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.)
Allen also had prepared by winning all nine of his shorter triathlons in the summer and by doing long, hard rides with training partner Ken Souza. "A 6½-hour training day doesn't prepare you for an 8½-hour race," he said. "Everything changes after six hours."
He knew his overdistance work had paid off when he swung off the bike and began the run. "I felt like I'd ridden 40 miles, not 112," said Allen. "Usually I feel like I've gone 150."
But Scott set the pace. A high overcast had crept over them, cutting the strength of the energy-sapping sun. They caught Dittrich a mere four miles into the marathon. "The pace seemed tough early," said Allen, "but I think Dave was feeling me out. We slowed on the hill out of town, and I was comfortable until 10 to go. Then he picked it up, mile after mile."
"Dave seemed stronger on the downgrades," said Allen. "I thought, All right, where's the best uphill?"
He already knew. He and Moss had chosen the hill at the 24-mile mark. Break away there, and he would have all downhill or level running past enraptured crowds to the finish.
In the press truck where Moss was watching, someone asked whether Allen and Scott might agree to tie. 'They didn't come this far," Moss said, "to give it to one another now."
Then Allen struck. "You're doing it!" yelled Moss. He quickly gained 25 yards.
"I just couldn't answer," said Scott. But he didn't slow, either. "You never concede," he said. "You never know what will happen."
Now Allen had 50 yards on Scott. "Stay within yourself," called Moss, suddenly afraid he'd gone too hard, too soon. "You never have to do this again."
"It's over," said a photographer.
"It's never over," said Moss. "If he cramps, Dave will be on him."
But Allen didn't cramp. With a mile to go and a hundred yards of daylight behind him, he let out a scream of wild joy. He won by a minute in 8:09:15. That broke Scott's record by an astounding 19:22. Allen's marathon split was 2:41.03, 15 minutes faster than his previous best.
It was the finest race in Ironman's 11-year history, and because it was decided by strength and intelligent tactics instead of by the premature collapse of a contender, it marked a new maturity in this demented, riveting competition.
Allen's and Scott's mastery of the distance and the elements was also achieved by women's winner Paula Newby-Fraser, 27, of Zimbabwe. Indeed, she had mastered them a year earlier, when she set a gaudy women's mark of 9:01:1. "I wanted to prove last year wasn't a fluke," said Newby-Fraser. She did so, finishing 34th overall and improving her record to 9:00:56. She won by a yawning 21 minutes over Canada's Sylviane Puntous but believes that the days of such margins are numbered. "They'll catch up," she said. "They'll figure it out sooner or later."
For Allen, having figured it out was heavenly surcease. "The demon is gone," said Moss. "The seven-year albatross has dropped away."
"This does take a lot off me," said Allen, his grin edging toward his ears. "And I didn't think I could go this fast. The pattern, of course, is that it takes a couple of years for people to catch up to a standard, then someone sets a new one. Well, next time, it won't be me. This is as fast as I can go."
WALTER IOOSS JR.
Allen (above) was lost in a sea of faces at the start, but ashore he was hell on wheels.
WALTER IOOSS JR.
The Ironman, a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and, finally, a full marathon, is sport for some, an obsession for others.
WALTER IOOSS JR.
For the second straight year Newby-Fraser (right) was the women's winner in a walk; Allen won for the first time in six attempts.