The Dave Scott Interview


From the Editor (10.1.2011)  Some of you may begin hearing about Dave Scott and Mark Allen’s concerns over the upcoming release of Matt Fitzgerald’s depiction of  (“IronWar”, VeloPress, 2011).  They feel strongly enough about the piece to sue the author and VeloPress for defamation of character and state flat out that there are erroneous stories and misrepresentations galore in the text.  They both reaffirm their non-participation in the project, and state that Fitzgerald’s sensationalism takes stylistic license and is fiction, at best.  Long before this story, Podium recorded this Podcast with Dave Scott back in 2007.  Its worth a replay on its own merit, but in light of these revelations regarding Fitzgerald’s depiction its worth listening to again.  How cool would it be to hear the story from Mark Allen’s point of view.  Maybe Mark would like to contribute his interview to make this a matched set?  Mark………?

The beauty of this interview is the incredible depth of  knowledge and experience Dave Scott provides in discussing all manner of mental toughness.  That he and Mark Allen had such an epic race is testament to grit, skill, training, mental focus throughout the 9 hours of the most rigorous physical challenge one can imagine.  This interview is a must read for any IronMan competitor or for that matter ANY endurance athlete wanting to know about the techniques they used, the focus they were able to muster, the attitudes by which they raced, as well as the respect and appreciation for being able to compete at such a level.

Thanks Dave – Come on, Mark….we’d love to hear from you as well. 

Check out their Websites:  Dave Scott, and Mark Allen

Scroll down to read the text or Click Here to listen to the PODCAST OF: 




Stay tuned after the printing of the interview to see the Ben Van James Channel’s YouTube Video of the entire race, complete with all the side stories and amazing features of arguably the most interesting endurance event in the world.

Who is Dave Scott?

Dave Scott is the most recognized athlete and coach in the sport of triathlon. He is a six-time Ironman World Champion and the first inductee into the Ironman Hall of Fame.
Dave’s career in triathlon began with the inception of the sport in 1976. He won his first Hawaii Ironman in 1980 and went on to win again in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986 and 1987. In 1993, he was honored for his accomplishments in the sport and became the first inductee into the Ironman Hall of Fame. To celebrate, Dave came out of retirement and at the age of forty, after a five year absence from competition, decided to race again. In a stunning and memorable performance, beating out an impressive field of professional athletes – many of whom were in their twenties – Dave placed second overall. This incredible physical and mental feat earned Dave a new nickname among the triathlon community and he has since been known as “The Man”.
In terms of a personal philosophy, Dave believes that coaching people is more about being a teacher than a coach. Dave combines years of wisdom, wit and creativity to his passion for helping others. After thirty years in the sport, he continues to maintain world-wide appeal as fitness and nutrition consultant, product marketing consultant and nationally recognized speaker. He also organizes or is the main keynote for many fitness camps, clinics and races held throughout the year, forging relationships with many people along the way. Dave is based in Boulder, Colorado and greatly enjoys spending time with his three children and maintaining a healthy and physically fit lifestyle.

Podium – How did you make the transition from being a major competitor to coaching?

Dave Scott – It wasn’t a transition in any definitive way. I always had a synergy between my competing, teaching and coaching and there was always an overlap even when I was racing in my prime. I started out as a coach.

I actually started coaching swimming before I was a triathlete. I coached all through that period both as an amateur and after I turned pro. There was a two or three year hiatus where I was just focusing on athletics, when I realized how much I really enjoyed teaching. That teaching element came back to me. Also, I was fearful I wasn’t going to last in a sport that wasn’t recognized in the top 3 or 4 of this country and I worried how I was going to make an income. My dad was from academia, was a professor, and I thought I should probably have something steady and a paycheck that comes in every month. My coaching work was driven first by passion. I really enjoyed teaching as much as I did racing, even though the thrill of working with athletes is different than the individual thrill of competing at a world class level.

Podium – Interesting point. In retrospect, when you consider your life as a coach, as an athlete, as a parent, in any venue….what has been your biggest thrill in sport?

Dave Scott – I always enjoyed the game of getting fit and getting prepared, not just the physical part of it but I liked the parallel and the harmony between your mind and body and getting ready. Knowing that when you’re going to step into a race, there wasn’t a question of “Oh, I hope I do well”…It wasn’t a degree of arrogance, either …but rather, it was always more a vote of confidence…I know I’m going to do well in this race, Ironman, I just don’t know how well I am going to do?” I had a certain standard at that baseline level, but I always had one or two steps slightly higher than that I tried to reach. Each race had its own nuances, the competition was different, the training was different, my life circumstances might have been different going into the preparation for that race. But I always felt that when I went into that race I could say, “Okay, I’m going to have a good race…here we go!”

Podium – You’re talking about the definition of your goals. Give us an example of 2 or 3 goals that would be characteristic of you in an event.

Dave Scott – People always think that you’ve got to have a goal and its such and such. I think there is a real definition in my mind between your objective and a goal. I look at an objective as more seasonal or longer term…and then I have separate goals that are pretty short term. Quite often they are only two or three weeks out – because they’re tangible.

With athletes I say, “Listen, its December, you’re out of shape, we’re just starting…where do we want to be in two weeks?” I do this because day one of a training period looks a lot different than day 14. Psychologically you feel a lot differently two weeks out. At first, you are thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this.” There is a lot of self-doubt…but you finally get through it…it’s painful. The second day you’re sore…you realize you’ve got muscles…the third day you feel a little bit better…the fourth day you feel a little like an athlete…and by the fifth day you’ve really turned the corner.

Getting closer to competition, I look at three goals that are all individually determined. They aren’t focused or involve my competition. I never focused my goals on Mark Allen or what I had to do in the swim or the bike compared to Mark Allen. Ultimately, the competition level sometimes dictated that. After many years of racing, in 1989, we had a very very close race. It seemed like we were bouncing off of one another. It was influenced by our competitive natures.

As an example, let’s look at the goals in that particular race. As it turned out, it was the Epic race in our particular sport, that being the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. He was able to win that race by 50 odd seconds…but we were essentially glued together the whole time.

My feeling on the swim in preparation for that race was such that I was swimming better than I ever had, even in college. I was 35 then. So my first goal was to get to a certain level in the swim right from the outset where it was extremely uncomfortable. I never thought of discomfort as pain. People say what’s the pain like? Pain is when you’re out of shape, just as what I described before, or you are injured. The barometer for discomfort is very finite. You can take it up and take it up and it can feel very very hard and then all of the sudden you ratchet it down just a little bit…and you think, “Okay this is manageable.”

It is the ratcheting up of that exertion level to the point where it hurts. I said I was going to go right to that point right from the start, because the second part of my goal was to see if I could drop anyone who wanted to try and stay with me.

I wasn’t the best swimmer. The better swimmers had already broken away from me. But the people I was most concerned with, including Mark Allen, were in the group right behind me. I wanted to tell those athletes that I was willing to go out extraordinarily hard. I was willing to work at a high level of discomfort. If they tried to stay with me I wanted them to know that this was going to be a very painful day for them. My first goal was really about myself, my conditioning and my intention to dictate.

I had much the same mindset on the bike. People asked me how I would pace myself going out on the bike. I would ride the first 20 miles as hard as I ever did an Olympic distance race (a 40k race). I would try to set the precedent. My breathing rate would be really high, and I knew my legs would feel heavy and loaded…I knew I would be producing pretty high levels of lactate. Physiologically I had trained to handle a pretty high load, but I knew after 20 miles I would ratchet it back a bit. I knew I didn’t want to suffer the consequences of being too overzealous in the beginning, 80 miles later.

My second level goal was targeted further out in the race, where I wanted to dictate pace. I wanted other people to be thinking about me, worried about when I was going to go hard. Psychologically, I wanted them to be reactionary to my pace. I wanted to get them out of their game plan. That is the way I always raced. I would identify periods where I felt solid or strong, or during a particularly difficult section of the course, I would decide to go very hard, right now.

As that particularly race developed, there was a shadow behind me pretty much the whole day. That shadow was Mark Allen. Two distinct times I put my goal into play, at 80 miles and then again at 96 miles. I was going to really make his legs hurt on the bike. I felt that even though I didn’t break him, I know it was uncomfortable for both of us.

Podium – These goals are still process oriented even though you are focused on the particulars of a race.

Dave Scott – You know, I look at it like pulses, in exercise. It’s not like a metronome. For example, when people train on the bike, they know the gearing, they know the terrain, they know the ups and downs of that course because they have repeated workouts on the same course so many times. They become comfortable because they know what to expect. But in a in a race all that goes out the window.

You have to be familiar with the course knowing elevation changes and where typically windy conditions may exist on the course. But the race dictates a whole plethora of different challenges. I always felt the easiest way to tackle a race is to break it up into pieces and do what you can do in the moment and not look ahead. I coach my athletes to train themselves physically in workouts to NOT always do what they like.

We all have a tendency to take the easier path. When we train with other people invariably someone will attempt to push the pace because your training is competitive. You have to respond in those situations. But if you can do that and practice that when training by yourself at periods where you feel discomfort, you can perform better in the race. But you must set those little goals to make them tangible.

Podium – How do you address athletes when they just don’t have it that day?

Dave Scott – Sometimes athletes that I coach will tell me “I felt really bad at the start of the bike…my legs were really heavy.” I’ll respond with a question which is usually, “What did you do right?” This takes them aback because they just told me a big negative. They don’t see where I’m going with it, because all they focused on was how bad they felt. So, I will elaborate. I ask them, “How did you correct that, what did your mind tell you to do right then.” I ask them about that to get a sense of their mental programming. Most of the time they will say, “I felt bad and I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

If your programming is like that in a race, a molehill becomes a mountain really fast. The magnitude of that molehill becomes psychologically overwhelming. So I give them a couple of strategies to work on.

I’ll ask them to take a physical inventory of their entire body the next time they get there. I’ll suggest that they stand up, do a physical inventory all the way up and down their body over a very short distance…maybe only a hundred yards from one pole to the next. And I’ll have them just relax, think about breathing, think about flowing, whatever those words are that they’ve used over and over….until they get back in control. It’s important that they do something different. Stretch their Achilles, move from side to side, change posture, tempo, cadence, position on the bike…these are all shifts that when combined with relaxing, breathing and focusing on their flow will restore their control.

Podium – What are the most essential mental conditioning skills you coach your athletes?

Dave Scott – The most important ones involve routines because routines breed confidence. The very first one is to be consistent. Consistency is huge. It helps build the second one which is mental tenacity. Those two go hand in hand. The third one involves dealing with adversity and/or how you turn adversity into a positive.

I go over every type of scenario that could possibly come up with the athletes I work with. I can talk about a 100 different things that could happen before the race that aren’t in their normal regimen of preparation. Things like their goggles break, they couldn’t pump up their bike, they had a flat tire, they walked out of the transition area and security wouldn’t let them back in, all those things that psychologically rattle people and that can set the tone for the race. I’ve seen it too many times that even though an athlete hasn’t even started the race…..they’ve already lost.

Handling adversity during the race can be even more important. During the race you can be too programmed for a certain time or work output. Physically they want to have their breathing a certain way, their stroke rate, tempo, shoulder rotation….but what if somebody bumps you and knocks you out of line and your goggles get skewed. How do you deal with that? You were in a great drafting position but now everyone’s gone and you’re by yourself, or maybe even pulling an entire train of people. That was not your plan, so handling adversity is probably the most difficult skill to instill. Contingency plans must be rehearsed for every imaginable circumstance.

Podium – Talk more about programming.

Dave Scott – It is important to have the highest degree of faith within yourself because that breeds the highest likelihood of success. Otherwise, there is self-doubt. Self-doubt allows all these other things we’ve been talking about to come into play. Because of this, it is pretty easy to know who has the ability to win the top races.

When I go out to Hawaii, I am asked all the time…”Who is going to win?” I usually say there are only 2 or 3 people who know how to win. It is the folks who know how to finish and are consistent in the big races over time that can win. Turning that corner is the key. That requires the highest faith in oneself. Everyone wants to win Ironman Hawaii. No one wins in Hawaii unless they have turned that corner.

Podium – How do you coach people to break through those barriers in their mind?

Dave Scott – We’re way too focused on controlling little things – the focus on splits, we constantly check on our heart rate, on our watch, our power meter, the gearing on our bike, how many ounces of electrolyte replacement drink we’ve taken in, etc. Going back through my entire career I never wore a watch in an Ironman.

I would only focus on what I thought I could do. Some thought that was arrogant, but I felt it was more of a realistic appraisal of what I thought I was capable of. I was focused on my ability and my training and conditioning going into the race. I thought I could do the swim in about 50 minutes while the really fast guys would finish in 48. I felt I could ride close to 25 mph, in roughly 4:35, and maybe run a 6 minute pace (2:37). This kind of thinking was never in relation to anyone else….I was only thinking in terms of what my capabilities were….in perfect conditions. How often do you get perfect conditions? There are never perfect conditions. But I felt those marks were realistic. People wondered how I could gloat like that? I never thought of it like that, I just thought about my capabilities…it was also true that I felt completely responsible for my actions during a race and what I could do. I never looked at it arrogantly…I thought of it as having confidence in my ability and preparation.

Podium – What about nutrition plans and the gut check an athlete needs to keep themselves properly focused?

Dave Scott – These things have changed over the years and the nutrition plan is very important. You can plan really well, but that is never a substitute for listening to your body. Hydration is more variable than caloric intake, but with everything considered we can plan to a high degree of accuracy what they are likely to need. That’s all part of confidence building….knowing they are prepared. Marking their water bottles, preparing gel packs, etc. is a real key for confidence.

The problem is that athletes often lose that intuitive feeling on hydration. What overrides the thirst mechanism is all the other stimuli you experience during the competition. If you actually listened to your body…am I loose?…am I focused?…is my energy level going well?…am I carrying the same gear?….am I maintaining the same running pace?…if I noticed I’ve fallen off a little bit…. I will need to drink some at the next aid station coming up. But many athletes lose track of that because their focus becomes too narrow.

When you feel that high level of discomfort inherent in the heat of the battle, you don’t try to run away from it. That discomfort is right there. Denying it is nonsense. Acknowledging it and focusing on what I’m going to do about it is the key. Too narrow a focus takes people away from that conscious awareness.

There are an infinite number of things we do to override the discomfort when we train, but, in a race a lot of times that awareness goes out the window. A finite nutrition plan is important to keeping your wits about you and helping you maintain that pace on your bike. But it needs to be good enough so that you can prolong that output on the run. In triathlon, it’s all about the run. The best athletes are remarkably in tune with themselves.

Podium – Do you do anything with mental imagery, visualization, or relaxation to control arousal level?

Dave Scott – Every athlete is different coming into a race. Most endurance athletes are better off keeping themselves calm and keeping that level of calmness. I ask my athletes to think back to their last really good work out and a time when they really felt in control. I have them make a list of those tangible things they recognized in their swim. I ask them how did you feel? Be really specific. How did your shoulders, arms or triceps feel? How did your lats feel? Describe that in 5 or 6 phrases. Do the same thing on the bike and on the run.

As athletes we’ve got very short retention and recall. If you have a very long or prolonged taper before a race, or if you’ve been sick or traveled, people often feel as if they’ve lost it. I will have them go back to the last few days, maybe the last Sunday…one where they had a strong training session and write down those tangible things they remember. Maybe it was that ride around Carter Lake, or on your home course, or your last race. What were the tangible things you remember from that? How did you feel on that? Remember that you felt powerful, and the snap you felt at the bottom of your stroke. These are the things to focus on. I have my athletes write them down.

When people see me when I run they wonder if I’m injured. I’m not injured, its just bad form. It looks dreadful. But in my mind I see myself being really light on my feet with my whole body really relaxed, my arms floating through space, and so quick that as soon as my feet make contact I imagine they are just floating on silky water. The imagery and connotation of easiness over smooth water is one that really felt right to me.

I see myself running like the best and most fluid Kenyans. In reality my form is horrific, but when I run I think that imagery helps my economy of effort because mentally I’m the most relaxed guy out there. I can run hard but remain relaxed. I remind myself of feeling lightness, with quick steps, fluid relaxed arms and torso…and I say those things in my mind over and over.

The number one thing is that I always remind my athletes to watch their breathing. I ask them, “What is your breath doing?” Over and over, focus on breathing, breathing, breathing, because that controls the physical side. Once you get to the point where you feel like your respiration rate gets up really high, then you’re likely to experience that feeling of panic….by then, you’re completely out of control.

I see that more often with the amateur swimmers who become disoriented because they don’t have the comfort of the lane line or the flags in the pool or pace clock. Their orientation is thrown all out of whack. I’ve always found that more skilled swimmers have a calmness or peacefulness in open water. It’s all just water to me. Even though the start is very fast and frenetic, there are feet and clamoring around. That part is all about breathing, breathing, breathing. I’ve watched lots of races where I see swimmers with their head down and they take 4-6 strokes and then take a breath and another 4-6 strokes. They’re hypoxic by the time they get a hundred meters out. Breathing properly is key.

Podium – The calm is huge to you isn’t it?

Dave Scott – I like to see an athlete that is calm, but ready. That hour before the race is when that element of self-doubt tends to creep in and permeate people. I always tell people to add some levity. Internally. I don’t recommend cajoling your competitors, I think that’s contrived. Also, I think it’s important to do again and again after the gun goes off. You have to have an appreciation of the joy in racing and the funny things that happen out there. I remember in the ’89 race with Mark Allen. The sirens are going off, everybody is yelling and screaming and I see this drunk guy at the end of the bike ride in cut offs and a big beer belly. It was a killer race, and we were running sub 6 minute pace and this drunk guy runs out on to the middle of the coarse with the cops chasing him and right before he’s dragged off… he yells…”Come on you guys, pick it up!” I still laugh about it.

Here is the entire race as courtesy of Ben Van James Channel – thanks Ben.

Ironman Hawaii 1989, Dave Scott v Mark Allen. Part 1


Ironman World Championships 1989, Dave Scott v Mark Allen. Part 2


Ironman World Championships 1989, Dave Scott v Mark Allen. Part 3


Ironman World Championships 1989, Dave Scott v Mark Allen. Part 4


Ironman World Championships 1989, Dave Scott v Mark Allen. Part 5


Ironman World Championships 1989, Dave Scott v Mark Allen. Part 6


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