Thanks to the HOKA Spikes Tour, we interviewed the talented middle-distance runner and brand ambassador

Like her thought process, Giovanna Selva’s running is direct and crystal clear, devoid of contemporary mannerisms. Born on 17 September 2000 in Ossola and brought up in the small town of Druogno amidst the gentle valleys that link Italy and Switzerland, this middle-distance runner is the picture-perfect embodiment of her territory.

Fresh from the podium of the European U23 Cross Country Championships and the World Junior Mountain Running Championships, we meet up with Giovanna on the Alzano Lombardo track. She’s one of the feature athletes on the Spikes Tour organized by HOKA: a travelling event that allows young competitors in various Italian cities to discover and test the Cielo X2 MD and Cielo X2 spiked shoes, the latest from the brand from the French Alps, not far from where Giovanna’s story began.

“My history with running all started thanks to cross-country skiing. It allowed me to discover athletics because the training sessions varied according to the season. When the snow disappeared from ‘my’ mountains, I had to make a choice, and I chose running. Initially, my feelings were a bit mixed, but the coaches helped me fall in love. When I was 15, they introduced me to the technique and the track. I’ve always been inspired by the people around me, not just great athletes. I mean my mother, a former cross-country skier, my father, and my grandmother, who at 83 still runs her café without stopping for a second. I didn’t think I could have a real career, but when I finished third at the Italian Mountain Running Championships, I realized something was possible. That podium automatically qualified me for the World Championships. I found out after the race was over, and I almost apologized to the selector. I remember telling him I wouldn’t be offended if he decided not to take me…”

Although the “tartan” isn’t her native stomping grounds, Giovanna is carving a path as much through nature as between the lanes, scoring cyclical personal bests and breaking down barriers, as demonstrated by her recent result under 33 minutes on the 10K. Hers is a hybrid and frenzied evolution, passing through technical refinement and the study of her own mind and sensations.

“I started running in the woods near my home. I’ve always felt that I can improve my body in those environments. I often go back there alone. I experience training as a kind of exploration: I look for new trails and admire all the different animals; in the early morning, you can even see fawns and small deer. And I listen to my legs as I push uphill. You always feel something more intense in the woods. It’s like I’m always searching for something…. everything is different on the track. In the woods, I get excited by that sense of freedom, while on the track, it’s all about precision, that relationship between space and time, and the fact there’s no margin for error. I’m 23 and fully aware I’m in the middle of a maturation process. It’s about the mind and technique. It’s just the beginning, and I imagine it’ll take a while”.

In addition to the mainstay of her running, present and future, Giovanna is also working on a career away from the stopwatch and finish lines. But not away from the pressure. She’s studying medicine. As difficult as it might sound to be a world-class athlete while also burying her head in the books or an operating theatre, she tells us its possible, with her own kind of straightforward wisdom.

“I’d always wanted to enroll in medicine. When I did, I hadn’t reached this kind of athletic caliber. Now, everything is pretty complex. I’ve just finished two weeks of training, and it was hectic: I woke up, trained, worked in the hospital all day, trained again, and then straight to bed. I worked my butt off, but every night I was euphoric. I don’t think any feeling compares to that degree of tiredness: that tiredness that makes you want to hit the sack and start again the next day. I never thought I could inspire anyone with my ‘double life’, but lately, little things have been happening that help me realize how much people care about me. When children ask for my autograph or tell me about their experiences, I feel a mix of responsibility and motivation”.

And these scenes also play out in Alzano Lombardo, where a large community of local athletes test out the new HOKA spiked shoes with this easygoing Azzurro talent. Giovanna’s two-dimensional world, balanced between woods and tracks, sports and academics, is also split between individual effort and collective sharing.

After all, running cannot exist without a group. Giovanna confirms this when she talks about the Seve Team, the Piedmontese squad with whom she shares most of her weekly exertions. ‘And there can be no execution without the right shoe’, she adds just before she and her companions accelerate into a sprint, celebrating the brand she represents.

“The collective is fundamental in running. The presence of other people helps me during training. It’s especially true when I have to do work I could never do alone, but also before and after the run. We’re not just athletes. We’re people. The jokes, the snacks, and the chats make me want to keep running even when I’m exhausted or sick… The Seve Team is all that to me, and I’m happy that HOKA has decided to support this team from my home. I’m not surprised, because the brand’s sensitivity towards the community is truly incredible. Linking with HOKA was a huge step that made me feel important. Participating in events like the Spikes Tour just makes me happy: raising awareness and enhancing the knowledge of young athletes is something I cherish. Shoes are really the single most important product for every runner. In a world of online marketing, it’s crucial to test and understand the characteristics of those running ‘companions’, especially if it’s a spike shoe. HOKA is there for runners, and I’m happy to be there, too.

Thanks to HOKA

Text by Gianmarco Pacione

Photo Credits: Riccardo Romani