Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: Mark Allen's 'The Art of Competition'

I've added a new and unique book to my triathlon library - The Art of Competition by Mark Allen with photography by Nick Borelli. (Website: Pardon the post-its in the photo above, they are marking some of my current favorite pages.

First, a little background --

Mark Allen is a 6-time Kona Ironman World Champion (1989-1993 and 1995). He went on to be named the World's Fittest Man by Outside Magazine and voted the Greatest Endurance Athlete of All Time by ESPN. He's in both the ITU and USAT Hall of Fame, and works now as a coach, author, and speaker.

What that list of accomplishments does not tell, is that his 6 wins were preceded by 6 losses, a streak that would cause most of us to give up on ever getting the win. A new perspective built with shaman Brant Secunda allowed Mark to stem the tide of losses, and find the peace, mental strength, and belief necessary to become World Champion - 6 times over!


Mark Allen knows a thing or two about hard work and the physical and mental sides of training and racing. The Art of Competition is a product of 25 years of reflection on what it took to change his mindset to that of a winner.

Triathletes are drawn to books with plans, numbers, and science that can tell us how to swim, bike, and run faster, in the least amount of time, while staying healthy, and attaining an ideal body composition. We look for the details that might give us an edge - a lighter more aero piece of equipment, some new training fuel, a quicker way to recover, a new coach, a sport-specific strength training routine, or a speed workout that is sure to lead to gains.

We spend time and money looking outward for the answers, but I'd argue few of us look inward. We don't know how. The Art of Competition gently opens the door to that process.

It's scary to think about our own insecurities, fears, jealousy, uncertainty, and doubts. Yet those are are the very demons we face on the race course, when we are truly alone with our thoughts. The relatively comfortable lives many of us lead do not offer many opportunities to build courage, invite uncertainty, or experience the discomfort of significant change. We tend toward the status quo.

Triathlon and other sports give us the chance to build our inner character. Mark Allen crafts the words that explain what we often feel in that process but cannot describe. 

The Art of Competition is over 200 beautiful pages with 90 quotes paired with stunning two-page landscape images. You might think you can "read" the whole thing in one sitting, but the fact is you won't. Each quote will leave you quietly thinking about your own experiences and character and perhaps ways to better develop the inner self. Many of his quotes have served as conversation starters with my children leading to far more interesting discussions than "how was school today!"

This is the go-to book when you seek inspiration and something bigger to chew on than endless thoughts about watts or pace or heart rate. These are the mantras that will help you to get more out of yourself, to find the courage, and the belief!

The book transcends triathlon and it's easy to see application of these mini-lessons in work/business, relationships, life challenges, and parenting.

The Art of Competition is a great gift idea for the triathlete in your life. Here are some samples from the book pulled from The Art of Competition Facebook page:

 "Excellence is not a part-time job."

"The final step is possible only because of the thousands taken before it."

"The greatest victories can't be seen" 

"Inner peace, then outer results. Not the other way around."

The Art of Competition was named the winner in the Sports category of the 11th annual USA Best Book Awards as well as a finalist for Best Cover Design: Non-Fiction. Pretty cool. They need a blog category ;-)