He is one of the sport's true legends - a six-time Ironman world champion and a 10-time winner of the famed Nice International Triathlon. We catch up with Mark Allen on what is keeping him busy, the new experience of watching his son compete in Kona and much more.
July 11, 2019 | PERSONALITY|
TriathlonWorld.com: So what is keeping Mark Allen busy these days?
Mark Allen: I coach. I do public speaking. I do ambassador work for Ironman and Ironman University coaching. I do clinics and camps. I do health and lifestyle workshops called Fit Soul, Fit Body – I’ve done those for many years with Brent Secunda, who helped me get across that finish line in first place six times. Those are integrating the physical part of performance as well as teaching people how to deal with negative emotions and getting that quiet space so that you can free yourself up to do your best.
What brought you to Frankfurt for the Ironman European Championship?
I came here to Ironman Frankfurt because, one, I’ve never been here and its an amazing race, one I always follow online and, two, I didn’t how many times I’d get to see Sebastian Kienle, Patrick Lange and Jan Frodeno racing against each other in Germany.
It’s one thing when they’re racing in Kona, its another thing when they are racing in Germany. I just wanted to be here for that race. I thought, “This is the year to come,” and I’m so glad I did.
You’ll be in Nice later this year for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. What will make that experience special for you?
For me, Nice was my other triathlon home. I’ve got Kona, obviously my history is there, and Nice is right there with it. I raced that event 10 times and I won it 10 times. In some ways its more mind boggling than what I did in Kona for me, because, never losing in 10 years in 10 different races, the chances of that are so slim. If something goes wrong, or if you are a little off, there are 10 or 15 guys who are going to take you down.
It’s so exciting that there will be so many people who come there will learn what that race is all about. There’s almost as much history in Nice as Hawaii. It started in 1982. It’s had a few iterations of race distances and now its Ironman France – it was kind of like the hub race of triathlon racing in Europe for many years.
Last year in Kona you got to take on a parental role in Kona when your son Mats was racing at the Ironman World Championship. What was that like?
Kona last year it was only his second Ironman, he qualified in South Korea, so he didn’t have a lot of Ironman experience. I wasn’t nervous in the swim and the bike, but once he hit the run the dad nerves kicked in because I know that if its not going right that’s where it becomes a real challenge. His race nutrition wasn’t working, but he actually finished fine. He had to struggle to hold it together when he crossed the line. He had that look of total elation because he knew he’d crossed that magic finish line in Hawaii, but at the same time he had that look of how intense it was. I know that feeling so well. It was this real emotional moment. Afterwards he was lamenting that he’d wished he’d had a better race. I said “I think you got a better feeling for what the Ironman experience is all about - that experience is that sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want, but you still have to hold it together no matter how hard it is.” He did that extremely well. It was something that was pretty intense for him, but at the same time pretty fulfilling as well.
To me it took a lot of guts for him to step into that race. His parents are two legends of the sport, especially in Hawaii – his dad won the race six times and his mom (Julie Moss) is credited with putting the sport on the map with her dramatic finish.
I’ve never put anything on him like “I hope you’re a great athlete, too.” I have always tried to transmit to him the idea that athletics is just something for you to experience to be the best you can be. I’ve never made it a comparison thing. Obviously he’s seen what I’ve done and gets it. It does take a certain amount of guts to just go there and be yourself, but that’s the way we raised him. He does triathlon and sports for the experience of it. He does triathlons, but he also does a lot of rock climbing and he surfs a lot. So depending on the month, or few months, he’s focused on different things. This spring, until about now, he’s been completely focussed on rock climbing. So now he’s looking at his watch and going “I guess I better start training for Nice real soon.” But that’s also millennials – they want to do a bunch of things. I was hard wired different – I would take one thing and drill it into the ground as far as I could go with it. It’s completely different ways of approaching sports.
You’ve been in the sport almost since it started. What do you see as the big changes we’ve seen over the last 40 years.
A lot of people who have been in the sport for a long time lament “I wish it was the way it had been in the past.” Everything changes. Every era has its pretty great parts and its pretty lousy parts. There were a lot of parts about the 1980s that no one talks about that were kind of crappy. But we only remember the great parts. It’s like a race. You remember how great it felt when you crossed the line, but you forget all about the pain. If you remembered all the pain you would never come back and do another race.
It’s different now, obviously. Its worldwide, its big business, some parts of it are less personal than they used to be, but at the same time, because the community is so big now, the community of triathletes is world wide and it feels like this giant family. I can come here and there’s 3,000 people in this race and they all know who I am. Twenty years ago I could walk around Germany and no one knew who I was.
It’ll always keep changing, it’ll keep evolving and we have to take the good parts of the evolution and the parts that don’t seem to be working right and keep evolving those until they do become something that are good.
The finish line last night was incredible. The support of the crowd, the support of the community. The people who were at the start – I have never seen so many people at the start of a triathlon. To see the support of Sebi and Jan when they got pulled up on the stage here, that says it all.