As promised, I am continuing to bring you inspiring stories that can help you keep those promises that you are now making yourself in regards to 2021.
As I’ve mentioned in our earlier interview, at the end of each year, many tend to create a list of New Year’s resolutions, and many times, running and sports are among them. But, not many are actually keeping these promises which they’ve made for themselves.
This is why we are going to deliver some interviews in the upcoming months with people who have actually crossed the barrier and are now running for +10 years.
Today, we will catch up with Szilárd Szilveszter, who is 6 times Ironman Triathlon Finisher (and counting), a +300 Marathon finisher, and the Founder of Szilard’s Endurance School).
ZT: Hi Szilárd, tell us a bit about yourself and your Ironman dream that you fulfilled. And this dream has been fulfilled 6 times as we know ☺
SzSz: Hello everybody! 🙂 I’m 46 years… young 🙂 and even I have always loved sports, even from my childhood and in my young years. I started with a serious sports life at the age of 34 and now I’m the manager of my own endurance school, the Szilard’s Endurance School, I’m an amateur runner, swimmer, triathlon, ironman coach, fitness, and personal trainer for adults and kids in all types of sports, while also being a triathlete, of course.
I wanted to make sure that the “amateur” word it’s well understood because even if we are going to national or international races, there are some differences between us and the elite, professional athletes.
My goal with the endurance school I’ve built is to train and help the usual people and kids, not those who want professional performances. All our activities are for our health, wellness, passions, our happiness and we are practicing very seriously. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a lot of fun as well. We don’t have the parents, trainers pressure to build huge performances, forcing us too much and sacrificing our time, happiness, childhood for the glory. Of course, we appreciate all those athletes but our philosophy and goals are different. So we have our club open for all ages, all the people who want to train only for their own goals and for their mental and physical health.
I already had more than 100 people who have trained with me or achieved their first half-marathon, first marathon or ultramarathon, their first half or full ironman title in our club.
My sports career started with running, and after 10 years of marathon and ultramarathon runnings, and 2 national records at the amateur level, and those being ‘the first runner in Romania who has participated in an international 6-day ultramarathon’ and ‘the most marathon finisher in Romania’ with my 329 finished marathons.
But, I wanted new and bigger challenges, so I started with the king of triathlons, the long distance triathlon, named Ironman.
Yes, I finished 6 Ironman races, 3 were “homemade” and 3 in international races. Two of the international races are at the Oradea X Man (Romania) and one at ExtremeMan (Hungary). In these 6 Ironman races, 2 are double Ironmans, meaning 2 Ironmans in two days, one per each day. I’ve finished these during this year, on 20 and 21 September.
ZT: Do you consider yourself to be physically predisposed to be an endurance athlete? What were your athletic capabilities before?
SzSz: Definitely! 🙂 Even as a child, I was only warming up when other kids were already tired 🙂 My little brother knows this best because some times he got beaten for this 🙂
I wanted to play football and he was always faster-tired than me 🙂 After I’ve started running more and more marathons, I’ve noticed that I have a big capacity for endurance so I started to challenge myself for more and more. I ran 10, 50, and even 100 marathons in a year. Than I ran for 50,60,80, 100km. I went on 48 hours race where I ran 255km and finished in 3rd place for my age group. I also ran for 144 hours in a 6-day race, where I managed to run 487km (even if I arrived at the race with a right leg injury which became worst and worst with every day because meanwhile taking care of my right leg, the left one got damaged too).
After I ran a lot of ultramarathons and seeing what long-distance Ironmans are all, I’ve started to push myself into long-distance swimming too. So I went to 6500m and a 10.000m swimming races, finishing both. So, I can say that I’m predisposed to be an endurance athlete.
ZT: What was the spark that inspired you to become an Ironman? What ultimately led you to the decision to make a lifestyle change? How did you get introduced to the sport of Ironman triathlons?
SzSz: My inspiration for competing in Ironman began after a talk with some running friends and we dreamed that one day we will become Ironmans.
My lifestyle change decision came after a few years of searching for the meaning of life, of happiness, and healthiness. I found meditation, self-transcendence, vegetarianism, and serious sports practice. Very soon after that, the results were present in all my life areas not only in sports.
I got introduced to Ironman triathlons by myself 🙂 In the beginning, I organized a DIY (homemade) Half Ironman with some friends. At that time, we have not even dreamed about becoming official Ironmans, meaning to compete in the official races.
One year later I organized a DIY Full Ironman with my friends and after we finished it, I said that if we want to challenge ourselves more, then we have to go to an official race. So we did it the following year! 🙂 We went and did it without having any experience in triathlon races, not even in sprint triathlon which is the shortest in the triathlon series. Not to mention, that there is a big difference between a DIY and an official race. A lot of experienced friends told us that it would be better to start with the shortest race, like Half Ironman, but we jumped in the bigger “river” directly into the Full Ironman. This was the right challenge for us and we made it 🙂
ZT: What was your first step when starting your career?
SzSz: My career started with running sessions of 15 minutes and increased gradually to 30min., 1 hour, 2 hours, 20km, 42km. Then I wanted to double my annual marathons so I run 2 marathons in the first year, 4 in the second, 8 in the third, and….. no, not 16 in the fourth, but 52 🙂 Then I doubled to 100 in a year. After that, I started with Ultramarathons and followed down the line with Ironmans and ultra-distance swimmings. And this year, I doubled the Ironman too 🙂
ZT: Tell us a bit about what the training involves? Also, Can you give us a typical schedule of a week’s training for you?
SzSz: In Ironman training, as in all sports, the most important piece is the mental preparation which is a direct way connected with our souls. When we got the inspiration to do something big and we really want it, then things are starting to move in the right direction.
The specific pieces of training for Ironman involves time, sports knowledge, experience, self-control, self-knowledge, time and energy management, personal training programs, pre-race monthly and weekly training programs, race study, hydration, pre-race meal and race day preparation, training, training and training 🙂 Since we have 3 different sports, there are specific pieces of training for each sport.
The training differs for every athlete. It depends on their free time to train, the current health situation, etc. My typical training schedule involves the start of training at least 2-3 months before the race, a minimum of 2 pieces of training in each sport per week, so 6 pieces of training in running, cycling, and swimming and 1-2 fitness pieces of training in the gym.
ZT: How did your body respond to the training?
SzSz: My body has been prepared in the last 12 years for endurance so it is responding excellently. I have a very fast recovery. This is due to the extra care I take of my body, soul and mind of course 🙂
ZT: What was the one constant motivation that kept you on track in your training? What gave you the courage to go after your biggest dream?
SzSz: My constant motivation was to self-transcend and to inspire a lot of people for their own self transcending. If somebody can achieve this in a sport, then he can do it in the rest of his life areas too. I managed to prove to a lot of people how much power and performance we can find in ourselves. You only need to dig deep for it. So I have a lot of students in different sports who found out a lot about their inner values by only practicing some sports.
I’ve achieved my biggest accomplishments in a natural way and because I like challenges and to push myself near the edge of impossibility, I am happy to say that I never had to force myself to accomplish them. I always find courage, passion, and happiness in the second when the new self-transcending goal appears.
ZT: What was the greatest challenge you faced training for the Ironman?
SzSz: The greatest challenge? Hm… I think it was to learn the professional and energy efficient swimming technics. In a triathlon, everyone has a background in running, cycling, or swimming, so it’s obvious that everyone is good in one sport, is OK in the second, and inferior in the third 🙂 I have my background in running. Cycling it’s that hard, you only need a lot of training, but swimming is one of, if not the most, technical sports in the world. You need a lot of practice, you have to unlearn the “incorrect style” and you have to learn totally new ones. Even if I have been swimming for a long time and probably not in a bad way, for the Ironman races and long distance swimming, I needed a lot of practice.
But my self-transcendence and a very disciplined style (I swam almost 800km in 2 years) helped me to advance fast and after just 2 years, I’ve made my weakest ability, swimming, my strongest ability in triathlon.
ZT: Can you describe any diet changes that were necessary to perform at this higher level?
SzSz: There are a lot of discussions about diets, especially in sports. Usually, I don’t give advice on diets, even if I changed my diet 12 years ago from classic nutrition to a plant-based one. We are different in a lot of ways, we have different faiths, motivations, inspirations, beliefs. And it’s good to be in this way.
I have to add, that in the last 4-5 years, a huge number of athletes in all kinds of sports have tried or changed their diet to a plant based diet. Even those who are not vegetarian or vegans found that their results are much better if they avoid consuming meat before or during the races.
And I’m very sure that my personal results and experience has to do a lot with my diet. I have more energy, my recovery time is better and faster, I don’t get injuries, I feel my body easy, my sleep is deeper, all my general daily mental and inner state is better.
ZT: What was your strategy in managing pain during difficult segments of the race?
SzSz: If you are training wisely, you know yourself well, eating healthy, not training to push yourself much more than you trained for, then you don’t have to worry about pain. Accidents can happen but for most of all other surprises, you are prepared.
Difficult segments can be found in almost every race and most probably you will face the “wall” in all 3 sports in triathlon but you have to be mentally strong and know that after a few minutes or few km-s, you will be back in the race, so you only have to move forward and don’t quit.
Ironman and other sports are more than sports or physical training. They are science, philosophy, psychology, math, physics, and medicine too. So, you have to be prepared and have solutions for all kinds of situations that can happen during the race.
ZT: Do you recommend any books, products or websites that helped you along the way?
SzSz: There are a lot of good books, websites, or products that can help you to achieve your goals. A lot of top athletes have their own books or site where you can find information.
I try to take advice, inspirations from many of them, but I don’t have any specific athletes or books/site’s that I follow day by day. I rather focus on knowing myself better and my pieces of training because the time and energy are limited in triathlons.
Also, I’m not using any special products and from the start of my career, I tried to practice sports in a very clean way, only on my own powers.
ZT: What would be one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring endurance athlete? What is your message to someone who’s about to embark on his dream?
SzSz: The one-piece advice and my message to give to an aspiring endurance athlete who wants to embark on his dream is to find a couch! 🙂 Inspirations, dreams, goals are coming by themself and you can even face them alone, but with a coach, you will save a lot of time, energy, money, nerves, and unpleasant injuries. And of course, you will achieve your goals much faster, easier, you will have a lot of fun, solid support all over the pieces of training and races. Especially in the dark periods, if you have them.
So, find your coach and start the training today! 🙂
ZT: Do you continue to do triathlons? What’s next for you as an endurance athlete? What are your fitness goals for the New Year?
Yes, of course! 🙂 For the next year, I have two Ironman races on the plan, they were postponed from this year by the virus situation. One will be held in Oradea in June and the other in Italy in September.
As an endurance athlete, I will work on my swimming training, because I want to go longer distances, to swim 15-20km and more. And in Ironman, I want to go farther in Ultra Ironmans, multi-day Ironmans, 3-5 maybe even 10 Ironman series.
ZT: What’s next for you in life?
SzSz: Even if my life it’s not only about sports, most of my activities are in connections with sports. So I want to continue with my amateur races as a triathlete, with my running and swimming career and I want to inspire and help as many as possible to be successful in their own self-transcendence. I want to continue with coaching in triathlons, Ironmans, running, swimming, fitness, and in the end to grow the Szilards Endurance School activities and the numbers of my students.
As I’ve mentioned in the intro of our interview, we hope that this piece will inspire you in your journey towards self-transcendence and your running activities will not be just merely bullet points on a list.
More inspiring interviews will follow soon as we plan to launch a sports tech segment here on PICANTE.