Beyond the treadmill
Michal Bucek, 30, a personal trainer and a top triathlete, has a list of achievements so long it could take up this whole page. He recently returned from the Holy Grail of triathlons, the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. A few weeks later, he finished third amateur overall at the Taiwan 70.3, a half-ironman in Kenting.
He's in the best shape of his life, but he has worked hard for it. Some people are naturally thin, but Bucek isn't one of them. Growing up in what is now Slovakia, he was the odd one out within his active family, who often kayaked, ran and swam together on weekends. 'I was very overweight, and I was super lazy,' says Bucek.
It's hard to believe that when you see him stream past the finishing line, clad in some unforgiving spandex.
The turning point, he says, came at age 17, when he began to look for a girlfriend and become self-aware. He started a triathlon training programme, and has kept fit ever since. He's following in the footsteps of his 60-year-old father, a member of the International Olympic Committee who still stays in great shape.
'When I see my father, I'm still inspired. Others tell me I am their role model. I, in turn, see my father as mine,' Bucek says.
Are age and weight factors in becoming a triathlete?
It doesn't matter if you are middle-aged or overweight. You can start anytime as long as you train properly. It's got nothing to do with age; it's more about self-confidence and commitment to the sport. If you are mentally ready, it can be done.
Why are more people leaving the comforts of a gym to try out adventure sports?
Because it's a quicker way to lose weight. In fact, the fastest way to get in shape is probably to train for and do a triathlon. In a big fitness centre, 99 per cent of the time the focus is on weightlifting and not on endurance. Running on a treadmill is boring; you feel like a hamster going nowhere.
When you train outdoors, you burn more calories, especially in Hong Kong, as conditions are tough. So, you can burn 40 to 50 per cent more calories.
The humidity, the temperature, the fact that your body is not very comfortable, unlike in a carpeted gym, makes your heart rate go up.
So you never work indoors?
I do workouts with my clients indoors, in a gym. I work on making their muscles stronger. It's not about building big muscles, but strengthening them.
Do people lose confidence after the initial burst of excitement that comes from starting training?
I've never had to push a client; they come in motivated. They train for results, and you can see results quite quickly. They come by themselves, and they train on their own when I'm away.
I've never had to babysit a client. I want people to love what they do. If they don't, it's self-destructive.
If they do, even if it's raining, they'll get the right gear and still train because they're passionate about the sport.
How often do you train personally?
Whenever I have some free time. Between work assignments, I work out. Early mornings are great for me. I work late hours, but I'm lucky that if I'm training a client, I can do the sport with them. So I'm training all the time. I ride my bike to see my clients. I don't take a bus or cab. In Hong Kong, that can be very dangerous, but I have no choice. I wear all my safety equipment and pray my instincts are sharp in traffic.
Are Hongkongers in it for vanity or for health?
Both. It's 50/50. At first, I trained mostly Westerners. That has changed. I used to train mostly women, and that has changed. Now more local residents, and more men, are coming in.
People realise that the body is a machine, that must be looked after. More do it for health, and they see quick results, which encourages them to keep training.
Is there a motto you follow?
Anything is difficult if you don't really want to do it. Everything is easy if you have the commitment.