Born on the South Side, raised in Lincolnshire, and now residing in Wauconda, Andrew Starykowicz is the fastest cyclist in Ironman history. He’s back at the Ironman World Championship for the fourth time, where he’s finished as high as 19th after leading off the bike multiple times. He was nearly killed after being hit by a truck while riding in Crystal Lake in 2016, and it’s taken a few years for his body to get back to almost normal.
From drafting to doping to balancing life as a professional athlete with three young kids, “Starky” has never been afraid of sharing his thoughts. We caught up Illinois’ ultimate Ironman less than 48 hours before the biggest race of the year.
How do you adequately prepare for these kinds of conditions in Northern Illinois?
I train hard. I’ve got three kids. I don’t have 20 extra minutes to sit in a sauna or hot tub. What I lose in heat acclimatization, I make up for with hard training. You can do a lot of things better than me, but you will not out-train me.
How has having three kids made you more efficient with your time?
When you have one kid, you might be able to squeeze in that early-morning workout. But with three kids—including one that’s breastfeeding—I can’t leave the premises in the morning. That means maybe doing some core work or stretching in the morning. Then it’s time to get the kids to daycare, and after that I get eight and a half hours to adequately flog myself until the kids get home and it’s time for dinner.
Are you at the point of your career where you can treat racing as a business trip? You know you can go to a race like Ironman Florida, or Texas or Galveston 70.3 and smash it, but Kona obviously isn’t ideal for a bigger athlete. Is the focus now more on winning a handful of races each season and then just coming here and seeing what you can do?
I’m at the point of my career where I want to get a podium at a world championship. I knew Nice was a course that didn’t suit me well. (Starykowicz finished 12th at last month’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship in France.) I just underestimated how much weight is a factor on a long, seven-or eight-percent climb. It’s tough being on the gas and seeing smaller guys who you know you can crush on a flat course just pedal by you. It hurt a little bit, but it was fun chasing them on the downhill.
I know it wasn’t the result you wanted in Nice, but you showed some pretty good form, especially on the run. Did you at least come away from that race feeling confident about the work you put in this summer?
Of course. I wasn’t in a position to finish on the podium and I could’ve pulled the plug, but there haven’t been many times in my career when I get off the bike alongside someone and been able to run with them. I laid it down and ran really well. I mean I had a 10K PR during that half-marathon. I’m running as well as I did before I got run over. I’ve been working for so many years on the run; it’s nice to see some dividends.
Is the running improvement more about a change in training or a change in form?
I’ve always been a student of form. I transitioned a few years ago from having a traditional run coach to having a somebody who’s a form specialist (Glenn Thompson). He knows there’s nothing I can do to train harder—it’s just about doing it more efficiently. I’m a bigger guy. For me to have already run as fast as I did with my size is unusual. Now it’s just about making a million little changes to make it more efficient.
Do you think the way last year’s race played out—with a lot of athletes sitting together in a group and the winner basically having a teammate out there—will cause guys to be more aggressive on the bike this year?
That stuff happens more than people realize. The conditions last year made it possible. If we had 30 mph crosswinds like there have been here in the past, it doesn’t make any difference if you’re sitting in the pack. This race has the opportunity to be extremely fair, but it’s based on the weather. If you get massive crosswinds, it doesn’t matter if you’re five meters behind another guy’s wheel.
You caused a little stir with your “Breakfast with Bob” interview earlier this week. A lot of athletes shy away when it comes to talking about doping. If I made you in charge of Ironman’s anti-doping program tomorrow, what would be the first you do?
I understand there’s HIPAA and all of that, but I think, as athletes, we shouldn’t be ashamed of anything we put in our bodies. I think TUEs should be public. It’s fine if you have a medical condition, but a lot of athletes exploit it. We really need to crack down on that and I think the only way to do it is to make TUEs public and to make supplements public. I see exploiting the TUE system as being the low-hanging fruit of doping.
You were one of the only athletes to get behind Clean Protocol, even as Ironman advised athletes not to. Why do you think the current model of drug testing isn’t working and how do we fix it?
A lot of athletes complain about testing and clean sport, but I don’t see many of them presenting solutions. I think I have a solution that works. Instead of WADA providing a list of what you can’t do, why not provide a list of what you can do. If somebody wants to do something that’s not on the accepted list, they have to present WADA with why they need it. They can basically have a certified list of the supplements and medications. Then they can have certified producers of supplements or medications. Have companies bid on being the certified supplement or mediation and then all of a sudden you’re self-funded.
One of the things I loved was that Amgen put tracers in their EPO last year. They busted a lot of cyclist—not because the cyclists tested positive for EPO, but because they tested positive for the tracer. EPO positives disappeared for a while because athletes learned how not to screw it up. Now they’re back because of those markers.
Do you feel that drug testing in our sport is falling short? Matt Russell posted this week that he just received his first out-of-competition test in 12 months. He finished sixth in Kona last year. If he’s not getting tested, who is?
I was shocked to read that. I’ve been under the impression that all the athletes are tested as much as I am. I’ve been tested five times out-of-competition this year and a lot more in-competition. I race a lot—you can test me whenever you want. I’m not a guy who hides and then comes out and has one great race each year. I’m racing every month and there are plenty of opportunities for me to piss in a bucket and test clean.
It’s great that Ironman is funding its own anti-doping program, but they’re also the results management authority for that program. Can you trust them with results management when they have a financial interest at stake?
I trust that Ironman sends their checks. Sometimes they’re late, but I trust that it’s because they’re taking the time to enforce the rules. That’s a good sign.