The story of 36-year-old Petr Lukosz will make you want to immerse yourself in more than just physical training
Photos courtesy of Petr Lukosz
Anyone who meets Petr Lukosz for the first time can be easily intimidated by his towering height, well-chiseled features, and lean physique. Oh, add to that his Czech accent. I know I did.
I met Petr in Clark, Pampanga when I joined a bunch of cyclists for training one sunny Saturday. That day, I unfortunately landed on a bad road crater and Petr helped me fix my flat tire. Friendly, proactive, and fast, Petr was able to fix my tire in minutes. From that day on, we became friends.
As I was preparing for my own Herculean challenge, which was my first Ironman 70.3 in Davao last March, I had several chances to train with him and coach Kaye Lopez at Wattup Cycling and I witnessed how Petr gave it his all in training. Sometimes, I can’t help but think: “Tao pa ba siya or makina na?” (Is he still a person or already a machine?)
After finishing my last bike training a few days before the race, Petr told me, “Joy, You’re ready.” Those words helped me become a little more confident before the race and thanks to that encouragement, I survived the race.
Let’s get to know Petr a little bit better—what he thinks about before, during, and after his races, what motivates him, and why he does what he does.
What made you decide to become a triathlete?
Ever since I learned how to walk, my parents kept me active. Hiking mountains, cycling in the summer, or skiing during winter were our quality family time. I tried and failed in lot of different sports (ice hockey, football, track and field, baseball, to name a few) but at the age of 12, I fell in love with cycling and eventually started to compete in national, regional, and some international races.
I spent 12 years racing on quite a decent level. At my best, I clocked in 20,000 kilometers in a year. I remember my first race where I got dropped after 25 kilometers of a 100-kilometer stage and rode by myself the rest of the race to finish 50 minutes behind the winners.
After starting my corporate career, I had to stop bike racing due to lack of time so I decided to start running (I could not stand my growing bilbil anymore!). After a couple of 10K races, I decided it was time for a marathon, which I did in 3:07. I knew nothing about running and proper gear, so I was not able to walk after my first marathon and lost all my toenails. The following year, I improved my time to 3:05 despite the fact I could train only on the treadmill due to my busy schedule.
A year after, I finally broke the three-hour mark, finishing in 2:56. It was probably around that time when my fellow cyclist friend started his Ironman career and the thought of competing in Kona and racing on those super challenging distances over the course of a day got me hooked immediately.
Back in 2014, I knew I was desiring to race in Kona and in other famous Ironman races. That year, I set up a goal that by 2018, I would have raced already in Kona. In the end, I made it to the Big Island a year earlier.
Looking at my triathlon experiences, all were memorable, but some really stand out. My first triathlon was an Ironman 70.3. I knew nothing about mass swim starts, so I put myself in the middle of the pack. Right after the start, a couple of guys swam over me, I inhaled water and had to spend a good 30 seconds on my back to cough it all out. I was very close to quitting. But I realized that famous phrase “Pain is temporary, glory is forever.”
I reminded myself that there was a reason why I chose this path and I convinced myself to start swimming again. In the end, I managed a swim time of 33:30, biked well, and did not die on the run so I was able to finish with a time of 4:40. Not bad for a rookie.
Whenever I feel down and bad, I always remind myself about that moment. That was the case for my first Kona qualifier race in Xiamen. After the swim, I felt dizzy, I barely made it to T1 and was off my pace by four minutes and had those second thoughts of throwing in the towel but I reminded myself that “It ain’t over till it is over!” With this in mind, I pushed hard on the bike and left everything I had on the run. It was worth it as it landed me that precious Kona slot.
I learned that you’ve already finished a total of seven Ironmans. That’s an achievement, but how do you maintain focus?
In my corporate career, I spend a lot of time with data. I’m coaching myself in all three disciplines so I prepare the plan based on my time and then I feel a bit more obliged to stick to it. I like to observe how my body reacts to different impulses and loads. I think that our body is the greatest invention and it is very interesting to discover our limits. For every race, I spend a lot of time in preparation, monitoring my numbers in training, and applying them to the race course and race day conditions.
During the race, I try to stick to a precise plan. I have what I call a constant dialogue with my body—analyzing how I feel, being fully aware if some muscles are sore, tired, and not firing properly, being conscious of my hydration and energy levels. In all these, I also like to have some fun during races, so when someone passes me on the bike, it’s like a red flag for a bull and I try to go a bit harder but still within the plan.
Congratulations on bagging first place in your age group at Ironman Philippines in Subic Bay, which earned you a slot in Kailua-Kona Hawaii. How did you do it?
When this race was announced, I declared to my Fitness First tri team that I will do my best to win this race. I followed a six-month training plan with close to 15 hours per week of focused and challenging workouts.
We included various training camps such as in Subic and Australia where I trained for almost 35 hours per week and preparation races like Tour de Bintan and Ironman Australia. As flexibility is my Achilles heel, we also started to do yoga but I suffered a lot under my guru’s supervision. Based on my numbers though, I was in the best shape of my life.
When race day came, however, I was still unsure if I had what it takes to win. I remember I was super cranky and sandbagging on race morning and Kaye had to be really patient with me but managed to keep me calm.
The race itself went by really smoothly. I had the best swim ever at 1:02:53. I remember passing some of the age groupers and I might have bumped into some of them in my second loop. I’m very sorry for that.
The bike leg is my strongest so I was just focused on staying within my pace. This was a bit hard as my power meter was providing very weird numbers. I just paced myself based on feel. I really enjoyed the rain on the bike as it cooled me down. The wind, especially the crosswind, reminded me of Kona and that motivated me to push a bit harder on the last part of the bike course. It took me 4:56:13 to complete this hilly and windy 180-kilometer ride.
I expected to suffer a lot on the run. I had a bit of injury from Ironman Australia and was unsure how it would hold. Plus, coming into T2, I saw that the sky was clear and it was obvious that the run course will be very hot.
I had a very nice duel with the second age grouper Nikolai Jenkins and we pushed each other to our limits. I started to suffer around 32K. At that moment, my vision narrowed and I just focused on a couple of thoughts: Kona, my ever supportive parents, and Kaye waiting at the finish line. I came home in 9:33:43 as first in my age group and the fastest age grouper.
For the first time in my career, I had to visit the medical tent as my hands started to swell after the finish. Certainly, my body was reacting to the heat and dehydration. Overall, this was the best Ironman I ever did. I remember I cried a couple of times after the finish when I realized what I achieved and all the hard work plus sacrifices we did in the last six months.
So why do you do what you do?
I think I need to split my answer into two. My internal motivation comes from the values that I live by, one of which is gaining a healthy dose of self-esteem from everything I do. Some people draw. Some compose music and sing. Some are photographers. Some do sports. I do it because when I am out there on the road, trail, or in the pool, I feel happy, free, and complete. I think it is the closest I can get to being one with nature and with the world. The internal feeling of happiness, especially when I get to share those moments with someone, is simply priceless.
The second part of my answer is more general. We all have our values and we all have our sporting goals: It can be becoming a world champion, qualifying for a Kona slot, finishing an Ironman or just running 5K with friends or family. Whenever you’re in doubt or lose your focus or motivation, go back to your values—who you are, what you want to achieve, what drives you further. When you dig deep, I am sure you will find the answers you need so you can soldier on with more drive, energy, and enthusiasm.