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The defending North American 70.3 champion chats about her progression as an athlete and the target on her back at this weekend’s race.
If you follow the trajectory of Heather Wurtele’s career, you’ll notice a slow, gradual progression. The early years are a scattered collection of top-10 finishes, but as the timeline inches forward, the word “champion” appears with increasing frequency.
So far, that is the only word that appears on Wurtele’s 2016 record, with two 70.3 victories to her credit at Monterrey and Oceanside. Her third could very well happen in St. George this weekend as Wurtele seeks to defend her title at the North American 70.3 Championships.
So what’s the secret behind the Canadian’s success? A combination of positivity, smart decisions, and a whole lot of resilience.
Triathlete.com: Your performance at this race last year was stunning—a remarkable come-from-behind victory over defending champion Meredith Kessler. When you think back on that day, what stands out most to you?
Heather Wurtele: Probably on of my most vivid memories from that day was seeing 5 women ahead of me all stretched out up Diagonal Street in the first mile of the run and thinking “Alright, Heather, let’s do this. You don’t have to catch them all in the first couple miles, but you ARE going to catch them!” I just had to stay positive and keep pushing hard all day. It was a real battle to get to the front and very satisfying to win the North American Championships!
Triathlete.com: Now you’re the defending champion with a target on your back. How does that feel?
HW: It honestly doesn’t feel that much different any time I approach a big race. It’s great to be the defending champ (simply because that means you’ve won before!), but I know that I’m lining up against great competitors who are hungry for the win, and I know that it’s going to be a tough race where I have to give it my all. I’ve done the work, I know what I’m capable of and really any sort of external ‘pressure to perform’ really doesn’t factor into it.
Triathlete.com: It’s been fun watching your progression as an athlete over the last few years—it seems you just get better every season. What’s in the secret sauce of your success?
HW: Thanks! Maybe that’s because I’ve always had so much to improve upon! There is honestly no secret. Just a lot of years of hard work and consistent training, plus a love for the journey. I’m very lucky to have an excellent, long-term, professional relationship with my coach and great support from my sponsors. Being able to chase my dreams with my husband Trevor also keeps the enjoyment level high. It is much more fun to do this together!
Triathlete.com: It’s also quite remarkable that you’ve been able to stave off injury over the years. Do you follow a particular injury-prevention regimen?
HW: I’ve definitely had my share of minor issues, but for sure, staying injury free has been a big part of my consistent improvement in the sport. The longer I do this, the more I appreciate that staying uninjured is a critical component of athletic success, and really much of it is pure luck, like not getting into bike crashes. For things like good bone density, I have my parents’ genes to thank, and for others it comes down to self-discipline. I am pretty good at backing off when I have niggles, I get at least 10 hours of sleep almost every night—I think sleep is HUGE for injury prevention—and I avoid high injury risk activities even if they are things that I love to do, like downhill skiing, mountain biking or bombing down rocky technical trails while running.
Triathlete.com: You have two particularly heartbreaking mechanical DNFs in your history—a broken crank that caused you to forfeit your lead at Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2012, and last year’s shifting problem at Kona. Have these events changed the way you prep before races?
HW: I have always been very meticulous about my equipment, but they have definitely made me even more so! It’s an interesting aspect of the human condition that awful, heartbreaking events tend to stick in our minds much more than the times that things go smoothly—which is the large majority. In both cases I did everything that I could deal with the situation and keep myself in the race so I try to look at them as good lessons in resilience, rather then add them to the long list of all possible things to stress out about before a race!
Triathlete.com: You’ve long said this race is one of your favorites—what’s so special about St. George?
HW: Ever since I came here for the first full Ironman event in 2010, the landscape and the difficulty of the course here has just captivated me. I like racing in places where the environment inspires me, and hard courses play to my strengths so St. George is pretty perfect in that respect!
Triathlete.com: The women’s pro field this year might be the deepest yet. You’re no stranger to stacked fields, though—do you seek out this level of competition?
HW: I do. I pretty much pick races based on the venue, and the level of competition, which generally also includes better prize money. But from a personal philosophy perspective, let me geek out for a second and quote Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from his book, Flow: “The roots of the word ‘compete’ are the Latin con petire, which meant ‘to seek together.’ What each person seeks is to actualize her potential, and this task is made easier when others force us to do our best.” This really resonates with me. I get the most personal satisfaction out of racing when I’m really stretched to my limits by my competition. Big races are the most fun because the risk and the reward is the highest!
Triathlete.com: How does 70.s St. George fit into your goals for 2016?
HW: St. George fit into my season plan of racing mostly 70.3s with my main focus being to move up to that top spot at 70.3 Worlds and to have strong performance in Kona. Up next is 70.3 Mt. Tremblant—another awesome course with strong competition. I’m also excited about the new Challenge Championship event that was recently announced for next year so I’ve also added Challenge Iceland to the schedule to qualify for that. It definitely fits my ‘inspiring landscape, challenging course’ criteria and I’m excited for the new adventure!