Mark Allen is one of the greatest triathletes in history.
Born January 12, 1958, in Glendale, California—in the southeastern end of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley–he attended the University of California at San Diego, where he was an All-American swimmer while studying biology. He had no run training and had biked between school and home as a child but was fascinated by a triathlon event he saw on television. In 1982, he embarked upon a six-month crash course for Kona, determined to compete in the Ironman World Championship, an event that was in its fifth year. Allen dropped out before completing the race and endured seven straight years of disappointing finishes in Hawaii, most of them to Dave “The Man” Scott, the first six-time Ironman World Championship winner in history. In 1989, he incorporated strength training into his program and had a breakout season, winning the Nice International [now Ironman France], Zofingen Duathlon—a grueling 10K run-150K bike-30k run event, and the Olympic Distance [1,500M swim-40K bike-10K run] World Championship. At Kona in October, he went side-by-side with Dave Scott for over eight hours, pulled away on the final uphill portion of the marathon and won his first Ironman Championship, beating Scott by 58 seconds. The race, known as the “Iron War,” is considered the greatest dual in Ironman history, with both competitors breaking the course record while cementing their legends.
Allen won the next four world championships at Kona before sitting out the 1994 event due to injury. At 36, it appeared his career was over and the torch would be passed to younger triathletes. Allen modified his approach—changing his diet, reducing the intensity of his training and working on his mental approach to racing. He showed up in Hawaii determined to see what he had left in his 37 year old body. After finishing the swim in the middle of the pack, Allen was more than 13 minutes behind 24-year-old Thomas Hellreigel, who had taken the overall lead a quarter of the way into the bike leg. The Grip reeled the German in, catching Hellreigel with three miles left in the race before claiming his sixth and final world title. “I didn’t think I could make it up, but had trust that something would turn it around and it did.” Mr. Allen retired in 1996 as the most accomplished triathlete of all time. His impact helped triathlon become an Olympic event, first appearing on the Summer Games program in Sydney 2000.
Mark Allen won six Ironman World Championships, the last at 37 years of age. He was a ten-time undefeated champion of the Nice International Triathlon and winner of the inaugural ITU Olympic Distance World Championship in 1989. The Grip won 20 straight professional races between 1988 and 1990. His record in Kona is legendary, with eleven Top Five finishes in 12 starts. “To win at Kona, I had to swim 2.4 miles in the rough water of the open ocean in 50 minutes, bike 112 miles along the hot west side of the island averaging 25 miles per hour through barren lava fields with trade winds blowing at 30 miles per hour. I’d get off the bike at 12:30 pm—the hottest point of the day on the hottest of all the Hawaiian Islands—and run a marathon, 26. 2 miles, averaging 6:10 per mile. If I did not do that, someone else would, and I would not become Ironman World Champion.” Allen, who never had a coach, trained over 15,000 miles a year for 15 seasons and finished in the top three in 90 percent of his career races. Like speed skating’s Eric Heiden [Daily Dose, February 15] and swimming’s Katie Ledecky [Daily Dose, December 8], Allen could win at any distance and considers his victory at the 1989 ITU World Championship in Avignon, France, the greatest of his career. “To be excellent at both distances at the same time is hard. There was never a lot of people that could manage it. That was the ultimate stamp that said, hey, you are also able to win short, fast races as well as anybody in the world.” In 1979, the course record at Kona was 11:15:56. Ten years later, The Grip had lowered it by over three hours, to 8:09:15. Mr. Allen was voted Triathlon magazine’s “Triathlete of the Year” six times, was named “World’s Fittest Man” by Outside magazine in 1997 and, in 2012, was voted “Greatest Endurance Athlete of All Time” by ESPN in 2012.