Mark Allen's amazing performances in Kona have inspired many people to get involved in the sport of triathlon and the world of Ironman. We had a chance to speak with Mark "the Grip" Allen a few days before the big race.
ST: Mark, it seems you are here in Kona every year, how many of the Ironman Hawaii races did you actually not attend either as an athlete or in another supporting role?
Mark: Since I first came in 1982 I have only missed one Ironman in Hawaii. It was in the mid-80's at a time where Nice was offering good prize money and Kona had none. So we all gave our hearts and souls to getting ready for Ironman, but the only person who really benefited financially was the winner. This would not really have been a problem if we (the pros) were portrayed as age groupers doing it for fun. But we were being utilized as professionals and as a marketing tool for the Ironman. We felt like it would have been nice to share the pie a little. The only top pro who came that year was Tinley. The next year, Ironman did have prize money and the rest is history.
ST: Are their times when you are thinking "I wish I was racing today" or are you glad to not have to suffer for 8 hours and change?
Mark: There has not been one moment since I retired where I wished I was back out there racing. I did all I had ever wanted to in the sport and more, so walking away from competition was clean for me. I would most likely have that feeling of wanting to race if I didn't have other roles here in Kona. But I am more busy now during race week than I ever was when I raced. So I am still a part of the event but in a different way.
ST: Looking back to when you were racing at your peak, do you think the race has changed quite a bit?
Mark: The race has not really changed. You still have to swim, bike and run in a very tough place to do that going at your absolute limit of fitness, genetics, and personal abilities within yourself. You cannot escape that element of the Ironman. But what certainly has changed is the focus of all the atmosphere surrounding the event. We all know what a lot of that is. It's a commercial enterprise with licensing agreements and races around the world. But it's still evolving. Basically Ironman is growing up from its infancy. It's kind of like a teenager now. It has a sense of its identity but probably doesn’t resemble
what it will become in the future as it continues to mature. That's the short version of that answer!
ST: Are the fields much tougher now as they were then? Both among pros and age groupers?
Mark: Age groupers have taken the improvement award hands down. The pros are in the same range as what they were when I raced, but with fields that are deeper. The age groupers are in another universe compared to ten or twenty years ago. You have guys in older age groups going faster than Dave Scott went on some of his early victories. And we are probably just seeing the beginning of this curve.
ST: What do you think about all this technology that is now available but
wasn't really when you were racing?
Mark: The technology is kind of a double edged sword. I love seeing what people are dreaming up to help athletes shave seconds and minutes off their times for free (or for the price of a new gadget). But at the same time that adds a ton of tough choices for people. Do I shell out the big bucks just to make
sure that I am on par with my equipment with my competitors? What is the
time savings worth? Lots of decisions a person has to make with their equipment. But as I said, I love seeing the great innovation that has come from our sport and then spread outside our boundaries.
ST: Who are the toughest challengers for the men's title this year?
Mark: I'm going to give you three names and they are very obvious...no insider's
revelation. Norman, Macca, and Faris. The one hitch in this prediction is
that these guys could get caught eyeing each other out so much that another
less obvious choice could just waltz away with things unnoticed until it is too late for any of those three to respond.
ST: What about the women, do you have thoughts on the podium places?
Mark: Almost as clear cut. Natasha and Michellie for one and two. Number three is less clear to me. Desiree on paper looks great. Kate Major seems to be strong. The wild card though is going to be Samantha who is just blowing the fields away, yet she has no races under her belt here in Kona. And as we all know, that is a big minus.
ST: Do you have a lot of athletes competing here who are coached by markallenonline?
Mark: We have forty in the race this year, and some definitely have podium potential in their age groups.
ST: You looking fit and healthy, what do you do to stay in shape?
Mark: Surf, run and lift weights. So I still have my three workouts or sports but the emphasis is different. I live two blocks from one of the main breaks in Santa Cruz and can go out most days of the week. Running is my backup because it is so easy to do anywhere, anytime. And the weights is something that I am realizing is more and more important as the years add up on my life scorecard.
ST: Would you actually like to see a different venue for the Ironman World Championships, or is Kona the place for it?
Mark: Absolutely not. What makes Ironman "Ironman" is the Big Island. And anyone who thinks differently lacks a fundamental understanding of what made this race so great. Just look at it. When it was on Oahu it got exposure (Tom Warren on Johnny Carson), but it never really took off. Then right out of the blocks once it got moved here it exploded (the infamous Julie Moss saga in February 1982). It is the interaction of the power of this island with the athletes trying to do something that is extremely challenging that makes this race what it is. Moving it would not have the same impact. Can you imagine the Tour de
France in Iowa?
ST: Drug use is a fairly hot topic in professional sports these days, do you think it was as much of an issue then?
Mark: I have been finding out that there was more use of drugs when I raced than I was aware of at the time. But compared to what we are all seeing today, it was small potatoes.
ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Mark: Good question. Driving from the airport to my hotel when I first arrived here this year I had a fleeting thought that maybe this could be my last time coming to this race. It was kind of bizarre because I have no reason to believe that I would NOT be here. I love coming to Ironman and being a part of the race. So I don't really know. I do have some ideas and plans with my work that would take things well outside the realm of triathlons. More on that later....
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