It doesn’t matter whether you are an athlete, an artist or a scholar, Allen’s story is truly inspiring and relevant to us all. He touched on how we can discover our inner power and our mental capacity to go beyond the unimaginable, hit our goals and break records that seem impossible.
Mark Allen’s Journey to Ironman Triathlon World Champion
Mark shared that at age 10, he was anything but a sportsman, he was often picked last for any team. Yet when watching the swimmers compete in the 1968 Olympics, he was astounded at what they could achieve and became inspired to test his own body. He joined the school swim club and swam all the way through to university. He emphasised the importance of valuing sport for fun and not only for winning and breaking records. As a swimmer, he described himself as mediocre, yet he continued to strive to push his body further because it was exhilarating to see how he could improve over time. In the end, this was what set Mark ahead of his competition. He was not racing to beat his competitors, he was racing to beat himself; continuous self-improvement is what made him a champion.
At age 24, Mark discovered Ironman on TV and once again was astonished at what the human body can endure. A full Ironman triathlon is considered to be one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world, consisting of a 3.9km swim, a 180km bike ride and a marathon 42km run. Mark’s Ironman journey started that same year in October 1982, when he met and was on par with the current world champion at that time Dave Scott. Unfortunately for Mark, he had a problem with his bike and did not get to finish the race. It was then that he realised with enough practice, he could one day go on to beat Dave Scott, and it took him 7 years to get there. Each time swimming, cycling and running next to his biggest competitor, Dave.
As incredibly difficult a feat as it is over time, Mark made it look easy, breaking 3 world records during his career, completing the swim in around 50 minutes, the cycle in 4.5 hours and the run in just over 2.5 hours. Of course, it was anything but easy. He made sure that our students were aware that whilst they can achieve anything they set out to, it will take time, perseverance, resilience, and reflection to get there.
In his 6th year, Mark decided he would increase the intensity of his training. He was determined to be stronger than everyone else to finally get his title. This training did initially get him a 5 minute lead on Dave Scott but then, he hit the wall. Mark finished the race but not as the Champion he wanted! At this point he hit a crossroads - give up and accept that he would not win the race or take a step back and reflect, and reevaluate his strategy. Thankfully, Mark chose the latter, and in 1987 he changed his mindset.
Allen posed the question to our students “Only one person can win. Does that make everyone else a loser?”. Of course not, it was about having fun and improving. So in his 7th year, Mark did not set out to win, he set out to have his best race yet. Along the way, he quieted his mind and swapped negative thoughts for gratitude for how far he’d come. It was on that day that Mark Allen came in 1st place and began another journey to gain the title of 6x world champion.
After hearing his story unfold and seeing his tremendous journey from “mediocre” to world champion, students and staff had many questions for Allen. We want to share some of the best ones with you.
“Are you and Dave Scott Friends?”
- Year 8 student
“When we were competing we rarely talked to each other, what am I going to say ‘Hey Dave, can I get you a coke?’ We were intense competitors, but it was a rivalry based on respect, we wanted to beat each other because we could see that each of us was setting the standard across the world. It took a few years after we both retired, but now we are very good friends because we went through so much together.”
“What would you say to somebody who wants to become a champion like you?”
- Year 8 student
“Well every world champion is different, so if you want to be the best at something you have to figure out how you will be the best. Use the inspiration from other people, and then figure out your own secret sauce. What will allow you to win? Dave Scott wanted to control the race but that didn’t work for me. So then I figured out how I could win, by watching the day unfold and responding to it as it took place. Whatever will make you a champion, it will be about 80% following what everybody else has shown works and then the 20% that is unique to you.”
“8 hours is a long time to be in your own head? What are you doing in that silence?”
- Ms Kirstie Stockley
“Well a lot of times, I was just counting or listening to the sound of my breath. It was relaxing and it would get me into a meditative state. When it gets difficult in a race, it’s hard to find positive self-talk. For me, it’s good to be positive in your day-to-day life. Instead of ‘I can’t do it’ tell yourself ‘I can, let’s see if I can.’ Then in the race, I just try to be quiet, in that quiet space everything is possible. You have all this energy to put into moving your body. I would get myself to be quiet for 5 minutes, then my brain would say ‘Oh it’s hot, I can’t do this, I want to be done’ and then I’d breathe and it would be quiet. You have to do that over and over again.”
Mark’s final words to our students were:
“Find something that you really like and do it because you like it, not because you want to be the best, but because you want to be the best you can be.
You might see something that becomes a calling for you, you might not know why you want to do it but you know you have to do it, just go with it! It doesn’t matter if you’ll be good at it, just go with it. But also know that big dreams can take a while to come into form. It took me 7 years to get to that point to win, and there were points along the way when I wanted to quit but now I’m so happy that I reached my goal. Enjoy the journey along the way and find friends to do it with too.”
What incredible and realistic advice from Mark. When you persevere, reflect on what works best for you, and train your mind as well as your body, you can achieve anything you set your mind to, all whilst having fun and making friends along the way.