Jo Johansen won the Tarawera back in 2014, a.k.a., the Cyclone Year. Still, she wasn’t sure if she’d race the year’s Tarawera or, if she did, which distance she’d run until this week. In the following interview, Jo talks about what had her uncertain about running Tarawera 2016, what her battles with rhabdo have been like, and how a mental shift may have helped her ahead of the race.
To find out who else is racing, check out our 2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon preview.
Jo Johansen Pre-2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jo Johansen before the 2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon. How are you doing, Jo?
Jo Johansen: I’m good. How are you?
iRunFar: I’m doing excellent. Here we are in Rotorua again.
Johansen: Yeah, déjà vu! Rain.
iRunFar: You won this race back in 2014 during a tropical cyclone. We’re not going to have quite that much rain tomorrow.
Johansen: It seems that there is going to be a bit of a heavy fall now and then, but it’s not as windy. The conditions are well-suited to us Kiwi kids for sure.
iRunFar: Do you personally enjoy running in rough conditions?
Johansen: Yeah, I definitely love running in the rain. Coming out of Wellington, it’s windy every day. I’m used to the wind. So to have no wind would be a bit weird.
iRunFar: It’s not the added adversity necessarily, it’s just what you’re used to.
Johansen: Yeah, just what I’m used to, yeah.
iRunFar: You’ve gone back and forth the last couple weeks on whether or not you’re going to run at all, or whether you’re going to run the 60k or 100k… why is that?
Johansen: My training has been very unpredictable. I wasn’t really able to run about a month ago. I’ve only had about two or three weeks of decent running. I thought I’d do the 60k, and I felt a lot more relaxed with that just to see if I was ready to race again basically.
iRunFar: Part of that reason is you’ve been dealing with rhabdomyolysis over the past couple years?
Johansen: Basically since TNF 100k[-Australia] [now renamed the Ultra-Trail Australia]. That was the first experience. The second experience was again in the Blue Mountains in the Hounslow Classic. It’s the same situation, 1k or 2k in it starts hitting me. I even had the same doctor and everything. That was a bit weird.
iRunFar: That’s interesting because a lot of times rhabdo sets in later in the race when you become dehydrated and you have a lot of muscle damage. Was there any race that maybe triggered that where maybe you’ve done some damage?
Johansen: I think with the races I feel a lot of pressure, and I put it on myself. I probably put in way too much intensity a few weeks leading up. I put in obviously no rest, no recovery, no balancing of that, and the damage is already done. I automatically just stop running. I think that’s where the damage is done.
iRunFar: So maybe a bit of overenthusiasm?
Johansen: Yeah, I need to learn to be a lot more relaxed and to get a bit more of a balance with my training. Kerry [Suter] has helped me a lot with that, and I’ve had some success. But then sometimes I just get carried away with myself and…
iRunFar: Is that because you enjoy it so much or because you’re trying to train to be that much stronger? What is the motivation that really gets you through those last couple weeks?
Johansen: I think the pressure of the race and feeling like I should perform now. Ever since 2014, no one kind of knew who I was. I would have done into that really relaxed and just not knowing anything; whereas now I feel like if I enter a race, am I expected to be on the podium at everything? I think I just put too much pressure on myself.
iRunFar: It’s internal pressure? It’s not just because you’re wearing a uniform or you have a sponsor or anything?
Johansen: It’s that, as well. Now that you’ve got a sponsor, you feel like you’re letting a lot of people down, not only yourself but your sponsors and that.
iRunFar: Have you done anything to try to work back to making it more about your own self and your own enjoyment?
Johansen: Yeah, I have. I think I’ve learned now that my way of training is definitely not the right way. I have learned only just recently to just be way more relaxed. I was losing the enjoyment of it, as well. I wasn’t enjoying running. Yeah, I’ve just learned to just pull right back. I don’t need to be out there for three to four hours because it was just really making me slower and breaking me down. I’ve definitely learned, especially through Kerry, that the shorter and faster training runs are more beneficial.
iRunFar: How is your approach going to be on this weekend?
Johansen: I’m definitely going to take a really comfortable start and just see how I go. It’s 100k. It’s really my first real 100k. I wouldn’t count last year because my legs were just dead about 20k in. So I’m just going to comfortably start it. I know the last 40k are going to be a real issue because it’s a lot flatter, so I know what to expect. I don’t want to be too tired then.
iRunFar: Am I correct that you prefer the first half that’s a little hillier and a little rougher?
Johansen: I definitely do prefer the hills and the tree roots, which I was a bit worried because I definitely get sort of carried away on that stuff, and I’d just really like to enjoy it. I don’t want to be… I get a bit carried away on that sort of stuff.
iRunFar: On that second 40k, are you going to listen to music or do anything to distract yourself?
Johansen: I actually never listen to music. Sometimes I do especially because I know it helps the mood, but no, I really don’t listen to music. I’m hoping I’m going to have a pacer who’s here and going to help me for the last 40k.
iRunFar: Do you have someone lined up?
Johansen: Yeah, I’ve got someone lined up. It’s going to be pretty good, I think.
iRunFar: Someone who can keep up with you?
Johansen: Oh, I think he can definitely keep up. I’m pretty sure he’ll be definitely keeping up. Yeah, he’s a good choice.
iRunFar: Good luck out there, Jo. Good to see you.
Johansen: Thank you very much. Thank you.