How technology makes Craig Alexander an Iron Man champion

You need to work hard to be an Iron Man. But thanks to developments in technology, you can also work smarter to get to the top of your game,...

You need to work hard to be an Iron Man. But thanks to developments in technology, you can also work smarter to get to the top of your game, as Iron Man champion Craig Alexander explained to EFTM last week.

Just days after winning the Melbourne triathlon, Craig Alexander took time out of his hectic training schedule to talk with media about the technology that helps him succeed. A large part of his training technology sits on his bike.

“I have a power meter on my bike, so it’s a wireless technology that has a sensor in the crank arm of the bike measures how much power you’re actually transmitting through the pedal, and delivers that wirelessly to a headpiece unit that’s mounted on the handlebars. It’s very useful feedback on race day, but probably more applicable to training.”

“Further to that, what you can do is then take that head unit, take it home and there’s software that can connect it to your computer, archive that data for comparative purposes, monitor increases in fitness as you’re progressing through a preparation for a race, compare it to similar phases from previous years.

“And I think one of the more interesting things is that you don’t need a coach on site with you. Thanks to the technology available, people have access to your archives of data, whether it be your power or your heart rate and they can track your progress from further afield. I have a guy I use in Boulder Colorado, I’ve used him to advise me for a few years – he’s a sports scientist – and we communicate daily on training. I just upload the data after every ride, he can see exactly what I’ve done and he can see exactly what I’ve done and whether I’ve hit those targets during a session and see what I need to tweak moving forward.”

For someone who puts his body through a lot of strain for extended periods of time, it makes sense that Alexander takes some time to monitor what’s happening in his heart.

“Another piece of technology that I use is a heart rate monitor. A lot of the newer heart rate monitors have the same facility to upload and archive the data and check your training progress; I bought one back about five to six years ago, when I moved up to altitude to train in Colorado, which places a different physical stress on the heart. At the time there was a lot of anecdotal evidence that longer endurance exercise were causing negative cardio responses, so I went out and bought a heart rate monitor, just to track and see what kind of cardio response I was getting at an elevated altitude.”

It may not seem like the most obvious technology product, but calibration pof equipment is essential at this level of elite athleticism, so making sure his bike is completely in tune is crucial to Alexander’s success.

“Some other technology I’ve used more recently is a bike fitting system called Retül. It’s very interesting technology. Bike fitting has been around for years, all the way back to sitting in the garage with a plumb bob and a weight looking at the seat level with a spirit level and a tape measure. It’s progressed fairly rapidly; this technology was launched in 2007, it was a three dimensional camera that was instantaneous and wireless. The technology is a three dimensional camera set up from the side – obviously you’re on your bike, on a stationary trainer with different typical markers on the different landmarks and it captures you instantaneously from the side, top and front and comes up wirelessly, like race car telemetry.

“It can measure all the respective joint angles, and it’s a great tool, although like a lot of tools it’s only as good as the person collecting the data. But it was the most sophisticated tool I’ve ever seen for collecting data that quickly for archiving the data and also it’s also totally portable. In my sport you change bikes maybe once or twice a year – you might change to a new position, different pedal, different seat – and that’s quite a painstaking process. As an endurance athlete you don’t want to get injured so being able to mimic your position exactly is very important, and this is able to do that. I actually changed bikes two weeks before the world championships, changed to a different brand of bike. I was able to get a position that was perfect for me – in the past I never would have done something so foolish, change equipment so close to a big race. This system gave me absolute confidence that my position was within 1/1000th of a millimetre.”

As an ambassador for Jabra, Alexander also had nothing but good things to say about he company’s headphones. He uses two pairs – a wireless pair and a wired pair that are still kicking after months of sweat-soaked runs. Given teh amount of salt water that would be pouring out of the Iron Man’s pores, that’s a pretty good endorsement right there.

Categories
Sports & Fitness

Nick Broughall is the Australian Editor of TechRadar.com, where he gets to indulge his passion for geekery and the lastest technology. He is also the Editor of EFTM.com.au, where he gets to indulge his passion for manliness, from sampling fine liquor to the joys of growing a beard. It's a pretty good life, really.
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