KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -- Craig Alexander has been remarkably consistent in his two races at Kona. In 2007 he took second by 3 minutes 30 seconds to Chris McCormack and finished in 8:19:04 with a 2:45:13 marathon. In 2008, Alexander took first by 3 minutes 5 seconds over Eneko Llanos in a time of 8:17:45 with a 2:45:00 marathon.
The measure of his inexorable improvement was the weather. In 2007, the winds were still, the temperatures milder than usual. In 2008, tougher winds and higher temperatures made his almost identical finishing time last year a greater achievement.
This year Alexander took nothing for granted. He worked with Chris Carmichael's CTS Training Systems to monitor his training and nutrition. He increased the distance and volume of training by a carefully calculated increment. His record at the Ironman 70.3 races was almost perfect -- 6 wins and one off day at Vineman 70.3.
And despite the temptation to slack off with his bigger contracts and growing fame, Crowie remains the same, hard-working, precise tactician unswayed by impulse and firmly in control of his emotions.
Slowtwitch: Do you think that strong cyclists like Normann Stadler, Philip Graves might try to make a move and lose you?
Craig AlexanderI don’t know what they are going to try to do. I think my strength is to try to improve in all three disciplines every year. I think my best chance of having a good race is to swim close to the front. My mode is the same. I try to improve every year.
ST: What was your biggest improvement from 2007 to 2009?
Craig I was 7th off the bike last year. I rode 4:37 in that wind. I think I've taken it to another level.
ST: How do you go about improving over a very very good performance?
Craig It's been a natural progression. This is my third year doing Ironman. It's the third year of doing this kind of volume. I feel there is a natural improvement. Also, I've upped my volume this year (estimated 5 percent) because I feel like I could handle it.
ST: So what has been the result?
Craig I feel like I've been riding well. I had a great ride in winning Muskoka 70.3. (Alexander rode 2:18:53 on a tough, hilly course. It was second best to Richie Cunningham by 9 seconds, but Alexander then uncorked a sizzling 1:11 41 run that put 4 minutes on Cunningham to seal the deal. It is a measure of Alexander's scientific approach that he would credit a strong bike with efficient energy consumption for his great race-winning run.)
ST: But aren't you at least concerned that someone like the 2004 edition of Normann Stadler might steal the race on the bike?
Craig If someone has a day like that, more power to him. You simply have to give them their due. The fact is nobody makes a decision to let someone go like that. And it has always been my method to ride as fast as I can and still have a fast run. So to repeat, I don't know what the other guys are going to do. The fact is there are a lot of talented new guys here. As Michellie (Jones) says, very often the people you expect to do well don't, and the people you don't know are at the front.
ST: So who might they be? Do you expect Macca to be hungry and on form after his DNF last year?
Craig I expect something from a lot of guys. I don’t want to list them all, but there are some new guys who have major talent. Guys who haven't raced here but they have raced other Ironman races and have as much experience as I do. I expect them to be good. Then I expect guys who have done well in the past, like Tim (DeBoom 2001 and 2002 winner), Normann (Stadler, 2004 and 2006 winner) and Macca (Chris McCormack, 2007 winner) to be up there as well. You never can be sure where the competition will come from. But one thing is sure: It pays to make sure you do your best performance in this race.
ST: So after your duel to the finish with Chris Lieto this year at Boise 70.3, have you got some ideas what you might do if it comes down to a last mile duel? Can you run faster than your two 2:45s if need be?
Craig Last year I thought I had a few minutes up my sleeve on the run if I needed it. But I was fortunate to have a four minute lead. So the last 6 or 7 miles I was able to maintain and not push it. In 2007, things were different. It was my first year and I didn’t want to redline it trying to catch Macca. In Hawaii, there is a very thin margin for error. So both years, when I was behind and when I had a good cushion last year, those were good factors to play it conservatively. If Paula Newby-Fraser can collapse on Alii Drive (as she did in 1995), anybody can.
ST: How would a strong wind factor in strategy for you? In 2004, that's when Normann Stadler broke out to a 21-minute lead.
Craig They say be careful what you wish for. But winds like that are what you sign up for when you come to Kona. I've encountered them when I've come to train here the last two years. So if that's what we get, I'm not afraid. I've experienced winds like that and they would that will certainly make for a brutal day.