After a pre-race massage gone horribly wrong broke connective rib tissue in her ribs, two-time Ironman 70.3 World Champion Melissa Hauschildt lost her chance for a record-extending third 70.3 title at Mt. Tremblant - and had to defer her Kona debut to 2015. With many of the tools necessary – a slightly better swim, a better bike and an equal 70.3 run - to challenge the seemingly invincible Mirinda Carfrae at Kona, Hauschildt has come pretty far on the road to full recovery. But after a dominating win at Challenge Laguna Phuket and a disappointingly ordinary 6th at Challenge Bahrain, the jury is still out on the former 3,000 meter steeplechase star’s Ironman World Championship ambitions.
Melissa and her husband Jared Hauschildt have gone through it all together and learned a great deal from what turned out to be a scouting expedition at Kona. While disappointed, Melissa remains optimistic about her 2015 appointment with destiny on the Queen K.
Slowtwitch: You were going to have a great debut at Kona. What stopped you?
Melissa Hauschildt: I had a massage Wednesday night before flying out to Mt Tremblant for 70.3 Worlds. And obviously it drastically went wrong. Straight away I knew it went very bad. The heel of his hand slipped off my sternum and pushed down onto my rib and it popped. I felt excruciating pain. I was hoping it was just a pinched nerve or something like that.
ST: So you weren't aware of the extent of the injury right away?
Melissa: I didn't know the extent of it going into the race. The massage therapist suggested maybe it was just bruised. We didn’t tell anyone because there was nothing we could do and I didn’t want to make excuses. And I didn’t want it to play on my mind any more than it already was. I couldn’t breathe without pain and couldn’t swim bike run.
ST: You did give it a go?
Melissa: Yeah. It was the world champs, I had to give it a go. [Hauschildt swam 26:27 – two minutes behind the leaders - and biked 2:21:08 – 5 minutes slower than winner Daniela Ryf - before pulling out] It wasn’t until after the race, we saw the doctor there in Canada, we knew it was bad. He said the pectoral was torn off the bone. For three or four weeks every breath would hurt and the rib would click in and out.
ST: Some people downplay rib injuries. They may not be serious, but they are a major hurt.
Melissa: The first two weeks it was really painful. I couldn’t sleep. Just lying down really hurt. Getting up. Doing anything. The third week the pain got a bit better. I could sleep again by now, but it was still popping in and out with every breath.
ST: What was the diagnosis?
Melissa: The first doctor said the pec was torn off the bone. The next person we saw was a physical therapist, he said the pec was torn, torn intercostals and the rib was subluxing in and out. He said I wouldn’t be able to tell if there’d be a small fracture in the rib with X-ray. The next Sports Med doctor took an ultrasound and showed me the torn connective tissue around the rib explaining why it was loosely sitting in there clicking around. He also said the intercostals would be torn.
ST: Did you get an MRI?
Melissa: We ended up not getting an MRI because the doctor seemed to think it would only show a complete crack. And if it was fractured that would heal faster than the connective tissue was going to anyway. In all it was 7 weeks before I was able to try to swim.
ST: Did you have very emotional reaction when you were forced to stop training? Or could you feel a bit philosophical about it?
Melissa: Obviously straightway after Mt Tremblant it was pretty emotional. So Jared and I got away. We went up to Keystone [in the Rocky Mountains west of Boulder] and went hiking and tried to forget about it altogether. So that really helped. Then when we were thinking about Kona – ‘Am I going to start or am I not?’ - it was a stressful few weeks playing it day by day with what training I could do within moderate pain levels as you’d expect.
ST: People were offering you a lot of advice.
Melissa: Everybody was giving us ideas of who to see and where to go and what to do. Which was great advice but also got a bit frustrating. Because everybody had a different opinion. It wasn’t helping. I guess a lot of people told me not to start Kona. Not to risk it.
ST: And they were right?
Melissa: Yeah. But you never know. It could have been fine. I might have had a great race because I had no pressure on me. I could have also done a lot more damage and still be in pain now.
ST: Do you feel that this was really good you came to this point in your second career that you don’t have a coach telling you what to do?
Melissa: I didn’t ask anybody’s opinion. Everybody threw it at me. So yeah, we took it all in and decided what was best for me. We tried to stay away from people for a bit. I guess a lot of people were just concerned. But I didn't want to keep explaining what had happened. I just didn't want to talk about it really.
ST: So in essence you are self–coached?
Melissa: Jared is coaching me and it allows me to do what I want. I can travel where we want, pick my own races. I don't have to travel with a team. It is all independent racing. You are racing for you and your sponsors. You don’t have to answer to anyone.
ST: Social media can be pretty cruel. And stupid. More heat than light. More noise than wisdom in many cases. Some speculation about your injury was critical.
Melissa: I guess social media has a lot of bullies sitting down at their computer waiting for any opportunity to say anything to feel like they are being heard. I’m luckily sheltered from most of it because I rarely go on the internet looking for anything tri-related. I usually just see what is linked to me through twitter or Facebook because then you can’t miss it. From what I have seen, the bullies love to see the pros fail. That was the main reason we went away. I tried to stay away from social media a bit and not listen to whatever everyone was saying. Just do my own thing and work through it.
ST: Had you done much special preparation for Hawaii - long runs and long bikes? What were some of the different things you did to get ready for Hawaii?
Melissa: I guess the biggest thing was we increased my run. I’ve always ridden a lot. I had ridden enough to do an Ironman for a couple of years. But my long runs have only been 90 minutes in the past. So we increased that to 2 hours. I did a couple of 2:15s - 30k runs. They went all right. We did them up really high in the mountains of Boulder.
ST: Did you run at a pace that it might take to beat Rinny?
Melissa: I wasn’t thinking about time. I don’t run race pace in my long runs. I just run them at whatever pace is comfortable for that day.
ST: So you feel you have – when healthy - one of the strongest bikes in the Kona field?
Melissa: Hopefully I might be one of the strongest on the bike or at least not lose much time to the leaders.
ST: You still went to Kona in case it got better?
Melissa: Yes we booked tickets to Kona hoping it would heal in time. We got there maybe a week and a half out. I still couldn’t get in the water and it still hurt to run when we got there. It was hard due to the breathing. The doctor said I could push the pain a bit but a training run but a race is completely different. The bigger the breath, the more intense the stabbing in the rib. But yeah it was 8 days out that I pulled the pin. I didn’t know how it was going to go there and I’d missed too much training. It could have taken me out for another six months, so it just wasn't worth it.
ST: You have had several disappointments in your life as well as high spots. Was this similar to not making the Olympics in the steeplechase?
Melissa: Yeah it’s all very tough. Each time it happens you think this is the worst one. Your first major injury [in any sport] is always the worst. But I guess with this one, what made it worst was that everything was going so well with my training and the injury was completely out of my control. With this injury I can’t look back and learn from a mistake I made in the race. I’ll still get massages in the future and I’ll still get them leading into a major race. At one split second, things went wrong and the outcome was out of my control.
ST: You have never named the massage therapist?
Melissa: I don't think it will help me. I am sure he feels bad for what he's done. I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose. But an apology would be nice. I just have to move on and I guess when I pulled the pin at Kona that helped me to move on as well.
ST: You decided not to keep banging your head against an impossible wall?
Melissa: When I finally accepted that I couldn’t race Kona and made it a clear final decision, it helped me to relax and start to really heal I think – mentally and physically. I guess I had to let it all go, forgive, and move on.
ST: When you were watching Kona it must have been bittersweet. Did you analyze it to try to prepare for the next time?
Melissa: I analyzed it in a different way than I usually do. I watched where the pro women all came out in the water and how they rode. I watched the girls on the run course and it drilled into me just what a mental game it is. You could see on their faces even the best runners out there looked like they were hurting.
ST: The wind on the bike was devastating and may have altered the race considerably?
Melissa: Yeah. By all reports, the wind was a lot worse than 2013. So it was interesting to see it change the race a little.
ST: When you watched Rinny run an almost impossible 2:50 while no one else could crack 3:06, were you thinking, ‘OK, here is how I can solve this?’ Or did it make you feel this woman is impossible to beat?
Melissa: I guess my goal would be to get off the bike with a bit of a buffer to Rinny so I don’t have to run that fast. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to run around 3hrs.
ST: How do you foresee yourself racing Kona when you are all prepared and healthy?
Melissa: Same as I race any race. CHUCKLES I don't see it as any different.
ST: Doubling your usual 70.3 swim deficit, you might be 4-5 minutes down after the Ironman swim?
Melissa: No I am usually a little less. I seem to be better at the longer swims. I tend not to lose as much time. I can keep going at the same pace all day. I just don't have that top end swim speed.
ST: How much running could you do at Kona?
Melissa: By the time I got to Kona the week of the race I was running. I ran parts of the course. I ran first thing in the morning when it was the coolest. To run mid-day is crazy there. I ran the Energy Lab, along Alii Drive and checked it all out.
ST: What surprised you?
Melissa: I was surprised it was so much flatter than expected. I really thought it was hillier.
ST: There is one big hill on the run - Palani. And coming out of the Energy Lab seems like a hill.
Melissa: That is the thing. We ran the Energy Lab and wondered: ‘Is this the hill?’ But we were fresh without having biked 180k and run 30k to get there. I guess when you are tired and 3/4 through a marathon it's gonna feel like a massive hill. Any marathoner will tell you the 30-35k mark of a marathon always seems like a massive hill.
ST: Have you figured out where you wanted to be at the swim start?
Melissa: Not exactly sure about that. I guess the pro women's field is a lot smaller. There was plenty of room. So you kinda got to pick the path you want to go. I guess I’ll try to start next to the girls I want to be swimming with.
ST: Do you feel perfectly healthy now?
Melissa: Yep. It all feels good now. In the end it just needed time. There was no miracle cure.
ST: Have you returned to your optimum swim form yet?
Melissa: Yeah. My swim’s back to where it was before the injury.
ST: Had you competed since Mt. Tremblant and before Laguna Phuket?
Melissa: I did Noosa Tri [on November 2] for a little hit out [she finished 7th] a week before Mandurah 70.3 [on November 9, where she DNF].
ST: What was encouraging about Mandurah?
Melissa: The good thing was I got through the swim all right and I hadn't lost any time on where I was prior to the injury. And the biking went well. I had one of the fastest bike splits.
ST: What do you think of the really sharp uphills and sharp downhills on the bike at Laguna Phuket?
Melissa: It makes it exciting. You don’t get many courses that are really hilly like that. It is 21 percent up and the descent is 22 percent with sharp corners at the bottom of the hills. It is a really technical course. Then you have all the dogs and the chicken running around. So it is quite unique.
ST: Is this the most dangerous or hardest 70.3 bike course?
Melissa: The hills are really hard and the humidity has an effect. But you also get a little bit of rest on the downhills. It is definitely the most dangerous. It is also very technical and there is a lot of moss on the roads. You have to play it safe on the corners if you want to stay upright. If it’s wet you may even want to get off your bike and slide down the hills on your feet. Holly Bennett taught me this one – I crashed once last year and slid down on my feet the next time to avoid going over the edge.
ST: You have had great success racing here [three wins before Challenge Laguna Phuket] and nice pics with the elephants at the finish. Did the elephants pull tricks on you?
Melissa: Yeah. They kiss you! They suck your face off! CHUCKLES They kiss you right on the lips and pretty much suck your lips off. That was a bit of a shock.
ST: Do you like to come here and stay in palatial digs?
Melissa: It is pretty awesome. The rooms are amazing. We all have our own pool. The staff is so friendly. The whole experience is pretty amazing. It is one of our favorites, that's for sure.
Hauschildt proved that she was back on form by winning Challenge Laguna Phuket in 107-degree heat. She swam 28:20, biked 2:29:31 and ran 1:27:06 to finish in 4:27:40 – 14:45 ahead of runner-up Parys Edwards.
ST: Ever have second thoughts about running internationally again?
Melissa: When I see or smell a track I want to get on it and start running again. I do miss it a bit. But I just think there is less injury here in triathlon. The stress on the body is more balanced.
ST: Why do you like to be based in the US for the Northern hemisphere summer?
Melissa: Originally because the world champs were in the US – the 70.3 Worlds and Kona obviously. You can go there and race all the US season and World Champs and then go home. Now with the World 70.3 champs in Europe next year, we might go over there for a little bit. Haven't decided my race schedule yet. But Boulder is amazing. Every time we go there we look forward to it. It is a good base and awesome for training.
ST: Looking forward, is winning 70.3 Worlds good enough for you? To what degree are you aiming at Ironman Hawaii?
Melissa: Until now, 70.3 Worlds was at the top of what I wanted to win. But now obviously I want to work up to Ironman. That is my higher goal – to win Kona. So that will be a bigger focus next year. I will still do 70.3 Worlds and try to win it.
ST: How convinced are you that you can win Kona?
Melissa: Yeah, I think I can do it.
Jared Hauschildt: It was confidence building for her being in Kona this year and then seeing how it ran. Seeing that Rinny could win with a 14 minute deficit.
Melissa: I guess everybody talks up the Kona course like it is so difficult and so different from any other race. But it is just another race.
Jared: The course itself is not the hardest by any stretch. It is not the hottest. It is not the most humid. It is not the windiest. It does have all those elements, but I think the history and the mystique makes people think it’s tough.
Melissa: I guess the hardest thing about it is it is the world championship. It is the one everyone wants to win. That’s the part that makes it hard to win. Not so much the course and conditions.
ST: Some people said that Caroline Steffen raced too much and never had her best day at Kona.
Melissa: I don’t agree with that. Look at Daniela [Ryf]. She had an awesome race. Including Kona, she raced three Ironmans in three months. Meredith Kessler does how many other Ironmans a year? She can win them back to back. She is very strong [Kessler gave Hauschildt one of her rare 2013 losses at Vineman 70.3] and we thought she would be on the podium.
ST: You are not going to be overwhelmed by the Kona mystique?
Melissa: Not by the Kona mystique. It’s just another race with the same girls on the start line that I race all over the place. The title it has as ‘World Championship’ might be the part that has certain people cracking under the pressure. Everyone wants to win it so they maybe put a lot more pressure on themselves than they usually would through the year.
ST: To some, Ironman Hawaii means more than some world championship term tacked on. To some, Ironman Hawaii supersedes and transcends the term world championship.
Melissa: I think if you know the long history of it, it means more than World Championships. More so for age groupers who want to complete the famous ‘Hawaii Ironman.’
ST: After your dominating win at Challenge Laguna Phuket, you had a more difficult outing at Challenge Bahrain and finished 6th, 6:41 behind winner Helle Frederiksen. Does this discourage you in your quest for Kona?
Melissa: I was a little flat in Bahrain. Maybe racing in Phuket just 6 days prior was not the best idea this time. I don't regret racing Challenge Phuket - it's my favourite race of the year - but it was a learning lesson and maybe to ensure I'm fit and fresh next year I might need to reconsider the double. Bahrain is a great race - I look forward to giving it another go next year!