This Hungarian swimmer turned pro triathlete, has his eye on more Ironman Championship titles. Balazs Csoke had a rough day at Ironman St. George 2011. Csoke shook it off as he went to win IM Korea and he placed 32nd at the 2011Ironman World Championship.
T3: Balazs please tell our readers where you grew up, what sports you played as a youth?
BC: I grew up the Hungarian town of Szeged, located in the southern corner of the country near the Serbian/Romanian border. I grew up in the city's swimming pool, as I used to be a swimmer until age 18. The swimming background has helped me immensely for my triathlon career, as I only changed to triathlon in 2001.
T3: Where did you go to college?
BC: I did my university studies in Sport Management in Budapest from 2OO1 - 2006.
T3: When did you do your first triathlon?
BC: As an 18 year old in 2001 I participated in my first triathlon! I clearly remember the occasion - I borrowed a bicycle from a friend, I had no bike shoes and no specific equipment, it was a learning experience. Being a member of the junior national swimming team in Hungary I enjoyed a huge lead out of the water, but as soon as it came to the bike, I was struggling. The run was even more of a struggle (typical for swimmers, no?)!
T3: Why did you get involved with triathlon?
BC: After high school I had a turning point in my life, I had to leave home, start university in another city, and had to deal with the swimming also. I was not good enough to be in the Swimming National Team of Hungary, and as I always loved to bike, it seemed a good way to start training for triathlon during my studies away from home.
T3: When did you turn pro?
BC: I have raced in the pro category since 2OO7, but until January 2011 I was doing what most "pro" triathletes do who don't have a long and successful reputation - I was working full time and training part time, trying to break through in the long distance events.
T3: Is there a big triathlon community in Hungary?
BC: There is a small but very active community in Hungary and it is growing every year! This is evidenced by the long distance race in Nagyatad every year and the very succesful ITU events held in Hungary on a regular basis. But triathlon in Hungary is very much an elite sport (for people with money), due to the costs of the sport - equipment, training, and entry fees. It is for this reason I left Hungary in 2008 to work and train in Switzerland, which has been an absolutely incredible and enjoyable experience.
T3: If you were not a professional triathlete, what would you be doing for a living?
BC: I studied Sports Management and would like to continue in this field after my pro career is over, but at the moment I could not imagine being cooped up in a desk job in an office.
T3: This is the first full pro season for you. Are you getting the race results you were hoping to get this year?
BC: I am definitely pleased with the season so far! Since turning pro in January and not having to work full time, my results were quick in coming - two times top five at 70.3 races early in the year. My first Ironman of 2011 was less successful - due to a quad injury I hobbled over the finish line in tenth in South Africa, and then I had two DNF's in the USA mid season. But the win in Korea made up for these racing experiences.
T3: What do you think about the pro point system?
BC: The pro points system probably needs to be revised somewhat for next season, unless WTC wants most of their Hawaii athletes burned out and under age 30 in October every year! To make most Hawaii qualifiers race three or even four IM's per season just to get to Hawaii is a pretty dangerous strategy that could result in burnouts and many great athletes jumping ship for other race labels. It also costs much more for pro athletes (to travel to so many races), and at the current payout system, the good athletes are not going to stick long with WTC.On the other hand, it brings the consistency issue into the game, and makes Hawaii for Pros all the more special. However, if WTC does not pay out below tenth place in Hawaii, then only top ten is interesting, and many athletes will pass the qualification if they don't see a top ten placing as realistic.
T3: Up to this point in your career, what has been you favorite race and why?
BC: My favourite races so far have been both the IM and 70.3 races in South Africa (I hope the organisers down there are reading this). The ocean swim allows me to get a slight advantage as an ex-swimmer,the beautiful rolling hills and scenery on the bike, the potential strong winds and flat running.. along with a most gratious crowd and excellent organisation - this all makes for a world class event in a world class location!I strongly recommend it for everyone at least once in their career!
T3: What is your strength and weakness?
BC: Swimming is still my strongest leg, but my bike splits are getting to be world class as well now. Running is still my weakest point, but I have invested a great deal in running this season which I have not been able to prove yet due to the 2 DNF's in the USA and the humidity race in Korea. so I am of course hoping to get sub-three hour very soon after a 4:3O bike split.
T3: What would you like achieve during your triathlon career?
BC: I would like to make sure I give everything I can to be the most successful triathlete I can be! To win Hawaii is probably on most Pro's list, but this is a special race. I would like to achieve many more wins at IM's worldwide, I would like to show what I am capable of at the 70.3 distance, and one day in Hawaii I would like to absolve my perfect race - if that means first or tenth it does not matter, but if I have put everything together correctly, then I amm sure it will be a great placing.
T3: Congratulations on your Ironman Korea win. Tells us about your day.
BC: So let's start from the beginning - After some bad luck in Texas and a DNF in St. George, I decided to race Korea for some points, and I planned to do an Ironman 7O.3 race as preparation, which was Ironman 7O.3 Italy.
BC: My preparation went really well prior the race, especially after Italy. I was pleased with my performance during the last 6 days hard training block, which is what I usually do 2 weeks before the race.
BC: I had a good start, and just tried to set myself into 2nd place in the swim. It went well, even later I took the lead, but was careful to stay in economy mode...my swim time was around 47 minutes, and after T1 I was on my bike after 5O minutes race time.
BC: The bike course was 2 loops, very simple, a T shaped lap, mostly on a highway. The whole 18Okm was continuous rolling hills. For all you Swiss readers it is comparable to the IM Switzerland bike route between Egg and Forch, next to the Forchbahn, all the way along. I felt strong and was focusing on keeping my own pace. Jan Rehula was with me until around 1OO km. Then the wind started to pick up, which did not really bother me, and I could open a comfortable gap at this point.
BC: I hit T2 with relatively fresh legs, but I knew the race had just started. I have a done a few races around the world, but this running course was really the hardest and most challenging I have ever faced. Right after T2 we had a very steep downhill for about 2km, then 2km steep uphill - which felt never ending - then we found ourselves on the bike course again. And we started running over the rolling hills. There is not much more to say to this than it was brutal! And to top it off after 7 days in Korea we got some sun on race day exactly during the latter half of the marathon - just at the best time!
BC: I managed to extend my lead to 9 minutes at the halfway point of the run, and then I was expecting to get my run special needs bag, full with all my gels, salt caps, and nutrition for the 2nd lap. Unfortunately that never happened, as they lost my special needs bag. There was no gels at any of the aid stations, I had a bit of a meltdown around 3Okm and just felt my blood sugar level drop dramatically. I still had to run 12km on a hilly course in these torturous conditions. I was sure the moment had arrived which I had been dreaming of for a long time!
BC: At this point I received an update from the race marshall that I had a 13 minute lead. WOW. My thoughts were - it was not only hard for me! Before this I had no idea how far behind the others were, as the course was completely busy from the beginning, with a half Ironman and an Ironman race on the same running course.
BC: I heard my name as they called me an Ironman Champion â€“ the feelings inside me were just going crazy! It is hard to believe for me â€“ during my entire 21 year sport career â€“ all the experience, hard training, determination and support was wrapped up all in this point of time! And again â€“ I cannot express my thanks enough to all of you out there, in Hungary, in Switzerland, in the USA, all over the world, who have supported me in any of a thousand ways. To mention a few names - my family, Marco, friends, sponsors, coaches (especially to Woody, who always believed in me), all my clients in Switzerland (but I am lucky enough to call most of them friends), training partners - THANKS A MILLION, DANKE VIEL MAL, KÃ–SZÃ–NÃ–M, GRAZIE, MERCI !! And the day after â€“ WOW - I could not even count the signatures and pictures I was asked to give after the race, at the award ceremony, and even later at the airport and during the flight too. This feeling was absolutely amazing!
T3: What do does your family think about your decision to become a professional triathlete?
BC: My family has been very supportive of me along the whole way of my career, and I am very grateful for this. Without them it would not have been possible. And without Marco Pilloud of Total Immersion Europe GmbH, I would have never made the move to Switzerland and been given the opportunity to race as a full-time pro!
T3: What are 5 tips you would give someone getting ready to race their first long distance triathlon?
BC: 1) Be sure you will reach the finish line that day,no matter what happens during the race
2) Save your legs for the run! Don't forget...most of the long distance races are about the run. A good running time usually means a good race!
3) Nutrition during the race is critical! Many people just think if they are not hungry or thirsty they can continue..but start to eat those (yummy) gels once you get on the bike (advice I need to remember in Hawiaa)
4) It is not about the trainings during the week before the race! The work is done beforehand. Sleep as much as you can the day before race day!
5) Never ever try anything new or different during the race or even the week prior to the big day!