Queen K Buzz: Heather Wurtele

Written by: Katie Araujo

Turning pro three years after she jumped into the sport, Heather Wurtele boasts an impressive stats sheet of both IM and 70.3 success. Embarking on her journey in the sport with fellow pro triathlete and husband Trevor, Heather has remained a bit of a dark horse in the sport, but is a contender that should not be overlooked. We visited with Heather in the days leading up to the race:

Starting your journey in the sport of triathlon with your husband Trevor in 2004, you two quickly elevated your status from amateurs to full time professionals in 2009. What inspired you to take the leap of making this your primary focus, and uprooting from where you were to living in an RV together?
I won Ironmman Coeur d’Alene in 2008, while working full-time for Natural Resources Canada and that really lit the fire under our butts to consider being full-time athletes – like “hey, imagine what we could do if we had time to train and recover more!”. Since it was a dream for both my husband and I, we knew we’d have to live cheaply to make it work, so we sold our home and most of our non-triathlon related material possessions. We lived in the RV while working for 6 months, then left our jobs and headed south for our triathlon adventures in Feb 2009.

You and Trevor will both be competing together in Kona this year after both earning your slots with impressive seasons. Additionally, you are celebrating your anniversary this week as well (Congratulations!). How does this change the dynamic of race day for you in comparison to years past?
I like it when both of us race the same race. We have the same focus and our training schedules tend to coordinate better. It is also super motivating to see each other on course. The one disadvantage is that neither of us can be the selfless support person. We drive pretty hard bargains in terms of who has to spend time on their feet to cook and run errands! It all works out though and we can empathize with each other easily if we get stressed or impatient.

Even with four Ironman titles (two of which are course records) under your belt on courses highly touted as the most difficult on the circuit (IM St. George and IM Lake Placid), you are still considered somewhat of a dark horse contender in Kona. Do you think this plays to your advantage on race day?
Sure. I always try to tell myself that it’s better to be part of the post-race coverage than part of the hype and not a factor in the race. If people don’t perceive me as a threat then it is easier for me make moves in the race, i.e. open up a gap on the bike, and get away. A little frustration at being under-rated always helps with motivation as well!

Aside from the madness that takes place on Ali’i Drive on the last mile of the run, the swim start is perhaps the most recognizable image one associates with the race. Tell us a little bit about your gear selection for race day and what you plan to swim in when the cannon goes off.
I will be wearing an Aqua Sphere swim skin over my tri-kit, and the Aqua Sphere K180 goggles. The swim skin meets the WTC regulations for non-textile material, and makes a huge hydrodynamic difference in the water. The K180’s are my favorite eye protection. They are streamlined, super comfy and seal really well so I have no worries about any leaks even with the bashing that goes on at the swim start.

Credited for producing Kona’s extreme conditions, Madam Pele has been known to make her presence felt. Notorious for powerful wind gusts descending Hawi and blazing sun in the Energy Lab, where do you see yourself capitalizing on the conditions presented on race day?
I tend to prefer tough conditions. Trevor and I have spent a lot of time training in the heat, and I feel more and more able to race well when it’s hot – despite being tall as I am always reminded! I like it when IM rides are windy. It keeps people honest on the bike and is a test of ones patience and race savvy to execute your race properly. Madame Pele’s presence is quite welcome on race day in my opinion!

What is your favorite Kona memory?
There are so many great moments from WC races, but being Canadian, I was super excited when both Lori Bowden and Peter Reid won the race the same year – 2003 (even though I had never even done a triathlon then). Unfortunately it was bitter sweet for them, because they were separating. It’s a goal for both Trevor and I to win an Ironman together, but only if our marriage stays intact!

What piece of advice would you give to those competing in Kona for the first time?
Well, since most have had to qualify to race here, the usual first-timer advice of “just enjoy the day and know you can get through it”, doesn’t really apply. People are super-competitive, and the biggest mistake I see is letting others dictate how hard you ride, especially at the start of the bike. It can be hard to let people pass you, but just know that if you are riding smart you will catch those that aren’t, either at Hawi, or later on the run.

If you were to put together a list of your Top 5 Must Dos while on the Big Island, what would they be?
1) be lame before the race! Stay inside with your feet up, chill, get bored. Last thing you need race week is to dislocate your shoulder body-surfing.
2) go to a coffee plantation and get a tour – interesting stuff, and tasty beverages.
3) do a night dive/snorkel with manta rays
4) Go to Volcano national Park
5) swim over to the Captain Cook monument.

What legacy do you wish to leave on the sport?
I’d really like to help grow the sport of Long Distance Triathlon in Canada. There is currently no support from our National Federation and unless you are part of the Olympic stream it is very tough to break into the pro ranks. I also hope to be a positive role model for women, and for couples. Our RV lifestyle shows that you can live simply without compromising performance, while you pursue your dreams together.