For the July Edmonton Canada Cup Husky Feature Racer article, and with the Edmonton Canada Cup mtb race only days away, Ken got to chat with the iconic Alberta racing duo Gabor Csonka and Boglarka (Bogi) Gyorfi.
Outside of Gabor’s iconic hot-pink, rigid single speed, the couple is probably best known (and admired) for pulling the whole family together for most of their races. From serious racing roots in Hungary and the Midwest to training, racing, working full time and managing two energetic young kids – we get a brief glimpse into the controlled chaos of their lives!
You’ve been racing for a number of years (including at a professional level in Hungary) – When did you first start racing, and how did you get started?
I started in 1992. I picked up a 12 month loan to pay for my first MTB, (an orange Scott Peak with Shimano 200GS!). The guys in the shop convinced me to try this weird muddy bike race on the weekend. They even give me some VHS tapes with Overend and Tomac and others racing the world cup. So I did try the race, crashed hard many times and finished 2nd behind the series leader back then. Later I joined the local MTB club and started to race the national series.
I notice that you’ve raced road, triathlons, duathlons, mountain bike races and running races. I would imagine that mountain biking is your focus?
MTB is definitely my love. All other races I did for training, or just to try it out. The MTB training/racing is way more fun (for me) than running, or even road riding. Icing on the cake is the people; I find the MTB racer community a lot friendlier and laid back than competitors in other endurance sporting events. The best place to find good friends.
Oh man… I think I am still looking for the balance there… Last year was the first year when I raced while having two kids. It was kind of fun as I was getting faster each race, without much training. This year I tried to follow my old training plan, but in about 3 weeks into it I realized I cannot devote that much regularity to training. My training is rather ad-hoc, whenever I have and hour I go out and try to hammer. It got me where I am, but it will be hard to get significantly faster. Next year my kids will be bigger and if work permits I will be able to train more. I also commute 50k / day since October. I think it helps a lot to get some basic miles in.
I’ve seen you at marathon/enduro events as well as shorter sprint races; what is your preference? Why?
My preference used to be the shorter XC races. Recently I have done some marathons, and I am learning that my body is reacting better in the longer/slower races. It is probably the result of daily commute (slow) and lack of quality high intensity work in my training. The goal for the next few years is to get faster in the XC races.
You’re probably most recognized for not only your iconic pink bike, but also for the fact that it’s both a single speed and a rigid set up. I’m sure many of our readers (and those watching you race) will simply ask… Why?
Who’s got time to clean those cassettes, derailleurs and suspensions?
For the long answer I give you my history of single speeding:
Single speeders are nuts – this is what I thought 7 years ago. Later I raced against our single speed world champion Jesse Lalonde, who almost always beaten us (midwest elites) on his rigid, SS. Then I built up a rigid SS for winter riding ONLY(because single speed racers are still nuts). Then I started enjoying it. Then I figured it makes me train harder on the hills, so I used it for training in the summer as well. Then I started comparing my speed on SS vs my speed on my geared hard tail. I was not much slower on my SS and had way more fun. Then I was converted. Fun takes priority over results – with some exceptions.
How has this season been going so far?
Pretty good. I am faster than then last year and slower then next year I hope.
I notice that you’re in the process of overcoming a slight knee injury – Any advice you can give other racers in staying healthy and injury free on the bike?
NEVER ignore it. My problem is minor, but it started about 10 years ago. I ignored it and my body did the best to adjust to the problem so I kept riding and running with fairly small pain. As a result my bio mechanics are quite screwed now. One of my legs are way weaker than the other and some muscles are way too tight or weak. Good news I can fix it, the bad news I should have done it 10 years ago. I would be faster and healthier. The other advice is to find the right doctor. Someone who works with athletes. They will understand your goals, where general practitioners or most chiropractors will not. I used to see a chiro – not much help, they kept telling me to rest and ice. Now I am visiting Chiropractic Performance & Sports Therapy Centre in Calgary and it makes a lot of difference. These guys work with Olympians, they understand training and racing and they will want to make you stronger – not just cure your pain. And at last: just don’t get injured.
A competitive downhill skier, kayaker, orienteering runner, mountain biker, triathlete and mother! Is there anything you don’t do?
Yeah, I do not work :-)
I am so fortunate to stay home with my kids. I think this is the only way we can keep up this active lifestyle. If I stayed at my profession, I was a gymnastics coach, we could not arrange riding, racing times for sure.
I know that a family can have a profound impact on a persons athletic endeavours (especially a woman’s), what advice would you give to other women wanting to keep their interest in sports, but also interested in starting a family?
After many years of training and racing there is time to try different things, like raising kids… Which is the most challenging thing I have tried so far. After I have reached some of my athletic goals and was not going to go to Olympics… :-) I was ready to have family.
It was a totally different life for the first year, a nice change from the athletic scene. It is interesting how our perspective has changed after having kid… Life just got real and full. We both became whole persons as parents…
Continue reading on the Edmonton Canada Cup blog.
After the baby years of course the desire to get back in racing is natural for both of us. I think everyone who loves competitive sports understand the craving for that adrenalin rush. Life is different now but during a race I feel the same… Of course before and after is a gang show with kids.
I think everyone can do it just matter of willingness. It is hard to drag out the whole family… Packing snacks, diapers, bike tools…. Oh I forgot to eat before the race, almost late for the start… Going hard… Race is over, kids eating my after race meal, let’s cheer for daddy, go for a nap…
But everyone loves it even the kids seem to enjoy it and hopefully grow up wanting to do something similar.
Outside of a few races last year this appears to be your first year back racing seriously, how are you finding the return to racing?
Seriously? There is no such a thing any more… Still no training just riding… No training plan, just trying to do whatever fits in the week… No race preparation, just barely making it to the start line.
Even it is not serious I found myself getting back to my racing shape and enjoying my racing a lot. I think I would not even like to train more or race harder, I am just happy to have fun and be around other bikers.
I just wish some more families would come to the races.
How does the racing and racers in Canada compare to the Midwest, or Hungary?
Back in Hungary I was just getting introduced to the sport following Gabor and only 2-3 other girls had MTB back then.
In the Midwest we were part of the WORS (Wisconsin Off Road Series), which is the best organized 12 races in one season. With average 800 people it was super fun and very competitive. In a good way of course, our biggest rivals became our best friends after camping with them at the races every other weekend.
We were surprised that the MTB races are so small on numbers in Alberta. We think it is because there are so many fun trails and riding, hiking, scrambling, etc. that the people find more fun playing out there than racing. In the midwest there is nothing to do just racing… :-)
You don’t share your husbands love for rigid pink bikes? I half expected you to be rocking a blue fixed hard-tail this year ;-)
Unfortunately I am not strong enough to pedal in one gear… I have a SS bike and tried at the muddy Giver8er course since I did not wanted to wreck my nice bike.
Actually it was the first time I understand why Gabor does it. It is pure, and fun in a way. I was really proud that I could do it. I will do it again if it is muddy!
I’ve noticed both your children on bikes at many of the races, is it a forgone conclusion that they will one day join the race scene?
That be great to be able to bike with them when they get older. If I had a bike dream that would be that we could do TransRockies as a family. But of course it will be their choice. I just like them to do something what they enjoy and will keep them out of trouble…