German Olympian Anna Hahner is seeking new challenges on the trails in El Paso
The name ‘Hahner’ initially makes you think of two strong marathon runners who competed for Germany at the 2016 Olympic Games.
However, when doing so you overlook the fact the twin sisters Anna and Lisa have quite a successful past in cross country running. And that the present and future for one of them is out there on trails.
Anna Hahner, who has a lifetime best of 2:26:44 in the marathon, will be one of the most familiar names in action at the European Athletics Off-Road Running Championships in El Paso on the Canary Islands from 1-3 July when she will contest the trail race over a distance of 47 kilometres.
“The reason I’ve dedicated myself more and more to trails has a lot to do with the fact I’m still enthusiastic about running, but my ambition for street racing isn’t what it used to be. If you want to run with the best, you need ultimate commitment and must be able to push yourself to the limit in training,” said Hahner.
When her equipment provider approached her and asked whether she’d like to be part of the “Everesting” attempt by her fellow German Janosch Kowalczyk as a guest runner, the 32-year-old top athlete happily agreed.
She accompanied him part of the way on his endeavour to run 8,848 meters in altitude in one single day. “I was overwhelmed and elated,” says Hahner. “It felt so right to run up and down through nature, although I didn’t even intend to get into trail running.”
That was pretty much exactly one year ago.
One thing led to another as the equipment company also has a line of running shoes for this terrain. Hahner, who is a successful and experienced street runner and coach of others, found herself in the role of student and has been taken under the wing of Marcel Höche who has introduced her to the peculiarities and specifics of trail running.
“Luckily, I didn’t find it difficult to use a different type of running technique, and most of the transition was straightforward,” says Hahner. “Somehow, it was like when I started running, and I entered a new world with my eyes wide open, trained with others and copied them. Marcel showed me how much fun running downhill can be and what it’s like to run proactively and basically switch off your brain. Meanwhile, I can trust my body to find the right way down a mountain.”
Running downhill is one of her strengths. It gives Hahner confidence to know that she can fly downhill without fear after a climb and be able to keep up with others. This might come as a surprise for someone who was - and will still be - running mainly on flat and technically undemanding surfaces.
What struck the rookie trail runner though, was the equipment that comes with trails. “There you are at a race, studying the list of mandatory equipment – such as running clothes that cover your entire body in case of sudden weather changes – and you naively ask: ‘We don’t need to carry this with us today, do we?’ And the answer is: ‘Ummh, yes you do!’
“Moreover, the food and drink situation is different to city marathons, where you usually have a drink station every five kilometers. On trails, there might be a station marked at kilometer 11, but in reality it could be at 10.5 or 11.8 or 13 kilometers.”
Hahner remembers that she once had to fill up her flasks with water from a stream because she skipped a supply station and had underestimated the distance with all the vertical meters.
That there is competition between her and other athletes is clear: once the starting signal is given, the competitor in her comes out.
And still, trail running is so much more than that. Being at one with nature, managing unpredictable situations that don’t exist in street racing, correctly assessing uphill and downhill and your own strengths and limits. “How technical, how steep is a section?” Hahner asks herself and she knows she will have to make on the spot decisions during the race.
It's something she does well: she won the Chiemgau trail at the beginning of April and the Rennsteig Marathon in mid-May. These performances helped Hahner to gain nomination for El Paso. “I’m honoured and proud to be able to wear my country’s colours," she said.
The German star runner is not only looking forward to the competitions on the Canary Islands, but also the interaction with others with the mass participation element a strong component of these championships.
“In street racing, there are defined areas for specific groups while trail runners are one community. We all sit at the same tables, regardless of our times or places because it’s not primarily about competing against anyone but overcoming the distance and its difficulties,” she said.
Hahner thinks the European Off-Road Running Championships are a stroke of genius “because mountain running and trail running come together, because such an event is not only relevant for the media but also for the running community meeting there.”
Where is her personal benchmark in El Paso? “My goal is to run happily and with ease, get the best out of my body and accept the result I achieve with grace.”
Her focus for this and next year is on trails. “That doesn’t mean that I won’t be running any street races anymore. But I’ve learned to listen to my inner voice and it tells me: see what else you can achieve in trail running,” she said.
The European Athletics Off-Road Running Championships will be streamed live through the European Athletics website in its entirety from 1-3 July.
Egon Theiner for European Athletics
Photo by Getty Images