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Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run Paperback – October 1, 2012
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"Captivating, animated, uniquely readable and downright thrilling. [Iron War] is a truly great read--and an ode to our sport with all its quirky characters and epic venues...It is absolutely comparable to Krakauer, Bowden (Blackhawk Down), or Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm)...Iron War is what we buy books for: Excitement, entertainment, information and inspiration." -- TriSports.com
"A true page-turner about a too-little-known great moment in sports." -- Booklist (American Library Association)
"For any triathlete or endurance athlete, or anyone who wonders what it takes to be the best in sport, Iron War is an excellent read...Readers will come away with a very strong understanding and appreciation for two of the true legends of our sport...as well as a very clear look at the greatest race ever run." -- Triathlete.com
"Iron War really is a book that should be on your bookshelf if you have even the slightest interest in the sport of triathlon, but it also is a great read for anyone looking for inspiration in general." -- Slowtwitch.com
"Fitzgerald eases readers into the nuances of the sport, capturing imaginations with a satisfying study of two exceptional athletes and what makes them tick." -- ForeWord magazine
"Iron War is the very first time our sport has engaged in Krakauer-style journalism, where full-featured personalities are presented to readers without excuse, or pause, or an author's self-censorship. Iron War is Fitzgerald's Krakauer moment." -- Slowtwitch.com
"Iron War by Matt Fitzgerald recounts the fabled Ironman world championship battle between triathlete legends Dave Scott and Mark Allen. By the end of the story, [triathletes] will feel like [they] personally know the athletes, raced side-by-side with them, and understands the amazing contribution they made to the sport." -- Active.com
"In his new book Iron War, Fitzgerald recounts in gripping detail the showdown between Mark Allen and Dave Scott. Iron War delves into the vastly different personalities and psyches of these two iconic athletes and presents an anatomy of mental toughness that both men shared." -- Triathlete magazine
"In an exhaustively researched book, Fitzgerald recreates the famous race between Dave Scott and Mark Allen in the 1989 Ironman World Championship....[Iron War] captures the strength of character of both athletes better than any other publication to date." -- Xtri.com
"The real gems of [Iron War]...are the robust descriptions of the race itself: the pain and suffering, the strategy, the story arc. The telling of this story gives insight into the race far beyond what we could see on the ABC special...or on YouTube today. It's an insight that casual fans (and perhaps even athletes themselves) don't often get. And for that reason alone, [Iron War] was one I could not put down." -- TriMadness
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You might want to try actually reading the book before "reviewing" it based on Dave and Marks statement.
From their own statement Dave Scott and Mark Allen wanted money to participate in this book which wasn't forthcoming. Plus who knows how accurate their own books are or would be. I was involved in Triathlons during this time period, knew a few of the top pro's and the book rings true historically to me. I have no idea if the personal details are true or not.
I didn't know they were infallible gods who would never shade the truth about anything.
This book is also about Triathlon during the 70's and 80's and is a very good read if you want to know about triathlon in that time frame or were involved as I was.
Its well written and interesting, it would have gotten five stars from me with the cloud of suspicion over it's accuracy in some areas. My guess would be that the parts of the book Dave and Mark object to are some of the personal details.
Read the book and think for yourself.
Matt Fitzgerald is a very talented writer and worked very hard on this book. Hard core triathletes will be captivated by his blow by blow of the '89 Hawaii Ironman race, and numerous other ironmans detailed. His creative use of adjectives and descriptions of the surroundings makes the reading enjoyable. e.g. - when two young German cyclists pull away from Mark Allen, its: "...he was losing ground to the virile young meat machines chugging away ahead...".
Mark and Dave are rightfully sensitive about someone digging into the past and conducting armchair psychoanalysis about what makes them tick. Here's a passage from the book that indicates the folly of going where you shouldn't go:
"Behind how many great male athletes is a lousy father? Mark Allen. Lance Armstrong. Haile Gebrselassie. Michael Phelps [world's best triathlete, biker, runner, swimmer]....Coincidence? Not bloody likely." Coincidence that you cherry picked four athletes with some sort of father "story" to advance a theory? Not bloody likely.
Speaking of Lance, he has set us pretty straight on this issue. From his own mouth, he has informed the public that:
a) he had an irrelevant biological father followed by a succession of extremely poor father figures in his youth
b) - and this is the take-home point - that these characters had f-all to do with his success.
Interrupting a really interesting and deep philosophical thread in the conclusion, the author restates his oversimplified theory to account for the tremendous drive and will to suffer that these athletes exhibit as follows: Mark had father issues and Dave was born with the suffering gene. And consequently, "Dave and Mark might seem somewhat psychologically imbalanced"
This is tough one to swallow. Mentioning Dr. Allen's fatherly shortcomings as a driving factor in Mark's motivation can easily discredit Mark as well as his father. It just too difficult to succeed advancing psychological theories about subjects who did not contribute directly to the discussion. What about his positive contributions? After all, he watched Mark win in Kona, so on the Lance Armstrong scale things ain't that bad, eh? To say Dave was "born" with his work ethic and suffering-adept brain discredits his many practical efforts and life influences that helped shape him into a champion athlete. The author unwittingly undermines his theory when he relates Dave Scott's extreme fluctuations in motivation to train hard over the years, which doesn't make sense if he was endowed with a mysterious "born to work hard/suffer" gene. Also, if peak performance - whatever the complex motivations behind it - is psychologically imbalanced, then does "balanced" equate to mediocrity?
The book leans on a total of two scientists to delve into questionable objectionable threads about mental toughness being seemingly the sole reason for Mark and Dave's superiority over other athletes. One scientist proposes that, "chronic exertion of cognitive effort required to control your own emotions and deal with difficult family situations may induce neurocognitive adaptations that will translate into a competitive advantage during endurance competitions later in life." Yeah? So does hard training, the incentive of prize money and sponsor bonuses, relationships that are loving and nurturing, and cheering crowds.
This calls to mind another Lance quote, when I asked him how his having "been to hell and back" (with his cancer ordeal) made him a better cyclist. "Hey, everyone has been to hell and back, in one way or another." The race story and the back story is fantastic enough not to have to sprinkle it with childhood slights, relationship drama, or whatever. It analogous to the modern tri-geeks overthinking their training to the detriment of an intuitive approach. Props to the author for rightfully ripping on the tri geek overly-techie approach and calling attention to the value of Dave and Mark's old-school approaches; Dave raced sans heart watch or speedometer - everything was by feel.
The section about motivational intensity and exercise tolerance was well written, and it's a fascinating subject. Imagine, the brain is what limits our performance instead of muscles! This theory has been advanced before by Dr. Timothy Noakes (Lore of Running) and others. Unfortunately, license was taken here to distill some sound bites that could mislead the reader as to the source of superhuman athletic performance. E.g.:
"Fatigue in endurance exercise is always voluntary"
"The reason Mark and Dave were 3 miles ahead of the next competitor at the '89 Ironman is because they were mentally tougher"
"Mark and Dave thought of training differently than other athletes (as practice for improved tolerance to fatigue instead of just for strengthening the body to go faster)."
"Neither man has appreciably more physical talent that the competitors quarreling over third place far behind them [but they have] a clear advantage in mental stamina"
"Dave Scott's performance (in the final miles of Ironman '89, maintaining good pace after he was dropped and his form got loose) was a one in a billion exhibition of will in sports"
This is Baloney.
The reason Mark and Dave were 3 miles ahead of the next competitor was because they swam, cycled and ran faster than the others to that point. This resulted from a couple decades of endurance training, building to a period of exquisite preparation for that single day over the weeks and months leading up to it. Read Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code or Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers to get some insights about what "talent" is and how it's developed. The most talented athlete at the '89 Ironman was Mark Allen, because he won. The second most talented athlete in the field was Dave Scott. Period.
Mark and Dave may or may not have anything mentally on Mike Pigg, or Simon Whitfield, or Kobe Bryant, or Hicham El Gerrouj, or Blanka Vlasic, or many other athletes who reach elite ranking. Their superiority as triathletes - on the day in question and during other highlights in their careers - is far more broad and complex than that. It cannot be piece-mealed out of the complex whole for dramatic purposes. Doing so marginalizes the legacy of the athlete much in the same way we hail Michael Phelps size 14 feet and double jointed elbows, knees, and ankles, or Usain Bolt's 9'6" stride length as their primary success factors.
A triathlete who is simply mentally tough and impervious to pain and suffering will not even make it to the starting line, because he or she will lack the common sense to turn this faucet on and off with precision throughout the training process. Mark's career arc provides some insights here, as he had to learn to moderate his Grip of Death personality attribute after recurring injuries early in his career. He had to develop into a more complete athlete and human. Dave Scott has long been characterized as an athlete who "works the hardest" and "lacks natural ability or graceful technique". So to be the "Man" all you have to do is head out the door and pedal your brains out in the heat and wind for five hours every day, then get off and run a quick 12 at tempo? Then unlock the Davis community pool with your own key and do some solo stroking along the black line late at night? If it were this easy, we'd have pack sprints to the finish in 8 hours flat at Ironman each year. Fatigue is voluntary! You can pull an Red Bull and Top Ramen-fueled all-nighter to study for a final exam, ace the 3-hour final the next morning, then in the afternoon hammer 6 x 800m with the varsity team. Then party all night with the Kappa Kappa Gammas, and get a voluntary upper respiratory infection.
Consider this: Perhaps Mark and Dave became mentally tougher than everyone because they were physically stronger--particularly on the day of the big race? It sure helps to be in bad ass shape when you are ignoring screaming lungs and aching quads to surge at mile 24 and break the Man on the Kona coast. The true sage of multisport, Kenny Souza, was once asked the secret to his success at a public seminar: "long rides, man!". There was laughter all around, and then a brief pause while the audience waited for Kenny to elaborate...I think the profound significance of him NOT elaborating might have been lost on that audience.
I know that Kenny Souza didn't ponder whether his long rides were practicing "improved tolerance to fatigue" instead of "just for strengthening the body to go faster", because Twisted Sister was blaring too loud from his Walkman for him to ponder anything besides the Mrs. Field's cookies he was going to scarf at Boulder, CO's Pearl Street Mall upon conclusion of long ride.
This is not to discount the phenomenal mental toughness of Dave and Mark on that day, or throughout their careers. It's merely an attempt to put it into proper context instead of bringing up childhood slights like Dave getting benched on the varsity basketball team or Mark not getting due accolades from his dad for his age group swimming efforts.
The varied approaches that Dave and Mark took to the start line--Mark introducing the mystical element and Dave taking the blue-collar approach--have been so often discussed over the years that it gets a bit tiresome to revisit it decades later. This stuff is just window dressing and of less significance than the nuts and bolts of what made the "greatest endurance race ever": Two athletes who'd figured out how to experience a career peak at the same time and battle it out.
That's plenty of critique for one review, and I will repeat that serious triathletes will certainly enjoy the racing blow by blow and the background information conveyed about these legendary athletes. I again congratulate Fitzgerald for his extensive research and superior writing skills, which easily earns him 4 stars, or 3 stars, whatever, in comparison to the triathlon training crap that has flooded the marketplace in recent years. On that note, consider purchasing Mark Allen's Total Triathlon and Dave Scott's Triathlon Training - both a quarter-century old but some of the best books written about athlete mindset (predominating in Mark's book) and technical training (predominating in Dave's book).
If you a passionate triathlete, you will enjoy much of this book, but it may be useful to remember the concluding paragraph from Mark and Dave's open letter to the triathlon community about the book: "Our hope is that you, as intelligent and discerning athletes, will know and remember our battle in 1989 for its grit, and use that as inspiration to explore and break through your own limits to find greatness in both your racing and in your personal lives. And if you do decide to read Iron War be prepared to wade through fiction, fantasy and fabrication."
In an open letter to the triathlon and endurance community, Dave Scott and Mark Allen wrote, "We're writing this because we believe that the soon-to-be-published book from VeloPress, entitled Iron War, inaccurately and inappropriately portrays us..."