Enjoy this sample chapter from Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run by Matt Fitzgerald. In this riveting triathlon best-seller, Fitzgerald writes a pulse-pounding story about the 1989 Ironman World Championship, a 139-mile neck-and-neck showdown so fierce and grueling that it became known as the Iron War and stands as the most awe-inspiring race in all of sports history. Iron War goes beyond the pulse-pounding race story to offer a fascinating exploration of the lives of the world’s two toughest men and their unquenchable desire to succeed.
Chapter 6: Dig Me beach
There is no terror in the bang; only in the anticipation of it. — Alfred Hitchcock
Kona’s airport lies smack in the middle of a lava field. Its lone runway appears to be helplessly floating in, perhaps sinking into, a bubbling tar pit when viewed from the perspective of a descending aircraft like the one Mark Allen stared down from on the afternoon of Thursday, October 6, 1989, nine days before the greatest race ever run.
This bleak aerial panorama could not have been better contrived to intimidate athletes arriving to compete in the Ironman World Championship, all aware that they are looking at the racecourse. The Queen K highway passes right by the airport, through the tar pit. The bird’s-eye perspective on this crucial section of the race’s cycling and running routes is particularly daunting to athletes who have experienced Ironman and know what that lava field feels like, and is especially threatening for those who, like Mark Allen, have come undone there.
Bad memories threatened to creep into Grip’s consciousness as he took in the severe vista below. he pressed them back by reminding himself of his new attitude of embracing the island and its harsh elements. he remembered the reeds he had pulled from San Elijo Lagoon and stashed in his suitcase, which now lay in the plane’s hold.
The small jet, an island-hopper from Honolulu, landed, taxied, and stopped. Mark and his soon-to-be bride, Julie Moss, stepped from the air-conditioned cabin into the equatorial heat of the Kona afternoon as they followed other passengers down a portable stairway and onto the tarmac.
Keahole (as it was known until 1993) is an outdoor airport. The waiting areas at the gates are outdoors. The ticketing area is ceilinged but unwalled. The baggage claim also is shaded but otherwise unprotected from the elements. Mark and Julie sweated through their light, loose travel clothes as they waited for their suitcases and cumbersome bike boxes. Mark again reminded himself of his new attitude.
They packed their belongings into a rental van and left the airport by a narrow two-lane access road that led to the Queen K highway. At the intersection they made a right turn onto the thoroughfare that accounted for almost 100 miles of the Ironman racecourse. A few minutes down the road they reached the spot where, heading in the same direction, Mark had been forced to begin walking in the ’87 Ironman. Another few minutes brought them to the place where, walking in the opposite direction, Mark had been passed by Dave Scott in the ’84 Ironman.
The corridor was filled with ghosts of Ironmans past.
Seven miles from the airport they came to the base of Palani hill, a long, shallow incline that led toward the highway’s intersection with Palani road, marking the edge of Kailua town proper and the starting point of the race’s last mile. As they began to ascend the rise, Mark thought, It could happen here. he pictured himself running next to Dave in the race’s final moments and considered that, in such a scenario, this spot represented his last best chance to make a winning move.
“It could happen here,” Mark said.
Although these words were spoken apropos of nothing, Julie knew exactly what he was talking about.
“It could,” Julie agreed. “But only if you stay with him.”
She meant “stay with him” in the sense of resisting the temptation to break away earlier, a strategy that had yielded such cataclysmic results in ’84 and ’87. But after the phrase left her mouth, she realized it could also be taken to mean “if Dave doesn’t drop you earlier,” as the Man had done in ’82, ’83, and ’86. She judged it best to leave this ambiguity hanging in the air, but Mark caught her intended meaning.
“I’ve learned my lesson,” he said. “I can be patient. I will be patient.”
Julie already knew the strategy Mark had settled on for the race. So did most of the triathlon public, as Mark had made no secret of his plan to shadow Dave through the whole swim leg, the entire bike leg, and most of the run, then try to get away from him at the very end. Even Dave knew about it and had expressed his candid opinion of the strategy in print.
“If I were coaching him I’d tell him to do his own thing,” Dave said in Competitor. “I think following me would be a big mistake.”
Easy for him to say, but following Dave was really the only strategy that made any sense for Mark, considering everything. Dave never screwed up at Ironman—he had never walked a single step of the marathon in seven races. he was certain to be either in the lead or approaching it in the last miles of the marathon. There simply was no better place to be than with Dave Scott at that point in the race. Ahead of him had once seemed a better position. But Mark had tried to put himself ahead of Dave in the past, and that tactic hadn’t worked out.
Grip knew he was a better uphill runner than Dave, so the plan of sitting behind him all day and kicking past him on the last climb was almost a no-brainer. It might not be the most daring way to win, but it was the most likely way, and it would still take everything he had. Plus no bad luck.
Mark and Julie crested the hill, floated down the gentle descent on its back side, and came to the Palani road intersection. Instead of making a right turn and rolling into downtown Kailua-Kona, where the race would start and finish, they continued along the Queen K for another six miles in a mostly inland and upward direction. When at last they turned right onto King Kamehameha III road, they were 500 feet above and 3 miles away from the glassy ocean, which lay majestically before them.
The view gradually diminished in grandeur until it vanished altogether as they cruised down toward the water. After two miles they crossed what is now Ali’i highway (then still part of Ali’i Drive), at the one-mile point of the Ironman run course, and continued another three-quarters of a mile steeply downward through an upscale residential neighborhood ending at a cul-de-sac. They passed through the gated entrance to the Kanaloa resort, an upscale condominium community where they had rented a twobedroom unit for two weeks. Mark valued the Kanaloa for its lush, arboreal setting; its seclusion seven miles from the madness of downtown Kailua; its ocean-view balconies, chirping tropical birds, and flitting bright butterflies; and its guarded gate and security staff patrolling the grounds in golf carts. It wasn’t cheap, but it provided the tranquillity and solitude Mark required during “Iron Week,” and that made it worth every nickel.
Mark liked to arrive in Kona early so he could acclimate and train in peace for a few days before the masses flocked in on the Monday and Tuesday before Saturday’s race. By the time of this, his seventh Ironman, Mark’s Iron Week routine was a perfected ritual. Every detail was planned and (with the exception of a few carefully selected experiments) familiar. This regimented approach not only served a practical purpose but also gave him comfort through its very familiarity. Mark knew exactly where, when, and how he would train and what he would eat over the next nine days. his inner circle would handle all the details that he couldn’t or wouldn’t handle himself. his agent, Charlie Graves, with help from his assistant, Brian hughes, would come soon to buffer him from the race organizers, his sponsors, and the media. Mark’s brother Gary, now a 21-year-old professional bike mechanic also living in San Diego, would get his bike race-ready with assistance from some of the best wrenches in the sport. his training and nutrition adviser, Phil Maffetone, and his massage therapist, Mike rubano, would do more or less the same to Mark’s body. Julie would run interference between him and his divided family, with his dad and stepmother, Space and Toot, on one side and his mom, Sharon, on the other, and prevent them from siphoning too much of his energy, as they had been known to do in the past.
Mark and Julie picked up their keys from the management office and moved in.
Dave Scott arrived in Kona the next day. Like Mark, he traveled with his wife. Unlike Mark, he had a second traveling companion: his 2-month-old son, Ryan, who had been born four days after Dave’s crucial triumph at Ironman Japan. The eight weeks between that race and his departure for hawaii had been among the best of his entire career. his record-smashing performance in the land of the rising sun had been a great balm to his frustrated spirit and had given him the confidence he needed for his showdown with Mark Allen. Then came fatherhood, which brought a delirium of a completely different kind. The stork’s timing was perhaps not ideal, for suddenly Dave had a big new responsibility to manage just when he was taking on his heaviest training workload in preparation for hawaii. But the sense of purpose he got from his new son more than made up for the lost sleep.
Even so, in September Dave fled the diaper changes and midnight squalling to spend two weeks training at high altitude in Steamboat Springs, Colorado—something he had never tried before. he went alone and trained without companionship. his body responded well to the thin air, and his fitness reached a whole new level—even in the discipline he had been practicing almost his entire life. his recent swim times were even better than his old college marks.
Dave and Anna collected their luggage, Dave’s bike case, and ryan’s stroller and car seat from baggage claim (Dave’s body drinking in the moist heat of his favorite place to exercise), rented a truck, and headed for town. They cruised up the same hill on which, twenty-four hours earlier, Mark had imagined himself making a decisive move. As they came down the hill’s back side toward Palani road, Dave thought, It could happen here.
Dave was well aware of Mark’s plan to shadow him through the race and break him in the late going. While he would do everything in his power to shake Mark before the closing miles of the marathon, he had to be prepared for Grip hanging tough. And if Mark did hang tough, Dave knew, the negative grade approaching Palani road represented his last best chance to get away; he was a better downhill runner than Mark but an inferior sprinter. he could not afford to let Mark hang around any farther than there.
When they reached the stop sign at Palani road, the Scotts did not continue straight on the Queen K, as Mark and Julie had, but turned right and drove three long blocks downhill toward the water. After Palani road crossed Kuakini highway, it changed its name to Ali’i Drive and skirted the King Kamehameha hotel on the right before bending left to run along the coast. All was quiet at the King Kam now, but in a few days its rooms would be stuffed with triathletes and their traveling companions and its ground floor crammed with Ironman expo booths, and the tiny beach and the large pier outside would be swarming with activity.
Iron Week is like nothing else in sports. It’s an intensely charged festival of hype—like Super Bowl week in whichever city happens to be host in a given year—but its atmosphere of anticipation is even more potently concentrated. The Super Bowl may be the biggest thing happening in its host city, but Ironman is the only thing happening in Kailua-Kona during the week surrounding October’s full moon. Kailua is a small city tucked in a corner of a tiny island in the remote South Pacific. As such, it supports a seamless illusion that Ironman is the focus of the whole world, the culmination by consensus of the yearly calendar, during those magical six days when it is overrun by people who, for that week, care about one thing only. Every hotel is booked full of athletes competing in the race, friends and relations of those athletes, people connected with the operation of the event, and professionals in the triathlon industry. Every conversation on the sidewalks and in the restaurants and shops of Kailua village is about the race. Every face radiates an inner sense of being precisely Where It’s At.
Ground zero of Iron Week is Dig Me Beach, a minuscule patch of sand wedged close to Kailua Pier where athletes wade into the ocean to approach the Ironman start line on race morning. Before the race it is the place where the athletes and their retinues engage in a little practice swimming and a lot of seeing and being seen (or “digging” and being “dug”). Dig Me Beach is not an official name; it is the name the spot acquired after Ironman arrived in 1981. Every spectator is also a star and every star a spectator in the show that is staged there for six days each year. Those who qualify to compete in Ironman represent the best in the world in the various age and gender categories. So intoxicated are they by their part in this scene that they imagine themselves, as they descend the five stone steps from the pier to the sand, being recognized and whispered about like movie actors at Spago in Beverly hills. The top elite athletes try to avoid the peak morning hours at Dig Me Beach, when hundreds of gawkers take up perches on the sea wall to enjoy the scene. There are enough pro sightings, however, to sustain the fantasy of celebrity that the rest entertain, and in truth, in 1989, everyone there at least knew someone who knew Scott Tinley.
After passing by Dig Me Beach Dave and his passengers rode through Kailua-Kona’s charming central village and continued a mile and a half beyond it until they saw a sign on the ocean side of the road with the words “Sea Village resort” painted on it. They turned into the parking lot and stopped. Before them stood a trio of three-story buildings around a pleasant grass courtyard. The vacation rental rooms inside were nothing special—two and a half stars, officially—but Dave liked Sea Village because it lay close to the action without being smack in the middle of the action, and because he could climb over a lava beach behind it and swim the Ironman swim course backward without making a stir by appearing at the pier (which he did once each year anyway because it was important to rehearse the real thing). A few years before, Dave had bumped into none other than Mark Allen on that lava beach. The two men had unwittingly checked into the same resort. Mark had moved to the Kanaloa the following year. Now the only people Dave worried about bumping into at Sea Village were the female groupies who sometimes stalked him in the hope of winning an opportunity to test his endurance between the sheets.
Dave would have the weekend to settle into island life with his wife and son and to train in relative solitude. Then the entourage would come. Verne and Dot would check into the King Kam downtown. Dave’s old friend and Ironman factotum, Pat Feeney, would take up residence in an extra bedroom in Dave’s own condo unit because the Man wanted him close. Pals Mike Norton and John reganold and sister Jane would stay in an adjacent unit.
This was essentially the same team that had surrounded Dave since his first Ironman victory in 1980. They were Dave’s family and his closest friends, but in this context they were something more. They were his circle of confidence.
A low-pressure system hit the Kona coast on the Monday of race week. The air was unusually cool. harsh winds riled the waters of Kailua Bay into an ornery chop. Monday is the first major arrival day for Ironman competitors, and dozens among the freshly landed tried gamely to enjoy Dig Me Beach as it was meant to be enjoyed, despite the poor conditions. Monday is also the day when things turn serious for the contenders. Friends and family begin to arrive and demand attention. The usual Iron Week schedule of media interviews, sponsor obligations, and appearances at official Ironman events gets rolling. All of these time sucks must be squeezed into the daylight hours alongside the meticulously planned meals, workouts, massages, bike adjustments, and other preparations the athletes would rather focus on.
Both Dave and Mark woke early that morning to make time for it all. Dave consumed a colossal breakfast of fruit, shredded wheat, yogurt, toast, and rice cakes and then performed his standard Monday-before-Ironman workout sequence. he walked gingerly over the lava beach behind his condo complex and waded into the warm Pacific to swim two miles. his workout included a couple of long surges at sixty-eight seconds per 100 yards, slightly exceeding his planned race pace. he dried off, grabbed a snack, and threw on cycling clothes. Braving the day’s wild winds, he rode for two hours, ratcheting his speed up to roughly 24.5 miles per hour—race speed—for forty minutes in the middle. Upon returning to Sea Village, he grabbed another snack, chucked ryan’s chin, and changed into running clothes. he then ran nine miles, moving at a rate of six minutes per mile over the last four.
The afternoon did not belong to Dave, or to Mark. ABC had scheduled interviews with all of the main contenders in a two-hour window, casting-call style. The camera, lights, and backdrop were set up at the sprawling Kona Surf hotel in Keauhou, seven miles south of Dig Me Beach and the site of Ironman’s bike-run transition. Given the format, there was always a chance that Dave and Mark would encounter each other—something neither man particularly wanted. It had happened in 1987. When Mark showed up for his interview, Dave had just sat down for his turn in front of the camera. As Dave silently gazed toward the lens, calmly waiting for those behind it to complete some technical preparations, Mark stole a good long look at his rival—the man who had come to represent Mark’s inability to finally overcome the choker he had once been. Feeling watched, Dave shifted his glance in Mark’s direction, and their eyes dueled.
No such faceoff occurred at the Kona Surf this year. Conducting the interviews for ABC was Sam Posey, a retired open-wheel race-car driver now enjoying a second career as a sports broadcaster. he asked Dave what Ironman meant to him.
“I look at this event, really, as war with myself,” Dave said in the tone of a confession. “I feel as though, once I’m out there, there’s no other race that draws out my physical talents as this one does.”
When Mark took his turn on the hot seat, Sam asked him simply what his goal was for the race.
“My main goal is, one, to win,” Mark said. “But in doing that, I want to race the entire race—to feel like I’m in control of what’s going on inside of my body. I don’t want to have the course defeat me, and that’s what I feel has happened in the past. This year that’s what I would like to defeat.”
Tuesday morning Dave did his Tuesday-before-Ironman workouts— the workouts he simply had to do four days before Ironman because they provided precisely the stimulus he believed his body needed at that time— and because they were the workouts he always did on that day and hence were a comfort to him. he wheeled out of Sea Village on his bike and climbed nearly 2,000 feet toward the high road, or route 190, as the maps called it. As he scaled the seemingly endless ramp-like incline toward the center of the island, he periodically got out of the saddle and pedaled for five minutes in a standing posture, as he would do during tactical surges on important hills during the race. After completing the ascent he U-turned, bombed back down to the Queen K, and noodled around on that until he had ridden for three hours. Back at the condo, he refueled and put on his running shoes. he ran six miles, covering the last four in a little more than twenty-five minutes. Finally, he negotiated the lava rocks and swam the full Ironman swim course backward.
Mark started his morning with a swim and then ran from the Kanaloa toward town on Ali’i Drive. As he came close to the royal Sea Cliff resort, where his father and stepmother were staying, he saw Space and Toot walking together ahead. he crept up behind them and slowed to a walk. Toot felt his presence and turned, startled. Mark put a finger to his lips, and she smiled. Disguising his voice, he said, “hey, are you Mark Allen’s dad?” Space whipped around, saw his son, and laughed. This was a regular joke between them, but one with an edge. Mark knew Space relished basking in his son’s reflected glory. It was really what he came here for. And Mark couldn’t resist calling him on it, under the veil of teasing.
During the forty-five-mile ride that completed his day’s training, Mark encountered a minor mechanical problem with his bike, and he returned to Kanaloa in a hurry to fix it. Gary had not yet arrived from the mainland, so after showering and changing Mark looked up the number for one of the two local bike shops, B & L Marine Bike & Sport. George Goldstine, a mechanic Mark knew and trusted, answered. Mark explained his quandary.
“Come on down,” George said. “We’ll take care of it.”
Mark went next door and knocked. Mike rubano, his massage therapist, answered.
“I’m heading into town to B & L,” Mark said. “Want to come?”
“Sure,” Mike said, happy to go but having no choice. he knew Mark wanted a buffer against energy-sapping encounters with fans now that the village was teeming with athletes.
They drove seven miles to the store, which was hidden on the far side of Kailua-Kona in a warehouse district. Mark and Mike slunk in with Mark’s bike as invisibly as they could and made a furtive search for George. Along the way they might have passed a stack of fresh copies of the new Competitor, the pre-Ironman issue featuring Dave Scott and Mark Allen on the cover with the headline “showdown on the kona coast.” If they did, Mark likely recoiled on seeing it, as though it were an FBI “Wanted” poster bearing an image of his face.
They found George tied up with another customer, so Mark folded his arms and settled in to wait. As he had feared, the store was inundated with other athletes taking care of last-minute equipment matters, and Mark was subjected to numerous double-takes and sideways stares. One starry-eyed age-group triathlete proved bolder than the rest and approached Grip. “hey, Mark!” the fan said, forgetting in his excitement to use his indoor voice. “Do you think this is your year?”
Mark ignored the fellow as completely as if the slightest acknowledgment of his existence would have turned him into a pillar of salt. The fan’s face fell by degrees. reflexively he shifted his eyes toward Mike in mute appeal, but he discerned from Mike’s hanging jaw and flushed skin that Mark’s friend was equally shocked.
Half an hour later Mike fixed Mark with a sideways stare of his own as they walked away from the bike shop. he half expected Mark to volunteer some kind of explanation for his behavior, but Mark said nothing. Perhaps, in the privacy of his own thoughts, Mark was reminding himself of the permission given to him by his favorite self-help guru, David K. Reynolds: “Feeling pressured by others, by time, by circumstances is just another feeling. The feeling causes you trouble when you believe you must respond to it or fight it or remove it. Just feel the pressure and continue doing what you need to do.” Perhaps he needed no reminder.
Back at the Kanaloa, Mark ate a hearty lunch, possibly one of his favorites: tortillas stuffed with beans, tofu, salsa, avocado, onions, tomatoes, cottage cheese, and spices. It contained more fat than anything Dave Scott would have eaten. Grip supplemented the repast with a meal- replacement shake made by Exceed, Ironman’s and Mark’s sports nutrition sponsor, also high in fat. Months earlier, when mulling over the question of why he always performed well in the Nice Triathlon and poorly at Ironman, Mark had noted that, like any sensible visitor to France, he nibbled a lot of cheese in the days before the Nice race. Phil Maffetone advocated a relatively high-fat diet for endurance athletes. Influenced by Phil’s beliefs, Mark speculated that the fat content of the delicious fromage he ate before the Nice Triathlon gave him an endurance boost in that race, which he had never lost. So he had developed a plan to duplicate the nutritional advantage in Hawaii.
Desperation had delivered Mark to a place of looking for and exploiting every conceivable way to enhance his Ironman performance, no matter how small. he could not take risks, however. Most of the things he did in the week before the 1989 Ironman would necessarily be the same things he did every year: train lightly, visualize a successful race, load up on high- carbohydrate foods in the last three days before the competition, and so forth. But, since these standard practices alone had not been sufficient to lift him to Ironman victory in past years, he carefully selected a small handful of new measures to try, and eating more fat was one.
Before he took the first bite of a tortilla, Mark doused it with salt. A few months earlier he had traveled to Duke University in North Carolina to undergo physiological testing in the laboratory of exercise scientists Doug hiller and Mary O’Toole. he had ridden a stationary bike for more than four hours in simulated Kona conditions—90-degree heat and 90 percent humidity. Then he’d jumped off the bike and onto a treadmill to run for a couple hours more in the same conditions. Doug and Mary had collected and analyzed Mark’s sweat and found that it was unusually salty. They informed Mark that he lost more sodium in his perspiration than most athletes and that this abnormality might have contributed to his poor showings at Ironman. They advised him to consume extra salt before and during the race. he had added this item to his short list of new things to try.
Another item arrived with a rap on the door later in the afternoon, after Mark woke from his daily nap. Grip answered the knock, and a slight, middle-aged man with a smooth face and prematurely white hair entered the condo. It was Phil Maffetone himself. his right hand clasped the handle of a carry-on-sized, soft-walled suitcase. After exchanging greetings with Mark, and with Julie and Mike rubano, who were also present, Phil got down to business.
He opened the case and pulled out what would have looked very much like a body bag but for its cheerful red color and flattened it out on the carpet. A small electric generator also emerged. Phil found a wall socket and plugged it in. he attached a length of hose to the generator at one end and to a valve in the bag at the other end. he instructed Mark to remove his shirt, strap on a heart rate monitor, and climb inside the bag.
Phil sealed the bag with a zipper and flipped a switch on the generator, which began to buzz. The body bag with Mark inside inflated. Julie burst out laughing.
“It looks like a giant hot dog!” she said.
“You’re right! It does!” Mike rubano said, laughing too.
“Don’t eat me!” Mark called out from inside the bag.
Now everyone laughed. Mike’s and Julie’s eyes met. Mark made a joke. He’s loose. This is good.
Grip lay for forty-five minutes inside what Julie would thereafter call the Big red Wiener while Phil periodically checked his heart rate. Phil knew better than to meddle in the details of Mark’s training, but Mark trusted him enough to try couldn’t-hurt experiments such as this one. As Mark lay there, Mike sat watching, amazed for the second time that day by what his friend was willing to do to win Ironman.
Phil departed with his portable hyperbaric chamber, which, he claimed, loaded the muscle cells with oxygen for later use during exercise. Mike Pigg had the next appointment with the chamber. Mark had encouraged Mike, his good friend and fiercest short-course rival, to hook up with Phil, less to help a rival than to win a convert to the spiritual, natural-health approach to triathlon Mark shared with Phil. Mark followed his massage therapist, also a stones-and-herbs kind of guy, next door to receive his daily rubdown, and Mike kneaded Mark’s flesh for an hour and a quarter.
Ninety minutes of lying in bed, napping. Forty-five minutes of lying in a giant inflated hot dog. Seventy-five minutes of lying on a massage table, being kneaded. Just another busy Iron Week afternoon for Mark Allen.
By Wednesday the weather in Kailua-Kona was almost back to normal. The winds had calmed, and the temperature had risen. On that day Dave Scott finally reduced his training to a level that any mortal triathlete would consider necessary to be sure the body was adequately rested for race day. he started his morning with a four-mile run along Ali’i Drive. Although he made no special effort to push the pace, he felt so strong that his tempo increased steadily as he went along.
In his final training block after Ironman Japan, Dave had run six- minute miles until he could almost run them in his sleep. he believed that a
2:37 marathon—or a thirty-seconds-per-mile improvement on his Ironman run course record of 2:49, set in 1987—was possible for him. It might even be necessary to win the race, because Mark’s superhuman run in April’s World Cup Triathlon suggested it might be possible for him too.
Dave was cruising past Kahalu’u Beach Park, a popular snorkeling and turtle-watching spot, at his familiar goal pace when Triathlete editor CJ Olivares drove by in the opposite direction. CJ recognized the Man’s familiar duck-like running style before he recognized the body. Dave looked like a runner—taut and almost dangerously lean. he barely resembled the puffy, top-heavy swimmer who had won Ironman in 1980. A slow metamorphosis had begun immediately thereafter, yet Dave scarcely even resembled the athlete CJ had last seen just a few months earlier at USTS Phoenix. A highway map of engorged green veins under vellum-thin skin was visible in Dave’s legs even from across the road.
In consideration of how Mark Allen had performed in his spring and summer races, CJ had come to Kona with a hunch that Grip would finally win. But now, seeing Dave’s thoroughbred physique and the bullying confidence written on his face, he reconsidered. Flip a coin, he now thought.
CJ quickly pulled off the road and dug out his notepad. he scribbled a few key phrases that would serve to jog his memory when he later sat down to write his race report. Among them was this sentence: “Dave looks ready to run! ”
Dave followed up his short run with an easy, fifty-minute ride and then made his one foray to Dig Me Beach to navigate the swim course in the proper direction. his appearance there, as always, caused a sensation. Dave was not mobbed as, say, Joe Montana would have been by football fans at a shopping mall. Instead, with that unique Iron Week fantasy of celebrity in their heads, Dave’s fellow triathletes played it cool, or so they fancied, thrusting their right hands at the Man in ones and twos as he passed, blurting out the credentials that qualified them as his peers, delineating their 2 degrees of separation while they had his attention.
“My cousin John Smith was at your triathlon camp in Boulder last year.”
“My sister’s husband works for one of your sponsors. The name John Smith ring a bell?”
“Hi, Dave. John Smith. We met at USTS San Diego in ’85.”
Dave rolled with it, having budgeted glad-handing time into the mission and being constitutionally incapable of blowing off his admirers. It always took him an hour to cross a room in Kona.
Later that same afternoon Mark Roberts, one of Dave’s former water polo teammates at UC-Davis and now a cardiologist practicing in San Diego, walked past Dig Me Beach toward the front entrance to the King Kamehameha Hotel. Roberts had followed Dave into the sport of triathlon, albeit as an amateur, and would compete in his first Ironman Saturday. Athlete registration had opened at race headquarters inside the hotel, and Roberts was on his way to pick up a packet containing his race numbers, transition and special-needs bags, and other essential paraphernalia.
Roberts followed the sidewalk past the beach and then along the edge of a small lawn shaded by a huge banyan tree. This tree, which was clearly visible from the swim turnaround point a mile and a quarter away, would be used as a landmark by Ironman competitors as they swam back toward shore on Saturday. Next to the tree roberts spotted another landmark: a giant inflated plastic likeness of Scott Tinley that stood at this spot every October to promote Tinley’s signature line of performance apparel. Next to it a triathlete posed proudly for a photograph. hundreds of others would do likewise before Saturday. Though Tinley’s best days as an athlete were already behind him, he remained one of the most popular figures in the sport. A visit to the inflated figure was a rite of the Ironman pilgrimage, like kissing the Wailing Wall.
Upon entering the hotel’s Kamakahonu Ballroom, Roberts encountered a hive of activity. Scores of other athletes were already there, some standing quietly in lines, others standing in circles of animated talk and laughter. Race officials pointed the disoriented ones this way and that. Sponsors’ signs competed for attention. As he got his bearings, Roberts noticed that several of the big-name pros were seated at small tables, where they appeared to be signing autographs for fans. There was Dave Scott, looking supremely healthy, as always, behind his centrally placed table. And there was Mark Allen, whom Roberts knew a bit from the San Diego scene, at a table just far enough from Dave’s to avoid awkwardness, with Tinley between them.
Roberts was surprised to see that dozens of excited-looking athletes were lined up waiting for Dave’s signature, but only a handful stood at Mark’s table. As much as Roberts favored his old teammate, this disparity was no reflection, he knew, of the relative statures of the two men in the sport. Sure, this was Ironman, and Dave was a six-time winner of the race, while Mark was a perennial bridesmaid. Thus, Dave deserved and was expected to be the most popular man on the island. But the score should not have been 80 to 4, as it seemed to be. After all, Grip had won many more total races than Dave, was universally considered the best all-around triathlete in the world, and got just as much press as Dave did.
Closer study revealed the true reason for the disparity. Dave was having fun. he engaged each fan in lively conversation and showed not a trace of impatience to keep the line moving. he did not half listen, as most celebrities do in such situations; instead he seemed to truly want to hear about his admirers’ backgrounds and goals and to impart a bit of helpful advice if he could. It was the coach and teacher in him coming out.
Dave also unabashedly relished being the Man. he enjoyed being fawned over and admired. Early in his career he had unashamedly expressed his desire to be remembered as a legend. In excess, this kind of hullabaloo drained him, as it would anyone, but in modest doses it energized him, and there was no better time to absorb such energy than three days before the race he personified.
By contrast, Mark was pleasant enough in his interactions with those who dared approach him, but his body language discouraged engagement. While Dave absorbed energy from his admirers, Mark felt that fans stole his energy. Like many spiritual people, Grip had a mystical understanding of energy. For him, energy wasn’t just the adenosine triphosphate molecules packed inside muscle cells whose breakdown fueled muscle contractions. It was also an intangible force that moved between people and existed as a resource in different environments. Knowing this, Scott Tinley had once jokingly waved his arms around Mark to “disrupt his aura” right before the start of a race. Mark not only found no humor in the prank but was angered by it because, from his perspective, Tinley really had disrupted his energy aura.
At no time was energy hoarding more important to Mark than during the last few days before Ironman.
Disregarding Mark’s “leave me alone” signals, roberts walked up to the table and said hello. Grip seemed almost not to recognize roberts, despite having frequently shared a lane with him at masters swim workouts in San Diego. The conversation was awkward (on roberts’s end—Mark seldom showed awkwardness) and brief. roberts then made his way over toward Dave. he had no wish to wait in line for a word with his besieged friend, but he wanted to connect, so he bum-rushed Dave’s table from the side, apologized to the fan whose experience he was interrupting, and offered Dave his hand.
“Hey, Mark!” Dave said. “Fancy seeing you here. Are you racing?”
The line of dozens was instantly forgotten. Roberts had Dave’s full attention. Dave’s nonverbal cues suggested to Roberts that he could chat with his old teammate all day if he wanted to. But roberts had things to do, and he didn’t want to be rude to those waiting, so he kept the tête-à-tête short, then moved on to pick up his race packet.
After the autograph session wrapped up, Dave made a couple of appearances at the expo booths of his sponsors. This was an obligation Mark had also borne for his own sponsors until 1987, when a long autograph session at the Kellogg’s Pro-Grain booth had left him traumatized. Mark had staggered away from the nightmare of meeting and greeting as though each fan in turn had sunk a pair of fangs into his jugular vein and sucked out a pint of blood. he had vowed never to do the expo thing again. With today’s duties fulfilled, Mark was relieved to have the chance to hurry back to the Kanaloa.
Dave hosted a gathering at his condo that evening. The whole circle of confidence attended: Verne, Dot, Jane, Pat Feeney, John Reganold, Mike Norton, and baby Ryan, who had no choice. Anna cooked a big pot of pasta, and there was spirited talk as everyone ate. This was a yearly ritual. Dave liked to bring everyone together when the race was close, but not too close, to create a happy atmosphere and make a plan for spectating and support on race day.
Pat presided over the meeting. Affecting the bearing of a war-room commander, he told his attentive troops where he wanted them to be to supply Dave with encouragement and information, and how they would get there. This year, he said, Anna and Verne would ride along in his car, which they would pile into right after the swim and spur to Waikoloa resort, where they would see Dave at the twenty-four- and eighty-mile points of the bike leg. Mike and John would cannonball farther out in a separate vehicle, to Kawaihae, where they would see Dave at thirty-three and seventy-one miles.
As Pat issued his orders, he couldn’t help but notice that Dave seemed preoccupied. Pat stopped speaking in midsentence, his eyes lingering on Dave as he waited for instructions.
“I want to see Ryan,” Dave said.
Both the athlete and the father were speaking. Dave wanted the competitive advantage he would derive from the emotional lift of that moment. But orchestrating that moment would be no small feat for Pat. On the one hand, Anna was determined to get out on the course and see Dave at multiple points in the bike and run legs. On the other hand, dragging ryan along on that mission would be disruptive to the baby’s routine. What to do?
The women took over. Pat held his peace while Dot, Jane, and Anna went back and forth with various ideas until they settled on a plan to leave ryan and a supply of pumped breast milk with Dot on race morning. Anna would watch the swim and catch Dave at a couple of spots on the bike leg with Pat and Verne. At the end of the bike leg Anna would race back to Sea Village, give ryan a quick feeding, and take him outside to see his dad run past, six miles into the marathon. Then she would leave the baby with Dot once more and get back out on the course.
All eyes turned back to Dave for his approval. “As long as I see him,” he said.
Dave did not discuss his personal race plan with the full assembly of guests. After everyone else had left, Pat alone was clued in to those details. “Do you think Mark’s really going to try and sit on you all day?” Pat asked him.
Dave told Pat he did not think Mark was bluffing. “So what are you going to do about it?” Pat asked. “I’ll try to get away from him.”
“In the swim.”
Pat lifted his eyebrows in surprise. “Do you think you can?”
“Maybe; maybe not. I’m swimming well. But even if I don’t, I’ll make him work harder than he wants to.”
“And the bike?” “Same thing.”
“And if he’s still with you in the run?”
Dave told Pat that, in the very unlikely event that they were still together coming into town, he would break away from Mark on the descending half of Palani hill, with about a mile to go.
Thursday morning Dave and Mark saw each other again, in closer quarters than they had during the previous day’s autograph session, at the professional athletes’ race meeting held at the King Kamehameha hotel. Before the session formally convened, Tinley, like the free spirit in biology class, made a show of pulling items of equipment from his transition bags as though they were magic sacks. Out came a cycling shoe. he widened his eyes, mouthed, “Wow!” and showed the clever invention around the room.
Out next came a bike helmet. Tinley licked an index finger, touched it to the skid lid, and made a sizzling sound.
For the next ninety minutes Tinley and his peers racing in the men’s and women’s elite divisions slouched in folding chairs while Marshals Director Dennis haserot, Swim Director Jan War, Bike Director Nick rott, Transition Coordinators Joe and Sharron Ackles, and a few others took turns holding forth on the most important race rules. The dominant theme of the presentations was outside assistance to athletes during the race from friends, family, supporters, and spectators, which was forbidden in all forms. None of the race officials was heard to utter the word “crackdown,” but that was what many of the gathered athletes understood—that the officials had agreed to crack down this year on the illegal provision of nutritional, equipment-related, and even informational aid from race watchers.
Brian hughes, fresh-faced assistant to Mark’s agent, Charlie Graves, who had chaperoned Mark to the meeting, listened to the harping with consternation. Before leaving the mainland Brian had bought a small American flag at a hallmark store, having hatched a plan to hand the symbol to Mark near the end of the race in the event that he won. Brian thought the gesture would be good for Mark’s image. But he now saw that it might be very bad for Mark’s chances of avoiding disqualification. In any case, Mark had received the idea tepidly, perhaps out of superstition. Grip had counted his chickens before they’d hatched before—and wound up with egg on his face.
At the end of the meeting the athletes handed in their numbered transition bags—the bags of cycling clothes that would await them in the swim-bike transition area on the pier and the bags of running clothes that would await them in the bike-run transition area in the parking lot of the Kona Surf hotel.
Outside the King Kam, preparations for the race were moving apace. The finish-line arch was under construction smack in the middle of Ali’i Drive. A complex network of fencing and partitions was being erected on the pier. These images sent swarms of butterflies fluttering through Dave’s and Mark’s stomachs as they walked their separate ways. It was getting close.
Dave had almost escaped the triathlete-packed area unmolested when a giant man with a bushy beard lumbered toward him, shouting his name.
“Hi, Dave! I’m John Boyer!” the big man boomed, towering over the six-foot-one-inch legend.
“Nice to meet you,” Dave said, shaking the man’s hand while trying to remember the name or face.
Boyer read the lack of recognition in Dave’s eyes. “The Mad Triathlete?” he prompted.
Dave continued to smile uncertainly. “Did you get the tape?” Boyer tried. “Tape?”
“Yeah, there was supposed to be a tape in your race packet,” Boyer said, straining to maintain his original tone of enthusiasm through rising disappointment. “‘When Dave Came to Town’? By John Boyer, a.k.a. the Mad Triathlete?”
“Oh, right!” Dave said.
“Did you like it?’
“Yeah, that was great,” said Dave, who still had not heard the song but faintly recalled seeing the tape in his race bag. Valerie Silk, a friend of Boyer, had placed it there personally as a favor to the fervent fan of the Man. Truth was, Dave had little interest in music outside his own piano playing. “Thanks.”
Boyer let Dave go, thrilled by the apparent success of the encounter. Dave’s workouts that day served to groove his race tempo in each of the three disciplines and nothing more. On the bike, between a short warm-up and a cooldown, he rode three times three minutes at 25 mph. he ran three miles, going easy except for three half-mile surges at six-minutes- per-mile pace. he dived into the ocean and swam one mile, accelerating to race speed several times. he felt fitter and faster than ever before.
While Dave swam, Mark relaxed at the Kanaloa, having already completed his own light workouts. his body throbbed with that familiar two-days-before-Ironman feeling. A massive reservoir of hoarded energy churned inside him. he felt almost able to open the door to the balcony, step outside, and take flight, swooping back and forth over the pool-blue ocean like Peter Pan. Mark always relished the sensation of supreme latent power he experienced in that brief window of time when a state of peak fitness overlapped with a condition of optimum rest.
Mark’s mother had left a magazine on the coffee table during a visit to the condo the previous day. It was the current issue of Yoga Journal. The cover story was titled “If Buddha had Been a Shrink: The Link Between Psychotherapy and Spirituality.” An illustration showed Buddha scribbling on a notepad while a man reclined on a sofa and talked. Needing something to take his mind off the race, Mark grabbed the periodical and began flipping through it idly. he was too nervous to actually read. he just scanned and turned pages, scanned and turned. An advertisement near the front of the magazine caught his attention. Not the advertisement itself but a small black-and-white photograph it contained, depicting a very old man, Native American in appearance. his leathery face, framed by a floppy sombrero, wore a broad, toothless smile. Something about that smile arrested Mark. It somehow communicated lasting happiness instead of the momentary joy expressed by most smiles. The old man seemed to embody pure peace. he was a shaman, apparently, who, along with another man pictured next to him, was hosting an upcoming spiritual retreat in Mexico. Mark let his eyes linger on the face, the smile, a few moments longer and turned the page.
At three o’clock in the afternoon Dave and Mark were forced to see each other yet again, and in even closer quarters than at the morning pro meeting. The Ironman press conference was held in a meeting room at the Kona Surf hotel. Dave and Mark were seated inches apart in chairs set behind a long table with only a handful of the other big stars, including Scott Tinley and the defending women’s champion, Paula Newby-Fraser, before a gaggle of reporters. All eyes were on Dave and Mark. The room held the tension of a title fight weigh-in between boxers harboring genuine mutual loathing. Every athlete besides Dave and Mark might as well have been invisible. What reporter in his right mind was going to waste his questions on anyone else? Mark was evasive and tight-lipped in his answers. Dave spoke concisely but with characteristic pugnacity.
“What’s it going to take to win this year?” one reporter asked everyone at the table.
Tinley, Mike Pigg, Ken Glah, and Grip passed the question like a hot potato. Dave grabbed it and took a big bite.
“Eight-ten,” he said. “If the conditions are good, I think that’s certainly possible.”
Tinley rolled his eyes at Dave’s right-in-character bravado but did not doubt the prediction, which, if borne out, he knew, would make him a loser by no less than twenty minutes. Mike Pigg made an effort to doubt the prediction and then, having failed in that effort, made an effort to imagine himself capable of the same feat. Everyone else present, athletes and reporters, understood Dave’s prediction as a direct challenge to Mark Allen.
Dave might as well have stood up from his chair, put his snarling mug right in Mark’s face, and shouted, “I’m going to make you cry tears of blood this year, you little jellyfish!”
Among those in attendance, whistling under his breath, was Mike reilly, a publisher of race event listings who was present at Ironman for the first time as an announcer. A total geek for the sport and a speechless admirer of Dave and Mark, he studied the two men throughout the conference. Everyone else seemed to stop paying attention when it was adjourned amid a cacophony of scuffing chairs, but Mike kept his eyes glued on the rivals. Naively, he was waiting to see if they would shake hands. Instead, they scrambled out of their seats as though they were practicing a fire drill and left the room in opposite directions. Mike was now twice as excited for the race as he had been already.
At six thirty that evening the Exceed Carbo Loading Party and Mandatory Pre-race Meeting took place in the parking lot of the King Kam. A stage had been set up at one end of the lot, and round tables with eight place settings each filled the middle. hundreds of athletes and scores of their friends and family who had purchased tickets feasted on pasta, rolls, and salad while Mike Plant hosted a program of entertainment that included a three-song set from John Boyer, the Mad Triathlete, who sang while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. his last number was the world premiere of “When Dave Came to Town,” sung to the tune of the B. B. King and U2 collaboration “When Love Comes to Town” that had been a hit earlier that year.
I heard that he was injured, yeah I wouldn’t see his face. With David Scott at home, I would surely win this race. I’m a humble kind of guy and I really hate to brag,
But you know I got the Ironman right here in the bag.
But when Dave came to town, I just sat there and cried. When Dave came to town I should’ve stayed inside. Maybe I was wrong to put the word around,
But I said what I said before Dave came to town.
As he left the stage, the Mad Triathlete was heckled by a bunch of drunk Australian athletes. Dave wasn’t even there.
On Friday morning Dave and Mark had time for one last spin on their bikes before they were required to check them in at the pier, where the machines would remain under guard overnight in their number- designated transition spaces, along with 1,284 other bikes. Ironman’s pro racers were given their own bike check-in window that was separate from that for the unwashed masses. Since the procedure involved all of the sport’s biggest stars trickling onto a single public stage within a small span of time, a crowd formed at the approach to the pier to make true theater of what was already an inherently theatrical affair. It was triathlon’s version of a hollywood red-carpet walk. The marquee athletes promenaded one by one into the transition area, their multithousand-dollar two-wheelers drawing the sorts of oohs and ahs that starlets’ dresses attract on Oscar night.
There was Kenny Souza, rocking his Guns N’ roses hair, with his Nishiki Altron. Kenny liked to race duathlons in nothing but a bodybuilder’s posing suit (basically, naked). Close behind him came Mike Pigg, a sticker reading “Pigg Power” affixed to his bike. Pigg was ogled with the respect due the last man to have defeated Mark Allen in any race besides Ironman.
Dave cruised in with his bike ahead of Mark. As far as the triathlon public knew, it was a Centurion Ironman Dave Scott signature model, but in fact the frame was designed by a boutique northern California bike maker named Albert Eisentraut and painted to look like the model Dave endorsed but never actually rode himself because he didn’t like it. Mark, always the less punctual of the two, came in later with his “Schwinn,” which was really a Kestrel. The bicycle had not been overlooked in Mark’s efforts to find every little advantage for the race. Unlike Dave’s frame, which comprised several steel pieces welded together, Mark’s was an advanced prototype made from a single piece of carbon fiber—lighter, stiffer, and more aerodynamic than the Eisentraut. Mark’s Scott-brand aerobar was also superior to Dave’s Profile aerobar. It was among the first that positioned the gear shifters right at the fingertips instead of leaving them on the downtube of the frame, where Dave’s remained, requiring the rider to break his aerodynamic tuck for every gear change.
Luddite that he was, Dave probably knew nothing about Mark’s technological advantage, and if he did, it cost him no sleep. Let Mark scurry around for small benefits. The Man would rely on the same single big advantage that he brought to Kona every year.
“I had this idea that if I trained more than anyone else, I was bound to succeed,” Dave said in 1987. “If I found out that Scott Tinley or Mark Allen was working out fifty hours a week, I’d work out fifty-one.”
Dave Scott did not stretch, as Mark did. he did not get massages or monitor his heart rate or submit to physiological testing or mentally rehearse his races or fuss over his bike, as Mark did. he just made sure he outworked Mark—and everyone else.
Shortly after lunchtime USTS cofounder Jim Curl, who would compete in his first Ironman the next day, stopped by the Sea Village resort to visit a friend. Jim’s host mentioned that Dave Scott was staying in the unit directly underneath his. Dave had been Jim’s first swim coach in 1980, and he also knew Verne, Dot, and Dave’s sisters from his time in Davis. So he decided to drop by on his way out.
Jim was just raising a fist to knock on the door to Dave’s unit when he heard a burst of uproarious laughter from within. When he was admitted, Jim encountered Dave’s entire family (minus sister Patti), and a few other people whom he didn’t know. Every face was glowing with good humor. Apparently Dave had just spilled a smoothie all over himself and was being roundly ragged on for his klutziness. Dave himself joined in the mockery, pretending to spill and knock over everything in sight.
In eighteen hours Dave would compete in a race that meant everything to him, and more than ever before. he bore a burden of crushing pressure, initiated both internally and externally. yet here he was, cutting up as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Until this moment Jim had never seen the slightest hint that Dave had a goofy side, and he was letting it out now, of all times.
Jim hung out for fifteen light and relaxed minutes, then left. he heard another wave of laughter behind him as he walked away. There’s no way he can lose, Jim thought.
At about four o’clock Mark left the Kanaloa with Julie. They climbed into their van and drove a couple of miles toward town on Ali’i Drive. They parked on the inland side of the road just past Pahoehoe Beach Park and crossed to the ocean side on foot. The crazy weather of a few days ago had all but vanished. The late-afternoon air was not quite hot but warmer than it had been all week and disturbed by only the gentlest of breezes. Thick clouds hung over the high inland hilltops, but overhead the sky was blue. The sinking sun hung 15 degrees above the horizon straight off the west-facing shore.
Mark and Julie descended three concrete steps accessible through a gap in the guardrail and entered a grassy, leafy bower. Passing a tall palm tree to the left and a squat banyan to the right, they followed a short path through an opening in a low stone wall and paused briefly, facing one of the most curious bits of architecture on the entire island. The structure looked like a clapboard colonial church that had been magically miniaturized to one-third of its original magnitude—not a very small church but a shrunken one. A simple rectangle, it had room for twelve pews and not one more. Its steeple came to a point scarcely twenty-five feet above the neatly trimmed lawn below. The immaculate white paint job, with bright blue trim and matching tin roof, heightened its dollhouse appearance. Quaint lettering above the blue double door in front identified the edifice as St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Catholic Church, but everyone called it the Little Blue Church.
The wall that one crossed to enter the church grounds wrapped all the way around it in an irregular shape. Beyond it lay a jumbled field of rough stones that had obviously provided the material for the man-made boundary. And beyond that, the sea.
This was one of Mark’s favorite spots in Hawaii—one of very few places where he felt as comfortable as he did in San Elijo Lagoon at home.
A small sign next to the church’s entrance read, “Mass Sat Only 7:30,” but when Mark tried the door, it opened. The couple peered inside and saw a lone woman sitting in a middle pew, her head bowed in prayer. They shut the door and left her in peace. This wasn’t their true destination anyway.
Immediately north of the church, just beyond a thin line of trees, and made from the same stones as the church’s surrounding wall, lay the foundation of an ancient temple, or heiau, known as Kuemanu. A thatched- wood shrine and carved wooden images of gods once stood upon it. These were destroyed or allowed to decay after King Kamehameha II renounced the traditional hawaiian religion in 1819. St. Peter’s was built next door a few decades later as an unsubtle symbol of Christianity’s usurpation, but native hawaiians still came to what was left of Kuemanu heiau to make offerings. And so did Mark Allen, on the eve of the greatest race ever run.
Mark and Julie made the short walk to the heiau and gingerly stepped onto the lumpy foundation of large stones, spanning 100 feet in length and 50 in width. Leaving Julie’s side, Mark stepped forward and laid the grasses pulled from San Elijo Lagoon on an altar made from four long sticks stuck into the ground at the corners of a small square, with a crude shelf of twigs and grasses connecting them at shoulder height. As the soft light of late afternoon fell upon his face, Mark spoke.
“Hey, just let me be here with my strength,” he said. “Let me just feel good as who I am and somehow find power and strength on the race- course—find those things I’ve been missing.”
The prayer seemed to have some immediate effect, as Mark felt a sense of peace wash over him. he closed his eyes and held a meditative silence. Images began to form inside his mind. humanoid figures coalesced. he recognized them as the island’s great healers, or kahunas. In a single voice they spoke to him as in a dream.
“Yes, you can race as you hope to,” he heard. “But first you must show courage. you have to be brave.”
Mark knew he could be brave. he left the heiau with Julie feeling more confident and relaxed than he had ever felt in Kona.
Later, as the golden sun melted into the sea, Mark ate his last solid meal before the race on his balcony with Mike rubano and Julie. Glorious sunsets are commonplace on the Kona Coast, but this one was better than glorious. It was perfect. Not the slightest change in the air temperature or wind direction or anything else could have made it better. Then it did get better. In the ocean below them a pod of dolphins began to jump in formation. It was like a private show, compliments of the island.
“Mark, this is a really good sign,” Mike said, believing it. Mark smiled his Mona Lisa smile and said nothing.
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