“Your feet are torching away”

Anne Haug was the first German to win the famous Ironman in Hawaii. In an interview, she explains why she stares at a wall for five hours during training and sometimes winning is tough.

Anne Haug made history on October 12, 2019. She became the first German to become Ironman World Champion: after swimming 3.862 km, cycling 180.246 km and running 42.195 km. The leader Lucy Charles-Barclay was eight minutes ahead of her after cycling. But Anne Haug worked her way up kilometer by kilometer and finally overtook the Englishwoman in a marathon kilometer 25.

t-online: When you think back to the last few meters before the finish line, what was going through your head?

Photo series with 21 pictures

Anne Haug (37): I was relieved and overwhelmed. There are so many impressions that you cannot perceive all of them. In that moment, all the dreams you have worked towards come true. That was like the cream on the cake. But the fascinating thing about the Ironman is that it doesn’t really matter what position you have. Simply reaching the goal is so incredibly liberating and relieving because it cannot be taken for granted. It’s a long distance and so much can happen there, you really can’t make any mistakes.

Did you ever think you could win the race?

I actually try to avoid something like that because I know Ironman is really a beast. You can feel good and from one minute to the next you can feel really bad. In 2018 I felt really good up to kilometer 41, but on the last kilometer I thought I was going to pass out, I would never make it to the finish. Only when you see the finish line in Hawaii can you be happy or think ok, now I’ve packed it, but anything can happen until then.

Anne Haug on a triathlon bike: More than 180 kilometers on the highway. (Source: imago images / Frank Hau)Anne Haug on the triathlon bike: More than 180 kilometers on the highway. (Source: Frank Hau / imago images)
Anne Haug studied sports science in Munich. The 37-year-old first started on the significantly shorter Olympic distance and became world champion with the team in 2013. But at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, she was already far behind the competition after swimming. In 2017 she therefore switched to the long distance. A year later, she finished third.

Her competitor Lucy Charles-Barclay was five minutes faster in swimming and three minutes faster in cycling. In the end, you overtook her while running and finished six minutes ahead of her. What was it that inspired you so much?

Since I come from the short distance, I always have the urge to catch up with others. But you are very badly advised in the Ironman. So I didn’t think of anything but myself. I tried to find my rhythm, to find my tempo. Simply get what is in the tank out of me and even when I overtook you, not to be too happy, but to just keep working with concentration. Because it is over after 42.195 kilometers and not before.

Lucy Charles-Barclay, Anne Haug, Sarah Crowley: The winners 2019. (Source: imago images / Belga)Lucy Charles-Barclay, Anne Haug, Sarah Crowley: The 2019 winners. (Source: Belga / imago images)

What did you say to her when you passed her?

I said “Well Done. Keep on Fighting”, go ahead and do great. Lucy in particular is actually the most honest athlete among us, because she does everything alone in the race. She swims away from the front, she cycles all the way away from the front. At the back we always have people to use for orientation. She has now finished second in Hawaii for the third time and that’s when you know you are destroying her dream that she deserves. It’s just tough and that’s why you show yourself respect.

In Hawaii there is a section called the “Natural Energy Lab”. Why is this part of the race so notorious?

The “Energy Lab” is the part where it is not only hot, but super hot. I think 65 degrees was measured ten centimeters above the ground, and your feet will burn away. Then there’s a critical mileage. You walk in at kilometer 18 and you run out again at about kilometer 25 and many get a crack here. In addition, you walk downhill for a long time and then of course you have to go up the whole mountain again. The Hawaii marathon has an altitude difference of 800 meters. On the route, it’s just very windy, very hot and the humidity is high. It feels like being in a steam room and you’re alone on a highway the whole time.

Road in Hawaii: The mile-long wasteland is a challenge for the head. (Source: imago images / Eisend)Road in Hawaii: The mile-long wasteland is a challenge for the head. (Source: Eisend / imago images)

How do you prepare for these conditions?

There are athletes who actually train in a sauna. I train a lot on the roller trainer and you sweat a lot. I then close the windows, brood in my own juice and stare at the wall in the basement for up to five hours. For an Ironman you also have to train your head’s ability to suffer.

When the triathlon races were canceled this year and the world championship in Hawaii, did you put your running shoes in the corner?

Nah, I don’t have that at all. I think everything is kind of an opportunity too. Now I have a year without this extreme stress on my head. There you can recharge your brain batteries and be fresh for the next year.

But without a race, the prize money stays away and the sponsors have to fight for themselves, how are you currently?

Of course, I’m also dependent on prize money. But I also have great sponsors who really stand by me even in the tough times, and having won Hawaii gives me a bit of a buffer so that I can get through well now. But it’s really tough for a lot of my colleagues. On the other hand, many of our sponsors are medium-sized companies. You can understand that it is difficult on the one hand to send your employees on short-time work and on the other hand to do sports sponsorship.

Triathletes in the water: Thousands of amateur athletes are also at the start in Kailuna Kona. (Source: imago images / ZUMA Press)Triathletes in the water: In Kailuna Kona there are also thousands of amateur athletes at the start. (Source: ZUMA Press / imago images)

Triathletes are individual athletes, but they are always backed by a team of trainers, managers and physiotherapists. Do you feel the pressure to continue paying your employees?

The good thing about me is that everyone in my team still has a second income and is not financially dependent on me. But of course you also think of them. That’s why I try to take part in as many races as possible that are still taking place.

Which races are you up to this year?

Now I’m going to do another race in France and then in December the world championship of the pro triathlete organization PTO. But it must of course also take place under the appropriate health conditions. I live from my body, but I live from my health, from my body, and I definitely don’t want to risk anything. I need my body a little longer than this year.

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