My training for the Mardi Gras marathon started about 4 months prior to the race. My wife Lisa and I had made the decision to both try to qualify for the Boston Marathon and knew that it was not going to be an easy task. We enlisted the help of our friend, Laura Magann, who is a certified running coach and founder of our local running club, the Tri City Track Club.
Laura was absolutely incredible to work with, and there's no doubt in my mind that I would not have qualified without her help. She gave me an individualized running plan that had me doing a variety of running workouts - everything from track work during the week to long runs on the weekends. A lot of the workouts were really difficult - I came close to hurling many times. But I definitely saw improvement in my numbers over the weeks, which kept me going.
My qualifying time was 3:20:59, a number that had been scorched in my mind for months. That meant I had to run 7:40 miles or better. My strategy for the race changed from week to week. Before I started training, and knowing my personality, I knew I would have to go out relatively fast and bank some time so that I could let up at the end if I had to. Then, as I trained I realized that banking time really took a big toll on my legs, energy stores, and my mind. I realized that going out too hard was definitely not going to work. But I also knew that I am not a "catch up" kind of person - I could not run slow in the beginning expecting to save it up and make up for lost time over the last 6 miles. Over the months, I gradually decided (very loosely) to run slightly faster than pace and try to maintain this constant pace for as long as possible, knowing that I was going to listen to my body and other factors like the weather. I decided also to break up the 26.2 miles into smaller 6 mile segments, focusing only on getting to 6, 12, 18, 24 (and mentally celebrating at each 6 miles) with the last 2.2 miles taking care of themselves.
Race morning - I got up about 5:00 for a 7:00 race start. I ate a bagel with peanut butter and drank some coffee, then some water. I tried to stop drinking an hour before the start so that I could avoid bathrom breaks during the race. We stayed at a hotel in downtown New Orleans, so we walked about a mile to the race start down by the river. Before we left the hotel I made sure I had everything I needed - race belt with 5 gels, visor, Garmin.
It was on the cooler side - I wore a light jacket knowing I could throw it in a special needs bag at the race start that would be taken to the finish. We walked about a mile to the starting area. This was the first year that the Mardi Gras Marathon was a Rock n Roll event - there were so many people there. One last stop at the port-o-let and I was in my starting corral by 6:45.
Boom!! and we're off. My Garmin was set to tell me my distance, total time, instant pace, and average pace. My first goal was to get to 6 pretty strong. The first 6 miles were through the Garden District and Uptown to Audubon Park. There was a lot of distractions with spectators, bands, and beautiful homes, which was nice. We had nice weather - starting temperature in the mid 40's. I felt really good and got to mile 6 with my Garmin readings of 7:20, 7:08, 7:07, 7:07, 7:08, 7:12. I celebrated by eating my first gel.
I've never run a marathon so focused on pace. In my mind there really was no time for stopping - not at the water stops, not at a port-o-let, not for anything. I took gels as I approached the water stations so that I could wash them down with water as I kept on running. Even stopping for 15 seconds changed a 7:30 mile to a 7:45 mile.
The second 6 miles took me up St. Charles Avenue back downtown through the French Quarter. The sun had come up by then, and I started to warm up. I started the race with 2 shirts and knew I had to remove one before I got too far into the race. I took both shirts off and put my outer one back on, throwing the under shirt in a trash can. I took another gel at 10 - on schedule for a gel every four miles, starting at 6. The second 6 miles went pretty quick, with splits of 7:14, 7:15, 7:10, 7:20, 7:16, 7:17.
The third 6 miles took me up Esplanade to City Park. I was still feeling pretty good. At mile 15 or so, the race reached City Park with wide open spaces - the first wind in my face. I decided to try to tuck into a pack if I could to draft. I ended up behind 2 guys who were running just a little bit faster than I was. With drafting I was able to hang on for a while until we turned a corner and got out of the headwind. Another gel at 14 and 18. I took water at the stations close to gels and Cytomax at the others. I was very happy to reach 18 - splits 7:01, 7:10, 7:05, 7:02, 7:08, 7:15.
I was starting to feel it by now. My thighs were really tight, and I was just starting to be generally uncomfortable. The next 6 miles took me around Bayou St. John and back into City Park. I tried changing my posture to relieve some of my muscle tightness. Mile 19 - 7:18. Tried changing my breathing ratio/pacing. Mile 20 - 7:22. Damn this is really getting hard. Mile 21 - 7:40. I really was not monitoring my instant pace as much as my average pace. I was damned determined to keep the average under 7:40. There was a clock on the side of the road at Mile 21, and I had managed to get there in 2:31:50, an average pace of 7:14. At that point I was a little foggy in my thinking, but could think clear enough to do some basic math and realize that I had 49 minutes to run 5.2 miles. Part of me thought "Keep up the pace - push through it" but a bigger part of me thought "Your goal was a constant pace as long as you could maintain, and finish under 3:20." I was pretty sure I was going to qualify, and I now knew that I did not have to maintain a punishing pace to do it - a sure recipe for cutting back when the body is screaming. Last 5 miles - 8:01, 8:02, 8:57, 9:02, 8:52. I really felt like I had given all I had by the end.
Final time 3:16:31 (4:28 to spare). Average 7:30 pace.
I went through the finisher's chute and was so relieved to stop. My daughters had run the half marathon and were waiting for me on the side barricade. They were so excited that I had reached my time, and I was thrilled, also, but all I wanted to do was lie on the ground and go to sleep. I literally could have gone to sleep right then.
My wife Lisa crossed the line and qualified, also, so it was a really great day for us. But it seemed as though all the stars lined up for us to qualify that day. There are so many things that could have happened that would have prohibited it - 10 degrees warmer, a little more wind, rain, an illness, an injury, etc. We are so fortunate, and look so forward to Boston 2011!
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
JP: On the flip side of your best race ever, walk us through your worst day in Kona.
MA: My worst day was in 1984. I had about a 12-minute lead off the bike and thought there was no way anyone could catch me. I was waving to the crowd as I ran through the town of Kona before heading out onto the Queen K highway and the desolate lava that can sap your energy and confidence in a matter of moments if you are overconfident. And indeed that described how I was racing those opening miles. At the bottom of the hill that leads out onto the Queen K, I felt like a champ. At the top of that hill I felt like all my energy had leaked out of my body.
I knew it would just be a matter of time before I was caught. Dave Scott passed a while later as I was eventually reduced to walking. I looked so bad that the medical team came to me and wanted me to drop out.
JP: Did you do anything unique to prepare for the Ironman World Championships?
MA: We trained all year to get in good enough shape that we could do a short Ironman block of training that was very intense and lasted about 6 weeks. Those six weeks were what took about 9 months of building fitness and fine-tuned it for Kona. That was the physical level, and it included some very long and intense sessions. I won’t go into them because I don’t want people to think that if they did them they would win their age group or set a PR. The amount that we did only worked because of the 9 months of base we put down and also because this was our job and we had all day to do the workouts and recover.
But I also did something that no other person did. I would take part in Brant’s summer retreats right at the point where my training partners were ready to up the ante in the workouts. I would go away for a week or more and do zero swimming, cycling or running and just focus on building that internal strength and calm that would hopefully carry me to victory in a few months time. This is what helped me to be able to deal with that internal chatter than can derail your best efforts, and what gave me the confidence to indeed give everything I had even if victory seemed impossible in the moment.
JP: It seems that people handle the transition out of professional athletics differently. What was it like for you when you had to hang up the racing flats, goggle, and helmet?
MA: The decision and timing for me was absolutely clear. There was not a shred of doubt that I was making the right decision at the right time. So for me it was about as easy as I think it can be. I would not say this is the norm, however. I had planned for this my whole career, though, and knew that whatever came next I would not be as good at it at least initially as I was at the sport of triathlons at the point that I retired from racing. I spoke with a lot of athletes at Nike who had made this transition, and they all commented that the biggest mistake in an athlete’s mindset when they finish their competitive careers is thinking that they will be at the top of whatever they do next right from the start. Many end of at the top eventually in a second or third career, but it is a learning curve that takes time and a bit of humility.
So since then I have expanded my coaching to include my online services at www.markallenonline.com as well as what I do with Brant. We wrote a book titled Fit Soul, Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You and we teach workshops by that same name. That website is www.fitsoulfitbody.com
Our next workshop is in Los Angeles, CA on April 24th, 2010.
JP: You have been a busy man since your departure from the pro ranks. What led you to start up your coaching business?
MA: I felt like I sifted through the myriad of possible ways to train the body to get race ready and found what really worked and what didn’t, and I wanted to share that info and expertise with athletes in the sport. I partnered up with Luis Vargas who is a software expert and a many time Ironman finisher in Kona. Together we put together our online coaching. It’s now used by athletes in over 50 countries and we have had great success with people of all levels. Our homepage has lots of our recent successes listed.
JP: You are also famously involved in the psychological aspect of sport and have recently written a book dealing with the synergy between the body and mind. What can we expect from this book?
MA: Again the book is titled Fit Soul, Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You. In it Brant and I give tools for building overall fitness and health. There are as the title suggests 9 keys that we emphasize. A few that might resonate with athletes are Quiet the Mind, Know and Set Your Quest, Live What You Ask For, Connect With Nature and Manage Stress.
Quieting the mind is something that just about everyone who has raced can relate to. In the tough moments, our thoughts always wander away from those that would strengthen us and find their way to the thoughts that try to get us to give up. I know this personally and had to find a way to deal with it. Some people say just replace those negatives with positives. Well, that may work in your living room, but on the race course forget it! THE best way to deal with it is to learn to quiet your mind, to silence that internal chatter. When you do that, you are then free to just go out and to what you are trained to do, which is to have a great race.
Know and set your quest is a very big one also. If a person just sits for a few minutes and asked themselves what it is about going for a big race that has importance for them in their life, deep in their heart, then when it gets tough in a race, you can reflect back on that thought of why you are out there and then have meaning for the pain or challenge you find yourself it. It really does bring back confidence and a sense of purpose to those tough moments. But this must be followed with that next key, Live What You Ask For. There were many who wanted to be an Ironman Champion, but few who were willing to do the real work to get there.
Then as triathletes we all use that tool of Connecting with Nature. We all feel good when we are outside training and especially with the environment is a trail or a peaceful road. We just feel good when we are in these types of places. In Kona this was so key for me to really feel in the race. Let’s face it, the black barren lava fields can look like a hell, but they can also be seen as a wonderful paradise like nowhere else on the planet. When I saw them that way, then I was so thankful that I got to race surrounded by all that beauty, and it would turn my whole mindset around when I might not be feeling so positive.
Then the final key that I mentioned was Managing Stress. Stress is the number one issue that holds an athlete back from being their best. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about a first timer or a seasoned veteran in the sport. Stress kills athletic performance and inhibits fitness gains. So managing it is critical to peak performance.
Lightning round time.
Favorite Dessert: Plain yogurt with some maple syrup and a few berries.
Favorite Holiday: Thanksgiving. I love the food and the community atmosphere of it.
Favorite Vacation Spot: My hometown of Santa Cruz. I travel all year so that I can take a holiday at my local surf breaks.
Favorite Race: Ironman in Hawaii. It tests you on more levels than any other race. It’s complex, but that is what makes it great.
Favorite Workout: When I raced it was the long riding in the mountains in Colorado. We would do a two-day point to point. Day one was Boulder to Vail. The next day was Vail to Aspen. We covered some high passes and incredible scenery.
Workout in the AM or PM: AM for sure.
JP: A question I have been itching to ask, do you have any plans of competing in triathlon again?
MA: No, it would ruin a great retirement I have going!
JP: What advice would you give to the age grouper who is looking to tackle the Ironman for the first time?
MA: Give yourself time to build up. This can mean taking 2-3 years to build into it. Start with shorter races as your goals to gain fitness and experience. Then each year build into longer and longer races until you are finally ready to go for an Ironman. It is best when you do it this way so that you can actually race the distance rather than just survive it.
JP: What advice would you give to the age grouper who is looking to qualify for Kona?
MA: Find a race that has the course design that you like to do best. You will always race best on that kind of course and also have the best experience on it. I loved hills and that is one reason why I did so well in Nice. I found flats and rolling terrain extremely challenging and that is partially why it took me so long to win in Kona.
JP: Mark, thanks again. Any parting words of wisdom?
MA: Really enjoy the sport, the training and your training partners. See you at the races!
Check out some things Mark has going on right here...
Monday, April 19, 2010
With the birth of our daughter, I knew my training was going to take a back seat to family life, and it did for her first two months; my waistline proved it. Once we settled into a rhythm with her, I was able to get back to training, but I would have to limit my workouts to the morning before work when Elsa would be asleep or feeding. And I'm sure you know that working out in the morning, especially trying to get it in before work, is a drag. Like with all workouts, though, fitting in a morning workout is all about planning. Here are five tips that can help you get out of bed and out the door:
- Get in the right mindset the night before.
This is the biggie. (That's why it's #1.) It's mind over matter here. You've taken the time to schedule your workout. You made the schedule to reach your full potential. You have a personal agreement to with yourself to fulfill that schedule. So follow up on that promise and get yourself committed to the workout before you even go to bed. Think about it while you lay in bed. Use mental imagery to show yourself how you will get up in the morning.
- Put your alarm clock on the other side of the room.
Don't put the temptation to turn off the alarm from the cozy bed right next you. Whether it's a watch, phone or regular clock/radio, put the alarm across the room and make yourself leave your cocoon. But DON'T go back to bed. See #1 to help with this.
- Turn on the lights in the bathroom when peeing.
You usually pee when you wake up, right? Well, now that you've gotten yourself out of the bed and into the bathroom, turn on the lights. It'll shock your system, but you need that to shake the sleep out of your head. (And, if you pee standing up, it helps to see where you're peeing.)
- Lay out clothes, bottles, food, etc. ahead of time. Use another room if necessary.
My breakthrough came when I started using another room. I could turn on the light (see above) and change with out disturbing the baby or my wife. And everyone knows that a happy baby and a happy mother makes for a happy household.
- Think about what you will have accomplished before others are even awake.
There's a lot of satisfaction from knowing that by the time others are waking up, you've swum, biked, or run and bettered yourself as a triathlete. But it won't happen unless you get out of bed and get out there.
Watch this video and think about it playing on the back of your eyelids when your alarm goes off.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Sunday, April 11, 2010
WIBA:2010 is upon us! Click the banner above and register now for the best training weekend you've ever had. Swim, ride, and run the Ironman Wisconsin race course with some of the coolest folks around, all for free!
You don't have to be training for Ironman to have a blast with us this July -- all experience levels are welcome! Click here to learn more now.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The Grip. 10 times Nice Champion, 6 time Ironman World Champion, Winner of the most epic triathlon ever (1989 Ironman Hawaii… if you don’t know, you should), Winner of the inaugural ITU world championships in 1989. I could go on, but you’d probably prefer to hear from the man himself. We are here with a two part interview with absolute legend and pioneer of the sport, Mark Allen:
JP: Mark, thanks for taking the time. First things first, will you take us back to your first race. How did you get into the sport and what was your first go around like?
JP: Mark, thanks for taking the time. First things first, will you take us back to your first race. How did you get into the sport and what was your first go around like?
MA: The first time I ever saw anything about triathlons was in 1982. I was watching Wide World of Sports and it was the dramatic finish between Julie Moss and Kathleen McCartney. I was so drawn into the event that I thought I just had to go to Hawaii and see if I could cross that finish line.
Julie Moss crawling to the finish line. An image that defines Ironman.
I came from a swimming background so I had the engine, but not skills in cycling or running. But that didn’t worry me too much. I was 24 years old and not really thinking it would be an impossible task to get ready for an IM in about 6 months. But I knew I needed to do some races before then to just get my feet wet and gain experience in the sport.
So, in June I entered my first race, which was USTS San Diego. It was slightly longer than the current Olympic distance races. I ended up finishing in fourth, which was fantastic. But even more intriguing was that the three guys in front of me just happened to be Dave Scott, Scott Tinley and Scott Molina. Together we ended up being called The Big Four, because for a number of years if we were in a race together chances were that one of us would be the champion.
Anyway, even though I raced well, I was so completely wasted and exhausted for weeks after it that I was really reconsidering if I could possibly do an Ironman in October. But forge ahead I did…fortunately!
JP: When did you realize that this was going to be a legit career for you?
MA: The thought of a career came in November of that first year. As I said I was 4th in my first race, 3rd in my second, and then I won my third event, which was a half Ironman. I also beat Scott Tinley and Scott Molina in that race, which set the stage for Kona where I would go head to head with Dave.... until my derailleur broke just past the turnaround at Hawi.
But after all of that, I was asked to be on a triathlon team that was being formed in San Diego by the now defunct J David investment company. They gave me a salary and I was on my way. Then, shortly after that, Nike stepped in and became my main sponsor.
JP: What would you have done if not for triathlon?
MA: Well, I have a degree in Biology from UC San Diego. But what I would have ended up doing with that is really a complete unknown. I certainly could not have known that I would become a professional athlete in a sport that I only learned about at age 24, and it will remain an unknown what I would have done otherwise. I am just grateful that the sport fell in my lap and that I pursued it without much logical reasoning behind it. It just felt right to do.
JP: Let’s talk about Nice, which was a race that was as prestigious as Kona back in the day. You dominated that race for an entire decade. Amazing. How were you able to continually defend your title at such a world class event?
MA: One race at a time! I really felt at home in Nice and completely accepted by the people there. For some reason it was just easy for me to put out my best each year there. Well, it was certainly not easy, but it always worked out in the end. I raced it 10 times and won it 10 times, which in many ways is even more incredible when I look back at it than what I did in Kona. There is so much that can go wrong in Nice, especially on the bike where crashing took a number of top athletes out. But I was just always able to muster up the energy it took to win.
JP: Shifting gears to Kona, which race stands out to you as being your absolute best on the big Island?
MA: There were two that really stand out: my first win and my last. The first was so dramatic because of how it unfolded with Dave and I side by side for almost the entire day. It was not until about 8 hours into the race and the final uphill on the run course that I was able to pull away and go on for my first win. It also came after six defeats, so that made it a moment that I still savor.
But perhaps even more satisfying on a deep, deep level was my final victory in 1995. I was 37 years old, which was well beyond what most would consider your prime. I had taken the previous year off from Ironman because I was just really burned out and didn’t have the internal energy to put in the training necessary. And all the young guys were gunning for me. They new it was most likely their last shot at taking me down.
What made the day so incredible was that the challenge as the race unfolded was beyond anything I had ever seen. I was over 13:30 behind the leader off the bike, Thomas Hellriegel. He just blew us all away. No one had made up that much of a time differential, ever. So it looked completely impossible. In fact, from a numbers perspective, it was impossible. I needed something different. But I had that something different, and it was time to use it.
Let me give you some history to explain it. Part of how I ended up turning the race in my favor in 1989 was by a fluke incident that happened a few days before the race. I was looking through a magazine without paying attention to anything. That was until I saw an ad that was speaking about a workshop that was going to be teaching about a way of life from a group of Indians in Central Mexico called the Huichol Indians. But what really caught my attention was the picture of the two shamans or medicine men that were going to be leading the workshop. One was 110-year-old Huichol named Don Jose, and the other was his adopted grandson Brant Secunda. They both had a look on their face that said “I am happy just to be alive!”
Well fast-forward to the half marathon point in that epic battle with Dave. He started surging and dropped his pace down to a 6-minute mile. I was almost ready to give up because that was totally insane, especially because I had a strong sense that he was going to run that fast for the remaining half marathon. It totally blew my mind. Moments before I was going to just give up and toss in the towel, I remembered the pictures of those great shamans, and somehow that feeling of just being happy to be alive permeated my being. Suddenly I was just happy to be in the race next to the best in the world. No shame in that! And suddenly my energy started to come back. And then the whole dynamic began to switch. It was at that moment that I knew I could win it.
Well, shortly after that race I met Brant Secunda and had one of the most incredibly transformative experiences of my life at a retreat he lead in Mexico. I have now studied with Brant for about 20 years, and continue to use his teachings as a source of inspiration and deep learning.
But back to 1995, in the months leading up to the race I could just tell that my body was still tired. I had a blood test done and indeed the results did not bolster my confidence. In fact, from those tests I was told that all my hormone levels were depleted, by body was deeply stressed out and that the only way to correct it was to rest for a few months. Well, I had an Ironman to hopefully win in a few months. No time for a vacation!
Fortunately, Brant did a number of healing ceremonies for me that brought my body back around and really helped charge me up for the task at hand. Then in the race, in the defining moment when I left the transition area from bike to run and was told that Hellriegel was 13:30 ahead, it was one of Brant’s many words of wisdom that gave me hope to continue. He always says, “It’s not over until it’s over” meaning no matter how impossible something might look right now, keep going because in the next moment things could change.
Well, that moment of change didn’t come until about mile 20 of the marathon when I could finally see Hellriegel in the distance ahead of me, but it was Brant’s words and his many blessings that gave me the strength to just keep going and give it everything I had even though victory looked totally impossible.
I passed Thomas at mile 23 of the marathon and went on to win by about 2:30. That victory took all I had learned in 15 years of racing and all that Brant could give me to get me across that line as the victor in my sixth and final Ironman.