Olympian and Ironman World Champ Chris Hauth returns to ÖTILLÖ
By Nancy Heslin
SLM: You and team Rich Roll – aka Team Finding Ultra – finished the 2017 ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship with a time of 10:44:46. The day after, you and Rich recorded a podcast, a candid summary of a monumental event that had just happened. Now, six months later, can you share your introspection of the race?
CH: It was truly a special day because it opened my eyes and perspective to this beautiful sport that was created in a beautiful location. To this day I know that the raw beauty of those islands and the conditions we had that day will most likely never be matched in future events I do.
I was not looking to do a swimrun again – I could tell I was getting competitive with it, starting to think about how to race faster, stronger, more aggressively … and now I understand better that this is not what ÖTILLÖ is about: it’s about teamwork, camaraderie, sharing nature with a friend, with someone willing to suffer through a long day with you.
SLM: Listening to the Rich Roll podcast (No 313/ ÖTILLÖ! Meeting Nature Writ Large), I had the impression that you had “been there, done that” in respect to ÖTILLÖ. What prompted you to come back for the 2018 edition?
CH: When my long-time friend, Frank, asked if he could sign us up, initially I was hesitant, plus I knew the chance of getting in again was limited. Once we got a spot, I thought more about it: this is about sharing lifelong memories with someone – in this case one of my best friends.
This is what swimrun is to me: taking on an adventure – truly an incredibly immersive one – and sharing it with someone. Overcoming adversity, supporting each other, and experiencing such a day in that raw, exposed environment is memorable with anyone: to have the privilege, the opportunity to do it with a close friend – that has the ability and fitness. That is something many can only wish for. In the true spirit of what ÖTILLÖ co-founder Michael Lemmel taught me on the islands those days last September, I return – to share camaraderie, nature, adventure and endurance with another friend.
Rich and I walked into it blind – not knowing how powerful the experience is. Now, I feel even more excited and privileged to return with a friend and share more of Michael’s vision.
Of course we want to be competitive – represent ourselves well. I believe in progression, moving forward – so we will focus intensely on the training and our preparation. I feel even more responsible now that I know the course, to train accordingly. But as I learned last year – this is about fully experiencing that day – however it goes. I don’t doubt we’ll be fit and ready, but I will also be certain to emphasise the spirit of swimrun: taking care of each other.
SLM: You were happy with the training you did for the ÖTILLÖ 2017. How will your approach differ for this year?
CH: I felt like my years of training on trails and a variety of terrain had me ready. I will add some footwork drills this year and also some specific stability and strength work in the gym for that day in September.
I also believe there is a way to train specifically for the 20km run in the latter half of the race, to be more powerful, and have better leg turnover and speed. I will surely keep that in mind as well. My partner is a solid swimmer and solid runner. It will be important to keep him healthy – Like Rich last year, most people don’t have 25 years of endurance and ultra-endurance events in their system like I do.
Swimming remains the “easier” piece. I was prepared for that swim, even the pig swim, from open water swimming in the San Francisco Bay. We have that at our doorstep here – water temperatures around 11°C-13°C all summer with currents and choppy waves.
What works really well for me and also my training partner – are long simulation days. From nutrition to hydration, mindset to physical limits – it all gets tested. I feel as though swimrun can be simulated quite well up to about 10km of swimming and 45-50km of running.
SLM: What equipment did you guys use, and will you use the same gear again?
CH: Yes, and I won’t change that a bit. My sponsor, ROKA, is very happy that I’ll be doing the event again. I will also continue to reach out to the experts in the field: Jonas Colting gave me great feedback last year and I will use some of his products as well.
Even in last year’s conditions, I never felt like our gear was limiting. So, that will be a big relief in our training, planning and logistics this year – knowing that our gear works.
SLM: You are an Olympic swimmer and Age Group Ironman World Champion. How did you adjust to training and competing as a team for swimrun rather than individually for, say, triathlons?
CH: I learned a lot. In all my years of being an endurance athlete, I only needed to rely on myself, and my own training progression, unlike last year. But it gave me a new perspective, and taught me how to enjoy the event, the experience, and the support in another way.
I feel as though last year’s experience has opened my eyes to a different approach to endurance sports, as well as my coaching. Patience has never been my strong suit,– I set very high personal standards and look for that in myself and in others as well.
I firmly believe we all have so much more in us, physically and mentally than we ever imagined. But working as a team forced me to work on bringing out the best in someone else in a special way, and also knowing how to let go, be present, and enjoy the day when things are just not going as planned.
SLM: People new to swimrun assume it’s like triathlon without the bike. How would you respond to this?
CH: I respond with laughter – it’s completely NOT a triathlon without a bike. So many triathletes want to approach other endurance sports like triathlon. I have seen this in the trail running world as well, when they come in with the same Type A controlled approach with a data-and-gear-driven training methodology as in triathlon.
In trail running, as well as swimrun, it’s about nature, it’s about appreciation, it’s about absorbing the environment and the day as an experience. It’s not about being ultra-competitive with a focus on self.
Swimrun is even more unique because having a partner changes the dynamic. And in swimrun when someone else is in need, or in trouble, or needs guidance and insight – during the race – participants and other teams are willing to stop and help, guide, support. I don’t see that in triathlon.
Also, from a training viewpoint, the wear on your body to swim again and again after running is exhausting in a different way. You lose a lot of your feel for the water and your arms/lats/back are stressed after 3-4 swims, let alone 15-16! So the training for swimrun is different than for a triathlon, where the one-way progression means once done with the swim you don’t go back; once done with the bike, you don’t go back.
SLM: Based in California, you have been a professional coach to top American athletes, executives and Special Forces. Do you have a touch of schizophrenia when you race – switching between Chris the competitor and Chris the Coach?
CH: This is actually a very current question for me – as I am in the midst of putting together my 2018 season. I enjoy competing and have done so since I was 3 years old, whether against my brothers, or in swimming, triathlon, and trail running. So competing is a part of me and my personality … but I have learned to channel it to the right events and times. Vague, I know – but it means that when I coach, I am not looking to “beat” anybody, I am looking for the best outcome for my clients: helping them enjoy the gratification of setting a goal on the outer boundary of what they could imagine was possible and then working with them to systematicallypursue that goal. There is nothing “competitive”in that.
But I also need my outlets and I try to remain connected to those every year (last year racing a 70.3 helped), but this year I am racing a few more events: A 100k run in May, an Ironman in July, and then hoping to do well in the Ultraman World Champs in November! (The Ultraman is a total of 515km: 10km swim, a 421km bike, and a 84km run.) ÖTILLÖ will be the perfect prep for that 3-day event.
SLM: You’ve competed for many years. How do you handle defeat?
CH: Defeat is a very relative term. I don’t believe in defeat – I believe in the opportunity to do better – to improve. Even in Olympic trials where only the top two go, even when looking to win my age group in Hawaii at the World Champs, when I have lost, I have always been fortunate that it has fuelled other improvements, opened doors to other events and opportunities, and provided a path that worked out quite well.
I believe there is always, always a better version of myself out there: athletically, as a coach, as a father, teammate, partner etc. So the word defeat would limit that belief in progressing towards that better self. Without defeat there is no progression, no learning, no growth. I don’t look to be defeated, but I surely know that when I am defeated, it is an outcome that I will come back from stronger and that there were aspects I should have and could have done better: whether individually or as a team. It makes me aware of my blind spots, weaknesses, potential improvements. I like the quote by Peter Drucker: “Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities…” Defeat to me is an opportunity.
Now – please don’t confuse defeat with failure. I don’t like failure. THAT is an issue where avoidable mistakes were made, and there was a lack of focus or willpower. I see this a lot in my coaching: many confuse defeat with failure. Failure to me is sad, a description of a tragedy, where, despite having the ability to make change, we chose to walk away.
Simply put: you f***ed up.
One can come back from defeat, often stronger, better, smarter. Failure, however, is a breakdown, a collapse, a disappointment, because there was potential and one chose to ignore it.
SLM: Just a few years ago, there were only four races in the US. What’s the swimrun scene like now?
CH: I know there are new events popping up as I remain in contact with Lars Finanger, the race director for the swimrun events in Maine and Washington. I’d like to see it grow way more, from the West Coast, like Lake Tahoe, to the land of 10,000 lakes in Minnesota – I believe this sport could be great in the US. But I also believe in sticking to the strict rules of having a teammate. I feel that differentiates the sport from other endurance races and endeavours.
SLM: Do you think you could find a race experience similar to ÖTILLÖ anywhere else?
CH: Could I? Yes. But the vibe that Michael has created and promotes is truly unique. I have never experienced anything like that in all my events, over all my years. He has an incredible energy about him: welcoming, warm, caring … but also gets his point across very clearly as well as the sense of urgency for what we are doing out there. Last year was such an intense experience given the weather (winds, and rain) … so the dangers are real! Slipping on any of those rock faces can cause serious injury or worse. While that is part of the ÖTILLÖ experience, I feel it’s Michael along with that location, along with the journey of those three days out there, who creates such an amazing, immersive event.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #6 (March 2018)