“Ironman is Like a Potato Chip” and Other Fab Quotes from 101x Ironman Susan Haag

The most prolific female iron-distance triathlete, with 101 finishes, pairs her charming personality with her impressive accomplishment.

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The most prolific female Ironman on all things long-distance triathlon.

“My first triathlon was in the summer of 1990. I’m from Louisville, Ky., and I saw a flyer on our gym bulletin board. I don’t even think I knew what it was.”

“I did my first foray—untrained, unexpectedly—at Ironman Brazil back in 2002, when I was changing jobs. I had a couple of friends who said, ‘Hey, we’re racing, you love triathlon—why don’t you come over?’ Ironman wasn’t really on the map. I had done a half, but to be honest with you, we all joke, for the first, I think, 30-plus Ironmans that I did, I would put a McDonald’s hamburger in my special needs bag for the bike, and I would really honestly—I would swear to you—it’s all becoming clear to me now. I think those two guys told me to do that, because I didn’t know any better, and I did. I did learn the first time that I cannot gum and breathe around a burger, so I would have to stop—I would stop and eat my burger with my extra pickles, and then head on. It was something solid. So you can tell I have not qualified for Kona in the appropriate way, but I did have a Legacy spot back in 2012.”

“I didn’t even know I was going to do an Ironman. In fact, if you had said, ‘Was that on your bucket list?’ assuming I had a bucket list, I don’t think it would have been on the bucket list. I don’t even know that I thought Ironman was doable by me. So when I started out and did the first one, Ironman Brazil, I had such a spectacular time, I could not stand it. And the minute I crossed the line, she put the medal on me, she knocked me back across the line it was so heavy. And I’d given it all I had. It took me a couple of days to walk again and to have oozing wounds close. But once I sort of had a handle back on my pain and suffering, I wanted to find the next one.”

“I didn’t really have an end goal or a finishing goal—it just became a lifestyle. And 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.

“One year I did an Ironman then a marathon—I think it was Marine Corps—the next weekend I did an Ironman, the next weekend I did the New York City Marathon. And my New York City Marathon is an all-time PR—and it’s not great, but for me it was spectacular, it was a 4:09. So it was almost like my body, once it gets to that level, it’s not spectacularly fast, but it can keep up with what I ask of it. I just recover easily.”

“My mother’s like, ‘So did you get this out of your system?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, it might just be this race.’”

“I might be OCD in a slight way. Just so you know, too—a lot of people train like crazy. Because I race so often, this kind of is my training.

“I’m telling you what—as we sit here right now, I wish Ironman had a frequent flier program, or said, ‘Susan, you’ve spent a billion dollars with us—we want to give back.’ Like I’m Ironman’s charity. I tell ya—it’s one of those things, where it’s like, ‘I’ve got it bad. I’ve got the Ironman Jones bad.’ And it pains me—it pains me—when I’m not in Arizona racing even though I’ve only done that one time.”

“I just love meeting the people, I like the community that we’re in. I like helping. … I like to stand around the back, and I like to find women, especially women who look kind of nervous or something, then I may saddle up beside them and just go, ‘Hey, it’s going to be OK. You don’t have to be the greatest swimmer. If you don’t want to be touched, just stay at the back like I do.’ … You can kind of cheer people on. But that’s the thing I love about Ironman—you literally can experience every single emotion over that 140.6.”

“I was in Tahoe the first year that it happened, when you’re outside, and you’re like, ‘That appears to be snow.’ So I am from Florida and I can no longer tolerate a snowflake—it’s beautiful, but I don’t want it to land on me.”

“The races that I really tend to love are those with a one-loop swim, one loop on the bike and one loop on the run so that I can see as much of the countryside as possible.”

I’m not allowed to say that 200 is out there. Because I appreciate John Wragg [most prolific iron-distance triathlete], but I think he’s something special, and by special, I mean nutty. … I will continue to do them because it wasn’t a goal where you achieve it and move on to something else. I just love the iron distance, Ironman races.”

“I’ve done Ultraman, so that was a three-day event where you sleep in between, and it’s just two sports a day. I definitely enjoy the endurance stuff—the folks that run out in the mountains. A hundred miler? I cannot even fathom. I just can’t even fathom that. Now the Double Anvils—these things where people are doing one thing right after another. The Decaman. I’m more intrigued now than I should be, so that is scary because I’m getting no younger. Tell Sister Madonna [Buder] to look out because I think she does give all women a goal that says, ‘Anything is possible at whatever age.’ It’s more mental than it is physical.”

“The smaller goal I do have is when I stood at Ironman Florida and looked around, 25 percent were women, 75 percent were men—you can tell from green and pink caps. And I know women have families and I know they’ve got a lot of obligations. But I would hope to think it’s not a self-esteem issue or confidence issue. So for me, 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.

“I tell you [Ironman] is like a potato chip. Or a Hershey Kiss. Or like anything you can’t just have one of. There’s some goofy song, that says something like, ‘One is one too many, but one is never enough.’ And I always kind of laugh when I hear that because it’s true. And every time somebody does it, especially when they’re on the course, you hear them go, ‘Oh I’m never going to do this again. It’s so painful. Why’d I sign up? I hate this.’ And I say, ‘Folks. Give it two days.’ Two days, and I think Ironman’s got something they know folks are going to come back. … Because when you cross that line—each finish line is different. Not one of them is the same. And the joy and the empowerment—I just want multiples of, magnifying amounts of.”

Read more about Susan Haag’s story in the January/February 2017 issue of Triathlete magazine.

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