Craig Alexander became an Ironman legend today – he’s now one of four men on the planet who have won this race at least three times. He adds his name to a list that includes Dave Scott, Mark Allen and Peter Reid. “The race today was near perfect,” he said at today’s presser. “It’s what you dream of. It’s what you aspire towards and what gets to you out the door to train.”
Alexander has spent an entire year thinking about today’s race. Sure, he’s a class act and was the first to say that he was beaten by three better athletes last year, but that didn’t make it any easier.
“Last year hurt a lot,” he says. “Mostly because I had a good race and got beat. Chris (McCormack), Marino (Vanhoenacker) and Andy (Andreas Raelert) raised the bar. I told my group that I needed to train harder. Today was the fruit of all that hard work.”
So here’s what Alexander did today: he joined that illustrious three-win club, he set a new course record here in Kona and he also became the first man to win both the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 world championship in the same year.
“I thought it would be pretty incredible if someone could win both,” he said of that feat.
In the end, though, today’s win was the reult of a hugely improved bike split. Alexander rode 13 minutes faster than he’d ever gone here in Kona. “I was feeling good – very comfortable through the swim, very comfortable on the bike. Then, on the run Andy put pressure on me. I was running 5:45 miles and I was losing time. I thought “I’m all in.” From mile four to mile 18, I was out of my comfort zone. We saw last year this race can be strategic. I didn’t want to give up the time I’d worked so hard for. You have to take risks. I wanted to race like an athlete who had won here before. I wanted to be the man who controlled things.”
Alexander was also quick to praise one of his country men, Luke McKenzie. “He was the guy on the bike who caused the split on the way up to Hawi into the wind,” Alexander said.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever met Alexander that he was quick to praise the greats who have preceded him in the sport.
“In fairness to the greats of the past, our sport has been caught up in technology,” he said, referring to the fact that he broke a record that had stood since 1996.
“I’m totally humbled. I remember ’96 – to have Greg (Welch, the first non-American to win here in Kona) here, Mark (Allen) and Dave (Scott). You race to be the best athlete you can be. That’s not why you do it (to set a course record), but I can’t believe it.”
We also learned just how long Alexander had to deal with cramps on the course today – it turns out the last four miles of the run was a struggle.
“There’s always a part when you start cramping,” he said. “I ran out of salt tablets. I felt good in special needs so I didn’t take my special needs bag. At 22 miles I was feeling them in my hamstrings and calves. I was just going to run up to the top of Mark and Dave hill. I figured the uphill running would help. Got to the top and had a stop and stretch. I had a six-minute lead and heard that Pete had walked through a few aid stations, so I thought I would be OK. If Paula can stop along Alii drive, though, anyone can.
While Alexander knew he was on record pace, once he started cramping he completely forgot about all that.
“During the marathon people were telling me what sort of pace I was on,” he said. “When I started cramping I forgot all about that. Coming down Palani I thought I had a six-minute lead and could walk in and get it. Records are great, but every day is different … It wasn’t until I heard Mike Reilly say “he’s going to do it” (that I realized I could get it.) I did a little sprint.”
That sprint was enough to get Craig Alexander into the record book as the fastest man ever on this course. That’s just one of the many records he set today. What’s great for our sport, though, is that Craig Alexander is once again wearing the mantle of world champion. Ambassadors like him are special.