Pooh & Piglet – Hoka #isorunfest

Lockdown might have seen many events cancelled or postponed, and most of us running in isolation, but that hasn’t meant people have been on their own. Virtual races and online communities have kept a lot of us connected and sane, at a time when it would be easy to lose motivation and feel alone. One such event was the Hoka Isolation Running Festival. Across the weekend people could choose between 5km, 10km and 21km on Saturday, and then 42.2km or 64km on Sunday. You could do one or more runs over the 48 hour period, with each ‘race’ having a set start time. There was also a Grand Slam, that saw crazy people complete 100km of running, combining all events on day one, with the ultra on day two.

While there were plenty of standout performances, it was the efforts of Jo Nevin and her good friend and training partner Leigha Wills that caught our attention. Apart from conquering the Slam in a swift fashion, they did it in style, sharing the adventure and creating a bit of GPS art in the process.

We caught up with the dynamic duo to find out a little more about their running journeys and what makes them tick. First up – Jo:

What motivated you to start running?

I was doing triathlons but after my 3rd child, I just didn’t have the time or money to keep it up, and swimming sucks. I was lucky to have met a few trail runners through the Tri club, and after my first trail run I realised it was much more my jam anyway, so I took to the trails about 10 years ago and have been there since.

What’s your biggest achievement in the trail and ultra scene?

I’d say my run at GOW100 (modified to 80km) last year. I’ve done well in bigger races, but this is my favourite race and was the first time I felt like I was able to sustain my effort for an ultra with no significant low patch. I managed my body and mind the best I have despite challenging conditions, so for me that’s a big achievement.  

What have you done differently since isolation restrictions?

Everything! I normally work full time in the city, commuting 3 hours a day whilst trying to train and parent so I have regained 15 hours a week by working from home. To take the edge of the ‘fullness’ of our house (2 adults, 3 kids, 3 dogs and 2 guinea pigs), I have taken a break from proper training, and instead am spending time with my friend and training partner Leigha mapping out trails (or creek lines) in our area we have never done, we get lost a lot. I’ve done a lot of time on legs, climbing and bush bashing so I have probably lost some speed, but I am feeling stronger and happier for it!

What inspired you to take on the Hoka challenge?

Because it looked like fun hurt in a format I’d never tried so why not!? I knew it would be tough for us (I dragged Leigha in to it) to move at pace as it is not exactly flat in the mountains, so instead of creating a fast course, I mapped out the letter H O K A across our maps to thank HOKA for putting this free event on for the community and for always supporting me – they are legends and are really showing their soul during these crazy times.

How did you map out your runs?

I convinced Leigha that my idea was solid and we went to work to map out HOKA. We were staring at STRAVA for way too many hours. It’s one thing to map out letters, but to do it within suburb boundaries was tough – but we got there! I got the HKA and Leigha found out O! 

What did you do for recovery between runs?

I drank as much water with Koda electroltyes as I could and I ate loads of carbs like the good Irish girl that I am. On Saturday I did a presentation for the Board at my work via Zoom in between the 10km and the 21km – this is not something I would double book again. I also did some self-massage of my calves and glut activation work to try and keep the wheels from falling off. In Sunday morning I got up earlier to eat and do some dynamic stretching and that helped too I think. (I also only had 2 drinks Saturday night, but maybe don’t include that 😉 )

What’s your top tip for newbies to ultra running?

Lubricate. Seriously.

Practice the things you can control in training (Nutrition, hydrations, gear, chafe, form etc) and then manage them as close to perfect as possible.

Build into it, start out easier than you think you need to and settle in and never get caught up in someone else’s race. 

Deal with small issues when they are still small – the hot spot on the toe etc

Every ultra-runner at every level has had bad patches, they happen in most races no matter how fast you go. Trust that if managed, bad patches pass. They do. You can feel like it’s all over at 60kms and be running well at 80kms, keep moving forward. 

Make a commitment before you start to ban negative or defeatist self-talk, have some mantras ready to combat those thoughts if they arise.  

Try to remember this is recreation and that you opted in. Your worth is not wrapped up in your result, so try to enjoy it and if it goes to belly up, then learn something from it and go again.

What’s next….assuming some normality returns in the next few months?

My base is getting better and I am ready to really push on a 100km trail again I think. I have been unwell for the past 6 months and am still recovering, but I think later this year or early next year I will commit to a solid block of training and try and see what I can do!

Results from the event can be found Here!

The second team member of this crazy pair has a very different story to tell. Meet Leigha Wills:

What motivated you to start running?

I started running for the first time in my life at 38 as a way to lose the last of 55kg. I hadn’t run previously avoiding it and most other sports. I started walking as exercise to compliment my weight loss and as I got fitter found walking wasn’t increasing my heart rate. As a challenge set by my husband to run, I started walking 5km from home and then attempted every day to run more and more of the 5km home. Once I had successful achieved running the whole way, I started timing myself and attempted to beat the time from the previous day to keep me motivated. It wasn’t easy or fun and some days it still isn’t, but the sense of achievement afterwards makes it worth it.

What is your biggest achievement in the Trail / Ultra Running scene?

My biggest ‘formal’ Ultra running achievement and my only was placing 2nd at the Great Ocean Road 60km Ultra Marathon last year. It was my first Ultra. It wasn’t really too much different to running a marathon but without all the pressure of achieving a certain time as the distance was so unknown. It was one of the only races I have gone into with the brief enjoying the scenery and just making it to the end. It is one of my most favourite runs for those reasons. I ran it in under 5 hours which in many ways didn’t make it feel like a true Ultra. 

The weekends HOKA 64km run was a pretty special achievement. I will always think of it as my first Ultra. It felt the way I imagined a true ultra to feel. I truly understood the ultra shuffle and the need to just keep moving forward even though you are so tired and fatigued you don’t think it is possible. This run was the longest I have ever run both in distance and in time and doing without ‘proper’ training and tapering and after running 36km the day before in windy conditions added to the experience. Even though it was an event, not being formal with a start and finish line, aid stations (though we did have an awesome one) also added to the challenge.

It was always going to be a sentimental event as I got to do it as a team with Jo. I am so thankful to have been able to share this experience with her. She is patient and supportive but also kicks my arse when my negative head kick in. You can’t get it much better than having someone so experienced by your side – or mostly in front of my pulling me along the whole way. I have been lucky enough to have her by myside as a coach and now training partner for my whole running life. I am so grateful for her knowledge, her understanding of running, support, encouragement and advice. Most of the time she can read and understand my body better than me!  I wouldn’t be the runner I am today without her. I am so lucky to be able to run with such a legend most days.

What have you done differently since Isolation?

SO much! I had just finished a huge training block running 150km weeks on the road in preparation for the Tokyo marathon. Unfortunately, it was cancelled and every other race since has been. I have been training and racing constantly since I began running. This has been the first chunk of time I have had to simply enjoy running without the pressure to be working towards something and it has been the most enjoyable time I have had.

Jo and I have been training together for a while but during this time have become Isolation running buddies. We have been mapping out new adventures each week to explore our local area. We have been on many a crazy adventure where there are ‘totally NO trails’ and 10km can take 5 hours. Not having boxes to turn green in Training Peaks has been amazing! So have the amazing fungi we have found along the way. Part of me wished this could continue forever.

What Inspired you to take on the HOKA challenge?

Jo! I wouldn’t have done it without her. It was about the achievement of running 100km in a weekend together. My biggest ever run and her biggest ever running week. What a challenge it was but so great to do it together. Gosh I love that woman!

How did you map your runs?

It was Jo’s idea to map out the letters of HOKA keeping everything local on trails we had run as part of our COVID adventures. The courses were not easy and certainly not fast but that added to the challenge.

What did you do for recovery between runs?

Between the 5km and the 10km drank coffee, cheesymite scrolls, stayed out of the wind. Between the 10 and the 21km showered and went to bed for a couple of hours to rest. Some stretching, hydrating with electrolytes and lots of sleep the night before the 64km. Sleep is my go to recovery and taper tool!

What’s your top tip for newbies to ultra running?

I feel like I am a bit of a newbie myself! My whole running journey from the beginning has been about being consistent with my training. I think it is really important to prepare thoroughly for your planned event and if you can with the help of a coach or mentor help you. I have been lucky to have had an amazing coach I completely trust and that made all the difference to my running. It doesn’t mean I have loved every session set for me but I always complete them the best I can.

I have also been lucky enough to have someone awesome to train with and run with. Having someone to train with and either push you along or keep you going is important and does help with your motivation and commitment. I often feel like a bat well above my average when it comes to training partners, but it is important to get over that and accept the invitation to train with someone even if you don’t always stay together. Just having that other person out there with you is important.

I think I have found that whether it is 5km or 60km you will feel bad at some point and probably more than once. You will want to stop but you have it in you to keep moving forward no matter. Do what you need to, to get to the finish line just don’t stop. The feeling when you cross that line is worth the pain.

 What’s next…assuming normality returns.

Does it have to end? I am enjoying the adventure and the absence of races! I would quite like continuing in this way for a bit longer. Once normality does return the sub 3 marathon goal is still there for me though does seem a little less of a priority. I would like to work on embracing the new love of the trails and attempt an ultra at some stage in the near future all as part of another great adventure with the best training partner out