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Julie Moss had swum her 2.4 miles with the rest of the 1,286 flailing starters in last Saturday's Bud Light Ironman Triathlon on the Kona Coast of Hawaii. She had biked her 112 miles and was well into her 26.2-mile marathon. She was holding seventh place among the women. Then she saw, through the heat shimmering above the road, two men dressed in different shades of chartreuse running swiftly toward her on the out-and-back course.
One was the favorite, 35-year-old Dave Scott of Davis, Calif., who had won six times and in 1986 had set the Iron-man record of 8:28:37. The other was Mark Allen, 31, of Cardiff, Calif., who not only had never won this event but also, over the years, had been more comprehensively abused by the Ironman than any other leading triathlete. In 1982 his bike had failed him. In '84 he had reached the marathon with a 12-minute lead on Scott, but his energy left him in the lava fields and Scott ran him down.
In 1987 Allen had driven himself to a four-minute lead over Scott with 10 miles to run. Then he sickened and slowed to a walk, bleeding internally. He finished a devastated second and spent the night in the hospital with a tube up his nose, ice water flooding his stomach, "wondering," as he put it, "whether I was totally insane to keep coming back to this race."
But Allen was back. And when Moss saw him running shoulder to shoulder with Scott, she forgot about her own race. Allen and Moss will be married on Dec. 10. She turned and threw herself over the tailgate of one of the several press trucks accompanying the leaders and was pulled aboard. With three miles to go, Allen spied her there. She gave him the thumbs-up. "This next hill," she said, her eyes wide. "He plans to do it on this hill."
By now, Scott and Allen had been racing within yards of each other for almost eight hours. They had weathered an unexpectedly early gun, fired by Hawaii Governor John Waihee, which sent the field churning offinto the Pacific before everyone was behind the starting line. Wolfgang Dittrich of West Germany won the swim handily in 48:13.9 and held the lead as the competitors settled into the bike leg. The sun was rising white out of volcano haze cloaking Mauna Loa, seeming to guarantee heat. On the 50-mile push up the coast to the town of Hawi, where usually a tearing head wind blows, there was none.
Scott, Allen, Mike Pigg, Ken Glah and Bob Markle formed a loose pack. If they clustered too tightly, they would be breaking triathlon rules, which forbid drafting. After 50 miles, Dittrich had a cushion of three minutes, but Scott was unmoved. He knew Dittrich's running was weak. Scott suspected, too, that no matter how hard he pushed in the bike leg, he would not shake Allen. "I knew," said Scott, "that it would come down to the run."
Scott would wait. Therefore, Allen would wait. "The plan was to stay with Dave," said Allen later. "There is no reason to outbike him. He'll just catch you on the run."
They seemed to ignore each other, these colorful specks on a black ribbon in the black moonscape of the lava fields. Scott often rode with a sneer of effort on his face, sometimes waving away the fussing TV and photo vehicles—but not too far away. "The aloneness of that road is mind-boggling," he would say. "You welcome the distraction."
Allen rode with his head down as if reading. Or praying. He is given to meditations upon the interconnectedness of experience. "He feels a connection with this island," said Moss afterward. "To do well, he had to make his peace with it. Last night we even took herbs and feathers to the little church at the five-mile mark and asked for the blessings of the gods."
(Such propitiation was a little late for Moss. She was seared into triathlon history in the 1982 Ironman when she collapsed while in the lead and, despite crawling the final yards, barely lost to Kathleen McCartney.)