How to train like an Olympian with Ben Kanute | EP#5

 March 23, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

How to train like an Olympian with Ben Kanute | EP#5

That Triathlon Show - Triathlon Podcast

Ben Kanute is a US Olympic triathlete and competed in the Rio 2016 games. He was also part of the team that won the ITU Mixed Relay World Championships in Hamburg 2016.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • How Ben started doing triathlons at the age of 8 and went through the ranks of the USAT system to make it all the way to the professional level.
  • How he has been training at different points of his career, from a young age in a kids' triathlon team, his years at the University of Arizona, and now as a professional triathlete.
  • Ben's training tips for age-group triathletes.
  • What it was like competing in the Rio Olympics and winning the ITU Mixed Relay World Championships.
  • Ben's plans and goals for the future.


About Ben Kanute

01:00 -

What got you into triathlon?

03:00 -

  • Watching my father doing triathlons when I was very young.
  • I got started by joining one of the only kids' triathlon teams in the US at the time.

By high school and college, how did your triathlon career progress?

05:15​ -

  • I was in the high school triathlon team throughout high school. At some point, I decided to try to make it to the professional level in triathlon.
  • When going to college, I chose University of Arizona because they had great opportunities, a great training community, as well as a program I wanted to study.

Had you been winning races easily before starting competing in Europe?

07:10 -​

  • I wouldn’t say I had it easy, there were many other great triathletes at regional and national levels.
  • But it was a whole different level of competition when going to race in Europe.

What was your training like in the University of Arizona?

08:12 -​

  • It was good. There was a good group of triathletes, they were pretty talented even if many were new to triathlon, coming from running and swimming backgrounds.
  • The cycling is world class in Arizona. There were some pro cyclist who trained with us during Saturdays.
  • I also realised that it couldn't be just about “all triathlon, all of the time”. I learned to work smart and not just hard, and to have a good balance.

How has your training evolved over time?

09:24 -​

  • My training volume at the UA was around 20 (plus/minus five, depending on the phase of the season).
  • We worked hard even when we were younger. We took an old-school swim approach, and weren't cuddled at all. But at a young age we did "just" one practice per day, and focused on one or two of the sports.
  • That gradually shifted to two or three workouts per day. I still shake my head at some of the training me and my team-mates did as 14-15 year-olds.
  • At the moment I'm at about 30 hours per week, but the volume ebbs and flows.

Training tips for age-groupers

11:25 -

  • Ben has built a great foundation of technique and skills and progressively increased volume to get to train the way he does now.

    Make sure you take a gradual, progressive approach in ​your own training, or you run the risk of injury or over-training.

    Volume increases should be gradual, and the better your technical foundations are, the better your chances of staying healthy even at high training volumes.
  • Also think about all the other stresses in your life: work, sleep, social life. If you have these other stresses, they will impact the amount of training stress you can handle,and how well you can recover from that training.

What does a typical week of training look like for you?

14:12 -

  • I started working with my coach Jim Vance in October, and we have been doing cycles of a volume week, followed by an intensity week, followed by a rest and test week.
  • Right now I train just over 30 hours per week.
  • My training week has a couple of long runs, a couple of long bricks, multiple 3-4 hour rides, and swimming added in (I'm not in much of a swim-focused week right now).

What do you feel like when you found out you qualified for the Olympics?

15:55 -​

  • I was about 95 percent sure that I had qualified because I did the math, but I waited for the confirmation from USAT before really celebrating. 
  • I was trying to calm myself and people around me down while waiting for the confirmation.
  • It was a strange feeling because it was something I dreamed about since I was a junior triathlete, it almost didn’t seem real.

Did it change anything for the rest of your season leading up to the Olympics or did you leave it open until you knew you were going?

17: 03 -

  • I left it mostly open, I had planned my season up until that race in Yokohama in May​.
  • There were some races that I planned to do no matter what, but other than that I didn't add any new races, and made the Olympics my complete focus. The other races were Escape from Alcatraz and the WTS race in Hamburg along with the mixed team relay world championships.
  • I raced less than I would have otherwise. I tried to pick my races carefully. The purpose of the races that I did was to either help me in training, or to give me a good race simulation as a tune-up race​.

How was it winning the Mixed Team Relay World Championships?

18:16 -

  • It was great! I love the mixed team relay and I’m really hoping the Olympic committee decides to put that into the 2020 Olympics​.
  • I think its one of the most exciting formats in triathlon and I have done that mixed team relay world championships for a number of years now.
  • We had a great team with Gwen Jorgensen, Kirsten Kasper, and Joe Malloy, and myself.

Tell us more about the Olympics

19:46 -

  • My goal for the Olympics was to be a factor in the race and set myself up to be in a good position at the start of the run.
  • I was in the lead pack of 10-15 guys through the swim and the bike.
  • The swim and bike were the hardest I have ever done.
  • From the last 5k of the run it was all survival, and my goals quickly changed from finishing top-10 to just finishing, which I did in 29th place.
  • I wasn't happy with the position, but happy with my performance and effort, and the Olympics were a fantastic experience.

Power numbers from Rio Olympics race

21:25 -

"Each time up the hill, I either hit 1000 watts, or was right around that."
  • That was at a race weight of 70 kg.

How Hard Was the Men’s Olympic Triathlon in Rio? Dissecting Ben Kanute’s Olympic Power File by Jim Vance.

What are your goals now, moving forward?​

22:36 -

  • ​This year and the next is a bit like pushing a reset button and I will take a little breather, but I'll still be doing some racing 
  • Escape from Alcatraz, the Major League Triathlon super-sprint series, and my debut 70.3 race in San Juan, Puerto Rico are on the calendar.
  • Long term, I will take another stab at the Olympics, and beyond that maybe try to go to Kona some day.

Do you have any tips for young triathletes that are in the situation as you were?

24:29 -​

  • Have fun, that is the most important part​.
  • Don’t rush, you have plenty of time. You don't need to win all races when you're 16-19 years old to have a hugely successful career.

Rapid fire questions

25:50 -​

  • Favorite book, blog or resource: Lava Magazine
  • Favorite piece of gear or equipment: My bike, but it's a tough choice between the Trek Madone and the Speed Concept.
  • What's a personal habit that's helped you achieve success? Always pushing myself to do better in each workout.
  • What is your favorite race: The Kitzbühel Triathlon, racing up the mountain in 2013
  • What do you wish you had known or done differently at some earlier point in your career: Known than no one race makes or breaks your career.

Links and resources

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Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

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