In 2012, Anne Haug of Germany won the WTS Grand Final and took second to Lisa Norden in the yearlong World Championship standings. In 2013, she had 2 wins and 5 podiums on the WTS circuit. Some injuries led to a decline in performance the next few years, and a disappointing 39th at the Rio Olympics made her rethink her future in the sport.
A switch to middle distance late in 2017 has been an electrifying success. Starting with Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote where she ran 1:18:14 to blast past Lucy Charles for a win, Haug was second at the Middle East 70.3 Championship in Bahrain. Haug closed fast with a 1:17:27 run to pass Daniela Ryf and take second place to Holly Lawrence. This year, Haug ran a dazzling 1:14:11 run to win Bahrain 70.3. At Oceanside 70.3, Haug ran a 1:16:24 half to pass Lawrence for a 4:23 margin of victory.
Sometime this year, perhaps at 70.3 Worlds, Haug will meet a revived Melissa Hauschildt and might confront Daniela Ryf to see if she can win a world title at her new distance.
Slowtwitch: That makes three victories and one second place in your first four Ironman 70.3 races. Did you have an idea you could do that well when you contemplated taking on the middle distance?
Anne Haug: No. I didn’t expect that. To be honest, I was quite scared of the long 90km time trial on the bike. That’s something completely new for me and the TT bike plus aero position still feels quite unfamiliar.
ST: In addition, your run splits mark you as one of and perhaps THE fastest women’s 70.3 runner in history: 1:18:14 at Lanzarote, 1:17:27 at Bahrain, 1:14:11 at Dubai, 1:16:24 at Oceanside. The only pro woman who matches you in speed and consistency at 70.3 runs is two-time 70.3 World Champion Melissa Hauschildt. Are you surprised by this? Why are you so fast at the increased distance?
Anne I’ve always been a good runner, but I’m more than surprised that I can hold this speed over the half marathon distance as well. But compared to Olympic distance speed, where we used to run around 33-34 minutes, it’s not that quick any more. I think my base endurance is much better due to the different bike training, which helps me to keep the run speed high over the half marathon.
ST: Back in 2012 and 2013, you were often the second fastest WTS runner to Gwen Jorgensen. How much of that speed did you take from Olympic distance to 70.3?
Anne You need that high speed from short course to run a fast half marathon.
ST: Darren Smith guided you to your best ITU season in 2012 – 2nd at WTS season long points and a win at the Grand Final. What were the key things he did to raise your game?
Anne To train in an absolutely professional environment was the key for my success. It was a big honor for me getting selected by Darren to train in the best women’s squad at that time. I got told and shown what it requires to be a professional athlete every day.
ST: You also did well in 2013 and 2014, but there was a gradual falling off in results after your peak in 2012. What accounted for that?
Anne I think 2013 was my best year with podiums in almost every race. It’s always easier to be the dark horse than to perform on the highest level when everyone expects it from you. In the beginning of 2014 I suffered a stress fracture in my hip and my season was over. To make sure that I will be fit for my big goal Rio 2016 my coach Dan Lorang was extremely conservative and careful to build me up slowly, not to have any setbacks or injuries again. That was the reason why I didn’t have the fitness in 2015.
ST: Why did you choose to return to Dan Lorang as your coach?
Anne Dan Lorang is my current coach and has been from the very beginning. I met him in university as a fellow student 13 years ago and he built me up from an absolute beginner to world class level. He knows me better that everyone else. He suffered and celebrated with me defeats and victories, saw all my ups and downs and he’s the one I trust 1000%.
ST: What has he done to prepare you for middle distance triathlon? How long have you been training for the increased distance?
Anne I don’t think the middle distance training is so much different to the short course training. Consistency is the key for success in endurance sport. Therefore I’m quite surprised that I was able to perform on that level last year, because I suffered another stress fracture in my hip in the beginning of 2017. I wasn't allowed to use my leg until June 2017. So my training for middle distance started 10 months ago.
ST: You did so well at WTS races.
Anne Yeah I won a bronze and a silver medal at the World Champs. But ITU changed quite a bit. The swim gets so much faster. I am not a good swimmer. So, if you don’t make the first pack, you don’t have a chance to compete there. I see my chances on the long course. I did ITU long enough. There is the next step for me.
ST: I see you have no ITU results since the 2016 Olympics.
Anne Yes I did give up on WTS. I was no longer on the national team. You have to have points to qualify for the races. Yeah. I had to make a step to the long course.
ST: What did your 36th place finish at Rio tell you about your future in triathlon?
Anne The Rio Olympics were a traumatic experience for me. I put myself under so much pressure to win a medal that my fear of failing was bigger than the belief in actual achieving it. I have always had that little voice or hope inside me telling me I can do great one time, despite what everyone else said or how far I was behind after the swim. I’ve always thought if I just work and try harder I will be still able to win. After Rio I’ve lost that belief. The burden of previous success was too heavy and I wasn’t able to live up to my own expectations anymore. So I had to move on. Find some new goals with no expectations to fan the flame inside me again.
ST: What are the greatest strengths you have brought from Olympic distance to 70.3?
Anne Racing the WTS Series is probably the toughest you can do in triathlon. The swim start with up to 75 athletes is a bit like going to war. Sometimes I was so scared at the first buoy that I thought I will drown. The density of high quality athletes is just amazing and if you have just a short weak moment your race is over. That requires a lot of mental strength, concentration, focus and cleverness in terms of race tactics. Having that background helped me a lot.
ST: What disciplines have you improved the most in your debuts at 70.3?
Anne I had to improve my bike. Time trialing over 90km is very different to a 40km drafting legal race.
ST: Holly Lawrence remarked that she was surprised how strong you were on the bike. I see you biked away from the field at the 2012 Grand Final. Have you always been strong on the bike? Or has it been an on and off strength?
Anne I always had to bike really hard on my own, chasing the first pack, because my swim just wasn’t good enough. And because I’m a small and lightweight athlete, my power/weight ratio is quite good. So the more hilly and challenging the course the better my bike performance.
ST: I see you were 2 and a half minutes behind after the swim at Oceanside. Were you always biking from behind on the ITU circuit? Why is that?
Anne Because my swim isn’t just good enough. I taught myself swimming when I was 20 years old via YouTube videos and by watching others.
ST: Tell us how badly you were shivering and chattering after the 58 degree swim at Oceanside? What did that do to your legs on the bike? Did that affect you at the beginning of the run?
Anne I was really cold. Thought I will travel to warm and sunny California, but it was actually colder than in Germany. I managed to warm up somehow before the start of the swim, but after 400 meters I started getting stiffer and slower in cadence and my feet were just frozen. Even during the whole 90km bike they didn’t warm up. So the run was a bit rusty at the beginning and never started to feel good and fast (like in the three other races before). It was hard work and concentration to hold my technique together.
ST: Seems that you and Holly Lawrence have a rivalry. At Bahrain you ran a race-best 1:17 but Holly held you off. At Dubai, Lawrence held a 3:31 lead on you at T2, but you blasted by her with a race-best (perhaps all-time women’s 70.3) split and won by 4:54. At Oceanside you started the run 2:30 down and zoomed past her at 4 miles. She says she will have to work a lot harder on the bike. What is it like to race her?
Anne Holly has proven to be one of the best athletes at 70.3 races. If you want to become the best version of yourself you have to face and race the best and that’s what I’m after. I need to know where the benchmark is and what I have to improve.
ST: What has this success done for your confidence?
Anne Not much. I’m naturally not very self-confident at all. Every race starts from zero. Just because you’ve won races, doesn´t mean you will win again or you have kind of a bonus or head start.
ST: How will you race and prepare for 70.3 Worlds?
Anne To be honest, I haven't thought in detail about the 70.3 Worlds yet. I’m an athlete and I just think from week to week or race to race. The next one will be Challenge Samorin. I leave it to my coach Dan Lorang and my physio Sabrina Hoppe to see the big picture and prepare me well for the Worlds.
ST: Why will you take on Ironman Frankfurt? Might you have the aerobic capacity to compete for the win? How will you prepare?
Anne I took Ironman Frankfurt because I want to race the best and see where I’m up to. I can’t and don’t want to predict anything, because I just don’t know what to expect, how my body will cope. And that’s a good thing. I have nothing to lose, so I will go out, give it all I have and see what happens.
ST: I notice you had similar things to say after winning the 2012 Grand Final and after Oceanside. You said you couldn’t believe it – why did you feel that way?
Anne Because I’m an athlete. I think it’s normal to have self doubts and be unsatisfied all the time. That drives me to improve and get better every day. Winning a race is something really special and nothing you can control. Everything has to come together perfectly on the day that matters plus this bit of extra luck, you always need to win.
ST: Where are you based for training?
Anne I’m based at the Olympic training center in Saarbrücken and at Club La Santa in Lanzarote.
ST: Have you ever had heroes in sport or life? Who might they be?
Anne Of course. There a so many athletes and people I admire for very different abilities and who inspire me every day. There are the champions in sport who have the unique mental strength to execute on the one day when everyone does expect it and the pressure is on. But there are the many age group athletes as well achieving great things by overcoming illness, blow of fate or own thought limits beside family and working life.
Or the people in my little team. These are real heroes, working in the background where no one can see them, never asking for anything or complain. They work unselfishly with dedication, spending hours for me with no guarantee of success, just because they believe in me no matter what. I’m so honored and proud being surrounded by those.
ST: What is your philosophy of life?
Anne "Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out" - Vaclav Havel.