Watch out for Silvia Balbach

Silvia Balbach had the second fastest female age group run split and finished as the fourth overall fastest female amateur in Kona this year. A chance encounter prior to the race led to this interview with the speedy German.

While walking on Alii Drive a couple days before the race I bumped into a group of German athletes and in conversation it came up that I work for Silvia Balbach was in that group and griped that magazines and sites usually only cover Pro stuff and not the age groupers. “That is not the case with us,” I responded. “We do feature top age groupers and give them there due. So you just have to be fast.” She smiled and said, “I guess I will have to make an extra effort.” I gave her my card but really did not think I would see her again. But on race day, there she was among the lead age groupers and ahead of quite a few Pros.

Slowtwitch: Isn’t it interesting that we are talking now after our random meeting on Alii Drive prior to the race?

Silvia: It’s great that I had the luck to run into you and that you were mentioning the target group of your magazine. Personally I knew that I would not be that far away of the pro ladies. But I would have never imagined such a result….

ST: The 4th fastest amateur overall finish is certainly quite impressive.

Silvia: Honestly, after passing the finish line I thought that I could have even ran a bit faster, maybe with skipping one or two of my “walking passages” at the water stations. But you never know, maybe on October 10th I was already racing at my limit and every little step faster would have been my end…

ST: Tell us more about how your race day went?

Silvia: After some good/ deep hours of sleep I was happy that the whole project would start in just a few hours. We (my boyfriend Jacques, and other athletes) took the bus to the marking station. After a last check of the bike and some stretching, we had to get ready for the swim start. The swim was not as tough as I thought; even though there were quite some throngs I had to swim through. Usual I have problems to follow the optimal line straight along the buoys, because of my bad swim style, but at this day, thanks to all the volunteers out there in the water, you could hardly miss the right way through the water…
I had estimated a swim time of 1.15hours, so when I came out of the water I was surprised to read 1:11h on my watch. I took a little shower, while getting out of the speed suite, took my bike back and ran to my bike (I was all way down at the end of the pier!). Barefoot I pushed my bike through the transition area to arrive at the point where you were allowed to jump on your bike. As usually the first km on the bike I had to get my heart rate down and even more important I had to get my legs ready to spin, what they did about 15Km later! On the Highway I just focused on drinking, cooling down the body with water (once I used cola☺, because I hadn’t pay attention on the “COLA” sign), salt tablets every hours and on approaching the other athletes out there. Every time I could get ahead of another athlete I was happy. When the athlete even wore the same wrist band as I did, it felt even better☺.
So the first 2 hours went by without any surprise, but then on KM 60 when we climbed up to the road to the turning point the headwind was waiting for us and within seconds the whole ride became far harder, 20km/h instead of 38km/h and still not even having passed the turning point. On the way back, after the turning point, there were just some nice kms with tailwind, before the headwind came back and stayed with us until we would arrive at the pier.

When I changed into my running shoes I knew that I was under the first 10 ladies in my age group. I took advantage of every water station, mostly water and ice, a power bar gel every hour and some little sips of Gatorade and cola. I was familiar with the course, so I knew where I had to expect the hard parts. For example that the first 10k would be dangerous, because I would still feel the speed of the bike course, I would still feel good, the spectators would cheer very loud and the course was flat, so I had to be careful not to speed up too much! Then I arrived at Palani Road. The first athletes had to walk uphill to save energy, I just went on running with very little steps, but at least I ran. A few minutes later I was up on the highway. I still felt good and knew that I would be alone out there in the heat for at least ½ an hour. But then after some kms the highway seemed to be endless. There was no sign to see the left turn to get down to the energy lab. After a long time on the highway the left turn finally showed up! It was great to realize that the hardest part would be over within the next 30 minutes. So I got down to the turning point, back uphill, again a lot of athletes started to walk, to stretch or even to stop moving… I still felt more or less good, the legs started to get tired, but still feeling all right. So back on the highway I knew that the whole competition could be done in less than an hour, it would be just like a 12km run home. At this time, I knew that I was in 5th place and the ladies in front would be still approachable for me, so I started “catching up” in speeding up. The spectators on the course helped me a lot to keep up the “running home” speed. As I came down Palani Road I already saw, that the lady in 3rd place had problems to keep her speed, so I passed her 2 KM before the finish line and finished in 3rd place.

After passing the finish line, I was welcomed by some volunteers who also helped me to find my way to the massage area where I laid down. The massage was the only positive thing in the after race area. There was hardly enough places to sit, stretch or even lay down, no showers except the 2 water sprinkler at the beach and the food they offered consisted of pizza & ice cream. So I took “a shower” under the little fountain and left the “after race area” garden. As I was quite hungry, I met my boyfriend at Java Lava and ordered great food. While eating we watched and cheered at the finishers that were arriving in the dark.…

ST: This was your first Kona start, correct?

Silvia: Yes, I seriously started with the long distance competition in July2008, July 2009 I started at the Ironman Switzerland, where I qualified for Kona!

ST: Are you sure you gave it all in Kona because you just ran a tough 61km trail run in 4:39:49.

Silvia: It’s all about giving your body enough time to rest and to regenerate. I am one of the lucky persons that do not need more than a week to be back on normal live. Concerning my performance in Kona… for the first time it was all I could give. If there should be another Kona, we’ll see if I can give a bit more☺

ST: You told us that you qualified for Hawaii in Switzerland. What do you think about that race and the location?

Silvia: The only thing I didn’t like was the swim start with all athletes together. I think it is dangerous and I would rather like to start in waves. The bike course was very nice, beautiful countryside, but there was too much drafting. I really like highlights like heartbreak hill and all the other hills we had to do. The run course was great. We had to run 4 times 10, 5 KM along the border of the lake of Zurich that was great, enough spectators at the course that cheered to you.

Race and location and athletes garden was great, we even had Jacuzzi.

ST: How did you get involved with triathlons?

Silvia: I played handball and tennis for almost 20 years and I liked to do all kind of endurance sport when I was younger. One day I saw a poster, announcing an Olympic distance-Triathlon, so I signed in and finished. In 2007 - when I moved to Herzogenaurach = Adidas headquarters - I went to Roth to watch the Challenge Triathlon swim start. That was the moment it really hit me. “I wanted to finish a long distance in 2008, so I signed in for the challenge”

ST: So you really just started doing long distant triathlons. How much faster do you think you can go?

Silvia: I think I could finish in Hawaii in less than 10hours... how many minutes less than 10hours - hard to tell.
Swim... I will try to work on my swim performance, which is still is really bad.
Bike... under these given conditions I could have taken the risk to go five minutes faster. Furthermore I have to work on my swim-bike transition: I still have to get into my shoes before I get on my bike.
Run... I had to stop running every time I wanted to drink more than just a sip. So these slowing down passages I want to eliminate the next time. At the run course it is hard to know where the limits are or would have been, maybe I was already very close to my limit, maybe there was even some energy left...

ST: As you are working for Adidas, so we assume those are the shoes you are running in?

Silvia: Yes I love the running and swimming gear of Adidas. My feet fit perfectly in the Adizero range, light weight training shoes with light cushioning. For training I use the Adizero LT for short distance and the Adizero XT for trails. In Kona I ran the Adizero Boston (range FW09) and I was very happy with that choice☺

ST: Describe your job for Adidas.

Silvia: I am the outdoor category manager for Germany, Austria, Switzerland and East Europe. What that means is that I choose from the global collection which articles I want to sell in my area. Once that collection is defined I write catalogs and product texts and forward them to the distributor group. Currently I am working on the summer collection for 2011.

ST: Well, how about your schedule for 2010?

Silvia: I signed up for Frankfurt Ironman and for sure I will have some smaller competitions before…

ST: Please describe a typical hard training week for us.


Monday after work 4pm-8pm bike, 40min run
Tuesday before work 6.30am-8am swim, after work 7pm-9pm run
Wednesday, lunch time: weightlifting after work 6pm-8.30pm bike
Thursday before work 6.30am-8am swim, after work 7pm-9pm run intervals
Friday, lunch time run…
Saturday 4km swim before breakfast, 5h bike 30min run
Sunday marathon in 3:15h

It is more the combination of work and train… without resting and the lack of sleep that make such a week really hard!

ST: Do you follow any other sports?

Silvia: In winter time I do skating. In summer time I like to play beach - volleyball with friends. But originally I come from handball (European Team Sports) and tennis, both disciplines I played for 20 years…

ST: What kind of food items do you like and dislike?

Silvia: I am in love with salads, yogurts and fruits. Furthermore I love German bread and BBQ in the summer time. I dislike everything that is greasy.

ST: How about music?

Silvia: I love to listen to any kind of music, but I do not really have time to do so…

ST: What was the last book you read?

Silvia: I do not even remember the title… long time ago!

ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Silvia: Somewhere in Germany, with a little family, a dog and hopefully still enough time to follow my passion sport…

ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?

Silvia: I love to reach my limits and I love to have fun.