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Noora Honkala

Noora HonkalaNoora Honkala, born in Lohja, Finland on July 1st, 1992 holds the National Records in 50km, 100km, 100mils, 6h, 12h and 24h runs.

Noora is an Ironman and Duathlon athlete, Elite runner for the half Marathon and full Marathon, her main goal for 2020 is the 100km World Championships in September.

Living in Greece where Noora trains the first rays of the Greek sun sheds light over the orchards lined with olive trees and begins to shed light on the dark hills.

Nearby, the snow-covered Mount Taygetos rises 2,344 meters into the clear sky and at 7 in the morning the temperature is already 15°C. This is no ordinary place, this is the ancient birthplace of world-class athletes.

Only 50 kilometres south of Sparta lies a small village called Skoutari nestles in a perfectly shaped bay surrounded by the mountains that were once a famous pirate stronghold.

Now it is the second home of one of world’s best ultra runners - Noora Honkala. She has taken from herself from being a soccer player and part-time runner to one of the world’s most elite long and ultra-long distance runners.

Noora HonkalaIn early 2018 Noora was in incredible shape and making her dream of being one of the first professional Ultra runners from Finland come to fruition. She had been improving her records in almost every race she entered.

Then in the spring of 2018 an agonising pain started to appear in her lower back. A short time later she was diagnosed with a severely ruptured disc - forcing her to make a possible career-changing decision.

Her health insurance did not cover any spinal disc treatments, nor a possible operation, so she decided to sell her car and raise money for the operation.

So there she was - only 6 months earlier she had left everything to become professional runner and was now facing something she had never expected. Fortunatly the operation was quite successful and it enabled her to put all the pain behind her.

After carefully considering her choices for her future career, Noora and her team decided to set her sights for a 100km World Championships.

This might have been fairly easy for someone who could train at a 100% efficiency, but Noora had to start everything from scratch.

Noora HonkalaThere she was only 10 weeks prior to the World Championships, and for half of that time she had to stop running completely.

In June 2018 Noora started to swim as part of her rehabilitation. She had never swam more than 50 meters and never tried open-water swimming.

The experience was an eye-opener. She slowly increased her distance and speed, and swimming became a daily training routine.

As the days passed, her appetite for swimming increased and she was determined to push further, so she bought an indoor club membership and over the following weeks she swam and cycled.

This had the effect of strengthening her core more than ever before and finally after a few weeks, she was allowed to take her first steps as a runner again.

The mind rests more when the body works longer hours. This was the exact mindset of Noora, when she pushed herself through the hilly terrain of Lakonia.

In all of the previous years of her running career, Noora was a “heel” runner, but now due her injury, she had to change her running technique dramatically.

Noora HonkalaSo she started to push more uphill, more toe and flat foot running, focusing to her core, to keep herself away from doing anything that would hurt her back.

She built everything from the scratch and then found herself standing at the same starting line with the fastest 100 kilometer runners on the planet.

Noora was both scared and relieved – there are no other words to describe her feelings, except perhaps that determination could sum them up.

Just couple months earlier she had been flat on the operating table and now she was standing next to fittest 100 kilometer runners in the World.

With no ranking, Noora began her 100 kilometer journey as the underdog. Within no time, she started to approach the top 20, then the top15, then top 10 and when the final lap started she passed here arch rival from Sweden and crossed the finish line in 8th place.

The time was 7:52:04 with a new National Record and her first ever top 10 placement in the 100 kilometer World Championships. She had given all she had, both mentally and physically, and done something no one believed was even possible.

Time moved quickly and her next few months moved by her fast. She achieved 7th place in the Athens Classic Marathon, then she shattered her own course record in the Amalfi 54 kilometer Hilly Run (new 50km National Record), followed by 1:22 Napoli Half marathon and in the top10 placement.

Noora HonkalaThen in the spring of 2019 she decided to enter her first multi-sport event; the Duathlon World Series. It was like a bomb had dropped on to the scene.

She finished 2nd right after the Duathlon World Champion, beating all the other Elite athletes. She had made her mark as a strong versatile endurance athlete and only 3 weeks later she achieved 135.786 km in a 12 hour race, placing herself in the 2019 World no.1 spot.

In June 2019, one year after her surgery, Noora entered the largest and most recognised Ultra road race in the world, the Comrades Marathon – 2019 was the “up run” year, so it seemed perfect fit.

Early in the morning on June 9th huge crowds, some 25,000 supporters, started to gather in the streets of Durban, South Africa.

The contestants were ready to start their race to Pietermaritzburg. Surely there was no shortage of world class caliber athletes as the winners prize purse was the biggest ever so far.

Noora kept herself in the top10 during the first 50 kilometer of the uphill track within striking distance of the podium.

But then the bitter sweet symphony started to play as she approached the 60 kilometer mark on the flat downhill stretch. All the training to protect her injury started to show up as a weakness as she ran down.

Noora HonkalaThere was only so much you can do to prevent shock to the lower back, she and her team couldn’t add those to her training calendar. She was forced to slow down and eventually finished in 20th place in her debut Comrades Marathon.

Slightly disappointed, Noora decided to participate in the Finnish Ironman 70.3 only 2 weeks later. From a warm South Africa to a cold and windy Finland, she performed an outstanding first triathlon, finishing 3rd in her Age Group and 11th overall (Elite included).

Noora´s main goal, the 24 hour World Championships was a big disappointment. Her mind was not concentrating to attack so she was forced to withdraw after 100 kilometers.

Maybe it was too soon or maybe it was too much in one year? Nevertheless, when she was invited by the tourism minister of Israel to take a part in Desert Marathon, she had no hesitation.

The rugged terrain, sandy off-the-beaten roads and constant ups and downs will “guarantee memories for life, rather than chasing your marathon personal bests”. she says.

Out of nearly 3,500 runners Noora was titled “the Queen of the Desert” by a clear margin. She could also have been in 7th place in the mens category with a time of 3:21:56.

Noora HonkalaOnly four days after the Desert Marathon, Noora was on her normal bicycle ride when irony seemed to play its game with her. She hit a thin crack in the pavement at a speed of nearly 50 kilometers. She crashed to the ground, badly injured she was rushed in to the hospital.

Her back was bruised and the pain there was something she had felt before. She knew she had to fly back to Finland for closer examination which later revealed another ruptured spinal disc.

After one month she was back, stronger, wiser and more determined. There is no question why she is considered one of the greatest female ultra runners. Time will tell the full story, this is just the beginning for her.

“As an athlete, I experience stress as a double-edged sword. The right amount of stress helps you perform better in hard workouts and competitive situations.“

“How well I sleep and recover is one of the most important aspects of competitive sports. If stress levels are constantly elevated due to hard training, recovery and thus development is in danger, ”says ultra-runner Noora Honkala.“

“From a very young age, I have always had passion for sports. But it wasn’t until I turned 17 that I started to be more interested in running and especially long distance running.“

Noora Honkala“Luckily there was a man named Seppo Leinonen, who saw something great from my endurance and by his coaching, tutoring and guidance I have reached unprecedented levels of joy in running.“

We do not emphasize distance rather than quality and I think that has proven to be my success formula to where I am and where I will be in the future. – One of the greatest ultrarunners ever.

There´ is still a long way to go, much to do and much hard work to get there. Blessed by the team and our partners, I know we all will reach stardom!

www.noorahonkala.com

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