ALLEN: [00:00:00] It’s been an interesting journey, the few races that I have been able to go to in the last few months or middle end of last year, the athletes who pretty much none of them had raced during that whole period. And so in your mind, you’ve got this image of or this memory of how racing fields and you know that it’s hard, right? But when they crossed the finish line, everybody had this dual thing. One, they were absolutely ecstatic because they were finally back racing, but the other they’d crossed the line and go, whew, boy, that is so much harder than I remember.
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JESSE: [00:01:24] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. My guest today starting off season four really probably needs no introduction and you’ll know exactly who it is before I’m done. But that’s okay. He is a six time Ironman World Champion, 10 time champion at the Nice International Triathlon, which is now Ironman France. He is the inaugural ITU World Champion, which we’re going to get into. I got to give him a hard time about this.
In 2012, he was voted the greatest endurance athlete of all time by ESPN. He’s the founder, Mark Allen Sports, which includes coaching, public speaking, personal performance, coaching and a number of other things, which I’m sure he can tell me about here in a minute. Despite his storied history, he tells me, if you’d like to find him, it’s likely not going to be on the bike or in the pool, but out in the surf in Santa Cruz. Welcome to the show, the great Mark Allen.
ALLEN: [00:02:15] Hey. Great to be here, Jesse.
JESSE: [00:02:17] And like I said before we got going, for you listening, you didn’t know, but we had to reschedule. I had my COVID Booster last week, and then I was like flat out in bed one day, and Mark was willing enough to reschedule for me, which is always nice, since you’re taking your time to hang out with me and I was out. So, thank you again. Just want people to know that you’re very accommodating, and I really appreciate it.
ALLEN: [00:02:49] Well, we’ve all had to be accommodating for the last two years, really. I mean, going into COVID, which everybody probably thought was going to be a few weeks or a month, that was that whole thing of oh, well, okay, this one race got canceled, but I’ll do the one in July. And then it was like, no, the fall will be fine. And then here we are, it’s going to be — Well, when this is out, it’s 2022. Ironman has not had a world championship, a full distance World Championships since 2019, basically three years ago. That’s a pretty mind boggling stat. And it’s been an interesting journey, the few races that I have been able to go to in the last few months or middle end of last year, the athletes who pretty much none of them had raced during that whole period.
And so in your mind, you’ve got this image of or this memory of how racing fields and you know that it’s hard, right? But when they crossed the finish line, everybody had this dual thing. One, they were absolutely ecstatic because they were finally back racing, but the other they’d crossed the line and go, whew, boy, that is so much harder than I remember. So, anyway, it was fun. The first race I went to was 70.3 Hawaii up on the northern Kona coastline there, Kohala Coast on the Big Island back in June. And yeah, so that was really fun.
JESSE: [00:04:16] Yeah, there’s always something about — It doesn’t seem to matter how much training you put in. If you haven’t done, gotten a rep in with an actual race, there’s just something different about putting it all together on the — especially the longer stuff. It just, I don’t know, there’s always an edge to me. Clearly you figured out how to really get it down. You know, I raced in 70.3 for a couple of years, trying to earn that professional license, and it just seemed like I can never quite, at the end of the race. I was just, like, zonked. I can never finish a race and be like, I’m tired. but I’m all right. I would always be like, I’m about to collapse.
ALLEN: [00:05:07] You just needed a good coach. That’s all.
JESSE: [00:05:08] Yeah. Well, yeah. You know, I think some of it’s that. I think some of it’s just timing and maybe my physiology, I’m not sure. My coach did the best he could with what he had to work with. I think some of it’s just — I probably push myself a little bit harder than I should, on race day instead of staying harder, but not too hard. And then you find out where your limits are, like we were talking about my experience at Santa Cruz before we got going, which I don’t need to recount that for now. But when I saw I had you on the interview schedule. I started talking to all my various triathlon people and friends.
I said, are there any questions? Do you want to ask Mark Allen because you’ve been around the sport for a minute. Lots of people have seen you do your thing. And surprisingly, a lot of people were like, I’m not sure what to ask him. My coach said, I have a question for him that’s inappropriate for the show. So, I’m not going to tell you. And I’m like, what the heck was that? We need to know what that was.
But then my friend Todd, who I mentioned earlier to you who loves his cinnamon rolls, he’s kind of a storied amateur in his own right. He’s got nine or 10 Age Group national wins to his name, a world champion win. He runs a sports performance clinic. I asked him 15 minutes ago, and then he shot me over about 20 different questions. So, I’m going to give you a couple from him before I get on to kind of some things I wanted to know a little bit more about.
But kind of a dual question he and I both had, I think, because we both like short courses; why the heck did you stay short course, Mark? Because I mean, you won the inaugural ITU race and clearly it seemed like it was the right decision to go along. But what was the mentality or the thought process behind deciding to go long, instead of saying I just won the first thing like maybe I should stick here? Like, what happened there?
ALLEN: [00:07:17] That’s actually a great question and one that very few people have asked me. The year that I won the ITU world championship, the inaugural ITU Olympic distance, World Championship, Avignon, France, 1989. I won that in August. And then in October, that same year, I won the Ironman World Championship in Kona for the first time, first of my wins. And so back in that period, that era of triathlon, the pros are pretty much, most were expected to race really well at short distance and long distance. There was very little specialization, except for a few handful of people who just knew that there’s no way I’m hardwired to do an Ironman, or there’s no way I’m hardwired to be able to go fast enough to beat all you guys in the Olympic distance.
And so I was one of the sort of majority who I would prepare for endurance races in the beginning of the season. And then the whole middle of the season was totally focused on speed. And then the end of the season was totally focused back on Ironman. And so I actually had this, what I felt like, was a really broad base of physiological fitness that a lot of athletes now do not have, because they categorize themselves, either short or long.
And so you know, the short guys, they do some long days, but they don’t put the same effort in, they do speed work, and long guys, they still do their speed work, but they don’t put the same effort into it that I did when I was competing. So, anyway, at the end of that year, I asked myself that same question. It’s like, wow, I won ITU worlds and I won Kona. And I really feel like I should focus in on one or the other of those tracks in triathlon. And so I thought, well, let me just sit back and see what people are talking about.
And at the end of the year, 90% of what was talked about was my win in Kona. And part of that is because it was the last race of the season, and that’s the most recent, sticks in people’s minds most. But I really felt like okay, hey, I’m good with that, why not? And so after that, I kind of decided yeah, let me really make Ironman be my focus for a couple of years and however everything else pans out, it will be fine.
JESSE: [00:09:39] Well, I know, you probably know as well I’m not saying anything new to you. But for the listener, in people’s minds for a long time, even still now depending on how disassociated from the triathlon community you get. When you say triathlon, it’s Kona, right. Like, that’s the association. And it’s been built up over the years. Like, it didn’t — it clearly didn’t start that way. It’s taken time, it’s disseminated to the public. And ITU is working on it by getting into the Olympics, trying to have more notoriety, trying to get TV time, all that kind of stuff.
Does that — You know, I’m not sure exactly in that timeframe, where 89s or 32 years ago. Does it factor in to your thinking there like, this is, is already or is going to be the big kind of notorious, or notoriety kind of race where sponsors are going to care more about me, if I pay attention to this race or does that factor in at all?
ALLEN: [00:10:54] That was part of the decision making process for me. Like, just where am I going to get the most support financially from sponsors, but that was definitely down on the list. You know, like I told people throughout my career, and I continue to say that a lot, you cannot pay somebody enough money to put themselves through the training you have to do to become an Ironman champ. It has to be a drive that comes from within you. And it has to be kind of like a — To actually make it happen, there has to be a strong desire to do well there.
And then on race day, you kind of have to just let that desire go and just figure it out because it’s never going to follow your plan. So, yeah, there was a financial decision. But I think nowadays, there’s more of a financial decision to what people are doing. So, maybe one set of athletes is doing Super League and another set of athletes, they have a great support system for the whole Olympic movement and so that’s where they’re going to focus. But no, that was — Was I doing it for the money? Was that the decision? No, definitely not.
JESSE: [00:12:03] Yeah. Well, it’s just, I ask it because of, I mean, the reality of the cost of sport. You know, you need gear, you got to travel, you got to stay places. It’s not a sport, you can — Well, some people get by on a shoestring. And some people try to work a regular job and also do the sport, which, for those that can, kudos to them. But it is taxing financially, and obviously, physically. So, I didn’t know whether it was like, you felt like I’m going to have more support in that environment. And again, because we’re going back, that’s the year I was born, so sorry to date me and date you a little bit. But it’s like, I don’t know what the environment for triathlon was like at that time. So, I’m just trying to, I guess, peer back a little bit and figure out what was going on in triathlon culture, I guess.
ALLEN: [00:13:03] No, I was seven years into my career. I started in 1982. And at the very end of 1982, I was — I got some financial support from a local investment company that had a triathlon team in San Diego. And all of a sudden, I didn’t have to work. And I’m like, you’re going to pay me to train? Are you kidding? That is friggin awesome, you know. And right after, and then in 1983, Nike picked me up, and they were my main sponsor for a gazillion years. And so by the time I got to Kona, in 1989, I didn’t — I was fine as far as having support, I could train full-time. There was not a question of whether I was going to be able to make my mortgage payment or anything like that.
But it’s a tricky thing for people coming up. You need initially probably either rich parents, or you’ve got a trust fund, or you’ve got a national governing body that’s supporting you because it’s very difficult. Until you start to show big results, you’re not going to get really big sponsorship from — support from companies. But to get those big results, you need to be training basically full-time and put all your efforts and energy into it. So, it’s a catch 22. But once you hit that tipping point, and you do have enough leeway so that 90% of time, you don’t have many obligations other than just swimming, cycling and running and getting really good at that, then you can really start to take off. And not all people are good in that transition, in that when they had jobs or they had other obligations.
They didn’t over train because they didn’t have all day to do it. So, they trained, they did what was smart and nothing else. And then all of a sudden, they get all this free time. It’s like wow, let me just go like five gazillion miles this year. You know, they’re training day and night and they’re thinking about it night and day and they completely burn out in six months. So, it’s not always the golden egg you’re looking for.
JESSE: [00:15:06] Yeah. If you don’t mind me continuing to cruise down the path of money a little bit, I sometimes contemplate in my own little world since I have zero influence on this. How do we make triathlon more popular? You know, because I think about pros and I think it’s getting maybe a little easier. But if you want to play golf, there’s big money in golf. Like, how do we get triathlon so that it has the same kind of sponsorship? Because where we are now, people know about Kona, they know about the Olympics now. But like, I think average Joe doesn’t watch Super League and probably not getting on to do the live streams of the various Ironman races. Do you have any thoughts on how we go from where we are now to something where more people want to watch?
ALLEN: [00:16:10] Yeah. You know what’s been kind of interesting in the past year is what the PTO, the Professional Triathletes Organization has been doing, their sole purpose is to try to build the sport from the top down to really build the value and the recognizability and the credibility of top pro triathletes, and to really put it on par with tennis or golf, or you name it. And so they just announced a series that’s very similar to the tennis where they’ve got Wimbledon, and they got the French Open, and they’ve got the Wimbledon.
Anyway. So, they’re going to have three sort of open events in the later part of the season. And then they’re going to have the Collins Cup, which is sort of like the grand finale event in their series. And they have done a really good job of really highlighting the characters in the sport. Like, who’s good at this, who’s good at that? Why would these matchups be amazing to see in the sport?
And so all of a sudden, instead of just getting a race result, and the media talking about the top three, all year long, you’re getting this feed of information that’s turning these people into like, somebody that maybe oh, I want to follow Lucy Charles Barkley because she loves her dog and she braids her hair, and I do the same thing. Or it’s Christian Blumenfeld I want to follow because the dude is just like, he’s a badass. He won the gold medal and he’s doing this and he’s trying to win all these races. And so I think that’s part of what is needed is we have lost sort of building the character and the personality of the athletes and if you — Unless you have that you’re just looking at these Automatrons, it doesn’t matter what sport you’re talking about.
I mean take tennis, you have these personalities that you identify with one and another one you don’t like so much, but you watch it because you want to see how those, somebody you like and somebody you don’t like matches up and so it’ll take time. But the PTO I think is on the right track as far as doing that. Iron Man will always be a huge brand. That won’t necessarily mean that it expands out beyond, let’s say Kona in terms of people that watch it.
But if you have intermediate events that year to year become like these iconic events and places and stuff, sort of like Wimbledon, French Open, Australian Open, New York. Then it’s like oh, who watches golf except golfers except for maybe you watch the masters or you watch the big events. And it’s the same thing with like, Olympics. Unless you’re a cyclist, you probably don’t watch much cycling, but on the Olympics, you watch — [crosstalk]
JESSE: [00:19:11] Watch Tour de France.
ALLEN: [00:19:13] Yeah, you watch the tour.
JESSE: [00:19:15] But then you don’t watch the tour to California, you don’t watch — [crosstalk] you don’t watch —
ALLEN: [00:19:20] Yeah. And so that’s kind of what the PTO is helping do. So, we’ll see. I hope they’re successful.
JESSE: [00:19:28] I think that idea makes sense. If I think about, I guess I can only speak as an American thinking about American culture, because it varies around the world, obviously. But like, what do people do really get into? I told you I live in Kansas City. So, people are really into the Chiefs. And even like, the Chiefs have icons themselves now with Mahomes and Travis, Kelsey and Tiger Kill, and they play up these characters. But then like, the Chiefs itself or whatever team, pick a team it doesn’t matter, it’s its own character. Like, the players can change, but there’s still some, like enduring qualities about that character that you care about. And so I think you’re definitely on the right track with that. I think for a long time, I wondered with triathlon, if it was a format issue.
Whereas like am I going to sit down and watch a group of guys or group of women race for eight hours, probably not. I know from the last Olympics now that the next relay was there, my whole family was enthralled watching the relay, and they didn’t know anything about the people. But they were like, really bought into the relay. And I watched both at my parents house because I got my dad into watching the tour a number of years ago. And so watch those both over there. And he kind of took a nap and woke up [inaudible 00:20:56] but he was glued for the mixed relay.
So, I was like, obviously, you can’t do that format with every style of triathlon, but I think it shows that the sport can be exciting, if you figure out how to highlight it. And they were doing, like the announcers, were doing some of what you’re talking about, like talking about, you know, the French are really good at running down people, and this person’s very, very good on the bike and all that kind of stuff. So, I think going that character route is probably the right route. And it’ll be interesting to see how it develops.
ALLEN: [00:21:36] Yeah. And that’s kind of what they did with The Collins Cup. It was a team format. You had six men, six women from three different regions; United States, Europe and international. And then you had three person matchups. So, you had 12 Three Person matchups. So, it wasn’t like a triathlon, where you had a winner out of all those athletes in second place and third place.
You had 12 winners, 12 second place, 12 third place people, and they were fighting for the region, because the points added up. And there were bonus points, if you got more than a certain number of minutes ahead of the person behind you, or the people behind you. So, even the person who was in third place and not going to win, you wanted to see their race, and they were given everything they had so that the people in front of them didn’t get these bonus points.
And on the screen, in some of the feeds, they had they showed each one of the races going on. So, you could see what’s going on and all these races and you just glued. Like, oh my God. Look at you know, Frodeno. And over here, here’s, you know. It was just amazing. So, I think that kind of a format would be super interesting. And it adds the element of regional pride. Maybe people in the United States, maybe they don’t watch World Cup soccer so much.
But maybe in the World Cup when it’s happening, maybe there’s a country that they identify with and so they want to watch it because of that country, as opposed to necessarily the teams. It’s kind of like what you’re saying, as far as you know, like the Raiders, they have their team and whatever. And Green Bay has got their team thing and something like that.
JESSE: [00:23:30] Yeah, it’d be interesting. Thinking about the characters that would be playing out that, you mentioned Frodeno and I know you’ve got a video out talking about Bloomingville and that time, he said, even though I know it’s been pulled back now, officially. I want to ask you about your thoughts. And again, this is a question from Todd, thoughts on the sub eight times now. Or I even saw an article with Alistair Brownlee, I think it was talking about trying to chase for sub seven now; Thoughts on that versus like where you’re racing to where things are now, today?
ALLEN: [00:24:17] I’m actually going to kind of go in depth into both of those topics on my Mondays with Mark Allen, in the first part of the year, because I think they’re really intriguing questions, and I haven’t fully fleshed out my thoughts on either of them. However, I’ll give you a preview of what I’m thinking. So, as far as like sub eight, for three years, that was like the magic mark, that was the four-minute mile, that was the — Well, now it’s become the two hour marathon. And slowly, it was broken. And then all of a sudden, it’s like, every other day, it’s broken. And it’s like Tim O’Donnell broke eight hours in Kona and he got second place. He didn’t he didn’t get first, so pretty amazing. Anyway.
So, I asked myself now how is that happening? Part of it is just advancements in measuring physiology. You know, I had a stopwatch and a speedometer in the very beginning of my career, and that was it, nothing else was measurable. Now, you can measure pretty much everything, so you can fine tune your training a little bit. Second thing is that, with each generation, that sort of base of knowledge becomes a little deeper, a little stronger. And so there’s fewer and fewer mistakes made. So, you’re more optimizing your racing and your performance built on the success and knowledge of those who came before you. Like, if Jan Frodeno showed up in 1982, there’s no way he’s going to go 7:27, or whatever he went. He’s going to go nine and a half hours, he’s going to go 9:15, he’s going to go 10:05, whatever.
So, there’s that expectation, just acknowledge that, okay, we can go this fast. But two other things, the clear things, I think are one is technology. Clearly bike technology, bike position have advanced dramatically since I was racing. I look back at some of the bike positions and aero positions that I was in, and it was like kindergarten compared to what they’re riding now. So, there’s that advantage. There’s materials advantage in swimming, so you can go a little bit faster. There’s also, I just got a pair — somebody sent me a pair of the new space age Nike running shoes — [crosstalk] Yeah. And literally walking in my kitchen, I felt faster. Like, these things — [crosstalk]
JESSE: [00:27:00] You’re getting to the fridge in record time.
ALLEN: [00:27:02] Yeah. I’m going to get fat because I’m going to be going and eating five times as many things because I can get there quicker, and I can get it down quicker. And I’ll have more in before the hunger thing gets shut off, because I’m full. So, I’ll just be like stuff all day long in these shoes — [crosstalk]
JESSE: [00:27:16] You can add another record to your laundry list.
ALLEN: [00:27:19] Yeah. You know, I thought, oh, my God, if I had these shoes, my marathon would have been easy, five minutes faster in Kona, maybe even more. And then the last thing, and I think this is one of the biggest things is that the advancements in the race nutrition that we have now is so so so much better. You know, my fastest Kona race was 8:07 and change. That was not limited by my fitness, that was limited by my ability to get in calories fast enough to enable me to sustain the pace that I was holding.
I think that the nutrition that the athletes have now that they can utilize in a race is so much more absorbable and it’s so much more dialed in for what you need for a real endurance event, like an Ironman, that they can just actually take the fitness that they have, and have it show up in the race. It’s not limited as much as it was by calorie intake.
And so that’s actually leads me into, you know, the sub seven. Certainly, there’s going to be some support. Obviously, you got your whole team out there helping you out to try and go sub seven hours in ab Ironman, but I think it’s not going to come down to condition, it’s going to come down to being able to get the calories in quick enough to be able to sustain those paces. Because each one of the athletes who’s doing that race and the guys, they’re going to have the fitness. If Alistair can be healthy, he’ll have the fitness. Blue is going to have the fitness, it’s just can they get the calories in quick enough to sustain the speed and the output that that fitness will enable them to go?
JESSE: [00:29:05] Yeah, that definitely seems like a big limiting factor and something that I’m not sure how far you can — I mean, you can train your stomach to some degree, but it seems like there’s going to be some kind of physiological wall that is just impermeable.
ALLEN: [00:29:23] If you want to go to that physiological wall, there was research done in the, I don’t know, 90s or something like that. And it showed that every human being on the planet has the same upper limit on the amount of carbohydrate it can get into a cell to utilize for energy for fuel. And so we all have that same upper limit just coded into our DNA. So, once you’ve gone up against that limit, you can’t get calories into the cell any quicker. And so where that limit is in relation to what we’ve seen so far, I don’t know.
JESSE: [00:30:12] As a small side note, earlier, I guess as this comes out, it was last year. This is, gosh, probably 30-40 weeks ago at this point. I was talking to Ian Fraser, who’s a Canadian restrictor nowadays, and he was racing professional around the same time you were, though not to quite the same scale. He was telling me about eating baby food and pudding and stuff like that as nutrition. We’re talking about tech and stuff, and I could be misquoting him. So, Ian, if somehow you’re listening, I’m sorry. I’ve had a number of people mention that I should talk to you and I were talking about tech.
And I think he’d laid odds on you still being the favorite to win if we were able to transport you into the present with all the guys and all the tech and all the things. So, I know you still got supporters out there. So, I just wanted to share that with you. Because I know I’ve had a number of guests say, Have you talked to Mark Allen yet? You should talk to Mark Allen. So, I remember that as you were talking about kind of time differences and the food situation and just wanted to share that with you.
ALLEN: [00:31:24] Well, Ian, thank you for that. Kudos support. I don’t know how I would stack up, but it would be fun. I think you rise to whatever the competition is at the time. And then there’s another element of racing that rarely gets talked about. And it’s sort of the mental slash spiritual side of it. You have to deal with yourself in the races. And you know, I worked a lot on that. That was, I knew a big part of what was holding me back from winning in the early years in Kona, and it was a big part of what enabled me to win all of the races that I did in Kona. And it’s a huge piece, it’s a huge element.
And so for example, when you’re in a race, and a situation comes up, and you have a sense of fear about it, like, oh, shit, I don’t know, if I can keep going. That guy’s too strong. My legs are killing me, I don’t know. I should have done something different. You know, you have this doubt and this fear. You can’t measure that on your Garmin, but it’s affecting your race, if your mind is going crazy with stuff that’s eroding your self-confidence or your ability to just stay engaged. And you’re thinking and you’re processing, you’re trying to come up with this answer and things are getting tense; you’re not giving 100% of what you have to give in that moment, and the next and next and next.
And the longer it takes you to get out of that space back into that, okay. Now I’m in the flow. Now the miles are going by quicker again. I’m not thinking, I am just giving what I have to give in this moment and the next. And the longer it takes you to get back into that, you’ve wasted a minute, 30 seconds, five minutes, 10 minutes. And most athletes, I think, just hope that they’re going to be able to deal with themselves when they’re in the race.
But hope is not a strategy for doing your best. And so I really focused on that. That was a big part of my preparation. I would take time away during the season, to do retreats with a gentleman, Brant Secunda, who teaches a very traditional way of life, from an indigenous culture in central Mexico, the [inaudible 00:33:36] people. And there were so many practices that he taught me of being able to quiet your mind to just being able to trust that no matter how something turns out, it’s going to be fine, I will be fine, life will go on.
You know, just connecting with nature in a way that enabled me to look around at that stark black lava in Hawaii, instead of looking at it like it was a hell, I could see that it was really this incredibly beautiful, powerful paradise. And to just almost breathe in that energy and that amazing beauty. And in that I felt like I was in these moments where I was limitless in terms of what I could accomplish and do. And that’s so different than the early years where I felt like it was impossible to do anything that I had come there to do. So, I was working at both ends of the spectrum. The limited side in the beginning of my career and second half of my career really working on that outer edge of like, hey, really, anything’s possible. You know, like when I came off the bike.
My last Ironman is 13 and a half minutes behind Thomas Hellriegel. When I first started the marathon I’m like, this is frigging impossible. And then I shifted into that anything is possible. How can I get a little more out of this than I’ve ever gotten before? And so anyway, I think that’s going to be the final piece that people will start to want. Now we’re still continuing to get improvements in all the technological numbers, all that kind of stuff. Eventually, I think everybody will kind of go, okay, we might get 30 seconds or minute, but we’re not going to get these big gains, where can we get it? Let’s work with the human being, let’s learn a little personality, the inner character, the inner drive, the strength, and all the things that you can’t measure.
JESSE: [00:35:35] That makes me think about one of your episodes of Mondays with Mark Allen, I watched is the secret to being your best at any age. And do you mind if I spoil the episode a little bit?
ALLEN: [00:35:51] No, definitely [inaudible 00:35:52]
JESSE: [00:35:53] Okay, so you talked about the secret is being able to challenge yourself. And not trying to eat a whole sandwich in one bite, so to speak, but maybe a little bit bigger bite than you’re used to, just a little bit extra. And that’s the secret. And I wondered, as I watched that, if you tear away all of this stuff; the carbon shoes and the new bikes and the super cool aero positions and the helmets and everything.
And you get back to like, just the basics of the sport or sport in general; I wonder if you just focused on that, how well off you would be? You know what I mean? If you just said, I’m not going to care, like, you take care of it, but just like, I’m not going to care about all these things, I’m just going to focus on trying to be a little bit better every day and that’s it. Like, I guess I wanted to know, is it that simple, even on the pro level?
ALLEN: [00:37:01] I think it is. It sounds so simplistic. But you know, like they say little by little adds up to a lot. And consistency is king in terms of performance. If you’re injured or burned out, and you’re not training, you’re not getting better. But it’s not just about training, like anybody can go out and put in tons of miles. Anybody can go to the track and go hard. But the question is, how can I challenge myself to do something in this workout that is a stretch for me?
So, maybe it’s a recovery run. You’re not going to try to go faster because the objective is not to get faster is to recover. And so how can you do something that stretches you within that recovery run? Well, maybe I can try to increase my cadence rate a little bit, maybe I can try to spend more time with my upper body relaxed, maybe I can see how much of the run I can do in that quiet space, or I’m not thinking and analyze and planning, but just more being and being aware of the world around me and feeling calm.
And maybe that’s hard for somebody. It’s not easy to feel calm, we have to practice it. And when you practice it in motion in that thing that eventually you will be doing in chaos in a race, it becomes more of a place that you can utilize, you can find that complex. So, anyway, I reflect have reflected back on my career and I realized, so much of my training was spent in that uncomfortable zone, that stretch zone. Like, I rarely did workouts that there wasn’t some aspect of it, that was a bit of a stretch for me. But the catch of that stretch is that a lot of people go, okay, I’m going to test myself today and I’m going to do something that I’ve never done before. And you know, I’m going to go run a four minute mile, I’ve only ran a seven minute mile. But today I’m going to run four minutes.
And so they just go completely over their — way out into the outer boundary of what they’re capable of, stretching themselves hugely, which is okay to do once in a while, but then they try to come back the next day and do it, the same thing again. And you know, in a few weeks or months or six months down the road, they’re completely burned out. And so that does not — You have to match the goal of giving yourself a little bit of a stretch each and every day.
But at the same time, being completely knowing that you’re going to be able to be consistent. So, today you stretch yourself but tomorrow you’re going to be able to get up and do what you have planned and the day after that and the day after that and the day after that. And so there are like two aspects of this thing that when they blend together, you slowly but surely transform your fitness. You transform your inner focus, you transform your ability to manage unexpected things. You transform your ability to bring out the best you have in whatever moment you’re in. And that’s also kind of a side note on that challenging yourself.
Some days you are tired, but you know you have to kind of get in a pretty solid workout. And so instead of trying to hit your highest standard, you could just try, the goal that day can easily become just trying to do a little bit better than you think you can based on how you’re feeling. And that is a success. And that’s such a skill that will serve an athlete well in a race. Because in races, you don’t feel 100% of the whole way through if you’re in a 70.3, or especially an Ironman, you’re going to have a few moments where you feel like a champ. And you’re going to have a lot of moments where you feel like I don’t know if I can even keep going.
And so if you’re in one of those down moments and you haven’t practiced that ability to just give the best you can, to be your best self in that moment; you can give up, you can back off, you can like just sort of throw in the towel, and then you never come back up to that high point again in the same race.
I had hundreds of moments in every Ironman that I have, even in the wins where it’s like, I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can keep going. But I would just, like, nip those thoughts in the bud as quickly as I could get into that focus of let me give the best I can right here right now. And then things would come back up. Next thing I know I’m back up to frigging 103%. I’m feeling really good and these guys were actually going kind of slow. I like this, you know?
JESSE: [00:41:43] Well, I really love that you mentioned and then it echoes, I think you’d mentioned it in that episode I watched of Mondays with Mark Allen is about being good at a recovery day, Like, challenging yourself to be because there’s, I mean, I’m sure — You know, you know better than most people, there’s so much emphasis on like, go hard. Like, there’s so much emphasis on that. And then it overshadows the idea of recovery, right? Like we need to be working hard all the time.
I can’t remember who it was. I saw another article about, gosh, I can’t remember what pro it is. But they were planning to take off Christmas and now they’re not going to take off Christmas because all the other pros are training. So, they’re going to start training. And it’s like, if that was in your training plan that you needed that rest, like, why suddenly are you changing gears? Because if that’s what you need personally, who gives a shit what they’re doing. You’re addressing your own needs. So, I really love that you touched on that aspect because I don’t think it’s talked about enough.
ALLEN: [00:42:54] Yeah, that was actually Sam Long who — [crosstalk]
JESSE: [00:42:57] Yeah, I was like, Sam.
ALLEN: [00:42:58] He’s an amazing athlete. He and Lionel Sanders had an amazing battle at Ironman [inaudible 00:43:07] this year, super hot day, Sam came out on top. Sam was second at 70.3 worlds in St. George behind Gustav Iden. That’s pretty impressive. Because Gustav is obviously one of the very best in the world. And Sam is right there with him. So, anyway, but I think he saw some of the results come in from the boys from Norway or in the fall and was like, holy crap, I don’t have any time to waste because I’m going to be seeing them at Ironman World Championship in St. George in May and I got to get my ass going.
But then I totally agree. Like, if you have a planned offseason, you need to stick to it. Just like if you have a planned training schedule, and all of a sudden, you hear somebody else doing something a little bit different, don’t jump on their bandwagon, stick to your own. utilize your own, what you know that you need to do to be your best. And of course, he’s making a decision that he thinks will help them to be his best.
But I was, you know, on a broader perspective of recovery, I was super tuned into recovery. I just knew that that was such a key one of my secrets as an athlete, and it wasn’t a secret, is that I just slept like a champ. You know, I’d get 9-10 hours of sleep every night and I’d also, a lot of days, I’d take a nap. And so I was getting 10 or 11 hours of sleep every single day.
And with that, my body really recovered and I could do a lot of high volume, I could do a lot of speed work. Of course I challenge myself sometimes a little too much and then it’s like whoa, okay, I’m fried. I need to back off. And I actually in 1994 completely backed away from — I didn’t even do Kona that year. I’d won five Ironman titles in Hawaii, five years in a row. 94 I realized my body needs a break. I can’t do it. I want to do it, but my body won’t be able to handle it.
And so I basically took that entire year as a recovery year. Did a scaled back race schedule, didn’t do as many long days, didn’t do as much speed work. And even after a year of like cutting back, I was still in need of recovery when I went into 1995. So, I, as much as anybody, know how important recovery is to peak performance. And like you said, it’s very underrated, very under talked about very low emphasis on the scale of things. That’s something that you know, in my coaching, I really tried to get the athletes tuned into and tell them guilt free, if you need to take a day off or cut a workout back, you need to do it. Life comes first. This has to enhance everything you do in life. It should not add to the stress of your life. And you have to keep your body healthy.
And they actually hearing that thing, like, really, I can do that guilt free. I don’t have to like, go, oh my God, I’ve got to put that long ride on another day and cut it up into six different pieces so I can get it done in between my meetings. it’s like, no, you just, you have a million other ones coming up, just let it go. And they kind of go, whew. Oh. And I get notes all the time, man, that was so good that I took that day off, because now I feel really good again. And that’s what you want to feel. That’s what you want to experience.
JESSE: [00:46:36] The idea of life comes first, triathlon enhances your life, not the other way around, you’re not the first person to preach that to me. The first person I remember preaching that to me is Barb Lindquist, who you may be familiar with. I was like I would guess so. She’s Todd’s coach. I text her from time to time. I was a hanger on in the collegiate recruitment program when she was in charge of for a number of years, and is directly responsible for bringing in the large stable and very impressive women that are performing for the US nowadays.
But she, at every clinic I ever went to with her, she always talked about that, that even if you’re trying to be a professional, life comes first. Triathlon should enhance your life. And I think it’s interesting to me to hear, to lump you together, I’ll say two champions, you know, different disciplines, obviously. ITU for Barb and long course for you. But say the same thing, because I think if you go from, I’ll say average Joe level, they’ll be like, oh, no, Mark Allen’s going to preach all about, just work harder and work harder. And that’s clearly not what you say at all, you know? So, I think it’s interesting that that subverts, at least my own opinion of what the average person would think you might say,
ALLEN: [00:48:18] Yeah, I think a lot of people who are getting into the sport or maybe don’t feel like they’re at a high level, they’re intimidated to ask me for coaching, because they think, oh, my God he’s only going to be for like, the pros and the people win in their age groups. It’s like, I don’t coach pros. I love age groupers and I really love that — I mean, I love taking people who’ve been in the sport for many years and they’re kind of at that point, like okay, how do I actually get a little more out of this? Because they’re working at a high level, but I also really love the people that are coming in that, it’s like, how do I put all his frigging sports together? You know, what do I need to do?
What’s enough and what’s too much? And it’s really cool to see somebody feel very awkward in the beginning and not knowledgeable, and then just start going through the training and starting to see these transformations in their fitness and their body and their performance. And they’re like, wow — It really does give them this really, sort of boost in, I don’t want to say self confidence, but just have capability. Like, wow, look what I can do. And that’s really cool. That’s why I got in the sport.
You know, I saw the Ironman on television and it looked like the most nutty thing that could ever have been done. Like, how can somebody do that? And I’m watching this and I’m like, there’s no way these people can do that, all in one day? You know, that was my mindset back then. I was a swimmer growing up and so 200 meters was the longest event I ever did. So, looking at these people going for hour after hour, it’s like, oh my God. And so I thought two weeks after I watched Ironman, this was in 1982, I thought I want to go there and just see if I can finish it. And so that was a journey I was on. I didn’t know what I was doing cycling or running. I had the swimming down. But cycling and running was like, I had no idea. But over the course of that first year, I thought wow, look what I can do if I just sort of launch in and start training and see what happens and modify things as I go. And you know, it’s here I am 2,000 years later still talking about the damn thing.
JESSE: [00:50:36] So, like we talked about before we got going, there’s too many questions and not enough time. So, I was trying to come up with, what’s a question nobody’s ever asked you. And I was like, I could spend, I don’t know how long trying to figure this out. So, I figured out a way around it. So, I think myself clever, but not terribly clever. So, what I’m going to ask you is, what’s the question people should be asking you and aren’t? I know, it’s vague. So, take a minute if you know — But what’s something people should be asking you and don’t ask you?
ALLEN: [00:51:21] I think one thing, one question that, actually, nobody’s ever asked me, which I think it’s, and I have answered it, even though it’s never been asked is, what should I be trying to get out of my journey in sport? What should I try to be getting out of this? Is it just fitness? Is it better health? Is it stress relief? What should I be trying to get out of this? And the thing that I answer many times without that question ever being asked is that your journey through sports should be something that transforms who you are, as a person.
That transformation can be physical, it can be emotional, it can be a change in your self-confidence, it can be a way to really experience life in a way that requires you to do something that very few people like to do, which is to just completely surrender to what’s going on, and to respond and to bring yourself up by the bootstraps and create something amazing out of a situation that maybe in the moment looks horrendous.
So, for example, in my final Ironman, like I said, I came off the bike, and this is 1995. I was trying to win number six. I came off the bike 13 and a half minutes behind the leader, Thomas Hellriegel. I was 37, he was 24. Nobody had closed the 13 and a half minute gap to become a champion at that point. Nobody had won as a 37-year-old, nobody had won six Ironman’s and six starts. So, I was trying to do, when I entered the marathon that year, last marathon of my Ironman career, I thought I’m having the worst frigging Ironman of my entire career. I have never been this far out of the lead ever, ever at the Ironman in Hawaii and I’m trying to win it. Are you kidding me, you know?
But then I started chipping away. And as you know, I was able to end up passing Thomas at mile 23 going on and winning that final Ironman. And that fundamentally changed who I was as a person. Because I saw that, no matter how impossible something looks, it’s important to just give what you have, anyway. Because when you — and when you willfully put yourself in a situation that is challenging, it will help you to learn something that will transform who you are fundamentally, if you give it everything you have. And so that’s something that I think sport can do for people is you get into it, so much of it is just fun, it should be fun, for sure you should enjoy this. It should be something that you enjoy the community, enjoy the training, it makes you feel good, it reduces your stress, you get more fit.
But at the same time when you’re doing workouts or races that really challenge you realize, I put myself here. I asked for this, to be in this situation. So, let me frigging get something good out of it, even if my result is different than I hoped it would be. And so you keep going, you put more in, you put more in, and you put more in and then you cross the finish line. And when you look back, and I always say this to people a lot of times also, the greatest victories can never be seen. The greatest victories are not you crossing the finish line first or setting a PR or beating somebody that you’ve never beaten before. Those are all great things. Do not discount them.
However, the greatest victories are those moments where if you could have just given up because a lesser part of yourself was trying to get you to stop, to quit, to slow down, to give up to just say, it’s not worth it, I shouldn’t have been here, to go into that negative space; and you move past that, and you get back into the place where you’re, okay. Let me see what I can do. Okay. Let me see what I can do, quiet my mind. Sometimes, when you’re in those sort of cynical moments, and you’ve probably had them, [crosstalk] and I’m sure probably everybody who’s listening. You get the wa, wa, wa. [crosstalk] Yeah, I’m no good at handling, whatever it is. All you have to do is utter these two simple words that I’m going to reveal to you on this podcast. Those two words are shut up.
And then your mind relaxes, then you can feel your entire body relax, and then you move into a new space, that there’s no way you would get into the space within yourself if you’re sitting on a couch. It does not require you to do that. But when you get into those deep places within yourself that draws up a strength that you have never experienced before, that’s empowering. And that fundamentally changes you. And that is the gift of sport. It’s not a time you did, it’s not a medal that you won. It’s how you became fun, fundamentally changed through your journey of training, through your journey of racing, through the people that you met, and the places that you went.
JESSE: [00:56:34] Mark, you basically just answered my season two question, which reminded me that that whole season I was asking everybody, what’s the purpose of sport? Because it’s something, I think it’s personal to a lot of us and it changes. But I’ll let that bring us to this new season’s question. A friend of mine suggested this question to me. And for you listening, if you’re coming because you saw Mark Allen, and you’ve never listened to the show before, I ask a single question each season to every single guest, something that intersects everybody. And Mark Allen is the absolute perfect person to answer this question. A friend suggested this to me because it’s something I think not enough people focus on. And I know you’ll have had a lot of opportunities to do this. So, the question this year is, how do you celebrate your wins?
ALLEN: [00:57:35] The best way to celebrate a win is to reflect back on it. Not just once, not just twice, but a little bit year after year after year after year. Just reflect back on it. And as you think about it, you will begin to understand many layers of what it was that happened to you out there in that course, many layers of what you did in preparation that enabled you to win it, and many lessons that you would be unaware of had you not reflected back on it. And if you don’t reflect back on those wins, you may as well have lost because you missed the true gold of what could affect your life out there.
You know, the last year that I raced, as you’ve been hearing me say, was in 1995. You know, that’s so far back that I can’t even do the math to figure out how many years ago it was. However, I’m still reflecting back on some of the races that I won and some of the races that I didn’t win. And something will hit me one day like, wow, that was the lesson on that part of the course that I didn’t know before that got me through it that I can now use in this moment in this other situation that’s challenging to me. And so that is the priceless prize is are those reflections and the lessons learned.
JESSE: [00:59:06] I couldn’t think of a better way to start off the season, or a better answer. Before we talk about all the places that people can find you, I want to make a small suggestion. We’ve got Mondays with Mark Allen. I’d like to suggest another show for you with some more alliteration, Mental Training with Mark Allen, where you talk about all the things going on up here that we don’t necessarily talk about. It’s of particular interest to me, but I still don’t think it’s talked about enough and I think you’ve got a lot to share on that front. And you probably do plenty of that on Mondays with Mark Allen, but I think it’d be great to see that segment as well. So, Mark, where can people find you, get in touch, see what you’re up to, check out your show, all that kind of stuff?
ALLEN: [00:59:49] Yeah, I mean, the overall ball of wax you can find at MarkAllenSportscom. Scott Zagarino, who is the CEO of Mark Allen Sports and me, the founder, we put together a lot of different programs and options for being able to work with me and with Scott on different aspects of performance and partnerships and certainly, MarkAllenCoaching.com where I do all of my coaching out of. You can go to FitSoulFitBody.com if you’re looking for that kind of mental edge. It’s workshops that I co teach with Brant Secunda, who helped me so many ways in my career to be able to win all those Ironman titles, many, many other races. And we teach the nine keys to a healthier, happier you that is in our book, FitSoulFitBody.com. You can also check that out.
You can see me on Facebook, you can see me on Instagram, Mark Allen Grip, every Tuesday night, most Tuesday nights. I have a group ride, a public group ride, one-hour workout on Zwift, and just a lot of other — Stay tuned because there’s going to be a lot of announcements coming up very, very soon. We actually started working with a company called Tennant products, which it’s a nutraceutical line of products that help you with recovery from training. Not only from training, but also products that help your mind to get refreshed because that’s a huge part of recovery also. And that’s kind of one aspect that I actually didn’t talk about in that thing of why are people going faster now; the products that people have the enable them to replenish their cells so that their cells can regenerate from the stress, from the metabolic demand that’s on cells in the training we do. That’s so much farther ahead than anything that we’ve had — that I had when I was training.
For us, it was like eat some salmon and have some greens and you’re good to go. And like you just — That’s great, that’s the base. But when you have other products like the Tennant products that I’ve been testing, they’re unbelievable. If I’d had that I could have recovered even so much better. It’s just — Anyway, and so that goes partly to that nutritional aspect that I was speaking about. You’ve got your in-race stuff that enables you to go faster in the race and then we have products now that enable us to recover so much quicker and so much more efficiently. And that’s key.
Everybody out there, you’re going to see me a lot this year. Do check out Mondays with Mark Allen on YouTube. I’m always talking about something and every once in a while I bring in a guest commentator, Tommy Buzzcut and you will be amazed at some of the garbage that comes out of his mouth. So, check that out.
JESSE: [01:02:48] Mark, thanks so much for hanging out with me today.
ALLEN: [01:02:51] Thanks, Jesse.