Meet Jo Johansen - Ultramarathon Runner

June 26, 2015

PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL CHARTERIS: Jo Johansen in action during this year's Tarawera Ultramarathon

My name is Johanna Johansen and I am a trail ultramarathon runner and sponsored athlete for Hoka One One New Zealand.
I had always been some sort of runner through school - I ruled the 100 & 200 metre sprints; played representative rugby and cricket as a child through to adulthood; and dabbled in competitive Boardercross as a snowboarder. Lets just say I was a “tom-boy” hanging out with the boys.
I started running as a single discipline in my early twenties. I was going through some pretty rough life experiences and started running as a way of escaping these difficulties. It became my coping mechanism that turned into an addiction.
I blasted into the running scene by winning the Tarawera Ultramarathon in 2014. I was a nobody; no one knew me and I definitely wasn't being picked to win. My first ultra was only a month earlier where I took the win and finished feeling like I could keep running. I just knew ultras were for me.

Just two weeks after the Tarawera I ran The Hillary 80k Ultra in the Waitakere Ranges. Entering the event with no expectations, but drawn to the course by its beauty and tough terrain I won this one too. After being advised to target a high profile race I then headed to Australia for The North Face 100 (TNF 100). This is the race where I ended up in hospital with Rhabdomyolysis – a condition in which muscle breakdown occurs due to excessive training and severe dehydration. I had an infection in my kidneys caused by the toxins released by the muscle breakdown. It wasn't pretty - unable to bend my legs properly for quite sometime, the feeling was like extreme cramp. Running back-to-back hard races with little to no rest or recovery had resulted in a severe case of Over-Training Syndrome (OTS). I'm lucky the damage wasn't more severe, as I pulled out of the race early on when I began peeing blood. Thinking back I was totally oblivious to the signs of OTS that were present in the weeks leading up to TNF 100.

I am now way more aware and in-tune with my body. So the timing couldn't have been any better when Hoka One One New Zealand approached me. I'm pretty lucky to fit sample sizes and get to try out the latest Hoka models before they hit the stores. These shoes and their capabilities fascinated me long before I first wore them. The first thing I noticed when I put them on was their comfortable feel - these were shoes I could put on brand-new and bang out a run with no issues. Nothing rubbed, there was no hot sensation underfoot- like I would get with other brands – and there was no need to break them in.
Built for long distances, what I love most about Hoka One One shoes is the amount of impact reducing cushioning which got me through my injuries a lot faster than expected. It took me months to rebuild the muscles in my legs and these shoes allowed me to simply just run again and eventually become stronger as a runner. These shoes also hold an advantage over other brands in terms of their durability. I have got 4-6 months out of individual pairs at a time which I was running close to 200kms a week on rugged terrain.
Through my racing I have had to deal with serious, technical, steep terrain and have passed other runners trying to dodge each step because there feet are hurting - not with Hokas you hammer straight over the tough stuff barely feeling anything.
Coming from a more minimalist background, I had to get used to running in Hokas but the transition wasn’t huge – like it is going into barefoot shoes - and it probably came as more of a relief than anything that I could now run i
n comfort whilst still putting-in the extra mileage.  There were a few ankle rolls - nothing serious - just getting used to them on the technical trails, and I adapted quickly. 90% of my running is done on trails and we are talking the off road hard technical stuff where there is plenty of steep ups and downs.

There are Hoka models that cater for different needs and as such they suit a wide range of runners. For me, I like to train in the Kailua, Mafate Speed and Stinson ATR models as they are my go-to shoes for long runs on buffed trails, while also good for those recovery runs when the legs need a break. I have never had a problem with traction/grip as the tread is aggressive on all the trail models.
My new favourites and go-to shoes for racing are the Challenger ATR and Speedgoat models.  These two shoes are built for speed and are best on technical terrain. I have used both in several ultras ranging in distance from 60-100k, and they have coped well with the force and pressure of the steep ascents and descents at pace. With the constant changes in direction as well as water crossings, these shoes have stood up to anything I’ve thrown at them.
While they are everything I am looking for in an off-road racing shoe, I do also train in them - but only for shorter, faster, technical runs as I prefer to save them for race day. They even get bathed, that’s how much I love them!
As an ultra runner, I am looking for longevity in the sport and by wearing Hokas I believe this will go a long way to ensuring this. I want to be the best I can be as a runner, and am excited by the possibilities of where this sport could take me.

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