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Fast Afoot or Fast Asleep
John Walters
May 31, 1993
Mark Allen, the world's top triathlete, snoozes almost as hard as he competes
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May 31, 1993

Fast Afoot Or Fast Asleep

Mark Allen, the world's top triathlete, snoozes almost as hard as he competes

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Meet mark. He likes to...sleep?

This is Mark Allen, the winner of the Hawaii Ironman triathlon for the past four years? The man whose relentless training sessions have led his triathlete peers, the most obsessive fitness fringe in all of Lycradom, to dub him the Grip (as in "of death")? "Nine or 10 hours a night," he says between yawns. "And a nap in the afternoon."

On this day Allen, 35, the indefatigable runner in Nike's Dr. Seussian TV commercial ("I like to run, he says with a smile/I think I'll go another mile"), has miles to go before he sleeps—120 miles, to be exact, on a bicycle. His is a work load gauged by an odometer, and today is just another day at the office.

Awake or asleep, Allen is the best the young sport of triathlon has produced. He holds the course record (8:09:08) in the Ironman in Hawaii, the lactic-acid test of fitness machismo, in which competitors swim 2.4 miles in the Pacific, dry off with a 112-mile bike ride and run a marathon. He has broken the tape in 66 of 89 events, and between 1988 and '91 he ran up an absurdly tri-umphant 20-race win streak. On June 13 in France he will try for his 10th consecutive win in the Nice triathlon, the world championship of the sport. As he begins his 12th year of competition, Allen's invincibility has led Gatorade to launch a "Be like Mark" advertising campaign.

But, really, who can? "You could do the mileage he does, you could do the workouts," says his training partner, 30-year-old Paul Huddle, "but not at his level. I'll be hammering on the bike, veins popping out of my neck; I look up ahead at him and think, Is he even breathing?"

A dozen years ago Allen was a San Diego County lifeguard. His most taxing duty was breaking up fights at Black's Beach, a nude beach that attracted camera-toting Marines on reconnaissance missions from nearby Camp Pendleton. A former All-America swimmer at UC San Diego, Allen possessed little more than a TV and a passion for surfing when one afternoon he tuned in to Wide World of Sports and had his life changed forever.

What Allen saw was a watershed moment in the triathlon's brief history, a moment, he says, "that can never be repeated or orchestrated." What he saw on TV was the February 1982 Ironman, during which the female leader, Julie Moss, suffered glycogen debt. As a result she lost control of her bowels and collapsed only yards from the finish line. What he saw was the future: his sport and his spouse.

Moss somehow propelled herself toward the line, finishing second among the women. Her performance would earn her sport a new legion of zealots, not the least among them Allen. He ran into Moss a few months afterward, and he recalls that "she looked nine feet tall because of what I'd seen her do on TV."

Inspired by Moss and his lifeguard pal Reed Gregerson, who had finished fifth overall in the Ironman and was Moss's beau at the time, Allen drained his savings account to buy a used racing bike and began training. In June 1982 he entered a local triathlon and finished fourth, behind the sport's great Scotts: Dave Scott, Scott Molina and Scott Tinley. Two races later he defeated Tinley, Molina and Scott at another San Diego event and bid farewell to the buff bathers at Black's Beach.

"There's been a handful of things that I've picked up on intuition and have felt perfectly at home with," says Allen, rousing himself from a predusk slumber to ingest one of his six daily meals. "The triathlon is one. Surfing is another. With surfing I bought a board before I even knew how to surf."

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