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Hannah Otto, professional mountain biker and gravel racer for co-title sponsors Pivot Cycles and DT Swiss, started racing at nine years old. Just over a decade later, she received her professional license in triathlon and mountain biking. 

She was a two-time high school state champion on the mountain bike and finished her college career as a 5x National Champion at Lindenwood University. 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. 

In this week’s episode, Hannah and Sonya talked about managing expectations, prioritization, good coaching and advocating for yourself. 

I think that we have to re-evaluate, like you said, sometimes more isn’t your best and sometimes pushing through also isn’t your best. There have definitely been days in both training and in racing where I’m out there just pushing and pushing and pushing; I have to keep going because I have to give it my best and I have to just push through this. And at some point you’re just like, this is not working. And you almost ease up as if the sensation would be, oh, this person gave up. But all of a sudden, you start passing people, and then you realize that when you stop pushing so hard and trying so hard, you actually uncover your best in a better way. And so I think what it means to give our best just varies so much that you have to be willing to accept that giving your best looks different on every single day.

– Hannah Otto

Listen Now

Key Takeaways

  • Should you be vulnerable?
  • When doing your best is coming up short
  • How to manage expectations
  • How Hannah prioritizes her time
  • The importance of a good coach
  • Transitions sponsorships/starting her own team
  • Learning to advocate for yourself
  • Importance of riding easy


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Sonya Looney: Hannah, welcome to the show.

Hannah Otto: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Sonya: I feel like I know you really well, just because of your blog and your Instagram account because you’re so good at telling your story, but also being authentic.

Hannah: Thanks. I mean, I feel like it’s just kind of happened naturally over the years, but especially this season, I feel like I had to make a really conscious decision, especially with like some of the highs and lows of what do I actually want to share? And I clearly what I landed on was just being super authentic and sharing everything. And my hope is that it helps someone along in their journey as well.

Sonya: How did you make that decision?

Hannah: It really just felt like what was natural to me, it just, there wasn’t a way that I could authentically share the good stuff without also diving in to some of the hard things as well. It didn’t make sense to me, because it didn’t tell the full story, it didn’t tell even why I was so happy about some of the highs if I didn’t share the lows as well. And so to me, it almost felt like there wasn’t an option, but to share them both. And then it was almost a retrospective realization that sharing those lows was actually so helpful for people. I’ve gotten a lot of messages about, oh my gosh, I went through the same thing, etc, etc. And that’s been really rewarding for me for sure this year.

Sonya: For people listening, some people might be introverted, or some people might be worried about sharing for the first time something that maybe isn’t the best, or something that makes them appear vulnerable. Did you have to wrestle with that? And if so, what advice do you have for other people who might want to help others along their journey, but are kind of nervous about being vulnerable?

Hannah: Yeah, I mean, I think that there are two sides of it. Like being vulnerable, I’ve certainly experienced the side of vulnerability that’s hard. People diving in, unsolicited advice, unsolicited comments. But what outweighs all of that are the direct messages, or people reaching out privately and saying, I experienced the same thing, or I’ve been scared of the same thing, or can we talk, I can relate. And that I feel like it’s so much about what the sport is about is when we’re out there, whether we’re talking about it or not, we’re being really vulnerable. Just by going out there, and trying our best that is such a vulnerable thing because you’re saying this is my best, this is the best that I have to give on this day. And that can be really scary. And so I think the sport in and of itself is vulnerable and to share that openly through words as well, I think is something really special because we can all relate. We’re all experiencing the same things out there, whether you’re first or bringing up the tail end. And I think that’s something really special and unique.

Sonya: What you just said is so powerful, because as we all know, sometimes you go out there and you do your best and maybe that’s not what you were hoping for that day. Or maybe you don’t feel the way that you normally feel. And that best just isn’t, you don’t want to say to people, oh, this is my best. And that might that is your best for the day and that is really scary. So how do you do that? Whenever you’re out there, and you know that you’re capable of winning the race, but you’re just you’re just not going to be able to do it that day? Or maybe you’re way off your pace for that day? How do you mentally go through that?

Hannah: It’s really hard. And I think that’s the first thing to note that everyone should know is it’s hard. And it’s hard for everybody. So for me, it’s really going back to your why and also your overall goal, which for me, my goal is to be the best that I can be every single day that I ride, whether that’s training, or a race, and all I want to be able to do is look in the mirror at the end of that ride and say I did everything I could today. And sometimes, like you said, it’s not the result that you wanted. But those are the days when I think it’s actually the most important to look in the mirror and say that because it takes away any sort of feelings of guilt or regret or sadness because you look in the mirror and you say I did everything I could; there was literally nothing else I could do. And once you accept that it becomes easier to move on. And it becomes really special when you get to look in the mirror and say I did everything I could and it was a massive victory, and it just shows that you can have the same outlook and a different result. And so that result is really the outcome rather than the process, if that makes sense.

Sonya: There’s a book that I love by Don Miguel Ruiz called The Four Agreements and the first agreement is always do your best. And that’s also one of my guiding principles. But something that I wanted to point out, and I’m sure that you can relate with this, too, is that we often think doing your best means working super hard, and like you mentioned, giving it your all. But what’s not talked about is that sometimes doing your best also means going home and not overworking and having the confidence to pull the plug whenever you need to. Can you talk about that side of doing your best?

Hannah: Oh, that’s something I think that I’m still learning. And I think, every year in my career, I’m learning that better because that was certainly something I didn’t know when I first started this journey. I thought doing your best meant more and more and more and more. And I think to a certain extent, it can make sense and it can work when you start out. Which is why it’s such a confusing thing, the further down the road you get because at first, maybe you’re not training that much, maybe you’re not checking all the boxes. And so by doing more, you’re getting better, and you’re getting better. And you’re like this makes sense, do more, get better. It’s a direct relationship. But at a certain point, you kind of have checked all those boxes, and gaining that 1% it just starts to look different. And that’s when you really have to step back and reevaluate what you’re doing because especially at the elite level, getting better isn’t even always fitness. In fact, a lot of the time it’s mental. It’s what between your ears, and that’s definitely something that I’ve actually gotten really excited about getting better at because I’m discovering…one of the reasons I loved mountain biking from the start was that there were so many things that you could improve on every day, whether it be fitness or skills or equipment. And now I’m finding this whole other side of it that’s also the mental side.

Sonya: So what are you working on right now when it comes to the mental side? That’s my favorite topic is the mental side of sport.

Hannah: Yeah, I think I’m still growing. I had a really big breakthrough, I feel like, at Leadville for me mentally, because I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself, as many athletes do. I just care a tremendous amount like we all should. But sometimes caring too much can almost become a barrier. It’s like you’re just pushing up against this wall. And at Leadville, I came into it with an injury; I had a separated shoulder. And so serendipitously almost, I just removed all of those expectations, because I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. And it was one of the first times I’ve ever stood on a start line feeling a lack of nerves. I remember looking around and seeing everyone else’s nervous faces, and having this cognitive moment where I thought, oh my gosh, is that what I normally look like? Is that how I normally feel? That’s just so crazy that I let myself get to that place. And then I had one of the best races of my life just with that removal of expectations, and being able to win that event. And so I’ve really been reflecting on that. And I don’t know exactly what that looks like from now on because you’re you definitely don’t want an injury going into every event and removing expectations is a lot easier said than done. But it was certainly a huge breakthrough for me and realizing the power that that can give.

Sonya: This is something I think about all the time expectations because we kind of need expectations because we want to rise to a certain level or we want to surpass our expectations for ourselves because that’s how we get better. But then expectations can also be limiting because then you’re afraid, what did what does it mean about me if I don’t meet those expectations, or what are other people going to think about me if I don’t meet those expectations? And then that’s where pressure comes in. You’re like, well, now I have to meet these expectations. So setting a goal that pushes you but also doesn’t make you feel so nervous that you can’t perform. It’s that’s a tough, that’s a tall order. And like you said, I think it’s something that you always have to work at.

Hannah: And I think also how those expectations outline, your race trajectory is really interesting as well, because I’ve realized there’s a lot of times, you know, maybe your goal is top five, and then 10 minutes in, your 10th. You’re only 10 minutes into the race that means nothing but you’re already thinking, okay, I have to pass five people in order to achieve my goal. When am I going to do this blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, just a race and you’ll probably get there because you have long enough to get there. And so, I don’t know, I think it’s just a matter of sometimes it’s having that goal and expectation, but then releasing it when you get to the start line so that the race can come to you. And that’s really what I felt on that day, as I remember sitting there thinking, what race do I want to experience today? Not what result do I want, but what experience do I want to have? What sensations do I want to feel? And that was more of what I was chasing on that day.

Sonya: That brings you like, into the present moment and takes you away from like this outcome that you have to get. I can relate so much, and also what you said, once you start the race, and then now you’re in 10th place and your goal is fifth place, I heard you saying all positive things, okay, I only I need to pass five more people. But some people, and I’ve been in this boat multiple times which is why I’m pulling this part out, your goal is top 5 and now you’re 10th. It’s 10 minutes in? Well, I guess everybody’s better than me. I guess I’m not good enough. I guess my training wasn’t the right training. And you can start going down the negative path to have judgment and saying I am not capable of doing this.

Hannah: And writing your race story in those 10 minutes saying, you know, I’m having a bad day, and the second that thought enters your head, you’re already having an uphill battle. And that’s where I just think it’s it is such a delicate process to set a goal that stretches you, but not to allow it to infringe upon the capabilities or the experience that you have on that day.

Sonya: I wanted to ask because winning Leadville is a really big deal and then it’s not like that’s the last race of the year. Now you have to continue lining up for races, World Cup races, you just did Chequamegon, you’ve had a concussion recently. How do you continue that momentum, but also work on those expectations that you just mentioned?

Hannah: That’s such a good question, so I finished Leadville, which was definitely a huge high for me, like we just talked about. And then three days later, I got on a plane and traveled to Europe to go to the World Championship. So it was a really quick mindset shift. And I think, just like everything, there’s a balance, because you can do it two ways. You can try and ride that high out or you can immediately say, well, that’s done, next. And I’ve heard athletes proclaim either/or to be really good. Like, you know, you can never sit in one thing for too long, even if it’s great, or you’re only as good as your last race so hang on to whatever that is. And I just, I don’t think either is right. I think that it’s all about balance. And I mean, heck, I’m still jazzed about my Leadville win. I’m going to be excited about that for as long as I can be. I don’t think there’s ever a time when you have to, like get over it or move on. I think, for me, that is just another notch in my belt that I get to continue to remind myself when I do have a moment of vulnerability, actually, you can do this because remember when you did? And so for me, I hung on to that going into the next races. And I’m still hanging on to that, because to me, it’s proof that my process is working. But it’s also not an indication that it’s going to work every single time. And that’s where I think people can get a little off track as well, because they think, well, why isn’t it working now at work that day? Why isn’t it it’s not a guarantee that it’s going to continue to work. And so thankfully, I think because my experience there was releasing those expectations, that has been the piece that I’ve gotten to take away from that and continuing to pull things of – well, this went really well that day, how can I applied this moving forward? Rather than just trying to apply, I won, therefore, I should win again. It’s here are the things that worked really well how can I put those into these next races? And then looking at my goals for those individual races, like I have different goals for World Cups and World Champs than I maybe do for Leadville. And so looking at those goals and taking what I learned and applying it.

Sonya: There’s a lot that goes into lining up for a race. And you mentioned self efficacy, looking back at the things that you’ve done as proof that you can do it. But I thought that was such a an important point that just because you’ve done it in the past doesn’t mean that that you should expect to do it every time and that’s not a guarantee.

Hannah: Totally. And that’s something that is so hard about bike racing in general is there is only one winner. I think that it gets missed because there’s 10, 15 however many of us that stand on the start line every single time and we know because we’ve done it before I can win this event. And it’s kind of bizarre actually, because we live in our own little world where we’re checking our training boxes and we’re looking back at those past experiences and we’re saying, I can win today. But there’s 10 other people also saying that, and so something that I try and reflect on also when I don’t have the race that I want, is to sit around and pout, and stomp my feet and say, this went poorly, that went poorly, is actually to discredit everyone, both in front of you and behind you because they just had a better day. You didn’t have to have a bad one in order for someone to have a better one.

Sonya: It takes so much confidence to say, even if you had your best day ever, I rode really well, today, just there’s however many people that are just better than me. And that’s okay.

Hannah: And it’s funny, because I feel like that gets harder the further along you go in your career, because other people start to have those expectations on you, you know, oh, why weren’t you on the podium today? Why? Why I have to have a reason just other people were better is sometimes an okay reason. And once again, it goes back to can you look at yourself in the mirror that night and say I did my best because nobody can discredit you if you do that.

Sonya: So what happens if you didn’t do your best because that happens sometimes where you go out there, and you’re not even giving up, but you just didn’t do your best. And sometimes just if you’re even if you’re mentally fatigued, you just can’t do your best.

Hannah: I think our best looks different all the time. And that can be something challenging to wrestle with. I mean, there are certainly days where it feels like, the sensation is, I’m not giving my best. But actually, I think that is your best. I don’t know, it’s kind of confusing. I think that we have to reevaluate, like you said, sometimes more isn’t your best. And sometimes pushing through also isn’t your best. There have definitely been days in both training and racing, where I’ve been out there just pushing and pushing and pushing. I have to keep going because I have to give it my best and I have to just push through this. And then at some point, you’re like, this is not working. And you almost ease off as if the sensation would be, oh, this person gave up. But all of a sudden you start passing people. And you realize that when you stop pushing so hard and trying so hard, you actually uncover your best in a better way. And so I think what it means to give our best just varies so much that you have to be willing to accept that giving your best looks different on every single day. 

Sonya: I’m just smiling because there was one year where I decided I was going to do several enduro stage races, and it’s all blind racing. And I was trying so hard and I kept crashing, and I was just coming in way too hot and just way too overstimulated. And then whenever I finally decided, I gotta back off, I started doing better. So you can try too hard and by trying too hard, you actually make it worse. 

Hannah: Yeah, I Crusher and Crusher. This year, I was having kind of a tough race to start and things were just not clicking for me. And at some point, I thought, you know, a similar thing, what do I want to experience today? And I thought, I want to have fun. And all of a sudden I started focusing, definitely not easing up. But oh, I’m gonna have so much fun on this descent. Oh my gosh, I’m gonna have so much fun crushing this climb. And everything was centered around that word fun. And next thing I knew, I was passing people. I was catching up to groups. And it was once again just another learning experience of how we frame things can make all the difference.

Sonya: You have a lot of experience racing and when I was learning more about you for this podcast, I didn’t realize that you’ve been racing since you were nine years old. 

Hannah: I started racing track on us nine. Yeah.

Sonya: Can you tell us a little bit about your your pre mountain bike history. I mean, even mountain biking but your pre you know, elite mountain biking history?

Hannah: Yeah, so I started racing triathlon when I was nine years old. Then I raced triathlon from nine to 20. And that’s kind of a strange thing for a kid to do. I don’t come from an endurance sport family. So that’s not how I got into it. I actually was a soccer player, which is totally normal for a nine year old. And I would always ask my mom if I could get to the field early to run laps, and she started noticing this pattern and just asked, would you rather just run? Do you just want to do a running race? I said, yeah, that sounds like it makes sense. So she signed me up for this little one mile kids Fun Run. And at that race there was you know, a 5k 10k also for adults. So there was a booth and Expo and I saw booth advertising a triathlon. And, and at nine years old I said actually, that’s what I want to do. And so my mom signed me up for kids triathlon camp. I learned how to do it, and I absolutely loved it. So I raced on road draft legal, non draft legal and Xterra triathlon for the next 11 years. And when I was 16 years old, I won the Xterra amateur World Championship for all ages. And that’s when I was recruited onto the Clif pro team for triathlon. And I even went to college with the intention of being a triathlete. So I ran track and cross country Division II; I swam division two and then I was also on their road cyclocross and mountain bike team at the college. And my junior year, Clif came to me, the Clip protein came to me and said we’re discontinuing our triathlon program. You can continue as a sponsor athlete, or you can stay on the team as a mountain biker. And we’ll support you as you make that transition. And I just I had really been loving mountain biking in college. I had raised some Nikah. You know, but all of it had been framed in my mind as training for triathlon. But I recognize that I’d really loved these things. And it was an opportunity to potentially pursue sport as a career once I was done with school. And so I took the leap, and at 20, I decided to try and become a mountain biker. And, I mean, my whole world shifted, but looking back, it just feels like everything was so meant to be. I’m so thankful that this is what I get to do, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Sonya: Wow, you spent, at that point when you were 20, like over half of your life pursuing triathlon. And then your sponsor said to you, hey, we’re not going to have a triathlon team anymore, can you change direction? How did you have that flexibility after dedicating that much time in your life to switch? How did you allow that flexibility? Because I think for a lot of people, they’d be like, no, I’ve been working at this my whole life, I’m gonna keep doing triathlon.

Hannah: It’s so funny, because I look back and I question that a lot. Because I think maybe at that time in my life, when you’re a college student, and I still think I’m pretty young, but at that point, really young, you have a lot more of an open mind. And so now looking back, like, oh, my gosh, how did that. But I think it’s just that mindset of, even when I made that transition, it was kind of like, well, if it works great. And if it doesn’t, I’ll just go back. I had a lot of conviction that I loved mountain biking. It wasn’t going to be a transition that I disliked. It was just a matter of whether or not I it worked. And like I said, there was never really a moment for me, where I thought, okay, and now I’m trying to become pro or now I’m trying to earn X, Y, or Z. It was just, these are my dreams and I don’t know how far out those dreams are. And if they happen, great. And if they don’t, I’ll be flexible enough to change course. And I think some of that is flexibility and a young mind and that naïveté, but I think some of it is also being confident and stubborn enough to know that no matter what happens, I’m going to make it work.

Sonya: Do you have any memories when you were a kid of lining up for a race and feeling nervous? Or, being really worried about what other people think? Because there’s a lot of adults that start racing for their very first time, aybe they’re 40, and they’re lining up for their first race, and they have all these feelings. Can you talk a little bit about being a kid or a teenager and having those feelings?

Hannah: Yeah, once again, it’s funny because I’m obviously I’m the same person and I carry so many of the same traits. But at the same time, looking back, I see the differences in growing up and the differences in mindset over the years, some for the better, and some like, oh, I need that childlike attitude back. And by that, I mean I remember always being very nervous. So I think that’s something that actually gives me confidence now of, hey, this is probably a part of your personality. This is something that you carry. And also you’ve always cared a lot, to a fault. Like I said, I’ve always just cared so so much, and that’s why I get nervous because it mattered to me. But the one thing I don’t remember is being fearful of outcome. It’s like I don’t really know entirely what I was nervous for. I guess just wanting to perform well, but there was never a thought of what if I don’t? And I think that comes from the childlike, if I work hard, then things go well. If this then that. And it isn’t, until sometimes you experienced those moments where, because it happens, you know, you have a mechanical or you get sick before the race you really care about that it does kind of start to get in your mind of, oh, it’s not a guarantee that this will work out if I work really hard. And I think that is something that we have to battle more as we become adults, because we experience that not everything always goes correctly. But I think we can still carry that childlike mindset of, of you know, it may be it’s not, it will go well, because I worked hard. But it’s the understanding that that’s all that’s in our control.

Sonya: I also wanted to ask you about time management because I can’t even keep track of the list that you gave me of all the things that you’re doing in addition to, I think at one point, you said you’re taking 24 credit hours doing all of these things. First of all, you have an immense amount of energy to be able to do things, but how did you manage time? And has that changed at all?

Hannah:I get asked this question a lot. But I, for me, time management has always been somewhat natural. And I think it comes from the desire to do it all. Because I think that if you really want something, you’re going to find a way to make it happen. And I think that’s really great for everyone to pause in reflection for because, like you just said, even now I’m doing a lot, but in college, I was doing a ton. And I didn’t have the traditional schedule that a professional athlete would have. In fact, I was on my bike at 5:45 almost every morning to train. And for me, that was the only time I had and I wanted to do it. 

Sonya: Sorry to interrupt what time would you go to bed? 

Hannah: Oh, my gosh. It depended. But there were definitely times where I was getting a less than optimal amount of sleep. If I had a test, I might have been up studying till midnight even. But for me, and that is where, you know, learning and processing. And I’m I am definitely not advocating for sleep last and get it done. Like, please hear me that’s not what I’m advocating for. Instead, I’m just saying, there’s a mindset that if you do want something bad enough, you will likely make time for it in your life. And if you can’t make time for it, then you have to pause and acknowledge the priorities that you’re setting. And maybe those priorities are excellent. Like you can’t get in your ride today because you need to do something for your family. Family should come first. And so you can pause and reflect and say, oh, I’m prioritizing. But, for me, that’s how I’ve always I feel like been able to find the time is I just desire to do these things so much that I’m gonna find a place to fit it in.

Sonya: I don’t know if you’ve struggled with burnout at all, but it sounds like you really pack your day full. And I’m just asking this question because I’m similar to you and I have burned myself out multiple times doing things that I love, just because I’m trying to pack it all in. Have you bumped up against that?

Hannah: I don’t feel like that’s something that I’ve bumped up against yet in my career. And I think I attribute a lot of that to doing so many different things. Because I am writing and I have my own coaching business. And then I have my own athletic pursuits. And so for me, even though I’m doing a lot of things, they’re all still very different and so even when motivation, as everyone talks about isn’t a constant, it ebbs and flows, and so even when one is at a high, maybe another is at a low and they can help offset each other in that excitement. 

Sonya: How did you decide to become a coach?

Hannah: So I have two degrees ones in athletic training and ones in exercise science and so going through my college career and deciding exactly what I wanted to do with those things, coaching seemed like a really natural progression for me as an athlete myself. And so coming out of school, I started to dip my toe in it. It seemed like something that would work well with the lifestyle I was living and then I just ended up absolutely loving it. And that’s how I feel like it’s grown. And I do love the academic side of it. I love the physiology. I love the numbers and all that. But that’s the part I knew I would love. The part I didn’t expect to love was getting to know people on such an intimate level, because I feel like the people that I coach, I know their life, I know what they’re doing, I know what barriers they’re up against. And so when they cross the finish line at their A event, I feel like I got to be there with them throughout it all. And it’s a really special experience as an athlete who it can feel like such a selfish pursuit to get to then experience that with someone else. And I don’t know, just be a part of someone else’s special moment, it allows me a different perspective, as well as I get to learn so much. Even things that I think that I know, I think when you know something is when you can explain it well, or say it out loud. And there’s so many times I’ll be on a coaching call, and an athlete will say something and I’ll respond, I’m like, oh, yeah, I should definitely take that to heart as well.

Sonya: You’ve had some really impactful coaches in your life. How has having good coaching impacted or affected you?

Hannah: Yeah, I think coaches are huge. I think that growing up, I was really lucky that actually my coaches were pretty hands off. I did a lot of probably my own workout structure throughout my early years. But I had people to guide me and help me out for sure. And then I started working with my current coach, Chris. When I was in college, I’ve worked with him for seven years now. And I think, gosh, he’s just phenomenal on so many levels for me. And I think, to me the most obvious level is, he’s a great coach, he’s helped me get exponentially better through the workouts. But the piece that always amazes me is the time that he’s taken to understand me as a person and how I tick and how I feel like he already knows how I’m going to comment or respond to a certain workout before I even know. And then working through that together, especially on a season like this year where I’ve just thrown everything at him like I’m going here, oh, I’m going there. Actually, I’m doing this. And he’s rolled with the punches and helped me through the highs and the lows of that. And I think that’s what makes a really a really exceptional coach is one that understands their athlete. Well on a physical and mental and emotional level.

Sonya: It sounds like he inspires you in your coaching practice.

Hannah: Oh, absolutely. That was something that I really took away. I mean, he definitely mentored me when I first started the coaching process. But something very specific that I took away from him was I think a lot of coaches have very specific markers of when an athlete can reach out or how many times they can reach out. And he never had that. And in asking him about that, that was a decision that I made for my coaching via learning from him is just allowing athletes that pretty open line of communication, because I think it makes everyone better the coach, the athlete. It makes communication smoother to not have so many barriers in place. And so, yeah, he’s inspired me as a coach. He’s been a mentor. He’s obviously helped me in my athletic career.

Sonya: I wanted to ask you: so first, there are some professional athletes who have the luxury to focus be 100% focused on training and on sponsorship obligations. Then there’s other athletes that maybe don’t have as much sponsorship, or any financial sponsorship support that will have a job and racing is just part of a thing that they’re doing, but still feels like the main thing they’re doing. I’m not sure which box that you’re in, but it seems like there are certain people that have that full support to be focused on sponsorship and racing alone, but choose to do other things. And I’m in that category. I was wondering how you make those decisions on how much time and energy you need to be dedicated to training and racing versus starting to add in other things or starting businesses or adding more to the picture and more to the plate.

Hannah: This is an excellent question because it’s something that I think confuses people a lot, because you’re right, I’m in that boat of I have full support from my sponsors and partners. But I choose to do these additional things as well. And I choose it because I think it makes me better all around, which I think is different for everyone. Because some people they want to just train and rest and that’s how it is. But for me, I think that mental stimulus of coaching is it’s rewarding, it’s exciting and it gives me… It’s hard to describe because it gives me something emotionally, that I think makes me a better athlete. And even after a hard workout, I can still sit down on the couch, put my feet up, get my full recovery on, but I can take a step away in my brain from that workout for a second to focus on someone else’s workout, on someone else’s trajectory. And I think for me, that’s very helpful and healthy, because I’m not sitting there focusing on, how was that interval? How is that interval? I think that it’s a different type of recovery. It’s a mental recovery, it’s separating yourself. And I think that’s really helpful. That said, there’s a balance to everything. And so I do have a self imposed limit of athletes that I allow myself to take on, because I want to be the best for myself. And I also want to be the best for the athletes.

Sonya: That reminds me of one of Rebecca Rusch’s guiding principles that she talks about a lot. And she says, give equals get. And you just mentioned giving, but also getting something back in return. And that distancing that you also get from that of not thinking so much about your next race or how that workout went and giving yourself a little bit of space to help somebody else.

Hannah: I think that’s big. And I think that, I mean, just like we’ve talked about this whole podcast, like sport is an all encompassing experience. It’s not just about the intervals you do and that’s something I continue to learn every single day.

Sonya: So going along the lines talking about sponsorship, eventually you were no longer riding for Clif; can you talk about transitioning to a new team and what those sponsorship relationships look like for you?

Hannah: Yeah, so I rode for Clif for seven years, which was an incredible experience. It was great. I mean, I learned so much with that team and with those athletes. And after seven years, I decided that I had a little bit of a different goal. They were kind of pulling back to more domestic racing. And I had big goals. I felt like I was actually maybe at a different point in my career where I was moving from domestic to international, and they’re moving international to domestic. And so I made the choice to move over to the Orange Seal Off-Road Team. And I raced for them for two years. And I learned a lot there as well. And I think in my time there was I really grew as an individual. And I hit this point where I kind of just go this bee in my bonnet, this urge of I have a vision for how I can do this. And so I got really excited about the idea of what most people call privateering. But for me, it’s actually felt more like starting my own team, even though I’m the only one on it. But that’s what it’s felt like because I’ve basically started my own team, which has allowed me to have one on one communication with all of my partners. It’s allowed me to maintain the schedule that I want to maintain. So for this year that looked like going all over the world racing all different types of disciplines. And it’s allowed me more flexibility with how I spend my time, whether that’s at the venue talking with more people or it’s also allowed me the opportunity to bring my loved ones to the races, like my husband’s got to travel with me a lot this year. And these are incredible, incredible experiences that I want to build memories that we can talk about forever. So that’s been really special as well. So it’s also been a huge business venture. And I’m sure you can fully relate to that is starting your own program or your own team, however you want to say it, is basically running a business. It’s starting a business. And actually that’s been super fulfilling and exciting for me as well.

Sonya: It’s tough because there’s just so many moving pieces that I think people don’t realize are happening behind the scenes. And also challenges too, you have to go to a sponsor, and you have to write a proposal and you have to ask for money. And you have to figure out how much do I ask for? And how much am I worth? And can I deliver this value? And there’s an entire podcast that can be recorded, and maybe people are interested, in how this happens behind the scenes, but what’s the biggest thing that you’ve learned from starting your own team and having to do these things?

Hannah: Oh, my goodness, that’s such a hard question. Because I’ve learned so much. Yeah, I mean, it’s just so like you said, it’s so much behind the scenes. It is truly running a small business. So I hired an agent this year, and she’s been super helpful as well. But it all starts just with going through your race calendar, recognizing how much that’s going to cost, looking at how much of a salary you want to make, creating this number, breaking it down then into, well, I need this much from this partner, this much from this partner, seeking out those partners that are able to support you with that type of finances, but also be excited to support you in what you want to do. Because that’s a super critical part. It’s not just about the money, it’s about sharing goals together. And knowing that what I’m delivering is of great value to them as well. And then actually delivering that on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. And so, I think, for me, a lot of the learning experience, I mean, there’s the business side, like I said, of like creating the budget and blah, blah, blah, but a lot, so much of it, is actually relational and learning as a young woman, how to conduct yourself in that business standpoint, and advocate for yourself and have the confidence to not take less than you’re worth. And it’s tremendously hard. Because not everyone’s going to see that value. And you just kind of have to shake it off and know that someone will. And that’s been a huge blessing for me in that process is finding those people who see it. And then gosh, like what a great relationship when it actually is mutual.

Sonya: I hope it’s okay for me to share a little bit from my experience, that I’m still learning, of course, life is a learning process. But working with a partner…maybe the person was like the listener, they’re like, well, I’m not interested in sponsorship, but I have to advocate for myself in other places in my life. Working with somebody that isn’t going to see your value and is gonna always be undercutting you, and maybe they are offering you money, but if you feel like it’s way less than what you’re worth, that’s not a good relationship. And it’s hard because you want to just take the money because it’s there. And it’s like, oh, I’m lucky to beginning anything, if you have that attitude. Personally, I’ve ended up with less sponsors, sometimes, because I want to work with brands, like you said, that are excited, and that it’s a mutual partnership. And that can be really challenging sometimes to walk away from something or maybe you’re reaching out to brands that you’re excited about, they aren’t excited to work with you. There is a lot that happens there. And I think this comes back to Hannah to what you’re saying about what is doing your best look like? How am I trying to feel? What should my expectations be? What does success look like? And it’s it becomes very, very hard. But I love what you said about how it’s just important, especially as a woman to advocate for yourself because it feels like a lot of times people are always trying to undercut you, at least that’s been my experience. And it’s very frustrating. And it takes a lot of courage to believe in yourself and to, like you said, advocate for yourself.

Hannah: Yeah, I can only assume that these are skills that I will carry with me forever, not just in sport, but in life. Because I see it happen on a day to day basis now. I don’t mean just with sponsors, I mean, with friendships and whatever else is just being able to articulate what you need and how you feel, is huge. And I think that ability to communicate and advocate for yourself is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but isn’t often taught.

Sonya: I think surrounding yourself with people that support you. Like for me, my husband has been somebody that’s helped me whenever I start getting down on myself and I’m like, well, maybe they are right or maybe I maybe I’m not worth whatever the thing is I’m trying to get and he’s like no. And then something he said to me that I wrote down the very first year that I went, quote, privateer and started my own business was have the courage to believe that you’re worth it. And he said that to me and that has stuck with me since 2014. 

Hannah: Gosh, I love that. So as you were saying like he said something and I wrote down I got so excited because I just I can relate to it so much because it is hard. And people, especially the more in the public eye you get, people are always gonna have opinions and thoughts and you have to stay really grounded in your guiding principles and knowing that you’re worth it. Like I said, working with my agent, before the season even started, I wrote down the things that were non-negotiables. And when people tried to cross those, I had to continually look back on that list, and be confident enough to say, you know what, no, I’m gonna find someone who meets these and is excited about meeting these.

Sonya: There’s so many things that we can talk about, I just love talking with you. I’m just trying to think about the listeners, though, to make sure this isn’t just about things that I want to talk about. I’m sure that people are dying to hear some of your best training tips, because you are a coach, and you’re also an athlete with lots of accolades and experience not just in one sports, but in multiple sports.

Hannah: Oh, my gosh, that’s such a broad question.

Sonya: I’ll make it more narrow. When it comes to going out and training, it seems like a lot of people that don’t have experience training, they go out and they ride hard, or sort of hard every single ride, and they don’t realize the importance of, call it, periodization, or call it having different intensities. What is your recommendation for somebody that doesn’t have a coach that wants to get faster, but they find themselves just going out and riding kinda hard all the time?

Hannah: Hmm. Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of different ways that I could take this question, right? Because I mean, you know there’s a lot of different, a lot of science that backs the answer here. But I think the first thing that’s very basic is, if you’re just going out and riding hard all the time, you’re going to create an instance where it’s really hard to be consistent, not only because you will get tired, and you can’t go hard all the time, but you’ll experience probably some burnout, at some point. I know a lot of people who maybe like to go out and do the same climb every day. And when you start breaking your time on that climb, it’s gonna feel frustrating. And then what? And so I think just that mental side of it is a big enough reason to advocate for variety in training. But from a scientific standpoint, it’s important to understand that your body is doing different things at different intensities. And so, aerobic riding is often the thing that people take off the schedule first, when they’re a time crunched athlete. Well, why would I take time to ride easy if I only have x amount of time, but the thing that they miss is that your body can only make certain adaptations when it’s with oxygen. So when you’re breathing easily is when you’re increasing capillary density, you’re increasing mitochondria, you’re increasing all these things that your body cannot do when you’re going really hard. And so I would just encourage anyone who’s struggling with the idea of going out and riding easy because they feel like maybe they don’t deserve an easy day, or maybe they don’t want to “waste their time” is to actually start thinking about those physiological changes because it becomes more exciting, because all of a sudden, you have a reason to do these easy rides. And they can actually be really fun, too. So if you take that guilt off of yourself for doing them and start embracing the adaptations you’re making with them, I know that you will see improvements as well.

Sonya: Thanks for pointing out that there are different things that are happening physiologically in your body when you’re going easy versus when you’re going hard. And you need both.

Hannah: Yeah, like I said, I think that it can be a guilt thing for people, they feel like they don’t deserve that. And it’s just not true. You’re making adaptations both ways. That’s not for everyone, some people need a little kick in the pants to go do their hard workouts as well. But like everything we’ve talked about, it’s all about balance. So when you look at your training plan, make sure that you have balance in there. And if you’re struggling to find the balance, find someone who can hold you accountable for that, whether it’s a coach or even a friend, and schedule an easy ride with that friend every week and they won’t let you go harder.

Sonya: That’s good advice. I wanted to ask you about rest because you do lots of things. Mental fatigue is also something that happens whenever you’re working really hard, having lots of different projects. Even if you’re not physically training, there’s a mental fatigue that contributes to physical fatigue. So what do you do to make sure that you’re getting enough rest?

Hannah: Again, I think this is still a learning process for me because I am working on finding some of those limits. And I think that those limits look different in a lot of areas of life. How hard can I train? How many hours can I train is also a different question than how much can I travel? Or how often can I race? There are different limitations for all of those things. And they’re different for every person. And so for me, I think my biggest guiding principle at this point in my career has been, am I still having fun? It’s as simple as that for me, at least at this point. And that’s a place where I’m learning that I have to be flexible and being able to change if that no longer serves me at one point. But right now, I think letting fun being my guiding principle is serving me really well and allowing me to experience all the things that I want to.

Sonya: That’s such a good answer or an intuitive answer, because I forget which one it is, but there’s one of these like mental fatigue skills. And one of the things on there is assessing if an athlete is has a bad attitude, when they used to have a good attitude, or the athlete is dreading most of their workouts versus being excited about most of their workouts. And even if their HRV, their numbers are good, if mentally they’re just not excited about the workout, then that’s a sign of mental fatigue and impending burnout.

Hannah: Yeah, and that’s, I mean, I think not being excited about something is the hardest thing of all, to overcome. I think that we see it time and time again, of athletes being physically fatigued, or physically in a tough way, maybe you have a cold or something, but their desire and their joy of being there can outweigh it on a single day or something like that. And so I agree, I think taking care of that mental part is really critical. And for me, a lot of it has been the fun oriented. I’m lucky enough that what’s fun to me is usually that really hard training. And so it’s been something that I just really enjoyed the process.

Sonya: There’s some nuance here, too, because it’s not fun every single time you go out and ride and some days, you have to just go even if you don’t feel like going. So can you talk about that nuance a little bit, even in your own experience? And in your experience as a coach?

Hannah: This is where we talk about some of that, what do they call it – type two fun, is that right? Like, maybe you don’t enjoy it in the moment, but you enjoy it after. And I think that can be an important thing to look at as well is because you’re right, there’s not every single day, are you going to want to go out and do a really hard workout. But if you’re finding that satisfaction and that joy afterwards, I think that can be a good indication that it was a right move for you as well. I think when there’s probably some big red flags coming up is if it you don’t want to go out and do the workout and then after, you’re still, why did I do that kind of emotion. And so I think you don’t have to be over the moon to do super hard workouts every day in order to say, oh, I’m having a lot of fun with this. But I think it’s important that there is some element of satisfaction mixed in with everything you do, be it before, during or after.

Sonya: That’s really great advice. And I’m sure a lot of people are like, oh, yeah, looking back and seeing how I feel after even if I didn’t feel like going, if I generally am feeling good about what I did or proud of what I did that can help me for next time and that can let me know or inform me that things are going overall well, even if in the moment I didn’t feel great.

Hannah: And something I encourage to people who struggle with getting out the door, but find that satisfaction after, which is probably more than half of people, is to keep a gratitude journal. And I think it’s become a wider practice. But basically, after every single workout, I encourage someone either on their coaching platform that they use, or just in a notebook, to write down three things that they really enjoyed or did well or loved about the workout. And sometimes those things are big, like it was a great workout, I got a PR. Sometimes those things are small, like I noticed a tree today and the leaves were changing colors and it made me feel good on the inside. It can be big or small. But having that list and developing it over time, there might be a day when you just cannot get out the door and you open that and you have hundreds of wonderful things that you can read that happened on these rides. And it might just be that thing that pushes you to do it again.

Sonya: Another awesome thing about that is that once people start doing that, then every single read, they start scanning, looking for positive things, things that are going well instead of self focusing on things that aren’t going well. And then they’re so excited about what they can write down when they get home.

Hannah: Absolutely, yeah, I totally agree.

Sonya: Where can people find you?

Hannah: You can find me on Instagram. It is @Hannah_Finchamp, or you can find me on my website, which is

Sonya: Well, thanks so much for coming on the show today and sharing all of your wisdom and your energy and your time, which you have lots going on. So thanks so much. Let’s do this again sometime.

Hannah: Absolutely. Thank you so much. This is a super fun conversation.

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