The Need for Speed

Words by  Irena Brooks
Alisha Lovrich Alisha Lovrich

She is New Zealand’s fastest woman ever, with a new national record for the 100 metres of 11.15 seconds set on the 12th February 2022 in Hastings.

Zoe Hobbs has just been selected for the World Indoor Athletics Championships scheduled for 18 — 20 March in Belgrade, Serbia. 

She is also in the running for the World Outdoor Athletics Championships due to be held 15 – 24 July this year in Oregon, USA; and the Commonwealth Games set for 28 July – 8 August in Birmingham, England.

It’s a sweet victory for the 24-year-old Taranaki athlete who went unselected for the New Zealand team that went to last year’s Tokyo Olympic Games.

It was a foreign feeling that hit Zoe Hobbs when she ran her new New Zealand record of 11.15s.

“I felt all sorts of emotion. It was a bit of a surreal feeling, excitement, elation, relief. 

“I don’t normally show a lot of emotion after a race – even after the good ones – but I cried after this one. It was a pretty special moment.” 

The win also marked Zoe as the fastest woman to ever run on New Zealand soil, eclipsing Australian Kerry Johnson’s all-comers record of 11.19s set at the 1990 Commonwealth Games.

With the victories and success she has had throughout her running career, you would think she would feel this way with every win.

But while she won a lot of races and marked several Personal Bests during 2019, 2020 and 2021, the wins were often “bittersweet”.

They were good, but not good enough for a new record, or a place on the Olympic team.

But in eight heady weeks during the latest athletics season, she set a new NZ record at almost every meet that she competed at. The latest time marks her as not only New Zealand’s fastest ever woman but puts her into selection contention for the World Champs and Commonwealth Games this year. 

“I need to do the standard (run 11.15s) twice at a minimum to be considered for selection for the Commonwealth Games.” 

As LIVE was going to print, it was announced that Zoe was one of just six New Zealand athletes selected for the World Indoor Athletics Champs being held in Serbia from 18 — 20 March. She’ll be competing in the 60 metre sprint — a distance she has never raced before.
“By not having had experience of racing indoors it’s both nerve-wracking and exciting!” Said Zoe, the day after the announcement. “I have no idea what I’m capable of putting down time-wise but that’s part of why it’s so exciting! The most nerve-wracking part will be running into the crash mats at the end which will just take some practice in training to get over that hesitation of slowing down towards the last 10 metres.” 

The 2024 Olympic Games in Paris is just two and a half years away.

If Zoe keeps improving at the rate she has this season, she could seriously make the women’s 100m final.


At the time of Tokyo Olympic selections last year, Zoe Hobbs had equaled the New Zealand women’s 100m record of 11.32 seconds, set by Michelle Seymour in 1993 – four years before Hobbs was even born.

It was an incredible feat but at that stage Hobbs had still not reached the criteria set by the New Zealand Olympic Committee – run 100m in 11.15 seconds, or be ranked in the top 32 sprinters in the world (Zoe was ranked 49th). The NZOC also has to feel each athlete they select has a realistic chance of making the top 16 in their event. 

It was a brutal disappointment for Zoe and left her wondering if maybe she simply wasn’t good enough.


The winner of the Tokyo Olympics Women’s 100m Sprint was Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah, who claimed the gold medal in an Olympic record time of 10.61 seconds (the world record is 10.49m by the late Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988). 

The first six finalists all finished in under 11 seconds, with the 8th placed finalist completing the distance in 11.12 seconds.

Hobbs’ times as she headed into the Tokyo Olympics would have seen her likely place in the top three of her heat and qualify for the semis. All eight finalists ran 11.01mins or under in their semi-finals.

After the New Zealand athletics season finished in March 2021, Zoe headed to Australia to compete in the three remaining events of their season in a last-ditch effort to qualify for the Olympics.

Zoe roomed with NZ team-mate Portia Bing, who had based herself out of Europe for a year or two previously. 

“She said it was the best thing she’d ever done and had learnt so much from that experience and that got my mind working.” 

Zoe also quizzed one of the Australian runners about her plans after the Australian season finished and leading into the Olympics. 

“She was going to Switzerland and a bunch of other meets around Europe.”

When Zoe wasn’t selected for the Olympics, she made the decision to go to Europe too.

“It was pretty much about two weeks before leaving that I decided screw it, it seems like the right time to go. I want to go, I’ve got nothing to come home to, then I got on the MIQ lobby thingy to book an MIQ spot. That was around the time Aussie was getting the odd (COVID) case pop up.

“It still took quite a few refreshes and sitting on the screen for hours but it was less in demand than it was a couple of weeks later.

“If I hadn’t got a spot I wouldn’t have gone to Europe.”

Zoe credits that trip with the improvements she’s seeing in her performance this season.

She also contacted a coach based in Berlin and “learnt quite a lot from him. I think he maybe gave me a little boost of confidence as well because he saw the potential in me.  Morty (James Mortimer, her NZ coach) has never had a doubt in my potential but it was nice to get that reinforcement from another coach.”


In a year of COVID uncertainty and Olympics disappointment, Zoe made 2021 into her best year yet.

“2021 was a pretty big year for me, and I’m pretty proud of what I managed to achieve.

“There was a lot to celebrate with some big milestones. I finished my degree (BSc, Human Nutrition), broke the New Zealand record, did the trip to Europe, and started my first job as a nutritionist (at Nourish).”


In addition to her work with Nourish, Zoe is also a co-founder of an athlete nutrition business called Athos Nutrition.

“The platform and service we are developing will be specifically tailored to the individual athlete and their needs. We don’t just want to target high performance but are looking to support grassroots of the sport where accessibility to services can be limited,” Zoe explains. 

“Overall the goal is to take the thinking and planning out of it for the athlete so that they are left with a tool that can help them stay on track with their fuelling as their needs change so rapidly. 

“By having something that’s more accessible and available to the wider athletic community, we hope to work closely with athletes, preventing them from running into restriction and nutritional implications that are all too common especially in development sport.”

Hobbs broke Michelle Seymour’s NZ record of 11.32s on the 18th Dec 2021, with a new national record of 11.27 seconds.

“Michelle Seymour herself was one of the first people to message me,” Zoe recalls. “I ran the record at a club level meet and it wasn’t out in the media or anything so only a select few heard about it initially. She messaged me and congratulated me before it even hit social media.”

That record had stood for nearly 30 years.

Eight weeks after beating it, Zoe Hobbs has broken her own NZ record twice more and improved the NZ record time by almost two tenths of a second.

Will she break it again before the end of 2022?

And how long will Zoe hold the title?


July 2016 – Set a new New Zealand 100m junior record: 11.53 secs

16 Jan 2019 – Ran the fastest time ever by a Kiwi woman in New Zealand: 11.42 seconds

23 Jan 2019 – Made an even faster time: 11.37s 

March 2021 = NZ record: 11.32s (equalled the outright NZ resident’s record set by Michelle Seymour in 1993 at Melbourne)

18 Dec 2021 – new NZ record: 11.27s

22 Jan 2022 – new NZ record: 11.21s

22 Jan 2022 – 11.14s (deemed wind assisted)

12 Feb 2022 – new NZ record: 11.15s

20 Feb 2022 – ran an 11.18s


Of Nga Ruahine descent, Zoe was raised in Stratford by parents Grant and Dorothy Hobbs, where she attended the local primary school and regularly beat the boys in school sprints from the age of five.

Zoe remembers being taken to an Eltham Athletics Ribbon Day, along with her older brother Connor.

“I got a nice shiny ribbon on my first club night and that was enough to attract me back,” she laughs.

That, and some sibling rivalry.

“Connor was good at everything he did, every sport and academically.

“Because sport was more my strength, I tried to be super-competitive and outdo him even though he was older and obviously was going to be better than me.

I think that’s what gave me that little competitive side … always trying to one-up him.”

Zoe did lots of other sports growing up, but sprinting was a constant.

From the age of seven Zoe started breaking Taranaki records, but one dad Grant recalls was as an eight-year-old. 

“She broke four records that day, winning the 100 metres run in bare feet in a time of 14.99 seconds. 

“For an eight-year-old to run under fifteen seconds I still think that’s pretty special.”

He says Zoe has always been incredibly focused and determined.

“Once she’s in the zone, we leave her to it.

“She’s very disciplined with her nutrition and training.”

Zoe recalls training by herself on a grass track or rugby field after school.

As a teenager, she attended NPGHS, winning gold medals at the Colgate Games and the national secondary schools 100m title three years running.

At 16 she reached the 100m semi-finals at the 2013 World U18 Championships in Ukraine.

In 2016 Zoe moved to Auckland to study Sport and Recreation at AUT,moving to Massey the following year to do Human Nutrition.

It was in Auckland she met current coach, James Mortimer, the former New Zealand 200m and 400m hurdles champion. The runner says James has “a positive, calm and approachable nature” to coaching. 

In their first year together she posted a national junior (U20) record time of 11.53 at the World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. 

In 2017 — her first year as a senior athlete — Zoe won the 100m (11.57) and 200m (23.85) double at the New Zealand Championships in Hamilton.

She donned the black singlet for the first time when she represented New Zealand in the 100m and 200m at the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Doha. 

Up until the 2021/22 season, Zoe has always done the 200m event as well, giving the 100m and 200m equal focus. She is one of the fastest Kiwis in that event too.

This year she has chosen to focus on just the 100m, because of how the competition and ranking structures run. By just competing in the 100m, she gets roughly every second weekend off over summer. This gives her a chance to rest her body and mind, as well as incorporate that all-important life-balance.

“I might dabble in it (the 200m) once or twice this season, just to see how that event goes and how good I might end up doing,” she said when LIVE interviewed her in January.


Training is 2 gym sessions a week and 5 track sessions.

The training varies depending on the time in the season and the phase that she’s in.

Winter sessions tend to be slower, longer, distances, with less recovery, and coming into summer it’s shorter distances, more speed focussed, with bigger recoveries in between.

Likewise winter weights are heavier, focussing on solid eccentric blocks. For summer it’s more ballistic focussed and trying to get fast movement.

Hobbs also works with strength and conditioning coach, Simon Chatterton, of High Performance Sport New Zealand, on a programme designed to create a more powerful sprinter.

Hobbs has an outstanding turnover — the rate which her feet touch and push off from the track. Her ability to apply force quickly is exceptional and the goal now is getting her to world-class turnover and world-class stride length.

“I need to work on getting more length into each stride, so I have less steps across the whole 100 metres,” Zoe explains.

She acknowledges the focus she gives her running makes her seem more serious than what she is.

During a recent TV1 sports interview she laughingly referred to “a serious case of an RBF (Resting B*** Face)” when she’s at the track.

But her friends know her better than that.

“The group I train with are some of my closest friends. Having a group to train with definitely makes training more fun and motivating,” explains Zoe. “Although it’s an individual sport, we all bring the best out in one another, which is the beauty of the environment I train in.”

They all understand the personal sacrifices each makes to compete in their chosen sport.

While most young women her age are partying, traveling, attending weddings, dating, eating and drinking whatever they like, enjoying time with friends, boyfriends and family, Zoe’s life revolves around her sport. 

“You tend to prioritise training and competitions above those things.

“I still definitely do these things and do make time for them as balance (as I’ve learnt over time) is SO important for me. I guess it’s more just about how training, comps and the sport itself comes first. It’s often more a matter of fitting those things around the sport.” 

Even coming home to Taranaki, Zoe’s thinking about being away from her coach and training group, or certain pieces of equipment and not having the right set-up.

But she recognizes it’s about hitting that right balance.

“I’m not super strict that I’m not having any fun at all because it’s important to get some of that in as well.”


While many may think that running 100m is simply about running as fast as you can to the finish line, sprinters have a detailed strategy over the distance.

Hobbs explains there are several phases to the 100m: from coming out of the blocks, to the drive phase, coming up into your stride and then finishing strongly.

Initially, the strongest part of Zoe’s race has always been her start.

“I’ve spent a lot of time trying to utilise this power and translating it into the rest of the race where I transition from the acceleration phase into my top speed (where I’m in my upright running). This involves staying lower for longer and accelerating for as long as possible.

“For me this has been about being patient and not standing up too quickly – in the past I would rush things, get up too early and just ‘turn over’. This is one part of my race that has seen improvement from previous years.”

Controlling her nerves and excitement leading into races is something else Hobbs has worked on.

“I’ve noticed in the past, if I got too excited or over-hyped before a race I would waste energy, so I try to relax more,” she says. 

Training has been structured to avoid plateauing … “it’s something we’ve learnt in the past.”

She’s also learned that in order to speed up, sometimes you need to slow down.

“After returning from Europe, I think one of the biggest things for me, was to understand that in order to get faster, you have to slow the motions down in order to understand how to speed them up. Not necessarily going 110% in every single training – it’s more about trying to feel the changes I’m trying to apply and being patient with learning those.

“Then as I’ve applied speed, that training has naturally come through into my form.”

Experience and racing against athletes who are as fast, or faster, than her, has also strengthened Zoe’s overall approach to running.

Mind work is another aspect she continually works on.

She recalls the Potts Classic in January where she set a new NZ record in her heat, clocking 11.21s.

It was just an hour and 10 minutes until the final.

“I was still tired from the heats,” Zoe admits. “I was trying to trick my head that I was feeling fresh.”

She also had to block out the “noise” from having just run a NZ record and Personal Best.

“I couldn’t allow myself to celebrate too early as I had to refocus on executing for the next race (the final).”

She ran her fastest ever time of 11.14s but it was deemed to be just into the wind-assisted range.

In 2022 she’s reaping the rewards of that hard-earned experience and loving her sport more than ever.

“The thing I love most about athletics is that the onus is on you,” she says. “It isn’t easy to get to the top but in a way that makes me want it more.” 

In her first ever race in the 60m dash, Taranaki’s Zoe Hobbs ran the 7th fastest time out of 47 women competing in the heats for the event at the World Indoor Athletics Champs in Belgrade. She ran an incredible 7.13 seconds and set a new Oceania Indoor 60m record in the process.

She came 3rd in her heat and qualified for the semi-finals, where she ran 7.16 seconds and came 3rd again, only just missing out on the final by .02 seconds.

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