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Scott had at the time been running 40 miles a week, swimming 24 and training with weights—"I enjoyed being aerobically fit, even then," he recalls—and wondering what to do with it all. When he read Barry McDermott's article about the second Ironman in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (May 14, 1979) he gradually added 250 miles a week of cycling, and in January of 1980 he turned the third Ironman into a two-division race—Scott, with a time of 9:24:33, and 107 other entrants, the first of whom finished in 10:24:41. It was the first nationally televised triathlon. ABC-TV's Wide World of Sports filmed it, despite Collins' warning that "there's no way you can make this interesting." He was wrong, of course, and that ABC telecast played the initial role in popularizing the sport.
The two passing cyclists jarred Scott from his lethargy. He caught up and rode with them for 17 miles, out of the gorge to St. Jean la Rivière, where some of the day's most brutal climbing began. It lasted three miles, which was enough. Then the road began to fall, down steep mountainsides more suited to burros than to bicycles. Scott wasn't riding at his best, but at Aspremont he recaptured his position behind Allen and Molina, who at one point had been nearly 10 minutes ahead of him. They still hadn't passed Howard and Yates, who maintained a lead that probably wasn't a lead. All the cyclists were vainly seeking water. Some got the electrolyte drink, others sped toward the aid tables, right arms extended for what should have been obvious reasons. The volunteers smiled and waved.
Scott had drawn no closer to the leaders: Cycling back along the promenade, he passed within inches of Allen, starting his run after three hours and 23 minutes on his bike. At 1 p.m. it was 88°, and the air was like transparent steam. Allen was running smoothly and feeling fine, but he needed water. Molina, 33 seconds behind him and dehydrated, was "going down the tubes," as he put it later. He barely made it the three miles to the first aid station, where he set up housekeeping for a few minutes, eating bananas and gulping water. There was no shortage of that at the running aid stations; unfortunately, there was a woeful shortage of stations—only eight in 18 miles.
Four miles out, just past the Nice airport, where the running course turned north along the Var, Scott trailed Allen by 9½ minutes, Molina by seven. He passed Molina less than four miles later, in part because Molina had slowed. Scott's level of energy was inconsistent, like a fine car whose ignition is skipping. Full of water from one of the infrequent aid stations, he would surge ahead. But soon he would be laboring again, upper arms barely moving. At the turnaround, nine miles into the run, a promised aid station was nowhere in sight. Scott headed back, crestfallen. He called to a stranger, "I need an orange, and some water. Bad!" He accepted a bottle of water from a man on a bicycle; that was against the rules, but everyone was doing it.
Allen was still looking strong, a superb triathlete at his best. He ran his 12th mile in six minutes, and someone shouted, "Nine minutes back," referring to Scott. But it was then, when Allen's victory seemed certain, that a strange, vacant expression began to come over his face. Normally the most self-possessed of young men, he was trying to acknowledge the presence of roadside well-wishers, but seemed unable to find them; his eyes wouldn't focus. By the time he reached the airport again, the spring was gone from his leg muscles. On the promenade, where admirers urged him on, calling out "Merveilleux!" and "Formidable!" he began to stumble. Suddenly, 1½ miles from the finish line, he fell to his knees. He rose and continued forward but looked like a race-walker in slow motion, his style exaggerated, his arms extended wildly for balance. TV commentator Frank Shorter, by his side and walking backward, called to him, "Don't run. Walk. No one else is in sight."
Not quite true. Less than a mile back, nearly lost among runners who were just starting out, a little dot was breasting the tide. It was Scott.
He didn't know what was happening up ahead. He hadn't known, five miles back, that Allen was breaking down. "Would it have made any difference if you had?" he was asked, after Allen had beaten him to the finish line by three minutes and 24 seconds, with a winning time of 6:04.51. "Maybe," he said. "But it's Mark's day," and he turned to embrace his former girl friend, Linda Buchanan, who had won the women's race in 7:06:03.
Allen lay on a massage bench, drinking orange juice and cold water. Molina, third with a time of 6:11:27, was on the next table, gobbling Mars bars. One friend massaged Allen's blistered feet, a second held an ice bag to his knee and a third wiped his brow. Light-headed, he was not responding to questions. An American doctor turned to a French race official and said, "Do you have any IV solution we can put in his veins?"
The official offered him a jar of Vaseline.
When Allen could talk about his finish he said, "There's no reason for me to fall apart like that in a six-hour race. I do workouts that are longer. It must have been the electrolyte. Dave said that if the electrolyte is improperly mixed, it draws water into your gastrointestinal tract to dilute the sugar in the drink: That produces faster dehydration, and ultimately you can crash."