LESSONS FROM A PRO - Patrick Lange

Patrick Lange was the first person to go under 8 hours when he won the Ironman World Championship in 2018. It was the his second successive victory in Hawaii and he hopes to become the first German to win three World Championships in a row in 2019. But just a few years ago the 32-year-old was on the verge of quitting the sport entirely. I spoke to him while he was enjoying an espresso after an early morning swim to find out his lessons from a pro.

2018 IM Hawaii (c) Ingo Kutsche

2018 IM Hawaii (c) Ingo Kutsche

 Spark the passion

“I tried everything in track and field and pretty much sucked in every discipline. I’m couldn’t sprint or jump or throw anything and in the end it was like, ‘what’s left?’ The last thing they tested me in was 1km on the track and I was the fastest right away.”

“My dad was a hobby marathon runner and I always wanted to join in with him and when I was 12-years-old,  I wanted to go with him and he took me through the forest. After that I started to compete in cross country running and mountain biking and I found that endurance sports were most fun.”

Never ever give up

“1986, the year I was born, had been a really strong age group and I only started swimming when I was 16-years-old. I was always one of the fastest and in the mix on the bike and on the run, but in the swim, it took a long time for me to close the gap, so I never made the national team at Olympic distance, so I had to look for a ‘real’ career.

“I had to go into the military and I had been there for almost two years but I wasn’t able to join the military sports programme so I had to go full time into military service and train part-time.  So of course I didn’t make huge improvements in that time.

“After military service I failed to make the national team again, so I started studying physiotherapy, which  was also full-time for three years, so again I was only able to train 10-15 hours, maximum 20 hours a week, alongside my studies.

“After my studies, of course I hadn’t been a top professional triathlete, so I needed to start working in order to fund what was still then a hobby. I worked part-time again until 2016, so there wasn’t much time to focus on triathlon because I always had so much else going on.”

Stay positive

When training gets tough, I often have the thought in my mind of ‘what would I be doing now, if I wasn’t doing this?’ and that really motivates me
— Patrick Lange

“I always had a dream to do an Ironman, but I knew with only 15 hours of training, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the other professional guys.   So every year I had to delay my dream.

“Then I met Faris [Al-Sultan] in 2015 and he became my coach and we found out that training in the way that Faris thinks professional athletes should train was simply not possible, so we searched for a sponsor to help me out to turn Pro, but it’s not that easy. It was the financial barrier that stopped me racing to my full potential.”

Make a leap

“Definitely there were times when I questioned everything, but I had this gut feeling that I needed to go to an Ironman event, because I was always the fastest the longer the event was. I mean I won a 150km mountain bike race when I was 15 years old! So I always had this gut feeling and then I was lucky enough to find a sponsor who paid me 150 Euros a month.  So I stripped my life down to the most necessary things, moved in to a house share and gave it a go. “

Be grateful

“When training gets tough, I often have the thought in my mind of ‘what would I be doing now, if I wasn’t doing this?’ So for example, this morning’s swim session I had no power, but I thought ‘what would I be doing instead? Maybe working in a hospital as a physiotherapist?’ So when I feel really low, I think to that and it really motivates me.”

Take Confidence from others

 “I met Mark Allen at the flag ceremony which takes place 5 or 6 days before the World Championships.  He was this calm and relaxed personality and he came to me and we were just talking and just talking to him gave me confidence.

“He said to me ‘you have already won this race and there is nothing you need to prove here. You know how this race is won, so focus on that and don’t get distracted by the media and other athletes around who will be soaking up your energy. You know how it’s done.’  The proposal [to Julia] was more on my mind [during the race] but I felt good when I saw him on the course and I thought about what he said.”  

Surround yourself with good people

“I’ve been working with a running  technique coach Wolfgang Schweim for a decade and that’s been a big piece of the puzzle for me.  Not just for the running, but also from  the mental aspect. He is 66 years old, but he gives me so much more than just running technique.  He improved my efficiency for the run which is one of the most important things in an Ironman but as a friend he has given me so much more.”

(c) Isaak Papadopoulos

(c) Isaak Papadopoulos

Inspire Others

#Betherecordbreaker – I don’t want to be seen as the record breaker, I want to say with the hastag that everyone can be a record breaker and record breaking is standing for your dreams, being able to achieve your dreams and keep believing in them. My history shows it’s definitely possible, even with a rollercoaster on the way to success.”

Be inspired by others

“In Germany, we have live coverage [of Kona] from the Thursday and it’s been growing in popularity over the last five years. But I can remember the first winner I saw was Normann Stadler and I was amazed by that and seeing the pictures of the island and the heat and these brutal conditions. I was touched by that and that may have been a reason for me to start this sport.”

Keep things fun

“I met Julia [fiancee] in Mallorca, when she did her first ride in sneakers and from that moment I knew she was really talented, she rode 120 hilly kilometres in trainers! Everyone is really excited to see her take on her first big race later this year [70.3 Zell am See] and she enjoys it and its really cool for me to know that it’s just fun for her. She loves to see the improvements, especially in the swim. One year ago, she couldn’t do front crawl for 50m and now she is taking on 4.5km training sets and its amazing to see her improving.”

Make life-long memories

“If someone told me five years ago that Mark Allen would come all the way from Santa Cruz to Germany to hand over my German Sportsman of the Year Award, I would have said they were crazy.    

“If I compare 2018 to 2017 [after wining Kona], it was kind of new [in 2018] in that I was the first to go under eight hours, but it was also kind of ‘been there, done that,’ so it was easier. But it is still a lot of travelling, sleeping in hotel beds, spending lots of time on planes.

“But it’s been pretty amazing and has really given me some memories to last a life-time. “

There are very few people who have been able to win Kona three times in a row, but it’s what drives me, what keep me going, what keeps me training and racing
— Patrick Lange

Have role models

“We [long distance triathletes] made a name for ourselves over the last twenty years with Thomas Hellriegel winning in 1997 and with Normann [Stadler] and Faris '[Al-Sultan] and [Sebastian] Kienle and [Jan] Frodeno, so we have won Ironman Kona 8 or 9 times now which has helped us to put a lot more attention on the sport [in Germany]. I was the first guy to win the Sportsman of the Year award in an Olympic year, and that has never happened before for a non-Olympic sportsman to win in an Olympic year. 

Never stop chasing your dreams

“Kona is what I live for at the moment and it would be so cool to be the first German to win three titles in Kona.   The chances are not getting bigger and the more you win, the chances are getting smaller.

“There are very few people who have been able to win three times  in a row, but it’s what drives me, what keep me going, what keeps me training and racing  and I hope to be in Kona in great shape to be able to achieve this.”

Hear my full interview with Patrick Lange on the Oxygen Addict Triathlon podcast w/c June 24th 2019. You can follow Patrick on Instagram and via his website