Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Promoting a marathon mindset (written for Running Times and UK Athletics 03/08).

For the majority of top international distance runners and national record-holders, fame in their home nation is usually a guaranteed bi-product of their hard-earned success; a deserved recognition and admiration from the country they so distinctly and frequently represent. But as NICOLA BAMFORD found, despite top marathon runner, Aniko Kalovics tirelessly pounding the roads and racing across the continent against the world’s best, major championship success is not the sole challenge that faces this diligent 30 year-old; as she also embodies a one-woman battle to promote the sport she loves in her homeland Hungary and subsequently gain the distinction she so richly deserves.

With sports such as football and water-polo taking precedent in the Hungarian psyche, Kalovics’ athletics achievements have been under-acknowledged by the public in recent years; causing the Szombathely-born runner to switch allegiance to an Italian club; Co-Ver Mapei in 2004. “The Hungarians do not see road running as equal importance to track and cross-country,” the prolific road-runner explains, “they see road and cross-country running as the lowest point of athletics. I have never been ‘athlete of the year’ but I’ve run a national record every year and you can read about me on the IAAF website almost every week.”

Regardless of the frustrating native encouragement and lack of team support, the Hungarian record-holder at 10km up to the half-marathon is adamant on remaining loyal to her roots, “I am not famous but like it like that. People know me more abroad than in my home-country, it’s a typical Hungarian story. But the road races abroad are becoming more popular and in Hungary too.”

And Kalovics knows the road scene better than most, since establishing herself amongst the global elite in distance running, “I am very proud of my Hungarian half-marathon record in Milan and my performance in the 2007 Great North Run,” the 2006 World road running 11th placer reveals. Boasting personal bests of 31:40 (10km), 68:58 (half-marathon) and 2:26.44 for the marathon, and registering impressive victories in the Cannes, Turin and Capri 13.1-milers in 2007, Kalovics has truly catapulted herself onto the athletics radar.

However, running was not the Adidas-sponsored, triple national 5000m Champion’s first love. Her father took her swimming at aged 5 because, as Kalovics describes, she was “full of beans”. Training twice-a-day until aged 14, in addition to a tough running schedule from aged 14, the arduous exercise regimes began to take their toll; “I was always faster than the boys, but two sports were too much. I was tired and used to fall asleep at school! I chose running, as I was more successful in it. The success as a teenager gave me more motivation to go for my big goal; my dream was always the Olympics.”

Swimming’s loss was most certainly athletics’ gain, as the Zsolt Zsoder-coached athlete quickly developed into an international competitor by aged 18; finishing 6th in the European junior 10,000m in 1995 and 11th in the World junior 5,000m the following year -although, it was not until the 1998 European Championships when the tall, gracious Kalovics broke into top international class; with a fine 8th-place finish in the 10,000m Budapest final.

Exceptional championship performances became a regular occurrence thereafter with 20th-place positions in the 2003 World and 2004 Olympic Games 10,000m, and an impressive five top-five finishes in the European cross-country Championships between 2002 and 2007 – the most noteworthy of which include collecting the bronze medal in the 2003 event and most recently, a fine 5th in the 2007 edition - all of which accomplishments are detailed on her insightful website, www.anikokalovics.com.

Flash-forward to the present and the outgoing Hungarian is looking ahead to realising her marathon dreams. With the confident, ultra-consistent runner’s ability and race distances gradually stepping up a gear, the 26.2-mile challenge is the key motivating factor in her average 110-130km training week, “My future is the marathon; I hope to become a very good marathoner and my dream is London 2012,” divulges Kalovics. “After London, I’d like a baby and after that, if I still have pleasure in running, I will compete until I’m 40.”

With such an exhausting daily routine – which can extend to 150-180km a week during specialist marathon training - the distance-enthusiast ensures regular sessions of stretching and sleep are incorporated into her busy day. “I try to avoid the injuries by also having massage after every training session,” she reveals.

The epitome of a focused, determined world-beater, Kalovics speaks with intense passion for the sport at which she so meticulously prepares for. Asked whether she enjoys the constant travelling to foreign races, she responds, “I love to compete! If the race is further than 1000km, I will travel by plane alone. It is very varied to run in many different cities, distances and terrains. The last 2 or 3-years were very crowded; I took part in about 40 competitions a year. If I want to be a better runner, I have to cancel out a lot of races. The nicest race was my first marathon, in Capri in Italy, 2006. This race changed my life – the next week, I got three marathon invitations,” Kalovics recalls.

Although the runner-up in the 2007 Great Manchester Run admits she likes to compete regularly so she can ease back slightly on the volume of training, Kalovics speaks keenly about her gruelling regime; “My favourite training venue is St Moritz - it’s simple, perfect for runners. It has no traffic, noise and most importantly to me, I can do my long runs along soft ground,” she explains. Based there for two-months between June and early September, eight-week training stints to the south of France in the spring are additionally scheduled. “After a long training camp, it is very good to return home,” she explains, however.

Although not a regular place of residence, “home” in the West Hungarian province is the venue where Kalovics can temporally live a ‘normal’ life; “Myself and Zsolt,” – the man she describes as her coach, training partner, masseur and driver – “bought a house with a big garden there before Christmas. We haven’t moved in yet, as it needs a revamp, but we won’t spend too much time there; I have to focus on the running.”

In addition to Zsolt; her coach of 3-years, partner of 7 and former Triathlete and Hungarian Ironman champion, Kalovics’ proud parents are priority in her life; so much so, the animal-lover is secretly planning on buying them a house, after saving her race-winnings.

Such closeness is not possible with her rivals, though; perchance a fortunate predicament; “I’m good friends with my rivals but we haven’t a lot of time to make friends; before the race, everybody concentrates and afterwards everyone goes back to the hotel and flies home.” On the opponents she admires, Kalovics is keen to highlight the World-marathon record-holder; “I look up to Paula (Radcliffe); she has a very good mentality to keep a great tempo on her own, and I also like Yelena Prokopchuka.”

For now though, Kalovics is 100% focused on number one; with high hopes for the coming year. Following her recent 4th place in the Rome marathon and...., she is looking ahead with the same inspiring enthusiasm and resolve to 2008; “My big dream is the New York marathon in November;” the recent Rome marathon third-placer (2:29.04) explains,” I won’t compete in the marathon in Beijing, as I don’t have enough experience and the heat and humidity there is not good for European runners.”

An alternative would be for the Hungarian to attain the tough 31:45 10,000m national qualifying time for the Olympic Games, but the marathon is evidently where the Hungarian’s heart truly lies and furthermore, it presents her with the opportunity to crusade for equal sporting acknowledgement and receive the credit she is so justifiably worthy of.

No comments: