Craig Alexander is a triathlon legend. In November 2011, the five-time World Champion became the oldest ever winner of the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, setting a new course record of 8:03:56 at the same time. He achieved another first in 2011 when he won the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and the Ironman World Championships in the same year - the first time a professional triathlete has 'done the double'.
Known as 'Crowie' to his friends (after a character in the TV series Home & Away), the Aussie athlete divides his time between Sydney and his US training base in Boulder, Colorado. We caught up with him recently to find out what drives him after 15 years at the very top of the sport.
How did you get into triathlon? Who inspired you?
My first triathlon was at Kurnell in Southern Sydney in about December 1993. I had long had an interest in sport and multi sports and I had watched many USA triathlons on TV, including watching Greg Welch win Hawaii in 1994. I had a wide interest in sports and played soccer as my main sport. I dabbled in athletics and swimming, water polo and cricket. A bit of everything really.
What makes you love triathlon?
Good question. I love competition. I love pushing myself. I love the lifestyle and that my office is outside in some amazing scenery. I love that I get to hang out with and meet healthy and like-minded people every day.
What’s so special about triathlon? What do people get through triathlon that they can't find in other sports?
I'm sure people feel a sense of acheivement through participation in many sports. There's a strong feeling of community in the sport of triathlon. The satisfaction of training your body to do three sports and then transitioning from one to the other is hugely satisfying when it all comes together.
What advice would you give people coming into the sport?
Learning to run off the bike is definitely an art. Anyone new to the sport knows the cement-leg feeling that comes with trying to run off the bike. It takes time and practise to improve this. When I am cycling well and have a good bike position, I run well. Draw your own conclusions from that.
Can you be a triathlete without spending 15-20 hours a week training? How?
I guess it depends on the level at which you want to compete and what sort of a background you have in any of the three disciplines. If you have swum all your life, you can probably get away with a little less swim training than others without a swim background, and vice versa for the other disciplines. I think the key though is quality sessions, have a plan for the sessions and stick to it. Junk miles are just that. JUNK.
It seems that triathletes often have a passion for the latest and most expensive gear. Is it possible to be a triathlete without spending a lot of money?
Mmm... that's a toughie. I guess everyone has to start somewhere. The adage 'all the gear and no idea' seems to fit. There really is no point buying a £7,000 bike if you can't ride it. For a beginner a £1,000 bike will do just as well. And a good pair of running shoes is a start. If all else fails, mum and dad have been known to be many athletes’ first sponsors. Everyone has birthdays, right?
What would you advise people to invest in, and why?
Find a reputable bike shop and get fitted for a decent bike. It doesn't have to be the latest and greatest, even second hand is fine, as long as it fits you.
How would you reassure swimming novices who might be afraid of swimming in a natural environment?
Practise, practise, practise. You can always roll onto your back and do a few recovery strokes of back stroke if you need a breather. And start to the outside of any start line. Nothing worse then being swum over the top of by hundreds of grabbing hands.
How do you stay safe on your bike?
Ride as if no cars sees you. Catch the eyes of drivers at junctions so they know you have seen them. Be on the defensive all the time. Always wear a helmet and ride in a group – though not too big a group – and always obey the road rules.
After the swim and bike, how do you ensure you've enough energy left to enjoy the run?
Coke! In a race, coke is gold. It is easy-to-digest, instant energy. Caffeine gives you that added extra boost.
How do you fit it all in - family, training etc? Can you mix triathlon training with having a normal life?
Well, I would be lying if I said it wasn't a lot of juggling. I do feel that I too often live and breathe triathlon, but I guess that is a by product of my involvement and level in the sport. However, I am a dad and a husband and that comes first so I fit in triathlon around the family.
What do you think about 'celebrities' like Lance Armstrong competing in Ironman triathlons?
Man, this is unbelievable for the sport. I can't think of a single even slightly negative reason not to welcome him to the sport with open arms. Look what an impact he has had on cycling.
Picture Credit: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images Sport