How (and Why) Cam Wurf Ran a 2:55 Marathon Around His Neighborhood
Training camps with Pro Tour cyclists, averaging 340 watts for four-hour rides, and running a sub three-hour marathon (and finishing with his dog)—it’s all in one winter’s work for Cam Wurf.
In these days of meticulously planned training sessions, few elite triathletes would consider extending their 20-mile long run to a marathon and then jogging the final few miles with their dog, just to ease it up a bit.
But Cameron Wurf isn’t your typical endurance athlete. If you feel like your own training is made up on the fly at times, then you can relate to an athlete whose career has veered from rowing to cycling to triathlon back to cycling…while still doing Ironman.
Wurf’s recent winter training stint took place in his second home of Santa Monica, California. Alongside an almost shocking amount of quality cycling, the city provided the backdrop for the previously mentioned “Ruff Run” marathon—a brisk 2 hour, 55 minute effort with his pup Olive chasing along at sub-9-minute/mile pace to “steady things up” at the end.
“I figured I might as well keep going,” said Wurf, of his training-run-turned-marathon. “I knew I probably shouldn’t, because there are some smart people at Nike telling me I should be running 35km not 42km, but I told myself the last 5km is where you generally do all the damage, and as I was close to home, I got the dog and ran to the grocery store for a smoothie.”
It’s familiar territory for the four-time Ironman champion who lived in Santa Monica until 2017 and has hosted four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome and fellow INEOS rider Geraint Thomas to train in the nearby mountains.
“Most people think you can’t ride a bike in L.A., and it’s not the first city you’d think would be great for training. But I knew the types of efforts and routes to plan. We had a great camp over five weeks in 2018, Geraint extended his stay twice, and went on to win the Tour. It’s now become a bit of a ritual that every winter we spend a good bit of time there.”
Training in the U.S. also serves to give Wurf a little space for a dedicated triathlon focus, away from the pressure cooker of a professional cycling team that contains such glitterati as Grand Tour winners Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz, and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
“I learned the hard way about trying to race the bike and train like a triathlete. I learned I’m not superman, I can’t race at the level required. Our team is not a team to sit in the bunch. If you’re on the team at the race, you’re expected to be involved. It doesn’t matter what point the race is, to be at the front, you have to have some legs on you. My wife says if she sees me on TV it means I’m having a good race.
“So when I go on team camps, I’m around 30 other guys, and I don’t want to be that guy off doing my own thing. I do everything with the team and if I get an extra hour here or there I jump in the pool or go for a run.
“But in January, I can get away to L.A. and I’ve found that if I get a four-to-six-week base of solid swimming and running I can tap back into it later as long as I maintain it once or twice a week. When I get a clear four-to-five-week window to prepare for an Ironman, like Copenhagen last year, I’m able to snap back into normal Ironman training.”
When we caught up with Wurf, he was doing what he does best: Training at his main home base in Andorra, racing his bike for INEOS Grenadiers, and averaging 320-340 watts for four-to-five hours, five days in a row, in some brutal early season competition.
Just Getting Started
It is the type of eye-watering athleticism that helped make him a phenomenon after switching to triathlon and attempting eight Ironman races in his first full season in 2017—laying down fastest bike split after fastest bike split, while chipping away at the marathon to become more competitive. Any notion that this was a novel experiment from a washed-up tour cyclist has long since expired: Wurf was 17th at his debut in Kona in 2017, ninth the following year when he set the bike course record of 4:09, and fifth in Kona in 2019, on one of his “worst days.”
“I certainly felt very flat,” he admitted. “There has been discussion about [the wisdom of] racing three weeks before in Italy [where Wurf won in 7:46]. But I was proud of my performance as I want to be good enough to win Kona on my worst day. That was one of the worst days I’d had in Ironman, and I was still able to gut it out and come in fifth.
“It’s also one of the very few races I’ve ever done where I haven’t been leading at some point. The swim is a good indicator of fatigue and halfway out to the boat I remember thinking this is going to be a long day. It didn’t get any better on the bike. I backed myself to run well, but by that point the big horse [Jan Frodeno] had bolted and there was no chance of getting anywhere near him.”
Wurf rowed for Australia in the Olympics in Athens in 2004 and will turn 39 in August, but while he has plenty of miles on the endurance clock, he doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down. In fact—and somewhat worrying for his rivals—he believes he can keep improving in triathlon for years.
“Nike did some research and said until I’m 45 physiologically there is no reason why my swimming and running should start to fall off. In Ironman cycling it could be as old as 50. I look at Tom Brady as an example. He’s 44 and his birthday is the same as mine.
“The biggest limiting factor is mental stimulation. Most athletes who are very successful play one sport their whole lives and what goes first is their interest in improving. I keep changing sports, and I’ve thrown myself in at the highest level, so I really have to learn on the fly. I don’t have time to think about how old I am or what I can’t do. The reality is I’m able to train more than I’ve ever trained, at a higher level, and I’m continuing to improve.”
While Wurf talks a fine game, it’s unlikely that we’ll see that game put to the test in the first Ironman World Championship of 2022 – in St. George in May. While most long course triathletes are grateful for the opportunity for two bites at the big cherry, Wurf signed on with INEOS on the premise that his A-race for tri would always be in Hawaii in October. “May is the busiest period of the cycling season. If Kona was in May I’d have never joined the cycling team.”
Wurf has a slot for St. George, but not Hawaii, and he faces a dilemma. “I need to find a race to qualify for Kona, but I’m not sure how that’ll work, as I’m on call for every [cycling] race and need a couple of weeks at least to do some swimming and running. It’s a bit nerve wracking. I can’t plan to be at a certain race, especially as we’ve had a couple of guys crashing recently and a bunch of guys getting COVID. It would be a lot simpler if they’d said my qualification to Kona was still good. That’s something I really want to be a part of in October.”
World Championship Predictions
If Wurf isn’t in St. George, who does he think might take the title? He can’t look further than reigning champion Jan Frodeno, and the Norwegians, Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden.
“Gustav, Jan, and I all beat the golden standard in Lionel [Sanders] last year! And all in pretty similar fashion. Gustav and I beat him by four-to-five minutes, Jan’s event was a bit different [the one-on-one Tri Battle Royale] but he beat him comfortably. So, the evidence is that Jan and Gustav are on a similar level, and I imagine Kristian is too.
“It’s hard to look past those three. Jan is just brilliant, and I know he’s really focused on proving to everyone that he’s the man—I think that’s exciting for the sport. I know Gustav and Kristian are like the young kids in the cycling world. They’re not afraid of anyone. Jan won’t be able to intimidate them, and they’ll take the fight to him. I think it’s going to be a really fascinating race, and I’d love to be a part of it.”
The Next Generation
If an Ironman world crown does escape Cameron, then plans are afoot for a title challenge by the next generation of Wurfs—they just haven’t decided which discipline yet. Now a father to 20-month-old, it’ll come as no surprise that little Wyatt Wurf is into sports. Multiple sports.
“He’s already snowboarding pretty much every day. He’s too young for ski school so we’ve had to teach him ourselves. He loves the sound of the snow when he flicks it out from underneath his snowboard. He’s also dribbling the soccer ball around and in L.A. started bouncing the basketball. Unlike his dad, he’s actually going to be good at multiple sports and not a hack at everything.”
“Embrace the adventure days” (Train the Cam Wurf way)
Asking Wurf for a sample session to improve the Ironman bike leg was never going to be met with an obvious answer:
“One target I wrote down this year was to embrace the adventure days. The weekend before Ironman Copenhagen last year I swam 10km in the pool with an open-water squad in Barcelona. The next day I rode back to Andorra in 104-degree F heat over seven-to-eight hours, and did a 10km run on the treadmill. Just because.
“Make it a session you get to the end of and feel satisfied. Something to scare you a little. The key in Ironman is knowing you can go the distance. People get fixated on ‘20-minute threshold, 10-minute easy etc’ and forget about the basic concept of having to ride 180km and then run a marathon.
“I’m never afraid of the distance because I’ve done so many times in training – and it’s always been some sort of adventure. At the time, I won’t call it a marathon, but instead a long run I finished with Olive and then went for a smoothie!”