Ben Allen, 31, was on his way to a career in surf lifesaving—a popular Australian sport involving several skills from ocean swimming and board paddling to surf ski racing—when Triathlon Australia targeted him as having the potential to become a world-class triathlete. He accepted the challenge and started racing ITU in 2008, “but I felt a little lost,” he says. That’s when a friend encouraged him to race an XTERRA—an off-road triathlon with mountain biking and trail running. “I fell in love; it captivated my heart and was everything I was searching for and more. I have never looked back since,” he says.
He nabbed podium finishes in his first season, and after six years of racing has more than 20 first-place XTERRA titles to his name. Now he wants top honors at the XTERRA World Championship in Maui, after finishing third in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Something tells us he can do it.
My proudest moment has to be my most painful moment in my career so far. At the 2012 world champs in Maui, I had a great swim, exiting second behind Javier [Gomez, the eventual winner], was feeling great and working hard chasing him down, when at mile 6 on the bike my chain snapped and I was forced to make a decision: either walk back and DNF, or carry my bike for 23 miles into T2, rack my bike and then run 6 miles to finish the race. I chose to finish the race. It wasn’t my day. That’s racing, and I will live to fight another day.
Our life in general is crazy, weird and awkward. XTERRA takes you to places off the beaten track, and some of the places Jacqui [Slack, Allen’s fiancée who’s also a pro XTERRA racer] and I have been to most people haven’t even heard of. Rather than tell you a story, you should come with us to the airport. It’s an experience in itself. I have lost count [of] the amount of times we have had blood, sweat and tears flowing at the airport all over the world. It’s priceless.
It’s funny—I didn’t really know I had so much surf skill and awareness until I made the cross over to triathlon. As a surf athlete you are surrounded with like-minded people just as educated and skillful as you are in the ocean, and making the switch to triathlon has given me huge advantages when negotiating tricky or difficult ocean conditions.
Balance [is key in our relationship]. We both get angry and frustrated when we tip the scale toward focusing on one thing. We basically live and breathe triathlon 24/7, so we try to concentrate on other aspects of our lives to balance us out, and that’s what helps to keep us grounded as people. Having a solid support network is also a huge factor, allowing us to live our life the way we want.
Race destination: Philippines
Post-race meal: Burger
Pump-up song: 360’s “Live It Up”
Beverage: Ginger beer
Family tradition: Christmas Slip ‘n’ Slide competition
Trail: Mount Keira ring track trail