Alexander the Great Part II

In part 1 of our interview we asked Craig about living and training overseas, and about Kona, in Part II we ask Craig your questions about his swim, bike, run and diet.


Transitions: So with swimming what is your background and who has been your favourite coach?

CA: I didn’t swim much growing up, I certainly didn’t train the way I do now. My brother did swimming club, so I joined the swimming club. We used to race on Sunday mornings and I also played water polo in high school. I seemed to be a fairly decent swimmer because I used to make it to regional or state carnivals but then you come up against the guys who were training properly and you would get flogged. But I never had any stroke feedback or advice or stroke correction to be honest and it wasn’t till I started doing triathlons at 21 that I joined a squad. So that was my history. I had done swim club and water polo, water polo is a hard game you build a lot of fitness and it is good for triathlon swimming where it is not so much stroke based, you are not in your own water, I mean you can be a beautiful pool swimmer but triathlon is very strength based swimming like water polo. In tris it is a standing start, getting up to speed and a lot of strength swimming.
My best coach, well Greg Rogers was my coach for a very long time, I think he was my best coach, I swam with him first at St Pats college pool Strathfield, he was the coach at the school pool there, then I followed him to Homebush, the he went to Granville and I followed him there one winter which was terrible as I reckon it was the coldest pool in Sydney. Then he went to West Pymble and I followed him there and I’d drive up there to swim with him. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time was living and going to uni up that way so that worked out all right. And then he moved to Sans Souci pool in 1998 and I followed him there and it was shortly after that that we moved down here.

Transitions: So on the bike, do you have a power number or a heart rate that you work to when you are racing, what sort of figures do you keep an eye on?

CA: I put a power meter on in 07, when I started doing Ironman training, and I met a coach called Chris Carmichael, he lived in Colorado Springs and I was in Boulder and through a mutual friend we got introduced. Chris never coached me but one of the young guys who worked with him did, a guy called Nick White form Arizona. He was about my age or a little younger but had plenty of experience. I thought stepping up in distance, the largest portion of the Ironman is the bike ride so I thought if there is one thing that I should take a lot of advice and help with it was that. So the first thing Nick did was get me kitted out with a power meter. We did some testing to see what the different levels were. Lactic Threshold, one hour functional threshold power and from those numbers you can work out and prescribe different training sessions and what sort of zones you need to sit in for a 40k TT a 90k TT or a 180k TT and it all seemed to work well. What I did learn though was, it is still important to do things by feel.
Even though I had a power meter on I used to race to feel. The main feedback I took off the head unit was my cadence. I felt that cadence for me, I would ride well if I stuck within a certain cadence range. I used to like to race between 87 and 93 rpm. You experiment overtime, sometimes I’ve gone a bit lower sometimes a bit higher. One year in Kona, the first year I won, I think I averaged 96 rpm which was a bit higher than normal. But if you want numbers in a 40k my threshold was 345-348 watts. I think the best I’ve ever averaged in a 70.3 race was about 322 normalised watts, and in an Ironman race, this year in Melbourne I averaged 284 watts, the year I won Kona and broke the record I think I did 268 watts. But things change and it depends on your body weight, I’m always a lot lighter at Kona, about 3 or 4 kilos lighter than the rest of the year. So watts per kilo is the main thing you can use to compare those numbers, its more apples for apples as everyone is a different size. But it is all related to strategy, I mean if you are in a group you can afford to ride a little easier, but if you are on your own like I was in Melbourne this year with a bad swim, lost 90 seconds to the front group and had to push hard pretty much the whole ride hence the average power and normalised power for that day was a little bit higher.
I think in racing the goal is to get as fit as possible then race as smart as possible and save as many cookies in the cookie jar for later.

Transitions: Now my wife think I’m stalking you, as I always mention when I see you out running, usually when you are doing your long run and I’m on my way home from work. But the truth is that among the many plodders who use that stretch (myself included) your style is so easy to pick from a mile away. Is that your natural run style or is it something that you have worked on and train, and do you think your very fluid style has contributed to your longevity in the sport and lack of injuries?

CA: There is a saying “If it looks good it is good” and anything that is based on repetitive motion over a long period of time there are two factors, there is going to be a performance benefit if you are efficient, you are not going to slow down as quickly as everyone else, and that is true for the swim, bike and run and also there is going to be an injury prevention benefit. I think if you are biomechanically working the right way you are not stressing muscles and bones and joints in an unnatural way and you are using them in the way they are meant to be used in their normal ranges and I think this does prevent injuries.
Was it something I worked on? I always felt I was a natural runner, I played soccer for 15 or 16 years and was always in the midfield as the coach thought I was a natural runner and had a fluid sort of style. You know in high school it was similar to swimming, I would go to the athletics and cross country carnivals at the school level I’d win a lot of stuff and go to Zone, regional and state carnivals, and again then I would come up against the guys who were training properly, so yeah I suppose I was a bit of a natural runner.
One thing I did work on though, early in my career, and it’s while I was a uni student and studying to be a physio, obviously I had an understanding of anatomy and biomechanics and the way the body is meant to work, but I had no money…… I had knowledge but no money. I had one pair of running shoes for the first 18 months I was in the sport and I used to race and train in them, and I started getting shin splints. So I went and saw a Physio out at Homebush and he did a full analysis and made me some orthotics, I’ve used orthotics ever since. And he said to me “Come on mate you are studying to be a physio, you know you need to update your shoes more often”. I knew that I just couldn’t afford it.
He also had a good look at my medical history, and I had had two hernia operations when I was a lot younger and he said knowing that you are probably going to be a little weaker in your core than other athletes and you will need to work hard on your core strength and stability. So I did. From that day, I went and bought a swiss ball and there are a million exercises you can do with a swiss ball that transfer well to swimming, cycling and running. So I would be doing 30-40 minutes of swiss ball exercises 3 or 4 times a week, a lot of one legged stuff, and tried to find as many exercises as I could that replicated the type of activities that you wanted to train for. A lot of it is strengthening, but it’s also all those little postural muscles and activation, being able to turn them on and keep them on.

Transitions: Do you take a high tech approach to your nutrition?

CA: I have been the last 18 months as I have got older, I feel as you get older you need to look after the little details, something I have prided myself on . I love to eat, I used to eat whatever I wanted and lots of it. But last year I got sick 10 days before Kona and I’d never been sick that much, even with the kids. But this time our baby got sick, a bit of a runny nose, and then I got it. I wondered if it was diet related, so I went and saw a few people and got similar advice from all of them, saying there was a few things I needed to tidy up in my diet. Diet is a bit like training, it’s very individual, there are general rules but then there is the individual chemistry of your blood. Some people can’t eat gluten, some can’t eat lactose some can but it’s detrimental. So I tidied things up a bit, tried to eat a lot more natural, less processed foods and it seemed to help. When I got home from Kona last year, I hadn’t had a great race, I had the sickness, I had the flat tyre, I just felt really run down and it took me weeks to bounce back. That’s when I went and saw these people and tidied my diet up and things turned around. I had a trip to the US for sponsors in December and then I went away to Tamworth where my wife’s family is from for a week for Christmas. I started training between Christmas and New Year and on three weeks training went to Auckland and had a top ten off three weeks training and 4 weeks after that won Geelong and felt as strong and as good as I have in a long time and I put a lot of that down to tidying up my diet and eating more natural stuff and less processed foods.