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Age-grouper Susan Haag crossed the finish line of her hundredth 140.6-mile race in November. And she’s just getting started.
How does it feel to cross the finish line of your 100th iron-distance triathlon? “Between you, me and a fence post, pretty spectacular,” says Susan Haag, who did just that on Nov. 5, 2016 at Ironman Florida. Then the 50-year old Floridian went for 101 later that month at Ironman Cozumel. “I tell you, it’s like a potato chip, or a Hershey’s Kiss, or like anything you can’t have just one of,” she says.
You would never have guessed from her athletic background she’d wind up the most prolific female iron-distance athlete. She was never interested in sports growing up—in fact, she cried in the guidance counselor’s office when she was told she had to take gym after transferring high schools. But college opened the door for new experiences. She tried out for crew, the training for which got her into running (though she was “booted” from the team). After college, she did a charity race on a borrowed bike and fell in love with cycling. She raced her first triathlon in the summer of 1990 after seeing a flyer on her gym bulletin board during law school in Gainesville, Fla. She guesses she’s raced around 375 triathlons (of all distances) since that year.
Her first Ironman—“untrained, unexpectedly”—was in 2002, when friends talked her into racing Ironman Brazil and convinced her that a McDonald’s hamburger with extra pickles was a smart fueling choice. “I had such a spectacular time, I could not stand it,” says Haag, whose Southern accent gives away her Louisville, Ky., roots. “Once I sort of had a handle back on my pain and suffering, I wanted to find the next one.”
Between 2002 and 2012, Haag completed 50 iron-distance races, then she did another 50 (including Kona on an Ironman Legacy spot) between May 2012 and November 2016—not that she was aiming to do that. “I didn’t really have an end goal or a finishing goal. It just became a lifestyle,” she says. “I raced a lot—I would do a 5K one weekend, an Ironman the next, a marathon the next, a half-marathon the next, a half-Ironman the next. I just really liked the events, there was really no planning.” Her life does accommodate the travel that that much racing requires—with no spouse, children or pets, the lawyer says she “can be selfish with my money and my time.” The self-described “Judge Judy of traffic court” also doesn’t have to work around a typical Ironman training schedule. “Because I race so often, this kind of is my training,” she says.
Haag raced her hundredth iron-distance event as part of the Children’s Tumor Foundation NF Endurance team, which supports research into neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves and currently has no cure or effective treatment. She raced in honor of an NF Hero, an 8-year-old named Clara, after meeting Clara’s mother at a race expo. In addition to fundraising for CTF, Haag let Clara and her sisters select her dance moves for the finish chute. “That was a mistake, because they wanted me to do some sort of split action,” she says. “I was like, ‘OK, clearly you don’t know what an Ironman is all about.’” They settled on the dab and the sprinkler.
Looking ahead, Haag says she’s not allowed to say 200 is a goal. “I will continue to do them because it’s wasn’t a goal where you achieve it and move on to something else,” she says. But she also doesn’t see an end in sight. Haag has done Ultraman, and is interested in other ultras, such as the Double ANVIL and the Decaman—“I’m more intrigued now than I should be, so that is scary because I’m getting no younger.”
Another goal she has is to inspire more women to race triathlons. “I know women have families and I know they’ve got a lot of obligations, but I would hope it’s not a self-esteem issue or confidence issue” she says. “It matters a lot that all women have an opportunity to tri if they want. Because I’m pretty sure they’ll like it, and they’ll keep coming back.”