How Mind Over Matter Can Lead to Triathlon Success

By Matt Fitzgerald |

At a press conference held two days before the 1989  Ironman, a reporter asked the several top male contenders seated together behind a long table in a conference room at the Kona Surf Hotel what it would take to win the race. Everyone ducked the question—everyone except Dave Scott, six-time winner of the event.

“Eight ten,” he said.

Scott’s answered drew whistles and raised eyebrows among the journalists seated in folding chairs facing the athletes’ table. After all, Scott’s three-year-old course record was 8:28.

Two days later, Dave Scott went out and completed Ironman in 8:10—and lost to Mark Allen, who clocked an 8:09 after having gone no faster than 8:34 in six previous unsuccessful attempts to win the race.

The record-shattering duel that took place between Dave Scott and Mark Allen in the lava fields of the Kona Coast on October 14, 1989 is remembered as Iron War—the single greatest race ever run. While Allen himself and a couple of other athletes went on to slightly improve upon the rivals’ times of that day, no one has ever again come close to surpassing existing beliefs about what is possible as Scott and Allen did together in their legendary showdown.

How did those two heroes of sport finish well over 20 minutes ahead of third-place finisher Greg Welch, who himself roughly matched the best that Scott and Allen had ever done previously? I spent a year searching for explanations for Scott and Allen’s achievement while working on my newly published book, Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress, 2011). Among the answers I discovered on this journey is that Scott and Allen’s “impossible” achievement was partly a case of something like—but not exactly—mind over matter.

At one point, my quest to explain Iron War brought me to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where Stephen McGregor runs the exercise science laboratory at Eastern Michigan University. McGregor’s research focus is the running stride. He uses accelerometers and abstruse mathematical tools to shed light on how the strides of superior runners differ from those of lesser runners, and how the stride changes as running performance improves.

Two of McGregor’s most important insights have to do with a variable called control entropy.

Read the rest of McGregor’s insight.


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