Anne Haug earned two Olympic slots, won the 2012 Grand Final and took second to Lisa Norden in the ITU year-end World Championship standings. But after a strong 2013 season, a wave of fast swimming American women and flat bike courses made Haug’s bike strength less relevant. A stress fracture in her hip in 2014 led to a decline in performance, and a dispiriting 36th at the 2016 Olympics in Rio cinched her decision that it was time for a change.
As one door closed, another opened for Anne Haug. Long course, no-draft racing was a perfect fit and after a second stress fracture in her hip at the beginning of 2017 forced a period of rest, she started winning 70.3 races in 2017 with run times in the 1:17s. In this new arena, she could make up time lost in the swim with an improving bike and win races with her ace run.
Cut to 2018, and Haug made a big impression with a 3rd place finish in her first try at Kona, capped by a women’s-best 2:55:20 marathon. While her numbers were impressive, anyone with eyes could see that her run form was celestial, floating like a wraith with her feet barely touching the ground. You cannot watch Anne run without thinking of three-time Kona champion Mirinda Carfrae, whose run form could have been the sport’s logo.
With her 2018 Kona performance, Haug’s future seemed inevitably rosy. But fate had another plan, one that for time rendered improbable what she would do in October, 2019.
Slowtwitch: At the Kona pro pre-race press conference, you said you were unable to run for five months early in 2019. What happened?
Anne Haug: After Kona last year I took a little break and I got an offer of a running shoe sponsorship. I tried these shoes but I didn’t spend much time looking into that. I trained through the whole winter and I spent a lot of time home – away from my physio. And I had attended a training camp where I had treatment. But instead of getting better it got worse and worse. The last point was after Dubai in February I had to get an MRI and doctors found a big tear on my foot due to plantar fasciitis. So I had to rest. But one week later I was back in training and I got a stress fracture in my tibia. Even worse, I started back training four weeks before Ironman Copenhagen.
ST: You must have been careful and nervous of another setback?
Anne: Preparing for this long race I just did one 35k run! It worked because it is not like ITU race pace. It is more like a strong endurance efficient run. And I think I can get away with a marathon But I definitely wasn’t in shape to go for the Ironman 70.3 Worlds as well because I am just missing the hard and the intensity runs. So I think it was a good choice and I was back in training since the end of July.
ST: When did you know in training you had recovered your best form?
Anne: I didn’t know to be honest. I tried my best at Copenhagen and I was surprised.
[Haug’s results were spectacular at Copenhagen. But she must have been on a knife’s edge to avoid reinjury as she needed a Kona qualifying validation. She finished in 8:31:32 with a 51:04 swim, 4:37:28 bike and 2:57:26 run.]
Same for race day at Kona. You don’t win in training. You always have doubts. You are not sure. You don’t want to run a marathon in training obviously. But I ran 35k before Kona. So it is always a bit of a gamble. And you hope for the best.
After all you have been through this year, did you start to have doubts creep in?
Anne: To be honest. I wasn’t sure if I could hold it together. I tried to really stay focused. Not make any mistakes. Take drinks and nutrition at every aid station. And just be smart. At that point, I was not racing Lucy obviously. But I tried to give the very best I could. And if I am lucky enough, I can pull out a good race marathon.
[At T2 Lucy Charles-Barclay led Haug by 8 minutes. Last year, Haug outran Charles-Barclay by 10 minutes but could not pass her. This year, at Palani, Haug trimmed that deficit to 5 minutes. Up on the Queen K, by Mile 14, that gap was 2 minutes. At the Natural Energy Lab, Haug passed for the lead. Haug ran a women’s Kona near-record 2:51:06 - front and back halves nearly equal - to finish in 8:40:10 with a 6:34 margin of victory over LCB. Haug’s run was 14:53 better than Charles-Barclay's.]
Did you expect to run so fast? And, if you were in a battle for the lead down the stretch, would you have run as well?
Anne:I think I run pretty consistent I don’t know what would have happened if I had to battle against someone at the end. So I was pretty happy with my run. I don ‘t think I could have gone faster. I wasn’t expecting that time. If you have to battle someone it is different. Your run might be up or down. But if you have a very consistent run it will make a for a good time. You never know!
With this World Championship victory and the fame that comes with it, do you think your life will change?
Anne: I hope it doesn’t change too much because it is nice how it is at home right now.