For more than 15 years, Aussie pro triathlete Craig “Crowie” Alexander has been a dominating force on the global race circuit. Now 44, the three-time Ironman world champion and two-time 70.3 world champion is showing little signs of slowing. Though he retired from full Ironman racing in 2014 to focus more on his coaching business, Sansego, and family life (he’s a father of three and husband to wife, Neri, a nurse), Alexander is still mixing it up with the young guns in shorter course races. At this year’s Ironman 70.3 Liuzhou in China, Alexander closed out the race with a 1:13 half marathon (that’s a 5:34/mile pace), finishing second to two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee, who is 14 years his junior.
We asked Alexander to share some of his secrets for not just staying in the game as he’s aged, but staying fast AF while still enjoying the swim-bike-run grind.
Rule: Don’t neglect functional strength
Alexander says the key to training consistency—and seeing meaningful progress with your fitness—is avoiding injury, so he hits the gym twice a week to work on his functional strength. “I’ve been lucky in my career in that I haven’t had many injuries, and I think it’s because I’ve focused on core strength, stability work and trying to incorporate good functional movement and technique into the three disciplines,” he says. Alexander does deep abdominal work using a Swiss ball, squats and box jumps, as well as sport-specific strength training, like low cadence intervals on the bike trainer. “You won’t just prevent injuries—you’ll move more efficiently.” In other words, you’ll go faster with less effort.
Rule: Be realistic
“The best training approach is one that is sustainable and consistent over time,” says Alexander, “so you need to be honest about the commitments you have—family, job, etcetera—and be realistic about what training time you have every week.” Rather than doing one or two huge training weeks that are not practical to maintain (i.e., you’re on the fast-track to burnout or break-up), he recommends finding a manageable workload and sticking to it. For Alexander, 15 hours per week is “enough to get in good competitive shape,” and he’ll up that to 20-plus hours for the 4-5 weeks leading up to a race. “My youngest just started school, so I have a six-hour window to do a couple workouts, usually a morning swim workout 3-4 times per week, then I’ll get on the trainer. I’ve taken to Zwift so it’s a little more engaging.”
Rule: Recover Smart
Alexander says the cornerstones of his recovery are a healthy, sustainable diet and getting quality sleep. “I don’t believe in a certain diet, just healthy eating,” he says. “But it can’t be something that feels hard to adhere to because you’ll just fall off the wagon.” If he feels like having a beer or glass of wine with dinner, he does that. His diet includes a lot of lean protein, and he feels better—“less sluggish”—since deciding to cut back on refined carbs. When the training load ramps up, Alexander introduces more protein via his meals or a shake, and adds supplements like Vitamin C to boost his immune system.
Rule: Take Advantage of the Data
When Alexander was still racing in Kona, if he wanted to do any biometric testing—analyzing sweat, urine or blood to identify health and performance markers—he had to visit a sports science lab. Now, there are at-home kits that allow you to get the same information. It’s a worthy spend, says Alexander. “If you’re paying $1,000 to enter an Ironman, those kinds of tests are a really smart investment to help your performance.” For example, intermittent blood testing—at baseline and again when you’re in a training block—can help determine if you need to adjust your nutrition or vitamin supplementation. “Innovation in technology and information has infiltrated sport like all areas of life, and we know a lot more about nutrition and what happens to the body when you train and recover,” says Alexander. One caveat: “Information is power, provided you have someone interpreting it who knows how to make a recommendation about what they’re seeing.”
Rule: Focus on the process, not the outcome.
Say you set a goal of finishing an Ironman, and training goes great for the following six months. You see improvements across the swim, bike and run, you’ve dialed in your nutrition and are mentally gung-ho. And then on race day, things go to shit—you get a mechanical, the weather is uncooperative, your legs didn’t show up. That doesn’t diminish the last six months of successful training, says Alexander. “It’s super important to have goals tied up around your process and your training,” he advises. “You got through the hard work and grind, and the race should be a celebration of that. It’s an individual challenge and journey for each of us—we all have different goals and aspirations, genetics and physical ability, demands within our lives, and you will have sustainability and longevity if you work within that framework and set goals that are not based on the outcome but the broader experience.”