Firing on all cylinders now

Heather Wurtele had a superb win at Ironman 70.3 California at Oceanside, and also took the title at 70.3 Monterrey, after a scary episode in Panama. But all is well now and we best look out for this tall Canadian at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant.

Slowtwitch: Congrats Heather.

Heather Wurtele: Thanks Herbert. It was a great race for me, where I was pretty satisfied with my performance in all three disciplines. I was on my own for most of the swim, but not too far back of the leaders, I rode really solid watts and stuck to my plan, and I was pretty thrilled to be able to run to the front and set a new course record.

ST: Well, you worked very hard for it.

Heather: The competition was fierce indeed, and that always seems to be when you can get the best out of yourself.

ST: Let us first talk about the Panama incident.

Heather: I was at Panama for the Latin American 70.3 champs. I won it the year before so I was defending champ. It was [sighs] boiling hot with really high humidity. I was having an okay race, battling it out for second and then for third. Then a guy with a big fire hose sprayed me on the first loop on the run and I slipped and crashed and cut my hip and knees and elbow pretty bad. I think the trauma of that and the fact that things were so competitive all added up. I was just trying so hard to catch back up and my body just could not cool itself. So coming to the finish line, I was 4th and there was a big gap to 5th. I was pushing myself. And I think your body is like, well 'If you're not going to stop, I'm just going to make you unconscious.'

ST: You hit the ground?

Heather: I did. See my scabby knees?

ST: It could have been worse we assume.

Heather: Yes. But it was very serious. I was unconscious. Wasn't breathing for a while.

ST: Wow.

Heather: It was very scary. It was weird... going in and out of consciousness... waking up in an ambulance with ice all over me. Not being aware how you got there

ST: In Oceanside was the Panama scare gone from your mind?

Heather: Yes it was, completely. I got rid of all my fears from that episode at the Monterrey 70.3, two weeks before Oceanside. I went into that one fully expecting that I may feel hesitant to really push, but it was just racing like usual. I was in the moment and didn’t think about anything else.

ST: As far as you can recall, was that the most flustered you had seen your husband to date?

Heather: As I said, I was passing in and out of consciousness so I wasn’t aware of much, but I do vividly remember hearing him swearing in one lucid moment before I passed out again. When I came-to later in the ambulance, covered in ice, I was just so glad he was there with me, holding my hand. I guess because I’m so tall they actually had trouble collapsing the stretcher to fit me into the ambulance and he wasn’t sure I was breathing at that point, and then there was a blood spurting incident with the IV, so ya, cause for considerable stress and some swearing. He reamed me out for it after! I was within 1 km of the finish at the time I collapsed so I just had total tunnel vision and was well beyond the point of rational decision making.

ST: How long did it take for you to recover from that episode?

Heather: Despite some extremely stressful moments for Trevor, the great thing was that the paramedics got me covered with ice right away so my core temperature wasn’t dangerously elevated for too much longer. I remember that my hair was frozen but I wasn’t cold at all, which was pretty crazy. I actually felt okay later that day. Fragile and a bit traumatized, but okay. I took a week totally off after to get checked out back home in BC and make sure that there were no serious problems. Trevor actually got horrendously sick with the flu so taking care of him that week was a ‘good’ distraction. The biggest thing for me was really coming to terms with the episode psychologically. People have shirts that say stuff like 'death before DNF' and I became very aware of how much that bothers me. It’s really like: No. Not cool. Life is so precious and it really doesn’t take much to end it. But big races happen in hot, humid conditions, so you need to figure out how to deal with it.

ST: You haven’t started the Oceanside race each year, but the improvements have been quite nice.

Heather: Thanks. It is nice to look back at the consistent improvement that I’ve made over the years. I remember back in 2009 when Rinnie ran a 1:20, thinking 'holy crap! That’s so fast! I don’t know if I can ever do that.' But I just ran a 1:17:56 and it’s super satisfying to know that I got there by working hard, staying committed to the process and believing in myself and of course in my coach Paulo too.

ST: During the bike leg were you attempting to get rid of the other Heather or were you confident in your run?

Heather: Attempting to get rid of Heather Jackson on the bike and being confident in my run are not mutually exclusive activities. On the ride leg I was pushing really solid watts and hoping that it was hurting Heather, Meredith, and Rachel more than it was me. After the final climb I was at the front, and really tried to pull away, staying super aero on my P5 and knowing that with my size and position I can usually put time into people on downhills, but they were all still there by the final aid station. Bummer. McBride actually rode the strongest into T2 - I was like “hey that was supposed to be my move!” - but my legs felt good and was looking forward to the run.

ST: Word has it there was some small talk in the men’s front group. Was that true in the women’s race too?

Heather: Nope. Julie was out in front and then it was me, Rachel, Heather J, and Meredith. All pulling through multiple times trying to drop one another but not managing it. I have been annoyed by people really pushing the limits on the legal draft zone distance before, slipstreaming to pass etc. but I was very impressed with our group. Though I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, I felt like everyone raced with integrity within the rules. We all stayed legal distance and all sat up and slammed on the brakes during the no pass zone hill where a speed limit was enforced, well Rachel did in front of me, I stayed well back of her until the no pass zone end sign and no one came up to me so I’m assuming so.

ST: With Dibens returning after that long injury time out, were you surprised how competitive she was?

Heather: No. Julie is such a strong competitor, I was pretty sure she’d rock the swim and bike and hang tough on the run, which is exactly what she did. It’s really only a matter of time and staying injury free and she’ll be a huge headache again. I mean that in nice way!

ST: In the second half of the run were you at all looking over your shoulders or did it just feel right?

Heather: I only ever look over my shoulder right before the finish chute to make sure I have time to give high fives! At the far turn on the last lap Heather was still fairly close behind me (maybe like 40-50 seconds) and I knew that I couldn’t let up for one moment because of course she was giving all she had to catch me. I had 4 miles left to keep it up, and was confident I could hold the pace. I have suffered a lot more to run slower in races, so it is cool when it does just feel right.

ST: Your first sub 1:18 run in a race?

Heather: Yes it was. I ran a 1:19:26 in Monterrey, and a 1:19:50 at Oceanside last year so I’ve been getting closer, I’m super happy that I was able to ride even stronger and run faster than I ever have before.

ST: What words did Paulo have for you after the race?

Heather: He had excellent words for me after the race! The censored version goes something like 'I [absolutely] love watching you [... totally….] crush it out there!' Dropping some absolutely bombs. Ha ha.

ST: What was your best race in your career?

Heather: Probably Rev3 Quassy last year. It was a great field -- Heather Jackson, Annabel Luxford, Mirinda Carfrae, and Meredith Kessler. I won that race and that was probably my most competitive win to date. I was feeling 'Oh my goodness. This field is so deep! And I thought, well, I've beaten all these girls at some point before. Heather has beaten me and I've beaten her. Meredith has beaten me and I've beaten her. You know we always go back and forth. So I thought, ok, I can do this.’

ST: Did Trevor already make that dinner you earned in the race?

Heather: He was definitely home relaxing before me, with post race media stuff and drug testing, but we went for burgers at Oceanside’s famous Ty’s Burger House with fellow Canadians Rachel McBride, Brent McMahon & co. It was great to share some laughs and some fatty, salty food!

ST: I thought he owed you making dinner for you finishing respectively better in the race.

Heather: Was this some public announcement that I was unaware of? I think I’m going to have to call him on that one. Sometimes he’s sneaky like that. I sense a dinner being made for me this evening...

ST: You talked about gender equality on your blog. What in your view is still missing?

Heather: It is interesting that when you are husband and wife athletes and you talk about triathlon with people who don’t know us in the sport and they immediately assume that Trevor is the pro and I’m the support crew. There are so many subtle perception biases that are barriers to it feeling like being a female professional athlete is a legitimate career. As we get faster and more competitive - which goes hand in hand with increased opportunity due to more press coverage and excitement generated around women’s racing - hopefully these basic perceptions will change. I also think that women need to empower themselves, with simple things like bike maintenance. Learn how to swap out a cog set, fix a chain, practice changing flats quickly and take pride in being truly professional at what you do.

ST: But what you are talking about is sadly not unique in triathlon or just inside the sports world. My wife who is a surgeon, always gets called nurse as soon folks find out that she works in a hospital.

Heather: That’s totally true. My sister-in-law who is a small business owner gets hassled all the time, ie let me speak to the man in charge. Yet there seems to be this backlash if these types of issues are brought up in triathlon, like ‘you ladies have equitable prize purses (which is huge) and smaller fields so don’t complain’. And I’ve definitely been fed the line like you only sell product if you’re a model, not if you race fast because women don’t buy stuff based on any other criteria than how it looks. It’s a bunch of baloney. Like in all realms I’d like to see reward based on merit regardless of gender, race, sexuality etc.

ST: ST. George is next. And it looks like you are firing on all cylinders.

Heather: I love the course in St. George and I’m really looking forward to racing there again. It is going to be another super competitive field and there is nothing better to help prepare you for World Championship racing.

ST: Is Kona again the big shiny target?

Heather: I am pretty excited about 70.3 Worlds since they are in Mt. Tremblant Canada this year, but Kona is a target for sure. I’m not sure if shiny is the word... in my minds eye it is more like a big blob of lava! Aside from finishing 8th in 2011, I have yet to have a performance there that I am happy with so I just have to keep working hard to get it right.

ST: But Tremblant should be right up your alley.

Heather: Ya! The course and the high probability of cooler temperatures really appeal to me. I also really love racing in Canada, and have heard great things about the venue from Trevor and pretty much anyone who has ever raced there. Quebec does a great job of investing in sport.

ST: Anything else we should know.

Heather: Trevor and I are pretty well known for living out of an RV, which we have done for the last 5.5 years. We actually bought a home in Kelowna BC this winter though, and we’re pretty happy to finally have a permanent home base. We’re all grown up now! Ha. We’re still going to be snowbirds and travel in it to the US for training camps. We’ve been in the RV for the past month in Poway and will drive it to St. George, then it’s back home to Canada for the summer.