Ironman Mark Allen visits Park City
Ryan Summerlin May 10, 2013
For six straight years, Mark Allen tried and failed to win the Ironman World Championship triathlon in Kona, Hawaii.
Finally, in 1989, he crossed the finish line in first place, starting a string of five straight years of winning the race.
During the six-year stretch of either failing to finish the race or not placing as high as he thought he should, he almost gave it up.
"Out of those six, I really felt like there were four years where I could have won," he said. "So each year, I had to pick up the pieces. After the sixth one, I was this close to saying, ‘Forget it, I’m not cut out for this.’"
But, he didn’t quit. Instead, he asked himself a simple question.
"In 1989, I started training and thought, ‘What’s important to me this year?’" he said. "I realized I needed to go back and have my best race. I didn’t feel like I’d had my best race yet, and even if that wasn’t good enough to win, I wanted to run my best."
Well, it turned out his best was good enough to win five straight Ironman World Championships. He would even add a sixth title in 1995 before retiring in 1996.
Now, the 55-year-old Californian travels the world, helping athletes with their motivation and their training. He recently stopped at Athletic Republic in Park City to help the company improve its training programs for triathletes.
"They have some really good protocols for helping speed, skill and strength athletes improve their performance," he said. "They brought me in to help take all the info I’ve learned from 30 years of being around triathlons and blend it in here."
Allen said that while training in a good environment helps, no human body is perfect.
"You can do all of the sport activity you want," he said. "But pretty much everyone on the planet has imbalances in their bodies. If you can improve those things, though, it will help a lot."
Even Allen, voted the World’s Fittest Man by Outside Magazine in 1997 and named ESPN’s "Greatest Endurance Athlete of All-Time" in 2012, isn’t perfect.
"My right leg was much better at generating power than my left leg," he said. "In essence, my right leg is a lot faster than my left leg, even though they have the same strength. I wish I would have known that sooner."
Allen, who now coaches and speaks to triathletes, said the most important thing to remember when training is to stay patient.
"When you’re in the middle of (training) and it’s not working out, it’s very hard," he said. "We often have this timeline in our heads of how things should work out, but often the real world has a very different timeline. There were a lot of points I was ready to throw in the towel, but looking back, I was lucky to stick with it."
Overall, he said the motivation to run a triathlon, or any sort of race, starts from within.
"Before you take one step in your training, reflect for a moment and ask, ‘Why is this important to me?’" he said. "It doesn’t have to be a big answer, and whenever you hit those points where you don’t hit your goals, reflect back on why you started in the first place. It took me about three years of running fairly consistently to realize, ‘Hey, I can do this,’ and the ease factor set in. It may not come right away, but it’s really fun when it does."