I’m using it for is to understand that I’m perceiving a different sensation than what I’m putting out. And then using that information to guide my next step. So if my power is really, really high, but I feel like I’m going easy, great. I’m using that information to understand that I’m having a really good day and I need to be intelligent and not overdo it too early, and be hopeful about everything that is to come. If I’m feeling exhausted, and my power is really low, then I’m using that to understand, okay, maybe I’m fatigued, maybe I’m under fueling, maybe I’m under hydrating. I’m taking a moment to think through, what are some things I can do to help my body right now. I’m never looking at that power and just making assumption of, I’m not doing well or I’m gonna win today. I’m just using that number to guide my next step.”

– Hannah Otto

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Key Takeaways

  • Motivating others and yourself
  • Using curiosity
  • Picking challenges
  • What is your why?
  • Setting realistic goals
  • Training for climbs
  • Power is just a metric
  • Life lessons from professional mountain biking
  • Gaining confidence to ride or run in the backcountry
  • How privateering differs from a team

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Transcript

Sonya Looney: So I’m excited for today because we get to tackle some questions together. And it’s fun to get a really awesome person like you on the show to talk about some of these things.

Hannah Otto: Yeah, I think it’ll be really fun because they think we’ve experienced so many similar things, but at the same time, a lot of different things. And I’m guessing that’ll show through in these questions. And hopefully, we’ll be able to relate to different people as well.

Sonya: Yeah, I think a lot of times people look at pros, and they’re like, they have it all figured out, or everything’s easy for them, or whatever. And, at least for me, that’s not the case.

Hannah: Oh, absolutely not. I feel like, I mean, gosh, every day, I feel like things change. It’s just that element of what serves you at one time might not serve you at another and it just constantly ebbs and flows. And so I’m always trying to figure it out.

Sonya: Yeah. And I guess, as a coach, what kind of things do you have to figure out with your athletes whenever they’re starting an offseason or a new season?

Hannah: Yeah, I mean, it’s such a great question, because I feel like something that surprised me a lot when I first started coaching was really that personal relationship. I went to school, I’m trained in the physiology, you train and learn all these elements of coaching, how to train someone. But so much of coaching is that personal relationship and learning what makes someone tick. And so that’s really the biggest thing for me is when I first do a consult with a client, I’m asking questions, but I’m also just listening to how they answer them as a person. I’m trying to gauge what excites them. What is their motivation level? What kind of energy do they have? I’m really trying to learn them as a person as well. And so in the offseason, that’s something that I’m trying to pick up on as well is not just concretely what are their goals, someone can list those out loud, but can I hear the excitement in their voice when they talk about them?

Sonya: Hmm, yeah. And I think a lot of people will look at themselves and look for their own excitement, like we were just talking about how, you know, you took a couple weeks of a break, and this is really common for a lot of athletes is to take a little bit of a break going into the next training cycle, and to feel motivated and excited again. And sometimes, at least for me, sometimes I don’t feel motivated and excited after taking a break. And it takes a little bit of time to get that motivation back.

Hannah: Absolutely. And I think that’s for a variety of reasons. I was talking with someone yesterday, actually, about, and we just talked about this a little bit, too, is maybe you’re not motivated, not because you don’t want to ride, maybe you want to ride really, really badly, actually. But there’s things like weather, maybe you don’t want to be freezing cold. Maybe you have other things on your plate that are taking away from that joy and excitement of riding. And so instead of feeling bad and guilty about the fact of, oh my gosh, why don’t I have the motivation to ride? Maybe it’s actually analyzing the other things in your life and being excited that hey, maybe at this point in your life, something else is exciting you more and that’s okay, as well.

Sonya: Yeah, I think something else that’s interesting to think about in the offseason is you mentioned, if you’re not excited to ride, so if something else is exciting you more, because some people live in places where… I used to live somewhere where I had to ride the trainer all winter. Or maybe people love different sports, and they couldn’t do their sport in the summer. So what other things could you do that are still physical that are exciting for you? And I know for me personally, I like going trail running in the winter, because it doesn’t take me as long to get ready. Whereas getting ready to go ride in the winter takes forever. And there’s a simplicity to it. And also, I find that switching sports if I am feeling burnt out and tired, that can help too because it just it takes away expectations of how I should feel or how I want to feel.

Hannah: Absolutely. I feel like, gosh, I feel like that’s something that is missed a lot is simply mixing things up can help so so much. I mean, you asked like what other things can you do, you can trail run, you can skate ski, you can tour. You can do strength training. There’s so many different things you can add in. But sometimes just mixing it up on the bike as well can add that excitement. Like you said, trail running takes less energy than putting on 18 layers to go outside for a ride. That alone can be exhausting. And if you have one hour timeframe that you can ride every morning, you don’t want to spend 30 of those minutes putting clothes on. So maybe there are days where also just jumping on the trainer, maybe you can keep your bike on the trainer or you have a stationary bike that you can jump on and that’s really fast and that motivates you, but then maybe after a while you’re tired of riding stationary, and you need to put on those 18 layers and get outside and feel that fresh air. And that’s where I feel like being okay with the fact that motivation for different things ebbs and flows and listening to those emotions and finding what serving you at that time can be really valuable.

Sonya: I’m sure people are listening are like, yeah. Listening to you, I’m like, yeah.

Hannah: It’s so much easier said than done, though. Because we have such a tendency, I feel like to just, I don’t know, experience guilt and disappointment above curiosity and exploration. We have these emotions and instead of thinking, hmm, I wonder why I feel this way. We just think, man, I’m really bummed I feel this way. Or I’m disappointed in myself. It’s so interesting that we go down one path before the other so often.

Sonya: Using curiosity is something that I think about every single day. And I think it’s really powerful. And a lot of times underrated. I think people are talking about it more now. There’s a great book that’s called Unwinding Anxiety, and the guy that wrote it is his name’s Jed Brewer, and he’s an MD, PhD, and he’s been on the podcast a couple of times. But he actually has helped people change their habits, like quitting smoking, and they have all these people have all these different habit loops. And is by using curiosity, because that actually turns on a different part of your brain than like the judging part of your brain.

Hannah: Oh, my gosh, I love that. How you said, you feel like you use curiosity every day? How do you feel like you do that?

Sonya: I always just ask why I’m doing something and how that connects to a value or a strength? Or instead judging, there’s always craziness happening around here with trying to manage my time with the kids. And instead of being like, oh, it needs to be this way, it’s well, what, how else could it be? Or how does it feel right now? Or like just asking powerful questions to yourself and and that’s something like in health coaching is a huge thing is, as a health coach, you rarely are telling people what to do. There’s a specific way of giving information. But when someone’s working with me, I don’t say you should do this. It’s always about asking questions, to help people process on their own what are and with, but help them process what it is that they really want. And talking out loud, is so powerful, so that asking yourself a question that can really help and the journaling aspect of asking yourself a question and answering that question, too.

Hannah: I love that journaling and answering questions out loud, because I don’t know if anyone will relate to this, but maybe if you pause and really think about it, I feel like there’s a lot of times where I’ll have a dialogue in my head and I will ask myself that question. But I won’t immediately have the answer, so I’ll just kind of run over it or even think, oh, I don’t know, or just because that’s how it is or you know, just a blank space. But when you force yourself to say it out loud, or write it down, sometimes you’ll really have to sit there for a couple minutes and think and put it into words. And I think that can be super powerful.

Sonya: Yeah, it addresses the question is that really true? Is that 100% true? And a lot of times, if it’s a judgment or a self criticism, it’s usually not 100% true.

Hannah: Yeah, absolutely.

Sonya: Let’s dive into some of the questions that people submitted. And for those of you listening, thanks so much for sending in these questions. We cherry picked a few that I thought would be relatable to lots of different people. So Hannah, you can go ahead and start. The question is, how do you pick challenges?

Hannah: Yeah, I think this is great, just based on how we started, because I thought about this a lot. And I think, really, the main thing is, by deciding if the challenge is in line with my why, or my overall goal, is a really great guiding principle to start with. And that’s something that’s so interesting to me as a coach, because a lot of the time during this time this season in particular, I’m getting on calls with people where we’re discussing goals for next year. And a lot of people like to start the conversation asking me as the coach, what should my goals be? And it’s fair, I’m the coach, I want to help guide that. But I want to know what makes you excited. If I set a goal for you, you might not have the motivation to reach out for that. And so I always want to hear, well, what excites you? What is your overarching plan? What do you want to achieve? So when I think of a challenge, I’m thinking, does it meet my overarching goal or my why for the sport? Does it make me excited? Will it keep me excited, and then also making sure that that goal or that challenge still falls into those smart goals, so it being specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and of course time bound?

Sonya: Yeah, I think a lot of times people ask what should my goal be because number one, they want to know physically what am I physically able to go after because maybe they’ve been working up towards something. But also maybe they don’t know what their their why is. And that can be or maybe they’ve lost their why. I know for me personally, when someone asked me what’s your goal for next year, I’m still I’m still wading through that. Because before I had kids, my entire career was I’m going to chase after these races and far off places, these really hard stage races and countries I’ve never been to and wouldn’t even imagine going to, and that’s how I set my goals is. Is this a crazy adventure? That sounds really cool. Is this a place I would never go to on my own? That’s how I would choose my challenges. And I have to set challenges in a new way now. Because I want to be there for my kids. And when they’re a little bit older, I want to do some more international racing, and it’ll be certainly less than it was. But currently, I want to be there for my kids when they’re babies and toddlers. So how do I pick a challenge that is still exciting to me coming from that that past? That’s really different than it is now. And I don’t have an answer to that. And that’s really hard to not have an answer to that. So, yeah, I think that the way that I’m moving forward is I want to connect with community first. And that’s how I chose the races that I chose last year or this year I guess. I did the High Cascades 100 in Bend because I love the community in Bend and I did a race in Steamboat and I did a brace in Breckenridge because I love the community in Colorado. So for me, physically, I don’t know, it’s kind of weird. Like, I look at a race, I’m like, yeah, I know that I could do a lot of these races. I don’t know if I can do them and win the race. But that’s not really my goal whenever I’m starting a race, it’s how can I prepare my best to show up to this thing? And that’s, I think, what a lot of people’s goals are. So for me, is the place somewhere that I want to ride? Number one. And number two, is this a community that I want to connect with and can I take my family? So that’s how my challenges and picking up challenges has changed over the years. And my why I would like to hear what yours is, but my why, when I first started racing, almost 20 years ago, is I want to prove that I am good. And that was kind of a deprivation space, it’s not a great space to be whenever you’re a pro. I want to prove myself. Well, whenever you line up to a start line, you don’t have control over what that finishes. So lining up to prove yourself is not a healthy place. Then it became I want to do my best. I want to give it my all I love the process of training, I want to see how far I can go. And now my why is really, how can I learn more about myself so that I can help others be their best? And that is what the new why is and what it’s been in the last I would say, maybe five, seven years. What’s your why?

Hannah: Well, first, I love the fact that your why has like shifted and changed throughout the years. I think that that really shows people… I think it shows them something really valuable. Because I think a lot of the time we talk about whys as this huge idea that’s unalterable, and it can be really intimidating, then to pick your why, like, oh my gosh, I’m committing to this for a lifetime. And you’re not it’s totally fine, if that shifts and changes. And a lot of the time when I think of whys and goals, I think of these sort of umbrellas is I might have one huge one that overarching is like my whole mission statement. And then the smaller ones throughout of, well, this is my why of why I’m doing these things. And this is my why of why I’m doing these things. So I think really what got me into sport was this why have I really I believe that God has given me these gifts and challenges. And so I want to go out there and I want to use them and I want to do the best that I can do to honor those gifts and challenges. And then as I discovered in my career that oh my best is pretty good, I realized that I want to challenge myself as far as I possibly can. And so a big why of mine is just simply seeking improvement and seeking to be better than I was yesterday. And so with that, for me, when I pick my goals, I’m picking races that I feel like really stretch me and I want to line up on straight lines against people that are better than me. And so I’m always seeking out races that I feel like are going to push me to reach that next level. And so when I’m looking at my race calendar, and I’m trying to see if it meets my why, a lot of my excitement is coming from do I feel like this is stretching me? Do I feel nervous about the fact that gosh, this race is going to be really really hard; this competition is gonna be hard? That’s when I know that, okay, like, this is going to motivate me for months to be excited to challenge myself for this.

Sonya: Yeah, I think the little bit of, I don’t want to call it anxiety, because that makes it sound negative, but that little feeling of oh, my palms are a little bit sweaty right now, that is so exciting whenever it comes to taking on any challenge. And I’m actually really interested in doing some trail running races. Because when I think about doing a 50k trail running race or something like that, my palms do get a little bit sweaty. Am I gonna be able to do that? So I think a lot of people are they shy away from that. And I also love what you said, if I want to line up with the best so that I can be my best to. And recently, I put out a podcast on what competition means and how it’s amazing whenever you get to line up with people who are going to be better than you. But if you’re looking at competition as a zero sum game, or as a way that is going to show weaknesses, or all these different things, and it’s going to be really scary to line up for a start line whenever your self worth is on the line.

Hannah: Absolutely. And you mentioned that, if it makes you a little bit nervous, or your palms are sweaty, it’s probably a good goal. But how would you respond to someone, maybe an athlete that you’re working with, when that challenge that they really want to do is maybe outside of reach at this point, whether it’s logistically, like you mentioned earlier, man, I really want to do this race, but it’s not in the cards for me to travel that far this year. Or maybe physically, like maybe someone wants to run a marathon in two months, but they’ve never done more than a 5k. How would you respond to those type of goals that are a little bit out of reach at this point?

Sonya: Yeah, I would probably say, what is something else that you can do that is not quite that far, but also similar? Like someone who’s never ran a marathon, they might find a half marathon to be hard. Or if they want to travel to a race and they can’t afford it, or their family can’t go or whatever it is, what is something else that you could do? And just using again, that curiosity, what else could you do? That would help not only further down the path so that you can do that thing later, but that will also give meaning and purpose now?

Hannah: Yeah, I like that you said that you can do it later. Because I think there’s a lot of idea that if you don’t tackle something right now, it’s never going to happen. And for someone who’s really motivated and goal driven, that’s simply not true. It is okay to have a goal way out there in the future that you’re striving towards. You can get there, you just have to create the steps in between.

Sonya: Yeah, and I think something else is what what are you trying to feel by achieving that goal? Because we have talked about this a lot on the podcast. So people that listen a lot are probably like, here she goes again, but if you’re going after a goal to feel a certain way, you’re probably not going to feel that way when you get there. It’s how are you going to plug those holes? Or even just feel better today? What are you striving for? What are you trying to feel because getting a shiny thing, getting a goal, you’re going to be excited about it for a short period of time, but then it’s the hedonic treadmill. What’s next? What’s next? So what do you need today in order to start working towards the person that you want to become?

Hannah: Absolutely, I think about that a lot, especially in achievement, actually. Because I feel like when you’re at one of those highs, you become really aware that it’s not going to last forever. When you’re standing on that podium, you can really take it in and think this podium is what 15 seconds, you go home, you celebrate for a couple of days, and then everyone moves on, including you. And so it has to be a journey that makes you excited. And then in the same way, I think it’s really, really important to remember that when you fall short of your goal, because that’s when I actually forget that flipside is, in the moment when I achieve my goal, I’m very aware that it’s short lived, that the celebration is short lived. But when I fall short of my goal, for some reason, it feels like I’m gonna sit in this disappointment forever. And that’s not true, either.

Sonya: Yeah, I love that point. The struggles just make it feel like you’re going to be there forever. And a lot of people’s struggle isn’t not making the podium, it’s something else. It’s maybe they haven’t been able to, for a while, get to where they want to be or they have started and stopped and started and stopped. And they’re still not getting there. And it’s super hard. And it feels like it’s going to be that way forever. But yeah, it sounds like the big picture thinking for both successes and for challenges is super important and recognizing the impermanence of it all. So the next question someone sent is how do you train to be faster on the climbs?

Hannah: Yeah, do you want to tackle this one first, or should I go?

Sonya: I will try. I’m not a coach like you are, so I’ll say what I’ve done. This question can be hard because some people might live some Where, where they don’t have a lot of climbing and I have never been in that boat, so hopefully you can help shed some light into there. But I think climbing is a couple of things like number one, it’s muscle tension. Whenever you’re going up a climb like that the terrain might be the thing that’s dictating how hard it is. Whereas if you’re going on a flat, maybe you’re the one who’s dictating that. So being able to handle the tension, and doing things to build muscle tension. So for me, it would be training on the climbs, and doing sweet spot type intervals. So 10 minute intervals on the climbs, maybe 20 minute intervals on the climbs, but also doing shorter, more intense intervals in your training cycle so that if there’s like a rock or something, or you gotta pass somebody, or there’s a steep section, that it’s not going to blow you up, and you’ll have the power to get past that. And just some of the lower cadence stuff, I think is really helpful too. Because whenever you’re on a climb, and you can’t control again the grade or the effort, being able to pedal and not stop and be pedaling at a low cadence is really helpful.

Hannah: Yeah, I completely agree. I think, if you have the ability to, the answer of how to be faster on climbs is to simply do them, which may sound very basic, but this is something that I learned that not everyone knows. People think that in order to do climbs, or in order to be allowed to do climbs, their workout has to be hill repeats, or hill specific, and it doesn’t. You can absolutely go out, do sweet spot intervals, FTP intervals, really any intervals on climbs. You want to do all sorts of train in your training. So that doesn’t mean that you’re going to do every single workout on climbs. But mix it up. You can do workouts on flats, you can do it on climbs, it’s totally fine. As long as you’re hitting your powers, you’re achieving the workout. So don’t be afraid to go out and do the workout on climbs. In fact, a lot of people will ask, why is it harder to hit my power on flats than on climbs? And it is because there is a difference. And it’s actually very complicated as to why it comes down to physics and kinetic energy and a whole bunch of stuff that’s a lot of mathematical equations. But there is a difference in how your power gets put out in those elements. So it is very important to do them if you have the ability. If you don’t, if you live somewhere where it’s totally flat, then it is going to be the next best thing. And unfortunately, that’s just how it goes. It’s not the best thing. It’s the next best thing. And that’s fine. Because no matter where you live, there’s going to be things that are great about where you live, and negative things about where you live. I feel like professional athletes, if there was one magical place that was the best in the world, we would all be there, I promise. And we’re spread out. So it just goes to show that there’s positives and negatives to everywhere. If you do live in a flat area, though, I highly recommend just finding really steep climbs. A lot of the time, even if you don’t have big mountains or something, you can still find a 20/30 second climb. A lot of the time, they’re in neighborhoods. Sometimes it’s a drive way. And honestly it’s better than nothing. Going out there and doing a lot of repeats up that climb, it can still help with some of that muscle memory. And then finally, the low cadence work the variable cadence work if you are stuck on something truly flat, or even a trainer just mixing up your cadence will help you learn how to function at all those different tensions.

Sonya: I think another thing to say is that pacing on the climb is something to consider whenever you’re training and whenever you’re just out riding a climb, because everybody will tackle a climb differently. And it depends on the length of the climb. Like if you’re doing the power line climb or the Columbine climb in Leadville, you’re not gonna like hit the bottom of that climb and start hammering as hard as you can. You need to be able to pace yourself. Whereas if you’re doing a climb that’s maybe a minute, you might be pacing yourself a little bit different to try to carry momentum. So asking yourself, how long is this climb, if you know how long it is. And then is this a sustainable pace for me to be going on this climb. And then you can use those if you’re training for an event and you know relatively how long the climbs are, if they’re long or short or medium or a variety, you can use that type of terrain to inform the interval training that you’re going to do so that you can be of the fitness that you want to get over those climbs.

Hannah: Absolutely and learning, exactly like you said, how to pace the climb and how to output the power that you need in order to hit that pace on the climb. So a lot of the time people think, well I have to maintain this power. Let’s say you want to maintain 200 watts on the climb. Well if you’re doing 250 watts and you’re not in your easiest gear, put it in your easiest gear, so you can go a lower power, you’ve got it. So go down to your easier gear. And then if you’re still doing more than you want to do, if you’re still doing that tuner and 250 watts in your easiest gear, it’s okay to slow down your cadence for a little bit of that climb so that you can go a lower wattage as well. So that’s where learning different cadences can also help because it’s probably going to be a lot better to have a slightly lower cadence across that climb than it is going to be to be putting out a power that’s significantly above your threshold or above your pace just in order to hit that 90 RPMs or whatever you’re aiming for.

Sonya: Now to get into the weeds a little bit, your power number will change based on condition. So altitude will… when I was racing Breck Epic, I just took the power meter off my bike because I live at sea level and those numbers are almost meaningless to me because of how different the power numbers I was putting out. Or if it’s humid, or if you live at altitude, now you’re racing at sea level, those numbers… where working with the coach, I’m sure can really help set better goals for what those targets are. And also fatigue can change what those targets are. And there could be like a lot of judgment of why should it be hitting 200 watts, but now I’m not, what does that mean? And yeah, what are your thoughts on that?

Hannah: Totally, that’s where I think it’s important to understand that power is just a metric that we use. So it is it’s the gold standard for how we can train on the bike. But when it comes to race day, personally, I use power to inform my perception. And so if my power and my perception are in totally different places, that’s all I’m using it for is to understand that I’m perceiving a different sensation than what I’m putting out. And then using that information to guide my next step. So if my power is really, really high, but I feel like I’m going easy, great. I’m using that information to understand that I’m having a really good day and I need to be intelligent and not overdo it too early, and be hopeful about everything that is to come. If I’m feeling exhausted, and my power is really low, then I’m using that to understand, okay, maybe I’m fatigued, maybe I’m under fueling, maybe I’m under hydrating, I’m taking a moment to think through, what are some things I can do to help my body right now. I’m never looking at that power and just making assumption of, I’m not doing well or I’m gonna win today. I’m just using that number to guide my next step.

Sonya: Yeah, I think a lot of people will look at a number, whether it be their heart rate, or their power, or their speed, or whatever it is, they’re using to inform and use that as a judgment of, I’m not very good today, or just period.

Hannah: Yeah, and I think that that can be a really slippery slope, especially in something like a warm up. I know that that’s been something that I’ve really had to recalibrate in myself over the years, because you do a warm up and you get used to seeing certain numbers, and you get used to having certain sensations with those numbers. And the second you have a different sensation, you start thinking, oh my gosh, something’s off, and you haven’t even gotten to the start line yet, you’re still warming up. And that is just such a bummer. And so I actually changed my warmup pretty frequently because of that, so that I can’t have set things of oh, this is how I feel when I do X, Y, and Z. And then also, I feel like this is where I’ve just had to keep a good log, both physically writing it down and mentally of acknowledging, there are days when I feel terrible in my warmup, where my power and my perception are in totally different places and I still go out and I have an excellent workout or an excellent race. And so I have to pull back on those moments and remember that just because this happens, it doesn’t mean that this other thing is gonna happen. Things are separate.

Sonya: I like a word that I’ve heard you use several times is use the word “sensations” associated with the power number instead of pain or whatever the word that you want to use, because sensations is more of a more curious word than a judging word.

Hannah: Mm hmm. Yeah. And I mean, it goes back to that curiosity, you’re so right, because I think even in workouts, I feel like that’s when I have my best workouts is when I’m literally asking myself, that’s the piece of this statement that I want to emphasize, during the interval. It’s not I have to hold this number for three more minutes. It’s, I wonder if I can keep doing this for three minutes. Because that sounds exciting to me. That sounds like someone who wants to hold it for three more minutes. Saying I have to hold this for three more minutes sounds like someone who’s about to give up.

Sonya: Yeah, that just makes me think of some of the trainer road intervals on the trainer. And I remember over the last couple of years, looking at the number or the number of intervals, and being like, okay, I’m gonna do one more, I wonder if I can do one more. And I wonder if I can do one more. And then you get to the end, you’re like, I did it, instead of looking at the entirety of the workout. So this is applicable to somebody who’s signing up for a race, especially an ultra endurance race, or doing a hard workout. If you look at the entirety of the thing, it can be way too intimidating. Like you’re in mile five of the race, and you’re like, I have 95 miles to go. It’s how can you set small, achievable goals along the way, they’ll help you get towards the end without focusing on the end.

Hannah: Yeah, and I think to bring that back to climbs, I think that that’s something that’s really important to do, when you’re climbing specifically, especially if you’re not used to climbs, because you have to take climbs in small pieces, just look at the next thing and say, I wonder if I can get to that tree, to that small flat place that levels out, whatever it might be, because every climb, no matter where you are in the world is going to change. It’s going to change in it’s profile, just in the smoothness of the gravel, whatever it might be. And I know that if I’m really suffering on the climb, that’s a story that I’ll tell myself. I’ll say, well, it’s going to change. The climb will change because sometimes even just the smallest little 1% gradient decrease can change everything mentally, emotionally, physically. And so I think it’s really important, especially when you’re climbing and you’re hurting, to hang on to that hope and that curiosity of I wonder if I can just make it to the next whatever it is.

Sonya: My two year old, he always says, I wonder what this is. And he points at stuff; I wonder what this is. And he loves to sing, “I wonder.” And that’s just really reminds me of what we’re talking about, ties in nicely.

Hannah: Yeah, I love that. Because one, it’s, it’s so great, because when I think of the word curiosity, I usually put it with that childlike curiosity. And so I love that it is, like you said, your little two year old saying that because I feel like when we are kids, we have less of a sense of limitation. We’re so much more willing to put ourselves out there to see if we can do something. And then as we become adults, we learn over the years, what those limitations are, and we hang on to them. And we say, well, I’ve already found out that I can’t. It’s like we create these barriers across the years of our lives that may or may not belong. And so I think sometimes it’s really good to remove whatever those past limitations you had and past preconceptions and just have childlike curiosity.

Sonya: Yeah. and have some fun. So the next question is, what is an aspect of being a pro mountain biker that you didn’t expect on your journey?

Hannah: Oh my gosh, this could go a million different ways. So we can share a few or I’ll share one, then you share one, and we’ll see. But there’s just so many different, but I thought back for this one, I thought back to when I first started the sport, like what is something that maybe I didn’t realize, then that I’m really focused on now. And that’s a lot of what we’re talking about, actually, is that mental side of sport. I felt like I had no idea just how emotional the sport would be, and how much my mindset would dictate my outcome.

Sonya: Yeah, I mean, underlining that hugely, I’m super passionate about that. Because yeah, I wasn’t a cyclist growing up, I grew up playing other sports and just knowing what I know, now would have been so helpful. Playing tennis and being in the heat of the tennis match, and knowing how to manage like self regulation and emotional regulation, and then knowing how to manage positive self talk and acceptance of difficult emotions, and how an outcome doesn’t define you, all of those things would have been so helpful to know beforehand. And I didn’t anticipate learning those either.

Hannah: Yeah, absolutely. And I think for me something along that same note is realizing that there are different ways to achieve the same goal. So I feel like that was a big when I had that realization was when I unlocked this whole new element of sport for me. Because I think, for me, it was always, if I want to achieve this, I have to do this. I have to do this and it’s just like pushing, pushing, pushing. And sometimes that’s pushing up against this wall that you’re never gonna break down. And once I realized, oh my gosh, I can go around, I can go under, I can climb over the wall, there’s all these different ways to get there, all of a sudden, I unlocked this ability to look at things differently. And honestly, to cut myself a little bit of a break that I don’t just have to slam into the wall, trying over and over and over. I can get there a different direction.

Sonya: Yeah, I love that. I guess this is like a really kind of bad analogy, but it’s like, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, sorry to the cat people. For me, something that I didn’t expect was what I would learn about myself and how that would apply to life. Sport just seemed like when I first started is I just gotta learn how to get fast. And it’s so much more than that. It’s learning how to live life, how to be resilient in life, how to take on challenges in life. And I think that’s why you and I clicked really well is because like, a lot of the things that we love talking about we love thinking about is that sport is a microcosm for life. And ultimately, I didn’t realize that I’d be able to help other people with that, either. It initially started off as a selfish endeavor. Let me just see how fast I can get. And then it became way more about how can I use this story to help others? And that was a huge surprise.

Hannah: Yeah, I mean, I think I completely agree. I just think especially for me, thinking, when did you start sport?

Sonya: How old – cycling or sports? 

Hannah: Competitive sport. Because you said tennis so we can go back there?

Sonya: Yeah, I played soccer, I started when I was, I don’t even know, like age five, maybe? I don’t consider, I don’t know, this journey didn’t really unfold until I entered endurance sports…this personal journey with myself. I don’t have any recollection of that before that.

Hannah: Yeah, I feel like, at least for me, starting endurance sport, so triathlon at nine, I feel like, for me, sport and life have always been so intertwined that I feel like, it’s taught me life skills, like perseverance. And it wasn’t maybe until I got older that I realized, and had that gratitude for, the fact that it did teach me that. For me, it just felt like, oh, these are personality traits. But now I feel like I have the perspective to be able to look back and be grateful for the fact that in many ways, it’s actually sport that offered me that.

Sonya: Yeah, I feel like in one race, or one event or one ride, you’re going to experience this huge range of emotions that you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. You can feel like oh, my gosh, I’m never going to be able to finish this thing to Wow, I feel better and I’m going to keep going to wow, I’m doing really well to wow, look at all these people around. There’s just so much you can experience in such a short period of time, emotionally, physically, and that is, so it’s hard sometimes. But it’s so beautiful about sport that you can experience that in a really short, even at one short session.

Hannah: Exactly. I can’t think of a better word than stubbornness, but stubbornness with the most positive connotation, because I think of a lot of the times too, when, you know, maybe you’re out for a ride and something goes wrong, you get a mechanic or something, and you’re way out there, and you don’t have cell phone service and you’re sitting there and you’re just thinking, this is it. I’m never gonna make it. And you have this moment of just total and complete helplessness. And then you realize, that’s not an option. I have to figure this out. And you do, and you find a way, and you make it. And sometimes I feel like you almost have to get into that situation where it feels completely impossible in order to realize that there is always a way out. And I feel like that’s something that, for better or for worse, I apply to life all the time is you get in these difficult situations or these sticky situations, or you just feel like you can’t, and I feel like it’s become a little bit of a mantra for me, there’s always a way.

Sonya: Yeah, keep going. I think the confidence that you learn from sport and I think specifically endurance sports, it’s just you can’t learn that from a book. You can’t learn it from reading about confidence. You have to go out there and do it and experience exactly what you just said.

Hannah: Yeah, and I would take that even a step further. I think it applies to everyone but especially I think for women because I mean, like I said, again, starting so young, being out there. A lot of what I started doing was actually trail running and being out there as this little girl on the trails even though of course it was safe and it was a controlled environment, people always no more knew where I was, I still felt so empowered being out there, like, oh my gosh, I can do this, I can go these places. And yeah, like you said, I think it’s completely priceless.

Sonya: I think there’s a lot of people that don’t feel confident going out into the forest, either in a group or by themselves, but especially by themselves. And that’s something that I take for granted, because I’m trying to change this, but I primarily train by myself. And it’s always been that way, or I’ll go running by myself. There are things that have happened, where I had to figure out how to get home. And recently something like that happened. But a lot of times people are afraid to go out there. So for this is not a question someone submitted, this is something that I’m asking you and that we can talk about is how can people gain more confidence to go out into the backcountry? Use the term back country loosely, the forest, by themselves and feel confident?

Hannah: Yeah, I mean, I think that, first and foremost, you need to establish the necessary skills to be out there. I think that there are certain things that, especially if you’re riding a bike, it might be slightly different if you’re running or something like that, where there’s less like mechanical issues that can happen. But I do think that, unfortunately, there is a little bit of a barrier to entry to being able to do that and being safe to do that. And I hope that we can break down that barrier to entry through teaching and clinics and things like that. But if you want to go out there on your own, you should know how to change or fix those basic mechanical issues, breaking a chain, getting a flat, and then you should be prepared for things like rain, weather, heat, water, whatever it is, you need to have more than you think you need, always. And so I think just like that basic preparedness, a lot of the time, if I’m going somewhere that I actually feel like is a really big ride, I’ll even carry a small first aid kit, specifically with the most important thing, in my opinion in that kit, being a pressure dressing. So that sounds like a fancy thing, but it’s literally just like an ace bandage or gauze, something you can wrap tightly around an injury. And then after that, for me, it’s letting people know where I’m going and having some sort of way that they can track me whether that’s with a GPS unit, just my phone, sharing my location. And then usually having a plan of my plan is to be back by three. If I’m not back by five, send help. So I usually have a time where you can start worrying at this time. And at this time, I need to know someone’s looking for me.

Sonya: Yeah, technology is really awesome. Now, the Strava beacon is something that I didn’t use in the past, but my husband and I use it just because we want to know when someone’s going to be home because relief is coming with the kids. But from a safety perspective that is so helpful. And a lot of the GPS is, I know Garmin does that, I think Wahoo does that so that people know where you are. Something else that’s really cool is that, there’s an app called Trail Fork, or there’s other apps out there. So if people are afraid of getting lost, you have a real time GPS of where you are on the trail, you know what the trail, there’ll be descriptions of the trail, there’ll be trail ratings as to how hard the trail is, you can see different ways to get back. Of course not 100% relying on that, because like your phone could die or could get cold or things can happen. But just having a route plan but then being able to be flexible with that and gaining confidence by maybe you try new trail sometime and see how that goes. Yeah, and I echo the understanding how to work on your bike. With running actually I want to ask you this because I feel like with with cycling, things can go wrong. And you can still get home because you have the machine to help you get home. Like if you get hurt or something. If you like fall and break your arm, you can probably still get home or whatever. But running, if you fall and you’re out there and you twist your ankle badly and you can’t walk anymore and you’re out there, that’s something that I think about. So what advice do you have on that?

Hannah: Yeah, I mean, that’s where I feel like it is scary. I mean, there’s no sugarcoating it, like you can get into bad situations out there. But again, I think it’s just preparing for those bad situations in the best way that you can. So that’s where I like to have those times of, if I’m not back by this time, worry. If I’m not back by this time, send help because knock on wood, luckily, I’ve never been in that situation. But I’ve imagined if I am in a situation where I’m injured and I cannot get off the trail on my own and I’m just sitting there, I want to be able to look at the clock and know, okay, someone’s on their way now. I don’t want to have to sit there and wonder does anyone know where I am? Is anyone going to come? Because there are some rides I do where I’m out there for six hours. So there’s a chance that if I could, people don’t know how long I’m going to be out there unless I tell them. And so that’s why it’s really important to me to have those timeframes. Because I know that if I am in pain, and if I am injured, it’s going to be the hope of knowing that someone is coming that’s going to get me through.

Sonya: Now there’s an app called Adventure Smart. And it’s for Canadians, I was just looking it up because I had the person, the director, on the podcast at one point, and it’s where you can leave your trip plan and people can access that trip plan. So for Canadians, check that one out, or people who are visiting Canada. Okay, so then the last question, since we only have a few more minutes left, is about the question says, was not having a support team hard for you and not having training camps? And I think they’re just generally alluding to like, what is privateering? And what are some of the challenges that go with that? So we both are privateers. But I’ll let you go ahead and get started with that one.

Hannah: Yeah, this question was so funny, because at first, when I read it, like was not having a support team hard for you this year? I felt this, like mild trigger where I was just like, what? I had to pause and put myself in, in a different place and think, oh, man, this is a really great opportunity to actually shed light on what I’m doing and what it is because I feel like I’ve had more support this year than ever before. And so, not having a traditional team doesn’t mean that you don’t have traditional support. So this year, I had a coach, a mechanic, an agent, nutritionist and a sports psychologist, so I definitely had an incredible village around me. And then they also asked no training camps, and I do a training camp every single year. It’s just not necessarily with a traditional team. So that means I can either do it alone, or I can, again, build my own team around me asking any athletes that I want to join. So being a privateer is definitely different than a traditional team, but I think from a support standpoint, it can be the same or even more.

Sonya: Yeah, I think that that’s actually a really good point because when you have personal relationships with all of your sponsors, because there is no team manager, like it’s you, you actually end up feeling more connected to those brands that are supporting you, versus if you’re on a team. And I’m not saying every team is like this, but if there’s a team manager that manages all of those relationships, and then you just go to your thing, that might feel a little bit different. I think maybe what this person was referring to is whenever you go to a race, and this is my experience as a privateer, it’s like if I go to a race, I don’t have a dedicated person who’s going to be there, handing me water bottle, so I gotta like figure that out. The team doesn’t come all by itself all inclusive with someone who’s going to do massage and someone who’s going to like arrange all that the housing. So as a privateer, there’s a lot more moving pieces that you have to manage that maybe doesn’t feel like support traditionally, because you have to do it yourself, but I actually liked doing those things myself. So I do feel supported, but there are people around me that I do look to for support, but there’s nobody else is managing all of those things. Is that just an additional thing that I have to manage?

Hannah: Yeah, that’s interesting to think of it that way. Because you’re right, you do have to manage those things. But just like you said, I like that. So for me, I gain a lot of value actually personally, from knowing this is the Airbnb I’ve booked. This is the rental car I booked. This is when I’m getting there. This is when I’m leaving, because I feel a sense of calm knowing that I’ve planned it the way that I want to do it and the way that I think all getting the most value out of that. So with a team, they’re going to tell you, you will arrive for this race on Thursday, and you will depart on Sunday. When I’m on my own, I might feel like there’s a great value from arriving a day earlier. And now I have that flexibility to book my own travel and arrive there on Wednesday, for example, instead. And so even though I’m the one booking those things, I think that that’s actually empowered me to feel like I have better opportunity for performance. And then I usually hire a mechanic. I always hire a mechanic to either come with me or someone that I hire there to work with me as well. So I always have a support system on the ground there with me. It just might look a little bit different than a normal team.

Sonya: Yeah, like you might not have the same mechanic every single time. It depends on the race, like a lot of stage races will actually offer mechanic and massage service. So you can just book that as part of the race. So that’s one of the reasons why I love stage races as a privateer, because I can be self sufficient. But then it’s not that hard for me to try to find somebody to support me at the race when it comes to mechanic and massage and those types of things. And I don’t think that everybody likes being in charge of their schedule, like you and I like. Not everybody wants to manage all those moving pieces, because that’s a lot of of inputs, when you’re already trying to race on top of everything else. So I think that it does take a special type of personality to enjoy the privateering piece, and to manage all the balls in the air, but Hannah, you strike me as somebody that like you have a lot of things going on at all times and you like that. And I’m the same way. I don’t want to just do one thing, I want to do lots of things. So I think that that type of personality might actually really enjoy being able to have the autonomy of picking what you want, but also wanting almost wanting the control of that, too.

Hannah: I completely agree. And I do think, for me, having a little more balls in the air at one time actually makes me better. And it’s something I have to be careful with because just like anything, there’s always a point where more is not more. But for me, I do feel like I can juggle more than a lot of people enjoy to. And having some of those little distractions makes me better, because I don’t fixate on things that I don’t need to fixate on, like getting really nervous for the race, for example. I have these other things that I can enjoy and work through and stuff like that to almost distract me. And I think that’s helpful. And I think a lot of my point in explaining some of these things and wanting to really, really advocate for privateering is because it is something that I’ve picked, and it’s something that I really enjoy. And it sounds like that’s the same for you as well. But all that to be said, It’s not saying that it’s better. My point is that teams and privateering are two different things. And they’re going to work for two different types of people. And just like we talked about at the beginning of this podcast, as well, what serves you at one time might not serve you at another and that’s totally fine. It’s just explaining that they’re different, and therefore different times and people and experiences.

Sonya: Yeah, I’m trying to think how to how to extrapolate this to people that, number one, don’t care to be sponsor, or don’t care to be a professional, but also to people who are interested in one day becoming a professional, and like what path they should take and what advice that we would have for them. I was thinking back to myself, when I first thought I want to be a pro mountain biker, it looks really different now than it did back then. There wasn’t social media back then, blogging wasn’t even a thing when I was getting started. And having I think online ability, like being able to tell a story or to reach out to a person using the internet, I think that that’s a really helpful thing to have your disposal instead of waiting for a team to notice you, I guess.

Hannah: I think for me when I because privateering it’s a word that people don’t even know who aren’t in this industry. So it is a very confusing concept. And for me, I feel like the way, at least that it makes sense to me to explain that is being on a team is like being employed by business. And privateer is like running your own business. And there’s positives and negatives to both. And I think that’s very clear when you think of it that way. If you run your own business, it’s gonna be more work, but you might gain more joy out of the autonomy, out of owning this thing out of building this thing. If you’re in a business, it’s going to be less work, your nine to five might be a little bit more set. But you might feel less of the stress of that business. In the same way, and from a financial standpoint, they might be the same. One might be more than another someone who runs their own business might make more than someone who’s in a company and vice versa. So there’s no saying that one is better than the other. It’s just two different experiences.

Sonya: All right, well, we are out of time. So thanks so much for fielding some of these questions with me. I had a lot of fun and like we just talked about talking about things out loud, out of your head, is actually really helpful and especially dealing with somebody that you really like and that you feel supported by so thanks for taking the time to do that.

Hannah: Yeah this has been so fun. Thanks for having me.

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