Zoltan Szalas Athlete Ambassador
Zoltan got over a fear of open water swimming to become a competitive triathlete. He now has his sights set on the GB Age Group Team. He talks to Sundried about training and racing.
Have you always been into sport?
Yes indeed. I was an amateur national boxing champion in my home country of Hungary when I was 17. But I always had an interest in endurance sports. It doesn’t matter what sports you are into, the discipline that comes with it will teach and help you to make the right decision in life and also will make you a better person.
What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?
I competed for 6 years as a runner, doing events from half marathon to ultra marathon distance. I was playing with the idea of raising the stakes and stepping into the world of triathlon because I am always looking to improve not just my life or career but my performance and mindset too.
The swim has been always my weakness, due to a childhood incident when I nearly drowned. A couple of years ago, I decided it was time to conquer my demons and get rid of my fear being in deep water.
I was training for my first sprint race when I saw the Ironman World Championship recap. That day changed everything.
What’s been your favourite race to date and why?
That’s a tough one. Every race has its own qualities but I'd have to say Ironman 70.3 Weymouth. The weather wasn’t in our favour which made it extremely challenging during the swim and bike, but the event was very well organised, had a great atmosphere and support from spectators, and to top it off I achieved a much better time than I was expecting.
This is the only race to date where I was physically sick at the end. I pushed myself to the absolute limit and I believe that is a good indication I gave it my all.
And your proudest achievement?
Probably completing my first half Ironman. I did some practice bike rides to get familiar with the course during the summer and on race day, as soon as I got off the bike, I realised I had trimmed 24 minutes off my previous bike course time. Hard work pays off!
Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?
I think my toughest race was back when I was a runner. I had an ultra marathon coming up but due to an injury I had to take it easy with the training. On race day, I had to complete the course across three mountains covering an enormous amount of elevation. Around 5 hours into the race, my hip started to cramp which made it extremely difficult to run uphill.
I was in a very dark place until I remembered a conversation with my daughter the day before. She said, “Daddy, get me a medal.” Believe it or not, the hip pain was gone within seconds.
How do you overcome setbacks?
By believing in myself, my coach, and the training process. Every athlete has moments when they feel they are struggling during training, during a race, or something in their personal life. The only thing that keeps me going is remembering why I am doing this and who I am doing it for.
Your body drives you to the line, but only your mind makes you cross it.
What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?
Focus on yourself and always remember your 'why'. It is easy to get carried away when someone passes you during a race which can lead to poor performance or even failure. I learned this the hard way during my first year; mental focus has the same importance as all your other training in the lead up to an event. Stick to the plan, keep the pace, and you will succeed.
What are your goals for 2020?
I am preparing for 5 events this year, with one A race in May when I’m hoping to qualify for the GB Age Group team representing the UK in 2021 in ITU and ETU races.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
The athlete I look up to most is Jan Frodeno, I believe he is the best long distance triathlete. He's been through a lot over the past couple of years including serious injuries and failure but he battled himself back, allowing him to win the Ironman World Championship again in 2019. Also, he is the same height and weight as me so we have a very similar body composition.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
I love the quality of the materials. I'm a long distance triathlete and to keep up with the high demand of training and the long races, it is crucial to have the right gear that can stay comfortable over countless miles. The designs are pretty cool as well!
My favourite kit is the Peloton bib shorts and jersey combo. I received it as a birthday present which was the first time I came across Sundried. The bib shorts are very comfortable and the premium gel pad is second to none. I also like that the material is quick drying which is useful if I get caught in the rain!