Anne Haug has had to wait for well over two years for the chance to defend her IRONMAN World Championship title, but ‘The Road To St George’ is now into the final straight.
In under eight weeks the German star will face the world’s best in a titanic collision on the rugged terrain of Utah for the biggest prize in long-distance racing.
This week I got the chance to speak with Anne about her preparations for a mouthwatering 2022 season, and the challenge that St George will present on May 7.
Change is good
The first thing I asked her about was the long gap between World Championships (“I hope it’s the only time in history” she pointed out) and having the race on a course away from Kona. She is embracing the change, and the potential for new stars to come out of the pack after such a long period with very little racing.
“In three years a lot of things can happen. People can rise up, everyone could hide in three years. It’s a completely new World Championship and I’m really excited to race in St George for the first time.
“I think it’s always good to have a little bit of a change. Kona is so specific and maybe it suits some athletes more than some others. If it changes a bit so an athlete has a better chance than in Kona, I’m really excited to prove that I can be good on another course outside of Kona.”
Who suits St George?
I spoke with another Kona champion from Germany recently in the shape of Patrick Lange, and he told me he believes the course in St George will suit the lighter athletes like himself and potentially Anne. She though, is not so sure.
“I’m not sure if it suits really light people, or if it will suit the strong girls. I don’t think it will be a very fast marathon because it’s so super-hilly. So I think people who are really strong will have a good chance as well.
“We have to wait and see but I don’t think just the light and small athletes have a benefit, but the very strong ones will have chances as well.
“It depends on the dynamics of the race as well. If the strong cyclists go ahead and have a lead or if there’s a pack. We’ll see how the race dynamic is, and then it’s who can run the strongest and fastest marathon in the end.”
When I was racing Kona I didn’t really go into the big day with a specific gameplan, and I was interested to note that Anne has a similar mindset.
She explained to me: “I don’t really have a strategy to be honest. When the gun goes off I try my very best and try to stay focused and do my own race, not to get too confused with what everybody else is doing.
“Because I think you really have to control yourself that you have enough energy to run a good marathon, because the marathon is my thing and I want to run a really fast marathon so I must be very controlled and see how the race unfolds.
“You can have the best plans in advance, and then the race happens and everything is different so you have to make smart decisions in the race. I think it’s useless to make any plans beforehand because the race is always so different.”
It’s clear Anne is always looking for ways to optimise her performance, and she is integrating an altitude block into her preparation for St George. Something she hasn’t done for a number of years.
“I haven’t done altitude training since I was a short-course athlete. This is my first altitude camp since before the 2016 Olympics in Rio. So I was really excited to have an altitude camp and see how it unfolds on Ironman as well.
“I’m struggling a little bit for time and I will see if I have a benefit. It’s a bit of trial and error for Utah, and if it works well maybe I’ll integrate it more often and for Kona as well.
“I like to do some new stuff and I think I have to be at my very best to be competitive, and maybe it will enhance my performance a bit so that’s why I’m trying to see how it works.”
Two prep races for Haug
That desire to test and compare different approaches means Anne will take in two prep races ahead of St George, to find out which prep works best.
“I will race 70.3 Lanzarote (March 19) straight from altitude to see if it’s better to race straight from altitude. Then I will race Challenge Salou (April 3) to see if altitude and a little bit of rest and speed training at sea level is better.
“So yeah, I have some test races and then hopefully I’ll be ready for St George.”
A victory for Anne in St George – or in Kona in October – would see her become the oldest woman ever at 39 to win an IRONMAN World Championship. I asked if that would mean anything, but it’s clear she doesn’t even give it a second thought.
Age is just a number
“I don’t really care about my age. I feel like 25 – I mean nothing really changed. I’m still motivated like I was 15 years ago.
“As long as I improve every year and the effort I put in every year shows in performance, I’m willing to go on. I don’t really feel like 39 – it’s just a number and the mindset is much more important and the power you are willing to put in every day. Kick your ass every day to get better, I think that’s the most important thing!”
The theory that an IRONMAN World Championship so early in the year, and after three years with so little racing, will be more open is definitely one Anne subscribes to.
“I would assume not only the big four or big five that everyone has on their list will be the favourites, because I think in three years a lot of things can happen. I think in three years a lot of new and motivated young athletes can come up and show a good performance.
“It will be new for everyone. I’m really excited to see which athletes will pop up because we had three years with almost no racing.
St George is wide open
“I think it’s very open and nobody is really the favourite because it’s like a first World Championship for everyone after such a long time.”
You can watch my full interview with Anne by clicking on the embed below.