The Dan Hugo Interview

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I have wanted to interview Dan for a while, having bought him a drink when he was underage in a dodgy bar in Madeira, many moons ago. It’s been a privilege to watch his rise through the ranks to being in my opinion, one of the finest multi sport athletes in the world. He is a thinker, a tinkerer and like me, mildly obsessive at times. These answers should convince you to watch his progress and learn from the details he presents to the world.

I may be one of the guys who understands your drive to get every nanomillimeter out of your body better than most. How much of a difference do you think body composition makes, even among the pro ranks, where differences are small and vary race to race?

My man, that’s a lengthy response with currently heated emotions you summon. Yes, at the top it seems to become ultimately specific. Perhaps the most relate-able example is a Contador vs Cancellara – both cyclists, both icons, both unbeatable when the playing field suits them.

The Xterra racing on the USA circuit is really varied, and often highlights strengths and weaknesses amongst the few at the top end. The series final was the past weekend, which including 3000ft of elevation gain on the bike alone. Which is as much climbing as Alp d’Huez. With remote transitions we hardly had any descent, making it a very course specific race. I was grumpy regarding all this, until fellow South African, Conrad Stoltz, who is not a climber either, biked 5minutes into the rest of us.

Reality is, we all have varied ability, and limitation in how much we can adjust them. I am still figuring my own capabilities, and am really curious to spend a season more focused on Ironman 70.3 racing. I believe my body and energy systems may be better suited to most 70.3 courses. I can only race a handful of events in a season, and being able to hand pick the courses and condition that best suit my ability is weighing odds to my favour.

Tell me/us about Boulder and why you have seemingly fallen in love with the place.

Boulder is the triathlon mecca of the USA. Especially for the long course triathletes. A tough generalization, but Ironman racing is the pinnacle of the triathlon niche in America. And all its A-list reside for all or part of the year in the small town nestled against the Colorado Rockies. Between the perfect weather and perfect bodies – there is plenty excellence and inspiration to feed off and become the best athlete you can.

Boulder is at 5400ft, but a quick drive and you’re running at 8500ft, or any longer ride can be done mostly on Peak to Peak highway, which again is undulating at 8000ft. There is rolling when going North-South, and flatlands when headed East. West has a variety of climbing to suit any session.

Beyond the triathlon circles its very similar to Stellenbosch. Small, a uni town, affluent, very sports orientated. And overwhelmingly hippy. I’ve not smelt such strong weed nor seen so many dreads on any of my travels. I do like how progressive town is – definitely a thinking man’s home with a active lifestyle as habit.

Working with fat oxidative rates and improving them is becoming slightly more trendy but I still find myself with blank faces when I approach smart people about it. Can you tell us your experience with working with fat oxidative rates for the body as well as where the limits and shortfalls lie?

Sure, I was trying to maximise my aerobic oxidation capacity this past summer. Forcing more and more of my energy to come from fat energy as opposed to carbohydrate energy which has lactate as a by-product. I am still a student of the game, and will always be it seems.

My feeling is that optimal diet is not such personal to individual athletes, but to individual athletes and their current race goals. I got incredibly efficient at aerobic exercise, which would have been golden had I been training for an Ironman. However, with 2h racing much time is spent at Threshold and even VO2 max, and I’m uncertain whether focus on fat oxidation should be primary or secondary.

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Either way, I tipped over the edge, not for training too much volume, or eating too little, but for eating vary specifically and in specific patterns. Forcing my body into a state of hypoglycemia regularly. The hormones that respond to restoring normal blood sugar get desensitized and eventually a domino effect had me totally “hormonal” in bad way. Sure, thats an oversimplification, and lack protein was critical to the melt down, but trying to maximise fat oxidation laid the foundation to a collapse. At the same time, there is much benefit not just as an athlete but as an individual pursuing a state of well-being.

Good fats are beyond good. They’re essential. Sugar and stress is the enemy of health.

You are coming to the Big Show this year (Kona), to watch, work the expo and watch the race. Is it on your to-do list, or like Conrad, are you going to leave it to us “crazies”?

I have never felt more inspired to race Ironman some day, and especially to race Kona. I have spent the past four months very close to the inner Ironman elite here in Boulder, and could not resist the thinking that Ironman is normal and that Kona is the holy grail.

It may be years from now, but I will race and represent South Africa in Kona.

For Maui, what are your expectations this year after a bit of a melt down mid year? I know of a few pro’s who’ve had melt downs mid year and come back to win a world champs later in the year, across various sports. Where do you see your role in the race?

I’ve had one outing at Maui before, and am really excited to be returning two years later. Getting there, and getting to the finish is not to be taken for granted. I hope for a bit of magic, but I know how much better I can be, where I can still improve as a rounded athlete, and until such a time as me believing I am the best I can be, it is hard to believe I’ll be the best in the world.

I am swimming well, and riding is close. With some good legs on the day I’ll be close off the bike, in theory, and would gladly be surprised on the run. We’ll see.

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There you have it. Dan is someone who takes his profession extremely seriously, someone who I enjoy talking to and who I learn from every time we go for a bike ride (where I am merely hanging onto the back). We wish him luck for Xterra Worlds, but more importantly, we will be buying him a coffee in Kona to laugh at life. Follow him on Twitter for more regular updates. His tweets are always raw, which is kieeeef bru.

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