Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Checking In With Chris Hauth

By: Betsy Delcour

Chris Hauth is an elite age grouper who broke through in 2006, winning Ford Ironman Couer d’Alene. But he experienced success long before in another sport, competing at the Olympics twice. In addition, he is a successful businessman and family man. He also runs his own coaching business, and is a contributor to Xtri. Hauth is a guy who does it all! Read on for more about his thoughts on the state of the Tri community and what it’s like racing at the top…

What was life like for you as a kid? Do you have any siblings? Were you a good student? What sports were you involved in as a kid?

Chris Hauth: I grew up the majority of my teens in Munich, Germany. I carry dual citizenship and am bilingual. I have 2 brothers – both older. I was an average student and always focused on my swimming. I have been swimming since 4 yrs. old and was told early on I would swim in the Olympics. I followed that lead for the rest of my life. In Germany we all play soccer. I tried some basketball but I was horrible – just an annoyingly good defensive player that was in everybody’s face but could not do anything with the ball once my team was on offense.

Most of us know you now as an elite triathlete, but you actually reached the pinnacle of another sport – swimming – by representing Germany at the ’92 and ’96 Olympics. What were those experiences like? What was your strongest swim style?

I was a 200 butterfly swimmer and loved the 400 Indiv. Medley. So, I swam all events – although backstroke was by far my worst stroke. Today – without backstroke, you can’t be a good IMer since I would never catch up to the Phelps’s of the world later in the race. The Olympics are everything you dream, hear and see them to be. Overwhelming but also the most incredible experience. Too often we look right past that moment since it is also our most focused, trained and prepared for 2 weeks of our lives. So, I don’t really think I enjoyed them as much as I would now!

Tell us about your first triathlon. How did you transition from single sport swimming to triathlon? Were you immediately racing tri’s at an elite level, or was it more of a gradual build for you?

Ha! Most of my athletes around me and friends know this story. I took part in St. Anthony’s Triathlon in 1996 – as part of cross-training for my prep for the Atlanta Games. I need to do things different at this point in my training for swimming since I was working a lot and traveling. I ran a lot in cities and countries I could not swim in. It made me feel good I did something to further my fitness when I was not in the pool (today I know it had ZERO benefit other than sanity!). I figured I would do this triathlon since in 1996 St. Anthony’s was a big East Coast race. I had done a sprint on the Jersey shore, but that was more a swim with some biking and running on the back end with a bunch of buddies. St. Anthony’s I actually took seriously. I came in feeling like I was in great swim shape but got out of the 1.5 km swim in 3rd!! Then I realized the swimmers ahead of me were 1988 & 1992 Gold Medal Olympian David Berkhoff and Lars Jorgensen, a great distance swimmer in the US who had just missed the 1992 US team (I think..). After the race I was taking to them and realized that this is where swimmers go after their swimming careers – sort of like an elephant graveyard. My result? Way back – middle of the pack. But I got the bug and entered a Half a few weeks later. I did the Gulf Coast Triathlon (Half IM) on only swim training! No biking or running! I got so shelled in the race – I walked, threw up, suffered soo much. When I crossed the finish line the announcer said “somebody better help this guy out – he doesn’t look so good!”… Even more of a bug now since I had to figure it out. I entered IM Canada after moving to California in 1997. 10:27 and a rolldown slot. While I ran a 3:54 after taking out in a 1:37, I learned enough and on I went from there.

When did you move to the States, and what brought you here?

Life as a kid was always in between Germany and the US. Always back and forth between New York / New Jersey and Munich, Germany. I have lived in both countries all my life until college in 1989. But I have been here since then – my first year in college – that brought me here permanently.

What’s it like living and training in Marin, CA? Is it a multisport paradise?

Marin is heaven. True “MultiSport’ paradise since everyone here is fit and strong at something. Cycling, triathlon, mountain biking, trail running, surfing, kiting, and of course all the winter fun is just 3 hrs. away. While Boulder has all its current stars, Marin has so many ex-Olympians or phenomenal athletes – you never know who you are talking to at a backyard party!

You had a breakthrough period in ’05-’06 on multiple levels: you got married, had a baby, partnered in a new start-up venture and won IMCDA. How did you juggle all of these different elements while maintaining balance in your life and training at a top level?

Nothing changed. No juggling etc. (my wife will argue that!) I think it was 8 years of steady miles and consistency that allowed me to keep moving forward. My goal in this sport after ‘hanging on’ to swimming for a bit too long, has always been to keep improving. Once I don’t continue to improve for a few races, I know I have reached my potential. Then I will move on to something else….

But to answer the question better: I try to ensure that every workout counts and it the best use of my time. I used to just head out and run or ride. Well, when you don’t have as much time you need to know what you are doing is helping you achieve that goal at the end of the season. I started working more focused and integrated more quality into my training. I also know so much more about recovery, training cycles, phases and when to train what effort than I used to.

Although you’ve won or placed well at other races (most notably Honu 70.3 in ’05 and ’06), winning an IM catapults you to another realm. Has your ’06 IMCDA victory changed anything for you? Has it put pressure on you to perform well at every race you do?

IM CDA was a great experience. It was my hardest day in an Ironman! I have never had 2000 people chase me before since I led from the first 200 yards of the swim. I told Chris Lieto after how much more I respect his racing off the front on the bike because it is HARD when you are the rabbit! I have been so fortunate with sports all my life that I don’t feel any pressure anymore. I used to in swimming, but not in triathlon. I specialize in Ironman and it is such a long day that you can make up for minor mistakes and feeling bad. In swimming – you were done often with a bad turn or start! I have 9 hours to figure it out in Ironman. I am also 37, just gone Professional and I know I am not going to shock the world with results. I want to continue to improve ever so slightly and see where I go with it. How lucky am I already? I have won a Half IM, an IM, I have done great in swimming and now I am making a living in the sport by coaching. What more can anybody ask for?

Many of us in the tri community are familiar with Charlie Yu’s famous letter where he singled you out in his argument that people cannot claim that they are “Ironmen” unless they race at Kona (even though you’ve competed at Kona multiple times; Yu has since apologized for his letter). Do you think that many triathletes today harbor elitist tendencies, or do you think they are just a minority?

I wrote Charlie back in a letter (since published everywhere!!) that this sport is not about boasting your accomplishments at the water cooler the next morning in the office. This sport is about a healthy, fit, fun lifestyle that is open to everybody. How great is triathlon that all of us race in the same arena – on the same roads, ride the same bikes and swim in the same waters? Just think if in the Olympics they had heats in the morning where everybody could swim in the same pool on the same day? Post your time and then see later on in the evening what the Worlds Best do? That’s what Ironman Triathlon or most Olympic distance events allow.

Many might see triathletes as elitists, but I also think so many are extremely proud of their training & racing accomplishments. So many triathletes sacrifice soo much of their time to train (some would argue too much time!) – of course there is a sense of pride and aura of invincibility with that. We read daily about how unhealthy our society is becoming yet here are triathletes living extremely healthy and doing so much to ensure they are strong, fit and uninjured. All this must create an underlying sense of being ‘ahead of the curve’. I think it is great!

You have a recently new business, BigRing Leasing. Tell us about it and how you came up with this idea? Your background is in finance, having worked on Wall Street and Charles Schwab & Co. in San Francisco. How does this kind of work suit you better?

Big Ring was started a few years ago when I realized how many bikes everybody has and how often they switch out their gear (upgrade). I also noticed how many people were buying $3000 - $6000 bikes (and gear) on credit card or wished they could afford better equipment. That is why I started Big Ring bike leasing. It allows for that option, to ride the latest bike at a fraction of the cost. Just like a car you lease to buy. After 12 or 18 months you can either return the bike, exchange for a new lease or buy it. It actually works out cheaper than buying in many cases since outside of California you save on the sales tax. I have had a lot of fun and growth with it. Families with growing kids, cyclists that don’t want to sell their classics but want to ride the latest carbon technology, roadies that want to cyclo cross for a season, mountain bikers that need a road bike etc. It is not supposed to be a financial option for everybody – but it is one for plenty of people and they still can own their bike after 12 or 18 months.

Big Ring and AIMP coaching allows me to work from home – have breakfast with my child, spend time with my wife, ride with my athletes, be my own boss. Being around to watch your children grow and not having someone dictate your day is the greatest privelege I can imagine. It might not last forever, but for now I think it can!

You have such a full schedule – what’s your favorite way to relax?

Relax?.....What? Just joking: after Ironman Louisville next week I am taking the family back to Germany. Relaxing to me is sitting in my favorite Biergarten in the shade, drinking a German brew, eating a big pretzel and watching my daughter run around playing in the kids area.

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