In just five months, Jukka Ikkala went from dismissing running to completing a half marathon, full marathon, and his first ultra-marathon, all without formal training. Now, he is a Helsinki City Running Day Ambassador, sharing his story and dedication to pushing limits.
In his first ten months as a runner, Jukka Ikkala accomplished a remarkable feat, completing a half marathon, a full marathon, and even his first ultra-marathon. It's an impressive journey for someone who once dismissed running as unexciting and pointless, all without formal training.
Over the past six years, the 42-year-old from the Finnish city of Hyvinkää can’t get enough of life in running shoes. He is a Helsinki City Running Day Ambassador who believes in pushing his limits. Despite battling a cold, Jukka sat down with Aonach to discuss his unique running approach and commitment to inspiring everybody to run.
Discovering the Joy of Running
Jukka's running journey began in January 2018 when a friend invited him to be her training partner for the Helsinki City Run half marathon scheduled for that summer. “Before that, I thought that running was boring because you just run from point to point and then have a shower,” he says, laughing. “This is the new me. It's relaxing to run with your thoughts, only feeling your legs and lungs.”
While he and his friend didn't train together, they shared the goal of completing the race. Jukka recalls never doubting that he wouldn't finish, even though he didn't follow any training guidelines. “I trained a few times a week, no watch, nothing. I finished around 1:52, and that was when I wanted to start testing my limits in running.”
His next challenge was the Helsinki Marathon, which he completed in 3:57, three months after his first half marathon. Encouraged by his success and winning a place for the Vaarojen Maraton 65 km, he took on his first ultra-marathon 40 days later.
While he completed the course in just under 12 hours, he recalls suffering so much: “I had only been training for a half marathon, and I hadn’t recovered from the marathon. I was stupid, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. My friend says every race is started with your legs and finished with your head, and that experience proved that.”
Embracing Challenges and Evolving
Jukka's determination to improve led him to adopt a more structured approach to training, seeking advice online and investing in his first smartwatch.
He reflects on some of the advice he received, “I remember some of the bad advice advising me not to go too fast on most runs (PPP rule) and not to do too much running because it can become like a drug. The good advice emphasized that recovery is essential, with an 80/20 approach as a helpful guide for running slow and fast.”
Throughout his journey, Jukka discovered that while he may not be the fastest, his mental game is his strength. “In ultras and marathons, the race is in your head. Your body screams, 'Stop! Get a pizza and a beer. Why are you running?' You can tell your mind to shut up. I can picture the finish line. During training, you must test your limits.”
During the Karhunkierros race, he faced a significant setback. “I was in good shape, having trained for uphill and long runs. The first 90-100 km were fine, but suddenly, I hit the wall. I was cold and numb. My running partner helped me put on all my clothes. I couldn't eat anymore, and I decided it was enough. I didn't want to jeopardize my health.”
Subsequently, Jukka was diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, which caused rapid heartbeat and fatigue during his runs. With iron supplements and improved nutrition, he stabilized his condition.
Jukka's first DNF had not only a physical but also a psychological impact. “I took it badly because it was supposed to be the first of three races, so I didn't know what to do. I felt like I had failed myself, my running partners, and my family. They helped me recover and clear my head of self-critical thoughts. But now I've changed. In the last marathon, I ran, this flu led me to drop out of the race. My reaction was to cheer my mates on because it's just running.”
Continuing the Journey
As a Helsinki City Running Day Ambassador for the past three years, Jukka's message is clear: every runner is exceptional because it's all about the act of running itself.
“If you want to run, you run. Don't compare yourself to other runners but to what you did last week or year, and strive to improve. I want everybody to run once a week or as a pro. It's about your life. It's been six years, and it's unlike anything else in my life.”
Looking ahead, Jukka has plans to run a double or marathon next year HCRD, with confirmed race including Nuuksio Backyard Ultra in 2024 and maybe Endurance 24H “I want to keep exploring different races. I want to discover my limits in terms of speed and duration. I have more running experiments in mind. I aim to be in better shape and become a better version of myself.”
Jukka's transformation from a running skeptic to an accomplished runner proves that anyone can achieve their goals with determination and passion. Start your running adventure now with our free fueling plan!