Continued from LAVA Magazine, August/September 2010: Issue 01, page 144 (subscribe now!)
For the inaugural issue of LAVA, we got Chris McCormack and Mark Allen together at McCormack’s Los Angeles home and told them to let loose. What you’ll see in the magazine is a snippet of their conversation. Read the rest in this web-exclusive two-part series where the dynamic duo covers everything from Macca’s propensity to mouth off, to Allen’s troubled upbringing—and how it drove him to become a world champion.
Mark Allen: You’re racing well out here this year.
Chris McCormack: Well, I’m getting old now.
Mark: You’ve got time, man.
Macca: I’m hoping so!
Mark: I know someone who won when they were 37.
Macca: I’ve only got one and I’m 36.
Mark: What are you going to do about it?
Macca: I’d like to try and win two more. I should have realized it wouldn’t be as easy to win as I thought it was, because I saw you suffering for so many years. The first ever triathlon I ever watched on television was a race on the World Cup up there on the Gold Coast, and you won. At the time, I was a runner. I was 12 years of age. That same year I tuned in to the Hawaiian Ironman 1987 coverage. Everyone talks about the Iron War [in 1989], but for me I think that 1987 Ironman Hawaii was the greatest coverage I’ve ever seen, although it obviously didn’t have the result you wanted. I was captured by the race with the way it was filmed, the how the athletes were interviewed—it was perfect. And it caught me. It took me out of running and into the sport [of triathlon].
Mark: If I thought about that race, I’d have to say that it was probably the low point of my entire career. I had been there [at the Hawaii Ironman] five times and, I thought I had what it was going to take. I was there with Dave through the half marathon, but then I pulled away. I had a five-minute lead, and I thought I had it in the bag. Two miles later, my energy was nose-diving and I knew something was wrong. And then Dave passed me with four miles to go, because I was walking. I ended up in the hospital with internal bleeding. My guts were trashed. The doctor said if they couldn’t figure out where it was and if it didn’t stop by the morning, they’d have to cut me open. Fortunately it stopped, but I woke up the next morning and obviously I was disappointed. I had the lead in the Hawaii Ironman and I lost it and I was in the hospital.
After that, the doctor told me to take it easy and to not do anything bad for my body or drink any alcohol. Naturally, I did everything bad that I could, because I was so devastated. My thought was, I can’t get any lower than this. It took two years, but I was able to turn it around. What was your lowest point?
Macca: It’s funny how I guess life imitates who you look up to. Because when I came across in 2002 as, I guess, cocky, I never meant to be. I came to the sport as a professional, I won two championships and it was the highlight of my life. But you don’t really know how to act. It’s a very awkward spot; it’s something you’ve been aspiring to all your life, and suddenly you’re the world champion. By the time I came to the Ironman I was an aggressive racer and I hadn’t lost a race in three years. I thought that Kona would be no different—it’ll be hot and it’ll be windy, and that’s it. When somebody interviewed me, I was like, “I didn’t come here for a holiday, I’m here to win.”
Well, 10 miles into the run I was walking up the hill. And Tim DeBoom and Peter Reid passed me as I was walking, and as they did Tim goes, “Welcome to Kona, punk.”
Mark: Brutal! Did you punch him later?
Macca: Actually, I went up to Tim to congratulate him, and he was pretty cold. But I deserved it. Still, I thought to myself, next year I’ll win it comfortably, and I got too confident again. I walked to the finish line again that year, and in 2004 my bike memory broke and I dropped out. I was so embarrassed.
Mark: You get to a point where it’s bad like that. I never dropped out, but there were points where you just kind of give up. You’ve been holding on for 5,000 steps and you think to yourself, “How am I going to take that next step?” People just don’t understand that.
Macca: That’s what I’d been trying to tell people. I was broken. I was done with Kona. I was officially done because that third year I thought I had put the perfect preparation together.
Mark: What went wrong?
Macca: Well, you’d tell me I was too skinny.
Mark: You were.
Macca: I struggled from the onset on the bike, I was struggling on the run, I was holding on, and like you said, you’ve already been struggling for 10,000 steps before you even slightly tire, I was absolutely like your ‘87 low point. And when I dropped out, I think you were there. And I said, I’m quitting, and you said “Don’t make rash decisions.” And I was like, it’s all right for you, you’ve won this thing six times, man!” I couldn’t even finish the bloody thing. It’s the single race that made me really look at myself. I used to watch your interviews that were part of the NBC Hawaii Ironman coverage when you had your fourth and fifth wins in Hawaii. Hearing what you were saying, about how there’s a demon inside of everyone during that race and how you can’t hide from yourself. I thought it was just interview talk. But after 2004 it really started to sink in. You can’t lie to yourself. Those two voices talking to you, it’s you and you. There are two fears: one is your fear of failing, and the other is your expectation of yourself. You have to face those, and before then I never really grasped that. I had people telling me how wonderful I was, but when it comes down to it, you have to face yourself. I started to question if I could be a great athlete if I couldn’t complete the race in Kona.
Mark: You think somebody like Normann Stadler asks these questions of himself?
Macca: I think he’s asking them now. I think he’s happy now. I saw him last year, and he said he’s achieved more than he ever expected, but he doesn’t want to go there. I said you can’t be happy and live a lie, you’ve got to be prepared to go back there and face [Kona]. And it’s a scary thing, to go back and face yourself, to have to face your fears and your inhibitions.
Mark: I think part of the fear comes once you’ve won, and you’ve figured it out, but then you come back the next year and you have to figure it out again. And I think that’s what gave Peter [Reid] a hard time, he had to re-figure out the things that drove him in the beginning to win it. To me, that’s the evolution of the athlete. At some point, you have to decide what drove you to get to a certain level, and then you have to re-figure out a formula from there. Your body is different, the competition is different, the conditions are different. Every year you have to go through the whole formulation process all over again.
Macca: You were always a phenomenal runner, and you’re a great biker, but you had those five, six years of bad marathons. Did you ever doubt your strengths?
Mark: I never knew if my best marathon would be good enough. At some point, the tape goes on in your head and the negative voices are playing. You just have to get yourself to shut up. Once that quiet comes, everything shifts. In your case, you really had to pull yourself up [from defeat], and that’s when you really find the answer. Some of the other guys, I think they really had a free ticket in, like Normann, and I don’t think he’s ever had to pull himself up. So I don’t know if he ever has what it will take to go back and win it again. Maybe he’s satisfied. I wonder about Crowie, what he thinks.
Macca: I think it’s Crowie’s time. He was always the seventh athlete in the country and never got proper recognition. He’s friggin’ hard to beat. I think my advantage with Crowie is we’ve trained and raced together our whole lives, and because of that, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses very well. Not to sound arrogant, but I’ve got him [beaten] on the bike or run. With the way the race is evolving nowadays, though, he can use other people’s ability to carry him through the bike, and if you don’t alienate him and make him work, he’s going to run a beautiful marathon. My answer to the question “You think you can outrun Craig Alexander?” is “Well, the first time I didn’t finish, but both times I’ve run out of pack I’ve put in a 2:45 together and a 2:42. Craig’s only ever run out of the pack.” So the answer to the question is yes, I can. If you look at the stats, I’ve got three minutes on him on my best day, but you can always see the fire burning within him.