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Ben Kanute Answers Our Members’ Questions Ahead of 70.3 North American Championships

In case you missed it: The Olympian, four-time Escape From Alcatraz winner, and runner-up at 70.3 World Championships in 2017 talks Alcatraz strategy, race-day pacing, and much more.

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American Ben Kanute has proven himself as a jack-of-all-trades up to the half-iron distance, and ahead of racing a stacked field at this weekend’s 70.3 North American Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he sat down with our Team Triathlete members to answer a few questions.

If you’d like to be a part of our next ask me anything (AMA) event, be sure to either sign up for our membership program or activate your free membership as a part of our partnership with USA Triathlon. Once you join up, you’ll have direct (often live) access to pros, experts, and even Triathlete’s editors via Team Triathlete.

Either way, check out some of Ben’s hand-picked advice to our members from this week’s AMA–ranging from pacing the bike, pre-race warmups, his wins at Alcatraz, and much more below!

RELATED: Want Training Plans, Expert Q&As, Race Perks, and A Unique Community? Join Team Triathlete

Q: I have to race Alcatraz on my 1x because I am stupid and that is the only bike I can race right now. My husband is trying to convince me the gearing is fine and I should just go harder, I have my doubts. It’s a 48T chainring, with a 10-33 cassette. Stupid or not stupid for Alcatraz?

Kanute: That ratio is not terrible, but there are a couple steep hills out there. They are relatively short, so if you just prepare yourself to grind it out, you should be ok. The other option is to try to find a way to use a bigger cassette to put on for the race. I think for a majority of the hills you won’t care too much, there is just one super steep one on the way back that is the steepest and could be more of an issue.

Q: Even as a triathlete with a swim background, the swim at Alcatraz intimidates me more than I care to even verbalize. So Ben, talk me through this swim please for those of us not used to swimming with such currents.

Kanute: I love the Alcatraz swim! It can definitely be challenging, but the race does a great job at helping the athletes be prepared. There are tons of safety personnel that basically guide you in the right direction. It’s always a safe bet to swim towards shore instead of trying to make a direct line. Then swim along shore to the exit. I take a more direct line by sighting off of the big dome (I believe a museum?), but if you aim left, then the current helps pull you to the swim exit as you swim across or diagonal to it. The race always tries to time the tide where it is helping you (like a down current swim), but sometimes, like last year, it works against you. I think the biggest challenge is just staying mentally focused as there are no buoys and it can feel like you aren’t making progress. Just keep those arms moving, work through any chop out there, and the shore does eventually get closer! It can seem like an intimidating swim, but don’t make it worse than it needs to be, and try to keep calm as much as possible.

Q: I live in Phoenix. No matter how long I’ve lived here and how well I think I’ve acclimated each summer, I find myself waving the white flag come August. Other than early-morning rides, how do you stay comfortable during outdoor workouts in the summer? Do you have any rules for when you opt for an indoor workout instead?

Kanute: I am not sure there is any prep you can do to get ready for 120 degree heat! You are stronger than I am! I usually stay in Arizona through May into June to get some of the heat adaptations, and then we travel to San Diego a lot for training. I did find that carrying a huge hydro flask of ice water and dumping it over yourself during run workouts is the best way. I have a bottle for that on the bike as well with extra gas station stops. Otherwise I do key sessions indoors when I am here in Arizona. The heat does have a similar effect to altitude training, so there are benefits to toughing it out!

Q: My question is about pre-race warmups. What do you do to activate your muscles just before a 70.3 or IM race? I remember seeing you doing some lunge twisty thing in the footage they showed before a recent race. Would love your tips and thoughts on what to focus on!

Kanute: I don’t do a whole lot before a 70.3., maybe a jog or a spin to the start. What you saw is part of my dynamic warm up. I have a series of drills to activate before the race. I have a YouTube video or two that give done examples if interested.

Q: I would love to know how you plan your bike strategy for an Olympic distance vs a 70.3. Do you target different wattages for them? Do you hammer flats, charge uphills, and mash downhills? And does that strategy change between the distances?

And does any of that change in the middle of a race? I’m curious to know what goes through your mind and do you pace yourself such that you have some room to make moves if something develops mid-race? Or do you just ignore everyone else and race your race?

Kanute: You can definitely take more risk in an Olympic-distance race. We shoot for much closer to threshold watts, but I am always adjusting to the dynamic of the race. Depending on the drafting rules, I make sure not to pull anyone around the course. A lot of Olympic-distance racing, if you can get out of sight, you have a great chance at adding to your lead. So I try to strategize around that as well. 70.3 is pretty similar, but the watts are obviously lower, and we try to plan out where to push more strategically. 

For example, in Oceanside [ed note: Check out Team Triathlete for a breakdown of Kanute’s Oceanside power file by his coach, Jim Vance], I knew the first 15 miles or so it wasn’t worth it to push as it is conducive to breaking up the pack. However, once we started the long slow uphill grind, pushing that area sheds a lot of guys, so I planned to ride above 70.3 watts there until we established a good group. This worked perfectly, and then I was able to play around with group dynamics to try to save myself best for the run. Each course is unique, but starting with the watts I know I can sustain and then going from there is how I like to work. Also, race dynamics is pretty huge at 70.3 and below. An Ironman is much more about pacing and racing your race to some extent because of the length. With the shorter distances, once that gap opens up, it is more rare to see it close.

Q: Can you give us some insight on what race week looks like for you in regards to training volume and intensity for this weekend’s 70.3 North American Championships?

Kanute: Monday was light (45 min swim and 45 min spin). Tuesday I had a 1:40 ride with about 55 min of work around 70.3 pace, a short strength session and a short run with some short hill repeats. Wednesday is a travel day with a run. Thursday is my last day of “work.” I do all three with short intervals mixed in to stay sharp. Friday is super light with maybe a swim, Saturday is a bike and run for short activation, and Sunday is the race!

WATCH LIVE: Ironman 70.3 North American Championship on Outside Watch 

Q: How do you recommit when you find yourself hitting a training wall or an extended training roadblock? I’m curious if this has ever happened to you in the middle of a season and what your recovery mindset was like. Thank you again!! Crush the 70.3! We are all rooting for a full send for you this weekend!

Kanute: Thanks! And great question. Sometimes training clicks and flows, and other times it can be a grind. For example, I would say this year, training has only recently started to click. It has been a steady build, and the beginning of the year can have workouts where everything feels terrible, but you get the work done. Rest also needs to be balanced well, and taken into consideration. We usually have a mid season reset after Alcatraz to make sure we stay fresh for a long season as well.