A few words with Ben Kanute

Ben Kanute is finishing his degree at the University of Arizona and getting ready for another season representing the USA in ITU events around the world. We checked in with this Geneva, Illinois raised athlete.

Slowtwitch: Thanks for the chat.

Ben Kanute: Thanks for the interview!

ST: How is life in Tucson, Arizona?

Ben: It’s beautiful. Sunny and 70s or 80s every day. You can’t ask for better weather than that.

ST: Well, you could ask for more, but depending on what you are lusting for it may not come as easily as sunshine and nice temps.

Ben: Pretty women help too, but we have that here at the University of Arizona too.

ST: Are you missing all the snow shoveling cross training?

Ben: There’s snow other places? It feels too much like summer to think everyone else is snowed in. No, I don’t miss the cold, snow, slush, or any of that. I got my fill of that when I went home to Chicago for a few weeks over Christmas break and was over it real quick.

ST: Where exactly did you grow up?

Ben: I grew up just west of Chicago in Geneva.

ST: Your background though is swimming, correct?

Ben: Yup! I started when I was 7 and swam competitively through high school. My event in high school was the 500 free. I was also doing my first kids triathlon when I was 9.

ST: What was your PR in the 500 and what time can you swim the 1500 now?

Ben: My PR for the 500 is 4:37 my senior year of high school. If we are talking yards for a 1500 time trial and I am feeling good, maybe 15:00-15:30? Now rest me up a bit, give me a fast suit and a cap, and I will get up and try to break the 15:00 barrier. Maybe I’ll talk to my coach and use that as a get out swim for the week. I’d shave and taper for that. No idea for a 50m pool though. I don’t do enough training in one to know my paces for that.

ST: Glad you clarified that, I was actually thinking meters. Well, what has been your fastest 1.5k to date?

Ben: I had to go back and search for that one. It was a 16:29 LCM way back in 2010, so when I was 17. I haven’t really done any 1500 time trials since then, at least in a meter pool. I believe in a yard pool it was around a 15:30 and that was about a year ago.

ST: What are you getting ready for as we speak?

Ben: My first block of racing includes the PATCO Sprint Championships in Sarasota and two World Cups in Mooloolaba and New Plymouth. I’m trying to accumulate enough points to ensure myself a start on the Chicago WTS start list. It would be pretty cool to be able to race at home!

ST: What will it take to get to the start in Chicago?

Ben: That is a good question. I have been told that to ensure a spot I need to shoot for about the top 60 on the ITU points like and I am somewhere around 100 right now. So I think top 10s in the world cups, and a top 5 in the PATCO Sprint Champs will do it. I am not necessarily a points master though, so my math is more rough than some of the people at USAT who know the trends of the list better. I am just going into these races to place as high as possible, and if I race well that should do it for me.

ST: Looking back to last year, is there a race result you are especially proud?

Ben: I had a really good season last year. Ending the season with a win at the Fearless Super Sprint was a nice highlight, but my two results I am most proud of are my finishes in WTS Kitzbuhel and in the World Team Championships in Hamburg. Kitzbuhel was my debut WTS race and I was able to get 14th on a pretty epic course. I wish they were holding that race again this year because there is nothing quite like racing up the side of a mountain. Hamburg was really special for a lot of reasons. One is I love the format. Relays are super exciting for the fans and athletes. It’s fast and you get to race for your country. Standing up on the podium is always special, but to be able to bring home the Bronze for the US with my team was an awesome experience.

ST: When you go away for that first block of racing, how does that work with your classes and studies at the University of Arizona?

Ben: My teachers have actually been really good about letting me go and travel. I timed this race block so that I am only missing a week of school before spring break. It worked out well because I actually don’t have any tests that week, and all of my other assignments I will just turn in online.

ST: What had made you decide to go to college versus pushing that Pro racing envelope full time?

Ben: I never saw choosing to go to college as hindering my triathlon career. I thought of it as taking the next step. I trained throughout high school for triathlons and had some success, but I was fairly time constrained with school. Education has always been important in my family, and I took my studies very seriously. In going to college, I ended up having way more time to spread out my training throughout a day than jam it in after a long day of school. Also, I used it as an excuse to get to some better weather and find a place that had a good triathlon community. My mom and I spent quite a long time sifting through all sorts of different colleges that we thought would give me a good chance to train for triathlon and pursue a degree. And it has worked out very well for me at University of Arizona – I will graduate early this spring.

ST: What degree will be in your hand this coming spring?

Ben: I will be graduating with a degree in Physiology.

ST: You have been involved with Trek for a couple years, but now it is under the big Trek Triathlon Team umbrella. When did that connection come up?

Ben: It was a couple years ago in my freshman year here at the U of A. My coach, Adam Zucco, has had a relationship with Trek for quite a while, and he kept bringing me up to his rep. Finally, I was able to have a couple conversations with Mark Andrews over at Trek, and they were able to hook me up really well this past season.

ST: How and when did you learn about the bigger team plans for 2014?

Ben: At the end of this past summer Mark invited me out to the Trek Factory in Waterloo, Wisconsin. I got the full tour, and got to see how the best bikes out there were made. When we were done with the tour, Mark mentioned the team and that I was on the list of people they were looking at. Sure enough, a few months later I got an email about the new Trek Factory Triathlon Team.

ST: Have you gotten the new bikes already?

Ben: Not just yet, but I am expecting them before my season starts! You’ll know the exact moment I do because I will most likely post a picture on Twitter first thing.

ST: But your key bike will still be an ITU ready one. What other bikes do you expect and will you do any non-drafting events?

Ben: Yes. My main bike will be a road bike, but I will also be receiving a Speed Concept. I do plan on racing some non-drafting events, but my schedule through the first block of racing is not yet set in stone. Those three races will really determine my season. If I perform well there, a lot more opportunities will open up. One non-draft race that is on my radar is the Lifetime Series race in Tempe in April. That one seems to fit in nicely with my schedule, and is only a couple hours away for me. I did suggest to Mark that he should send me a fixed gear speed concept so I can cruise around campus in style. It may not be completely practical, but how awesome would that be? Not going to hold my breath on that one, but I am going to keep my fingers crossed…

ST: Who has helped you with your bike fit?

Ben: I have gotten fit by a number of people, but there are two who have given me really good fits. One is with my local bike shop, Element Multisport formerly The Bike Shop Glen Ellen. Rich Ducar was the fit master there, and always did a great job. In Tucson, I got a Retul fit with Brian Grasky, and loved the outcome there too.

ST: Anything else we should know?

Ben: I have some other great sponsors besides Trek this season. Training Bible Coaching, TYR, PowerBar, Geneva Running Outfitters, NYAC Tri Team, Fuel4mance, and USAT all play a huge role in giving me the resources necessary to succeed.