Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ironman Champion Trevor Wurtele - Life on the Go

Trevor Wurtele is a professional triathlete from Canada who is coming off a breakout 2013 season. His wife Heather shares the same occupation, and for the past five years the two have rumbled around North America, living and training out of a 23-foot (~7 meter) Ford Regal RV. In addition, he has the funniest race reports in the business. Thanks for the time, Trevor!

First of all, I checked out the Vernon BC Wikipedia page and was appalled that you and Heather aren’t on the “notable people” list… if Ironman Canada champion (and others) isn’t enough, what’s it going to take?? What was it like growing up there, and what’s your sports background?
Haha, you did some research!! Yes, we did indeed grow up in Vernon. Me a bit more so than Heather. I was in Vernon from the time I was in Kindergarten, Heather moved there when she was 15. I come from a downhill skiing family. My dad was the head coach for the men's national downhill team for 7 years, through the Calgary Olympics in 1988. I definitely had dreams of being a great downhiller, but by the time I was 15, road cycling started to take over. When I was a Junior cyclist I would spend the summers racing in Belgium. After high school I spent a couple full seasons racing as an amateur in France and Italy. By the time I was 20 I had had a pretty solid ass-kicking in Europe and didn't really see cycling taking me where I wanted to go. In hindsight I'm so thankful that I got out of that sport when I did. After that time I went back to school for a few years, and I did some running and cycling for enjoyment. I met up with Heather again (we were friends in high school), then we worked our way into triathlon together.

Were Canadian triathletes such as Simon Whitfield and Peter Reid on your radar at all before discovering triathlon for yourself? How did you get into the sport?

I watched Simon win gold in Sydney. I bet we all did. Even then I had absolutely no idea what triathlon really was, nor did I think I would ever do one. Swimming was pretty low on my 'things I enjoy' list growing up, so I always balked at the idea of doing a triathlon. But then I saw video of Peter Reid winning Kona in 2003. That got some blood flowing and with Heather's help in the water I managed to pick up my swimming enough to do a triathlon - really with the goal of doing an Ironman. I qualified for Ironman Canada 2004 at a local triathlon in Victoria, grabbed the spot, and was totally pissed that I didn't do very well... so I had to keep going back!  :)

Continuing your steady progression from Top 10’s to Top 5’s, to a win at IM 70.3 New Orleans in 2012, you had a breakout year in 2013, with many great results including the Ironman Canada crown. To what do you most attribute your success?

If I had to pick one defining moment that has brought me from a top 10 guy to a guy who can compete for the win it would be finding a coach (Paulo Sousa) that steered me in the right direction. In fact, he found us. After a dismal end to 2010 with a decent result here and there, he came to our RV after Ironman Arizona and pretty much told us straight up that we were doing things wrong. That winter, December 2010, we started working with him and joined up with his new squad ( Since then, for the past 3 years, he has been pushing us to work harder than we ever thought possible, and really taught us how to be real professional athletes. "Be committed, do your job" is one of his mantras that has helped us grow over the past few years.

Trevor & Andreas Raelert

I’ve read that in 2010, your earthly possessions included $3K, your RV, and your tri gear, without any sponsor support. I’m sure Heather’s breakthrough success helped alleviate some financial stress, but did it cause you to put more pressure on yourself?

Yes, we were in dire straits after Ironman Hawaii 2009. In retrospect we should not have sunk the money into going to Hawaii that year. We had some smaller sponsors, but it was purely product at that time, maybe a small bonus contract from 1 or 2 if I remember correctly. Thankfully Heather won Ironman St. George in 2010, which was a relief for sure. But did I feel pressure from that? No, not at all. We've always been stoked for each other’s successes and I think Heather winning that race felt like we both won. For sure there's always the feeling of wanting to hold up your end of the 'team', but I certainly never put any undo pressure on myself because of her win. If anything it gave me the fire to keep going, dreaming, and believing in myself.

What was your strategy going into Ironman Canada? Was it especially rewarding to win your first Ironman close to home?

It was definitely rewarding to win that race. I focused my entire season on winning that one and started thinking about it in December 2012. Plus, I had reached a point in my triathlon career where I believed I could win it - that makes a huge difference. Not just SAYING you believe in yourself, but TRULY believing you can win it. Even the little voices in the back of your head, when those say 'you can win it', that's when real belief sets in and can help you do great things.

My strategy going into Ironman Canada was to start the run with the leaders and rely on a good run to get the win. There were a couple different scenarios I had played out in my mind for how the bike portion could go. Having Matt Russell ride up to me was certainly one of them. When that happened I knew I'd have to keep him in touch and not give him a head start on the run. He was one of the few guys that would have been able, and fresh enough (a few notables had raced Ironman Mont Tremblant the week prior), to run a low 2:50 marathon.

Trevor was all smiles before and after Ironman Canada

Let alone the intimidation factor, I think the RV setup can make a lot of sense for pro triathletes… financially, logistically, etc. How does it also help (or hurt) you from a performance perspective?

We've been extremely lucky with this RV. We bought it off a website called Repot-Depot. The grand total came to $22,000. That was almost exactly the amount of money we received after all was said and done when we sold our condo in Victoria. From there we worked for 5 months while living in the RV and saved as much money as we could. I think we left Canada with $13,000 in our pockets in February 2009. That dwindled quickly despite living on side streets and parking on friend's and family's property. All said, it is cheap if you do it right. After our initial massive drive south we drove as little as possible and just set up a training base for a couple months at a time.

a Ford Regal RV
The RV is a great alternative and a pretty amazing way to see new training grounds. That said, the key is to make sure to not travel too much. If you're constantly looking for places to park, trying to find pools or new training routes, ultimately your training and recovery will suffer. It's important to get into a routine that you can hold for weeks on end in order for training to really give you the most benefit. Also, if you're going to do it with a significant other, make sure you can live in close quarters! Heather and I don't need much personal space - away from each other anyway.
At the moment we're parked in the driveway of our Squad house. This is great for us because we have access to a shower, laundry, and can start all the workouts together without having to commute. The only downside is we don't have a way to dump our black and grey water tanks. Those fill up quickly if we're not careful.

That said, after 5 years, do you ever get annoyed with life in the RV, or by now is it home sweet home? Where do you set up shop throughout the year?

For the most part we're always in the RV. We had a break from it last winter while we house sat for Heather's parents in Kelowna, BC. Plus trips to races like Kona or Abu Dhabi. Locations where we set up shop for good chunks of time are San Diego, St. George, Whistler (prior to Ironman Canada for 4 weeks) and we're usually in Kelowna for the summers.
Funny you ask if we're getting annoyed with it after 5 years - we are indeed. We're actually thinking quite seriously of moving into a more permanent home of our own in Penticton, BC. Stay tuned for that! :) Either way we'll keep the RV for trips south in Spring and Fall.

What are your top 5 favorite races in terms of course/venue?
  • Ironman 70.3 St. George is a pretty amazing course. It's stunningly beautiful with all the sandstone cliffs and surrounding desert
  • Ironman Canada is also an incredibly beautiful race through some amazing mountain scenery
  • Wildflower is one of those races that has an all around 'super fun' vibe. If you go there, definitely camp and take in the whole experience
  • Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant - another extremely well done event. The atmosphere in the village around the finish is incredible
  • When I was an amateur I did Ironman France. That is one race I'd love to get back to

“Some water, a knife, or even matches can mean the difference between life and death. And those things only come from sponsors. And to get sponsors, you have to make people like you.” – Woody Harrelson AKA Haymitch from The Hunger Games
Or from a pro triathlete’s perspective:
“Some shoes, a bike, or even goggles can mean the difference between life and death. And those things only come from sponsors. And to get sponsors, you have to make people like you.”
What’s your sponsorship situation like, and how do they help you towards your goals?
That's funny, I hadn't made that connection to my own life before. But yeah, you could draw some similarities. It is important to get people to like you for sure. On both sides of the fence - sponsors need to like you, and athletes who the sponsors are trying to target need to like you as well. Hopefully for more than just your results. Really though, I think it's important to just be yourself. Both sponsors and 'fans' can see through someone who's fake or trying too hard to be something they're not.

We are extremely lucky to have found sponsors that are both top of the line product wise, and a pleasure to work with. It took some time to put together our current team, but we couldn't be happier now. We've been with First Endurance Nutrition the longest and are looking forward to a new 3 year contract with them for 2014-2016. We believe they're at the top of their game as far as nutritional research and quality product. Knowing we'll be with them for at least the next 3 years (and hopefully longer) is huge for us. We started working with Cervelo in 2013 and look forward to our future with them. It's hard to argue the amazing difference they've made to our bike splits. Same with Saucony, another great company that has helped us avoid injury and run some of our best run splits ever. All of our sponsors are absolutely a big part of our career, including:
Manitoba Harvest 
Rolf Prima
Aqua Sphere 
Smith Optics
Bonk Breaker

Do you know yet what your focus will be for 2014? You had a great race at Mt. Tremblant… do you have aspirations of going back for the new 70.3 Championship race? Is that a course that suits you?

I will probably structure my year in much the same way as I have in previous seasons.  Typically targeting the half distance events starting in February, all the way through June or July, then into a couple full Ironman events to end the year. I would find it very hard to skip out on Ironman Canada 2014 in favor of a full on focus for 70.3 worlds. For me I think it will have to be either one or the other. Heather is planning to do both of those races, but I think that jumping into a Championship 70.3 race, 5 weeks after Ironman Canada, would not lend itself to a successful race in my case. Heather has come off Ironman races and into 70.3 events with no problem before. For me it takes a bit longer to find that top end power on the bike again. That said, if I'm having an amazing year at the 70.3 distance I may just hold off doing an Ironman until after 70.3 worlds so I can give that race a fair shot. It's a great course, in Canada, amazing support from the community and province - pretty hard to pass up. Like I said though, equally hard to skip out on Ironman Canada. That will be a judgement call based on how the season progresses.

Thanks again, Trevor!

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