On this edition of The Kona Edge we meet up with Christian Haupt who has an incredible journey into triathlon. He shares with us the problems he had and how his mental strength kept him coming back to train time after time. Having completed Ironman World Championships in just over 9 hours he’s humble in his goals of completing his 2017 race in under 9 hours. This is his story.
BRAD BROWN: We head to Hanover in Germany now and it’s a great pleasure to welcome Christian Haupt onto the podcast. Christian, welcome onto The Kona Edge, nice to have you.
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Thank you, to be here, I’m very proud of it.
BRAD BROWN: I’m sure you are Christian and just looking at your Kona 2016 results, so people know who you are, first in your age group, 40th overall, 39th in your gender age group, Daniela Ryf was the only female to beat you on the day, you must be pretty proud of your performance in Kona this year?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Yeah, exactly, I’m very proud of the performance and I didn’t expect I could be so fast, I thought I could reach 9:15 and now it was exactly 9 hours and 35 seconds, that’s a great result for me, it was a perfect race, it was a very good race.
BRAD BROWN: Looking at that time, 9 flat with 35 seconds, have you now, post-race, sat down and thought where you could have made those 35 seconds up so you could have gone under 9 hours?
Conditions at Kona make it a hard race
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Yeah, I didn’t have a perfect race, so the 35 seconds would be, because I had some problems with my chains and I lost my bottle off the bike, so I think I could do the 35 seconds, but I think the conditions this year were okay, when I start there next year I could say, hey, I will do a 8:59, that would be no problem. Every race is different and it’s very hard and the conditions at Kona, especially, are very hard.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely. Christian, let’s take a step back and let’s talk about you and how you got into the sport, where did your love for triathlon start?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: I’m not so long in the triathlon business. I started my fourth triathlon in 2013, just three years ago, the year before I was completely ill, I had a hard, strong virus, so I couldn’t train for one year and the year before that, in 2011 I just did duathlon, that was my first year duathlon and it was exactly successful, I couldn’t think it could be so good. I started the first time duathlon at the German Championships and got 2nd place but I hadn’t a license, so I couldn’t tell everybody that I was 2nd, it wasn’t official, and the autumn I could start at the Duathlon World Championships and I was there at my second duathlon [inaudible 0.03.33], sprint distance.
BRAD BROWN: That’s amazing. Christian, growing up, what sorts of sports did you play growing up, were you very active as a kid?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Yes, I was very active as a kid, but just playing football/soccer and when I was 14 years old a friend of mine said to me: You have great fun when you go to Ireland ride mountain bikes, so let us go mountain biking and he took me with him. He gave me a bike and said: It’s no problem when you can’t go this mountain here because the most one that I know didn’t come here and my first time with his bike, I could reach the top without standing up and then he said: Okay, you may have talent! That was the start that I started with mountain biking and I wasn’t too bad, but not so good and then I had a problem, I’ve got a lung, where you breathe –
BRAD BROWN: Yes, your lung.
A hole in the lung doesn’t need to stop you
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Yeah, my lung, I had a hole inside and so I have to go out of the sport for some years and then I started with 20 years with playing football and I didn’t know it could be so hard playing football and that was the reason I started with running. From my sister, her boyfriend, he needed a training partner and he knows, oh, he was a good guy in mountain biking, maybe he could train me for the marathon and then he picked me up sometimes and said: Come on, let’s train a bit together and he told me about how to train smart and that was the reason I started with running. I had a lot of fun when I was running with him and some years then I was just a runner afterwards and just only running, no biking and so on. I was very often injured and so I started with biking and I did biking and running together and another friend took me and said: You have to do a duathlon, that was the start of my real duathlon/triathlon career.
BRAD BROWN: That’s amazing. Do you sometimes wish you’d started earlier? You said you haven’t been around the game for that long, only three years, but do you sometimes wish that you had started when you were younger?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Yeah, exactly because I love the sport and it would be great to be a pro. My problem is I learnt swimming just at 31 years, before that I couldn’t do crawl and I had to definitely start from point zero and if I had started with swimming in my youth, I think that would be much easier to do good races.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about turning pro Christian and I think one of the big questions that’s come out of Kona 2016 was just the strength of German triathlon and particularly, if you look at the pros as an example, the top three, all German, you got four out of the top five and another German in the top 10, so you’re basically sitting with half of the top ten on the men’s side of things, all from Germany. What do you think is the reason for that? Why is it that Germany is producing so many good triathletes right now?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: In Germany triathlon is very popular, that’s one reason. Yeah, when you want to win a little triathlon here in Germany, you have to be really tough and so the level is very high. We didn’t have a good triathlete in the sprint distance or in the Olympic distance so the focus is on the long distance races and that’s the reason why everybody wants to go to do the long distance races in Germany and so the fastest guys always have their focus on the long distance races from youth upwards and that’s the reason why we’re so good at Kona this year.
BRAD BROWN: It’s amazing and we talk about the pros, but also the first age grouper home was Lukas Kraemer from Germany as well, obviously you won your age group, I want to know what’s in your water, there must be something in the water in Germany, I think we all need to come and train there.
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: I don’t think so we have something in the water. I think we’ve got good conditions here as well and I couldn’t say that’s the one point why the Germans are actually so fast. I think the other triathlon nations will come in the next years and go to Kona and have good races. I think it’s just a couple of years that’s the reason the Germans are so good, like this year.
BRAD BROWN: I was going to say, even though Jan Frodeno is German, he’s spent quite a bit of time in South Africa, so we’re going to claim him as ours as well, we can share him if that’s okay?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: That’s okay, I was two times in South Africa and I love the country.
BRAD BROWN: Christian, let’s talk about getting better at this thing and really knuckling down. You’ve obviously got ability and you’ve realised that now, but getting the balance right of putting in enough hours to get better as a triathlete, particularly an age grouper, you’re not in an easy age group, you’re the 35-39, there’s lots of competition there, it gets a bit harder once you hit the 40’s as well, how do you get the balance right of work and family and getting enough training in, just so you are almost leading a normal life, although I don’t know, as a triathlete and an Ironman triathlete if there is such a thing as normal?
Training for Ironman must be part of your normal day
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Well, I think one of the main points is that the sport is a typical part of your life, that you don’t have to think, oh, I have to train or do I want to train or not want to train. You have to do it at your normal, it must be normal in your day. I always run to my work and run back from work, from the office back home. Swimming, I will often do before work, so that’s how I do it on my own. I’ve trained before work and sometimes after work and that’s one of the things that you have to integrate it into your day.
BRAD BROWN: As far as climate goes, you mentioned Germany is a great place to train, the winters can get very brutal as well, we were talking before we started recording that you’re going into the off season now and then you obviously tick over, you keep training, but you’re not really training for a specific race or are you? How do you deal with the off season, what sort of training do you put in now for the next couple of months?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Now I’m really in the off season, I just train having fun, but I will start at the 1st of December with the focus of a new season and yeah, I train very often cycling at home in front of the TV, that’s a great place. I don’t like to train cycling when I’m too cold, that’s something I don’t like. Running is no problem and swimming of course is inside, but that’s one of the points how I do it in the winter. When you have an early race in Europe, in the season, you definitely have to go to the south of Europe and do a training camp.
BRAD BROWN: It’s beneficial, it’s obviously advantageous because of the weather, do you do most of your training on your own? You talk about the camps and obviously in Europe there’s lots of them particularly as you say, in the south of Europe where it’s slightly warmer than possibly further north, do you train with a triathlon group or do you do most of your stuff on your own?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Well, I have the big advantage that [inaudible 0.13.35] lives here, just only 1km away, that’s Jan Hauffer, he’s twice vice European champion at Frankfurt and I could call him round the clock and say: Come on, let’s train this and this. He’s one of the people that I could motivate on my own, especially in the winter and that works very well.
BRAD BROWN: Christian, let’s talk about the reason for doing an Ironman, you spoke about doing duathlon and you spoke about the strength of German triathlon, particularly on the longer things, what was your thinking, why have you gravitated towards the longer stuff like the Ironman?
The longer distance makes you stronger
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Well, I think I feel that the long distance races are my part because when we are doing long training days, I think I could, especially in the last two hours from a long cycling ride, then I’m very strong and I’m fast, so I know okay, when you want to reach something, you have to go to the long distance races. I like it to go training for long bike rides and so on, so that’s how I know I have to go to the long distance races. I think the Ironman, especially the ultimate competition against yourself, especially in Germany everybody says okay, you’re doing triathlon, what’s your Ironman time and the focus in Germany is very hard to the long distance races and when the focus is there and you know your strength is long distance races, then it’s very clear the way to an Ironman and I think Ironman is just the ultimate competition to yourself. That’s what I want to do, that’s what I wanted to do on my own.
BRAD BROWN: Christian, as far as choosing races goes, there’s lots of races in Europe and if you look at the size of Europe compared to say North America as an example, there’s lots of races in North America but they are spread quite a way across the country whereas in Europe there’s lots of races in a fairly close space. How do you go about choosing which races you want to race? Is it a case of finding ones that are maybe a bit faster and flatter because that’s what suits you or is it a case of going and finding ones with more hills like Nice in France as an example? How do you set up your race calendar?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Last year I started at Majorca and I know that one thing is, I wanted to do an Ironman in the 2nd half of the season, that was one thing, how I could come to Majorca and the other thing was I want to do a hot race, I like the heat and the course should be very hilly, that’s the other thing I wanted to do because I’m a good climber with the bike. Then the race was very clear that I want to go to Majorca because I was there two times ago in the training camp and I love this island, I know you can do around the race a little bit of holiday, so the choice of Majorca was very clear for me, very fast.
BRAD BROWN: As far as the amount of Ironman races you can do in a year, what do you think is your ideal? How many is the right number for you?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Sorry, please ask again?
BRAD BROWN: How many full Ironman races can you do in one season? How many is too much for you, how many is just right?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Before Kona I did no Ironman race because I qualified at Majorca in the September and the slot was for Kona the next year, so I talked with my coach what I should do and she said: That’s a great present that you don’t have to do an Ironman as an age grouper before Kona because you’re very fit, you have to look the whole season just to Kona, every race you choose is just with the focus of Kona and that’s the reason why this year I just do one Ironman and yeah, in 2017 I think I will only do one Ironman, at the winner of the World Championships I’m qualified for the next year, so I will go next year to Kona as well and do no long distance race before.
BRAD BROWN: Do you think age groupers race too much, that they’re racing full Ironman’s too often?
How many Ironman races is enough in a season?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: I think two Ironman’s are okay in a year, but not more. We aren’t pros and our training km are not so much like the pros, so we have to give our body a little bit more of regeneration and that’s the reason why I think that two Ironman’s are enough in one season.
BRAD BROWN: Christian, I normally ask what people are most proud of, one achievement and I’m guessing for you it’s your age group win in Kona in 2016, other than that, what else are you proud of, as far as your triathlon career is concerned?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: I think I’m very proud that I come every time back here. I had a hole in my lung in my youth, but I come back. I had two broken bones in my leg after a marathon, but I come back. I had a very hard virus, the EB-vi, I don’t know how it’s called in English and everybody said to me: Now your career is over, you’re over 30 years old, now it’s enough for you. Every time I come back and especially mentally, I come back stronger and that’s one thing which the Kona win, I’m very proud of.
BRAD BROWN: Do you think coming back like that is a mental thing? That it’s a decision that you want to come back and drive yourself back and that’s, like you say, it’s the mental side of it that keeps you strong. Is that what gives you the edge?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Yes, I think it was the thing why I’m the Kona winner. The last 12km in Kona were very hard and I had great pain and that’s because I’m mentally strong, that’s the reason why I could, I don’t run slower and slower like the others, but yes, that’s the reason why I could do it.
Pacing the perfect race
BRAD BROWN: Christian, I love your splits in Kona in 2016, you mentioned you had the perfect race, obviously there were one or two things that maybe didn’t go according to plan, but just to give people an idea of what you did, you swam 57:39, so you came out of the water and you were 52nd in your age group, 305th overall. Off the bike you were 8th in your age group, 68th overall and then after the run you were 1st. You literally, all day, you probably didn’t get past once by anyone, it was just, once you got out of the water, that was it. Not that you were playing catch-up, but you paced the perfect race.
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Yeah, I think I know my body very well and that’s the reason why I paced well and some guys will take me on the bike and I said: What are they doing here for the crazy pace and one of them was a training colleague of mine and he said to me: I was in the transition area and the race was over, he knows it. I come to the transition point and I said: Okay, now we can go running and that’s the difference and that’s one of the main reasons I’m very fast at the running.
BRAD BROWN: That’s incredible. Looking at your triathlon career over the years, what would you say has been your biggest disappointment and what have you learnt from it?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Oh, last year I won the 70.3 World Championship and they told me afterwards I did drafting, but I didn’t draft and I didn’t get a penalty, so that was the biggest disappointment because I did nothing wrong at that race and there was no referee who told me I have to go to the penalty box. When I would get a penalty I would go to the penalty box, there’s no discussion for me and yeah, I was the first over the finish line and then they told me after a few hours, oh, you’re now disqualified and I didn’t know how that came about and that’s not only my story, that’s the story of nearly 80 other guys at this race. So there must be something wrong, but that was the biggest disappointment for me. That was something that I did, why I’m travelling to Majorca this year to Kona, a little bit angry, it had an extra mental effect.
BRAD BROWN: With a bit of a point to prove, I’m sure. Christian, let’s talk about drafting. There’s been a few pictures from Kona 2016 on that bike where there were massive packs, particularly in the age group race and I think where you came out of the water, I think it’s around that spot where most of the athletes are coming out between 55 minutes and an hour. It’s difficult on that course with so many good athletes to not get caught up in bunches on the bike. What are your thoughts on it? Is there a way to fix it or is that just what it is in the sport and we need to deal with it?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Well, I had a referee nearly 60km, just only a few minutes before or behind me, or directly to me and I had a very fair race, I could say, but just because of that, there was the whole time a referee next to me. When I come back from Hawi I saw the groups coming up and I saw, oh God, what is that, I don’t want them to catch me, so I have to bike harder from Hawi to Kona as I want to. I think it’s a very big problem and when you have so many starters in this field and especially in Kona they’re coming out of the water round about 55 minutes to an hour to an hour five, so the first 10-15km you just have to overtake the whole time and there’s no chance to do a fair race in the first 15 minutes, but afterwards, for me, I could say it was a very fair race, just because there was the whole time a referee directly near to me. I could say how you could change that. I think it’s a very big problem and you can only fight it with more referees and they have to be very hard with their decisions.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely.
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: I think only then you can do a fair race.
BRAD BROWN: And something else that’s starting to plague the sport is obviously doping as well and it’s becoming more and more prevalent, particularly in the age group ranks. Your thoughts on dopers and the bans that dopers are getting, are you a fan of lifetime bans or do you think the sport is doing enough to eradicate the people who are doping?
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Yeah, that was something I was surprised about because last year [inaudible 0.29.08] and in some other races here in Germany I have to go to the doping control and the age group victory at Kona there wasn’t, they just controlled the pros. I think everybody was to have a fair race and one part today is that you have to do a non-doped race, so that was something that surprised me, that nobody of the age groupers, nobody that I know, maybe there was some controls, but I think that was a surprise for me, that nobody would be controlled.
BRAD BROWN: That’s interesting indeed. The goal for Kona 2017, how do you top what you did this year? Do you go with the same plan or are you going to change things, how does it work from here Christian?
Difficult to plan your race time in Kona
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Well, the plan is that I come back to Kona as strong as I was this year and I hope that I don’t have a bike crash two weeks before like this year and then I want to do a great race like this year. What the result is, we will see in 2017. I don’t like to say okay, I’m the defender of the title and so I want to win and I will win, that’s not where I want to go. I think there are so many details which have to be sorted out and that’s the thing. I just want to do a good race, a very good race and when I’m fit, the results will be like this year, I hope so.
BRAD BROWN: I’m guessing the goal is to try and go under 9 hours next year though and if that’s good enough to be the World Champion once again, then so be it.
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Yeah, that would be great but I think especially Kona isn’t a race which you can plan, it’s so hard with the conditions, the wind, the heat and the area, it’s a place for doing sports like no other I think and that’s the reason why you can’t plan Kona and say, okay 8:59 is the goal for next year. Of course I’m hungry as well and I want to go to Kona and it would be so great to do an 8:59 race.
BRAD BROWN: And that’s one of the things that makes that island so great. Christian, thank you so much for your time here on The Kona Edge today, much appreciated. I look forward to chatting to you about your swim, your bike and your run and your nutrition, but we’ll save that for our next chat, thanks for your time today.
CHRISTIAN HAUPT: Thank you.
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