Eight years into triathlon together has added dimensions of respect and love for each other, says team Haug.

Affectionately known as Team Haug, the husband-and-wife pair of Harum Delima Binti Mohd Noor and Knut Morten Bjorlien Haug is popular within the local triathlon fraternity.

The couple shares a love for sports in their childhood with Harum playing basketball in primary school. On the other hand, Knut had always kept his fitness routine but moved into social football since moving to Malaysia.

While Harum was born in Selangor and raised in Port Dickson, Knut Haug was born in South Korea but raised in Norway, which included an 8-year term in the army there. Originally continents apart, ToughASIA got in touch with this lovely couple to find how on triathlon has brought them together.

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ToughASIA: Who started triathlon first?

Knut: We started triathlon together, but it should be said it was Harum’s idea. When she said she wanted to try it out, I didn’t think she was serious, or realised what it would take.

I wasn’t able to swim more than 70m and I had never seen her swim distance either, so I really wasn’t sure she knew what she wanted to get into. But 4 months later, we did our first ever triathlon – an Olympic distance race in Morib in 2013.

ToughASIA:What inspired you to take up triathlon?

Harum: It was completely random. I took up running around 2011-2012. Got a slight injury that made me decide I wanted to take up triathlon instead of only running. Maybe just out of boredom.

My husband even asked, “Do you even know what triathlon is?”. I said, “No idea”. I guess you can look at it as my calling!

ToughASIA: Did you ask your significant other to go into triathlon with you? How did you get started?

Harum: Knut had his own thing going on at that time, which was the football social league. I used to play basketball for my school, and honestly after high school, I felt lost without sports. When I told him I wanted to start, I wasn’t expecting him to join me. I actually wanted it to be “my thing”.
But funnily he asked me to wait for him to learn how to swim then we’ll get bikes together.

Knut: Yeah, I thought it sounded crazy, but also thought it would be fun to challenge ourselves to do something completely new. Triathlon was something completely new that I never thought I would do due to my lack of swimming ability, it somehow sounded more interesting to me than just running.

So we scoured YouTube for “learn how to swim” videos, and found a great series from SwimOn that really started for those who are not able to swim at all.

I followed them the best I could and went to the pool almost daily for 3 weeks without seeing any improvement. Then on the fourth week, almost magically, I managed to swim 1000m without stopping. I couldn’t believe it! From then on, there was no turning back.

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ToughASIA: Who prepares the bicycles for training or race days? And who prepares the rest of the equipment, hydration or nutrition?

Harum: We train so much that everything has become seamless and automatic.

I’m in charge of our bike servicing and maintenance, in general. I even took a bike mechanics course because I really love knowing how the bike works and being able to fix things myself.

And being able to take it apart really helps when you want to properly clean the bike. I know it is quite opposite of usual gender stereotypes, and I have received a lot of comments about it from other girls who also would like to learn, which has been very nice.

Knut: It is great to have Harum’s mechanical skills in the house, so we don’t have to send our bikes to the shop for every little thing. And I am confident no-one has cleaner bikes than ours after one of her deep cleaning.

I am responsible for making sure we always have stock of our race and training fuel, but other than that, we take care of our own things. I think it is good and important to be responsible and accountable for your own things. And when you race, you should have the confidence that you have checked everything yourself.

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A proud venture together, their ‘pain cave’ has been featured on Global Triathlon Network.

ToughASIA: Who has the more expensive equipment? Do you buy each other gear, apparel and shoes as gifts or rewards?

Harum: So far, all our equipment are equal. From road bike to TT bike to mountain bike. We don’t really have any intention to have matching gears, it just happens!

We definitely buy each other gifts that are related to our sports since it’s a huge part of our lives. The most memorable ones were when I bought Knut a TT bike and Knut bought me a mountain bike for our tenth year wedding anniversary.

Knut: Yeah, I think it is so nice that we can give each other practical and useful gifts. And we never run out of ideas on what to get.

ToughASIA: How does it feel to have a competitive husband and wife in multisports?

Harum: I love it! My good friend, Jane, always reminds me to aim high by targeting our husbands. Our swim is quite on par with each other now. Eventually, I would want to be as fast as my husband. Someone told me that it’s impossible. Challenge accepted!

Knut: Haha! I feel I am a bit less competitive than Harum. I have tried my best to embrace the “it is me against me” mentality, and not get too caught up by who I am faster or slower than. I wish everyone gets as much joy out of sports as I do. That said, having been beaten by Harum on the swim leg a few times, that is now our internal battlefield of enormous prestige!

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Ain’t no (virtual) mountain high enough for Team Haug in this COVID-19 pandemic.

ToughASIA: Do you think it is different to race when you know your spouse is also in the same race?

Knut: Yes, I think it makes a huge difference. Firstly, I feel we offer great mental support to each other pre-race, especially for the long-distance races that always are a bit scary.

And during the race, I will always wonder how she is doing and be really excited and energised when we see each other on the race course.

And as we both know exactly what we are going through in races and training, we can share the joys of the ups and offer great support for each other if things don’t go so well. And not to forget that she also motivates me to get my training done on days when I am not quite feeling it.

ToughASIA: Can you describe how has your relationship progressed since the both of you started triathlon?

Harum: I love the relationship we have now. We have learnt so much about each other. Seen each other in so many situations that I think we never would have unless we did sports together.

How we face successes and disappointments, how we are when we are exhausted, hungry, overheating, bonking, how we are at 6am in the morning to get up for training and so on. And I had never seen Knut training, didn’t know the amount of experience and knowledge he had about this. Now he’s my idol, mentor and favourite training buddy, on top of everything else that all couples have in a relationship.

Knut: Personally, I have been so impressed by how Harum has committed to training, the discipline she has put in and on how she tackled her first Ironman attempt that ended in a DNF. I could not be prouder by how she pulled herself back up from that disappointment, and the amazing progress she has had since is such a testament to the hard work she has put in.

And I know, there is no way I would have ever seen these sides of her if it wasn’t for us doing this together. It really has added dimensions of respect and love for each other.

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ToughASIA: What keeps your passion in triathlon going despite the cancelled races in this pandemic?

We love the training and the structure it adds to our lives. That said, we also do take breaks – we have proper off seasons if you like, where we do other things. But we enjoy the training enough by itself that we don’t need races to keep us going. The races are extra cherries on the cake that we sometimes are lucky enough to taste. If you do this for the races and competitions, and your drive is to beat other people, you won’t last long; maybe, unless you are a pro. You have to enjoy the process, the training and lifestyle.

ToughASIA: Do you turn your races into race-cations?

Harum: Yeah, we’ve been doing IRONMAN races continuously and when you go abroad it’s hard to not turn it into race-cations to get a bit more out of the trip than just the race, especially when we go with friends.

So far we’ve been to IRONMAN Cairns in Australia 2016, IRONMAN Emilia-Romagna in Italy 2017, IRONMAN Tallinn in Estonia 2018, and IRONMAN Haugesund in Norway 2019. Interspersed with the home race – IRONMAN Langkawi, Malaysia every year between 2015 – 2019 – as participants in one form or another. We didn’t get to enjoy that much in Cairns because I was so nervous after my DNF in IRONMAN Langkawi.

Knut: Yeah, and it was our first race abroad, so we were both a bit more nervous and just trying out how it would be. But we did go to visit some friends in Melbourne after the race, which was really nice. And with the experience gained there, we were better equipped and more relaxed for our next trips.

ToughASIA: What is the most memorable race you have competed in together or when you have supported one another?

Knut: For me, the most memorable is probably the first IRONMAN 70.3 we did in Putrajaya in 2014. We had signed up on a whim even though we were complete newbies, because it was the return of IRONMAN to Malaysia.

We decided we had to try, even though we knew it might be too hard for us. That feeling queuing up for the swim not knowing if you will be able to finish the race, the nervousness was out of this world. When I crossed the finish line, I cried for the first and last time in any race – I was so overjoyed – I could not believe I had gotten myself to a point where I was able to do something like this.

Harum: When I DNF my IRONMAN Langkawi in 2015 and Knut was waiting for me at the finish line and they had packed everything up. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t make it. I’m glad that happened because I don’t think I would have done another IRONMAN race otherwise. And then, we would have missed out on all the amazing experiences we have had since.

ToughASIA: What are your next couple goals?

Harum: In terms of IRONMAN race, my plan is always to beat Knut’s previous timing, haha. Or at least the swim. We were supposed to race IRONMAN Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain in 2020 which has now been postponed to July 2021.

We also just started mountain biking in 2019. So we were hoping to try out some mountain bike races soon.

Knut: Yes, the aim is for Harum to enter a mountain bike race. I will happily be supporting. Otherwise, I always hope to go faster of course, but my big goal when I started IRONMAN was to go below 12 hours. So, after I managed that in 2018, I am just happy to take any improvement I can get. But we are so grateful for the chances we have had to travel and race, so we hope we can get back to that and explore more of the world through our race-cations.

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A new journey together on mountain bikes takes team Haug to Teluk Cempedak in Kuantan, Pahang.

ToughASIA: We saw your ‘pain cave’ featured on Global Triathlon Network (GTN). That must have been a proud moment for you both. Can you describe the ups and downs of putting that pain cave together?

Knut: Yeah, it was quite a thrill to be featured on GTN. All credits to Harum for this. It was her idea to paint the walls and then do the decorations, I had some input too but it was mostly coming from her.

The actual work was surprisingly painless. Neither of us had much experience in painting, so I was most concerned about that. But with very reasonable effort it turned out way above our expectations. And given the amount of time we spend in it, I think it was efforts well spent to make the space comfortable and pleasant.

Words of inspiration indeed, from Team Haug!