Marko Baloh on RAAM by
Marko Baloh understands pain.
Outside Magazine once rated RAAM “the world’s toughest sporting event”.
After 4 attempts, Baloh is an authority. In comparison, you’d think the
World 24 hour distance record would be a piece of cake. As it happens,
Baloh’s an authority on that too. He set the record – 553 miles - in
October. He says every fiber of his body hurt for a week afterwards.
If one considers the pain Baloh has experienced in
RAAM, it’s hard to imagine many of his fibers were troubled by 553 miles.
In 2003, he cycled 2500 miles before pulling out just a day from the
finish line, with blood clots entering his lungs and threatening his life.
In 2005, he rode the better part of 1800 miles – with pneumonia.
But ask Baloh about the toughness of RAAM, and he
dismisses the physical pain as mere inconvenience. “The real agony”, he
says, “is mental”. “Mentally, RAAM is something else entirely. The
questions begin looming months before the start. Can I get ready? Can I
get a crew? Can I get the money and sponsorship? After 2006 [finishing 2nd
in the RAAM Enduro category], I said that was it. No more. But as I rode
the next 2 years, and felt stronger each year, it began to haunt me again,
and I found myself back at RAAM ’08. Now I am haunted by RAAM day and
night. I can’t help but wonder what I would be capable of in RAAM if
everything clicked together. But I don’t know if I can even make the start
line this year. ”
For the record, Baloh – known in RAAM circles as
‘Tweety Bird’ - has set 7 world records, and been Slovenia’s national
champion 5 times. No mean feat when you consider Slovenia is also home to
4 times RAAM Champion - Jure Robic. Ask Baloh about Robic and there is no
hesitation. “Jure is number one. He is great.” In fact, ask Baloh about
any of his RAAM competitors, and he declines to offer comparisons or
predictions, preferring simply to give heartfelt compliments and
Perry Stone, a long time member of the RAAM
community, says Baloh is famous for just this kind of sportsmanship and
humility. “I think of him as Rocky with brains. Marko is modest in the
extreme. He always downplays his hand. He’s the kindest, politest guy with
a huge heart. He’s the guy in the race that everyone likes and respects.
He’s the kind of guy that would get off his bike to help an old lady cross
the road. He’s all about integrity and goodwill. But don’t underestimate
him. He’s a phenomenal competitor and he knows when to deliver the
His integrity has earned him plenty of goodwill in
return. In 2005 - unable to race himself - 2003 RAAM winner Allen Larsen
offered his crew vehicle to Baloh, and with his wife Teresa, stepped in as
crew chief. Baloh calls the ‘05 crew his dream team. “05’ was a blast. At
one point, when I was slowing with pneumonia, Allen and Teresa painted
Irma and the children’s names on the road to keep me going. I was so
sorry for the guys when I had to stop. It still kills me when I remember
the tears in Allen and Teresa’s eyes.”
calls RAAM his family. He describes the awesome commitment of a crew “that
would do everything for me, for 10 days, making my dream a reality.” So
it’s no surprise that Baloh names his wife, Irma, as his number one crew
chief. And when Baloh describes his regular training routine, it becomes
clear that for Baloh, RAAM is a family show. “A typical weekday starts at
3 or 4am with 2-3 hours on the trainer before work. I get home between 5
and 6pm, spend time with the children, eat, get them to bed, read a
bedtime story, try to sort some things concerning the crew and finances,
spend time with Irma, and go to bed between 10-11pm. Weekends we drive to
the coast and I ride 6-7 hours. Of course this is just the start. If the
weather stays good, and barring any accidents, I will pick up the
intensity in the months before RAAM.”
It was daughter Ana who picked the name ‘Tweety Bird’
as Baloh’s totem name for the ‘04 FC508 RAAM qualifier. Just months after
withdrawing from RAAM ’03 with the blood clots, Baloh went on to win the
race in record time while fighting brutal headwinds. The name has stuck
and Baloh says ‘Tweety’ remains his good luck charm.
Flashing a little of the competitive spirit he
usually hides, Baloh credits his family with some of his motivation. “I
cannot prepare for RAAM like Jure or Gulewicz do, because of my work and
family commitments, but on the other hand this gives a different kind of
motivation – to show them that I can duel it out even if I am working a
full time job and taking care of the kids.”
who he considers his main competition for RAAM ‘09, Baloh doesn’t want to
name names. Instead he nominates the clock. “The only thing that will
matter to me when I race RAAM again is the time. If I can prepare as I did
for the world record in 2008, I should take close to 24 hours off my ‘06
time. Maybe – maybe - I can reel in the leaders and get into the final mix
for a victory. Anything is possible, but it is all still a dream at this
It may be a dream, but as his 24 hour record
demonstrates, Baloh knows a thing or two about racing against the clock.
However, if Baloh is to be believed (watch for the modesty), the extended
time frame and zombie effect of the RAAM clock may well prove Baloh’s
biggest challenge. By his estimate, he requires much more sleep than other
top riders. “I will probably aim for 3 hours per night like Danny Chew
did. I’ll ride my own race and then hope that I can pick up the pace in
the second half of the race. If you consider that adds up to 14 hours more
sleep than the others, I would have to be madly fast to make up the time.”
With less than four months to RAAM 2009, the clock
has already started for Baloh, but lacking a major sponsor, he sees
finances as a major obstacle.
“Grandma is helping with the kids tonight, so we
have some more time” he offers.
“If your children want to compete in RAAM in 20
years, what advice will you give them?” I ask, pitching a curve ball.
“UFFF” he groans, and then smiles. “Well, I would
volunteer to be their crew chief. I always try to teach by example, so I
would have no choice but to support them fully. I would be worried sick of
course, just as my mother always is. It is possible, too, I suppose. I
guess only time will tell.”
In the meantime, Baloh has a few other things to
worry about. And the clock is ticking.
All going to plan, Marko Baloh will be in Oceanside,
California, on June 17th for the start of RAAM 2009. If he beats the
clock, he’ll arrive in Annapolis City, Maryland, 3000 miles and 9 days
For more information on Marko, please visit
For more information on RAAM, please visit
or join the
Official RAAM Facebook Group