In between signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans at the Apex by Sunglass Hut store on the Twenty Ninth Street Mall in Boulder, Australian triathlete and three-time world Ironman champ Craig Alexander paused to give me a few minutes of his time.
Alexander, who turned 40 Saturday, spends his summers in Boulder with his family training. He won Ironman 70.3 Kansas and Ironman 70.3 Hawaii earlier this summer, and took 12th at the Ironman world championships at the end of last year.
Boulder recently announced it will host a full Ironman race next year. What do you think about that for the triathlon community here?
It’s great news for the tri community. Obviously I’ve been coming up here for 10 years now. Boulder used to be the place to train in the ’80s and ’90s and then I guess there was a little bit of a lull, but the last seven to 10 years has seen a resurgence.
Particularly this time of year there’s a lot of transient population and internationals because it’s just great training grounds: great weather, great facilities, people to train with and then the altitude’s a bonus. It’s good news for the tri community. …The sport, I think, is still expanding and really exploding globally in terms of participation. I expect the race here will sell out. I think a lot of local people will be clambering to try to get a spot in the race and I think it will bring a lot of people to town as well.
While you were winning in Kansas, your sister-in-law Julie completed her first Ironman back in Australia. Did you follow her race?
It was her first time and I’d coached her for it, but then at the last minute I had to come to the U.S. with my family for some sponsorship stuff. Her older sister is my wife. I followed it online, didn’t sleep because it was in Australia, so I was in my hotel room (in Kansas) following it most of the night. You don’t really sleep that well before a race anyway. I was excited, she did just over 11 hours. She wanted to break 12 hours. It’s a shame my wife and I weren’t there to cheer her on, but some of the other family was there. She comes and spends the summers with us in Boulder. That’s a huge effort by her. She’s only done 10 triathlons in her life and most of them are sprint distance.
Your daughter Lani was born in March, which makes you father of three. Do you find it difficult to balance family with work?
It’s good and it’s bad, and the good outweighs the bad. I remember when my wife was pregnant with our first, I was worried about how it was going to impact training. The main thing is, I’m lucky I’ve got a very supportive wife who’s very organized. I quickly realized when the first one was born, what you lose in terms of maybe sleep and a few other things is made up and then some with the emotional well-being that you have from being a dad.
They just fit in. They fit in with everybody else. It is hard because I think what happens is as you get older, I think you get smarter as an athlete. You learn how to fine-tune things and maximize your time investment in the training. But you also have to match the commitment and the desire of the younger athletes. The kind of commitment and desire I used to have, that’s what gets hard. Physically you can still compete in a sport, like triathlon, in your 40s, but it’s more mentally: Are you still prepared to sacrifice time away from the family? My wife has always made it possible that we travel together.
How do you find Boulder?
We have a great network of friends here and it is like being in a home away from home. I can say when we’re here, we miss our immediate family back home, but we don’t really pine for Australia. …The main thing is, home is where the family is.
Who do you usually train with when you’re in town?
I train with a lot of the local athletes who live up here. Julie Dibbens, she’s from the UK but she’s lived in Boulder a long time. Tim O’Donnell and Mirinda Carfrae, they’re here nine or 10 months out of the year.
With the swim, I tend to go swim with either Dave Scott or Jane Scott, those masters programs. There’s no shortage of good bike riders too. There’s always good people to train with.
How do you see 2013 fitting into your career trajectory?
Every season is a new season for me. I don’t really spend too much time dwelling on what’s happened in the past because it doesn’t make any difference to what’s going to happen this year.
I’m not winding my career down. A lot of people are trying to wind it down for me, and honestly, when you get to my age those questions are inevitable because how long can you keep going? I wonder myself.
The thing for me it’s a year-by-year proposition. I haven’t noticed any decline physically, that’s the first thing. The second thing is mentally; I’m still motivated, still prepared to do all the things I need to do. The third thing and most important thing is family. We take it one year at a time. I wonder, just like everyone else, is this the year where I start slowing down. From what I’ve seen, I’ve raced three times this year — I’ve won two and had a third. I haven’t set the world on fire, but the bigger races come later in the year. I think my performances have been really good. If anything, I’ve seen improvements in a couple of areas across the board.
It’s another year and another opportunity to try to win a world title. Nothing more, nothing less.
–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.