Trevor and Heather Wurtele: Pro triathletes into the great wide open

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Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

Trevor and Heather Wurtele are rising stars in the long course triathlon world. While it’s not that unusual for two professional triathletes to be married, Trevor and Heather do live a unique life.

The Canadian couple, originally from Vernon BC, travel across the country by RV training and racing. Living the triathlon dream. Both have seen much success over the last few years with Heather capturing Ironman wins at Ironman CDA, Ironman Lake Placid, two wins at Ironman St. George and a 70.3 win at Timberman. She was 14th in Kona this October. Trevor is getting it done on the course too, with a win Ironman 70.3 New Orleans and a 4th place finish at the Ironman US Championships.

I had a chance recently to chat with Team Wurtele about their lifestyle, marriage, and triathlon.

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You two have known each other since high school. Tell us how “Team Wurtele” came to be and how long have you been married?
We were indeed friends in high school.  Nothing romantic at that time though.  We were chemistry partners, and just hung out at lunch, went cliff jumping, and drove around, in Heather’s Dodge Neon. After high school we did our own thing.  Heather did her B.Sc. at UBC, while Trevor went and raced bikes for a few years in Belgium and Italy.  We met up again in Victoria BC while Heather was getting in to her Masters Degree.  We were 22 at that point.  Maybe 6 months or so later we realized we didn’t like being apart from each other so we just kinda became a couple.  There’s maybe a bit more to it than that, but, long story short, we were inseparable. We were engaged a couple years later but actually pulling off a wedding ceremony took another couple years, which we did in October of 2006. The Ironman World Championships, which we both qualified for as age-groupers, was our honeymoon. Getting married is excellent pre race preparation.
 
How long have each of you been racing and when did you turn pro?
We both did our first triathlon in 2004. It was a just for fun sprint distance race at UBC with the swim in the indoor 50m pool. You had to duck under the lane rope every 50.  It was just for fun, nothing serious, but we did better than we thought we would.  Trevor did an Ironman that year, again just for fun, and he totally didn’t know what he was doing. In 2005 we were in Norway where Heather started her PhD and she didn’t race at all.  Trevor did Ironman France and the Long Course worlds in Denmark.  Again, just kinda winging it.  In 2006 we both got a bit more serious with Triathlon.  We started training hard, frequently, and racing well.  By 2008 Heather was racing in the Pro category (but still working) and she won Ironman Coeur d’Alene.  Trevor was also racing well as a first year pro while holding a full time job by that point.  Half way through the 2008 season is when we both decided to commit fully to triathlon.  100% commitment.  We sold our condo in Victoria, gave away all of our furniture and all the things we didn’t need in order to live.  From there we bought a small RV, saved up $15,000 in cash and went south. $15,000 doesn’t last long unless you’re winning a lot!  We didn’t have any big sponsors, so making prize money was the only way to stay afloat.  Thankfully Heather kept us alive!!!  By April 2010 we were hurting financially.  But, a big win at Ironman St. George gave us some breathing room and since then we’ve been doing OK.  Still living cheaply, but at least we know we’ll make it through the year!
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You’ve both had a lot of success winning major long course races in the last  few years. Trevor, what role does Heather play in your success as an  athlete?
Heather is my biggest supporter for sure.  She tells me all the time that I can compete with the big names of the sport.  It’s huge to have someone who’s involved in the sport, competing at the same level, telling you what you can do.  Even if it is your wife and she HAS to say that (haha), you start to believe it after awhile.
 
Heather, same question?
I think that all spouses support each other, but when you are both training incredibly hard there is a level of empathy, and an ability to push each other, that you might not get otherwise. You know how hard things can be sometimes, dragging your ass out the door for your third training session of the day, but, well, if he’s doing it… Excuses in general don’t fly. We look at each other like “do you want this or not”, “suck it up princess”, and really motivate each other to get the work done. We also help each other celebrate our little successes – sweaty high fives on the trainer after nailing an interval – and understand that being exhausted at the end of thee day means it’s okay that the dirty dishes aren’t going to get washed.
 
The time commitment it takes to excel in triathlon is often a source of  stress for alot of couples. How do the two of you deal with the time  commitment and discipline it requires to compete at the pro level?
Thankfully it’s what we do every day, and it’s all we do every day, so the time commitment isn’t really an issue. Discipline comes more in the finer details, like staying really engaged for a long swim set in the pool, or taking the time to roll out our legs in the evening instead of messing around on the internet.  The fatigue levels can get pretty ridiculous at times and it can be hard to be romantic. We eat out a fair bit, maybe 3 or 4 times per week, to couple necessity with an enjoyable change of pace. We also enjoy feet up activities like watching movies and reading. Little things outside the routine slog of training and shoveling food in our faces so we can go to bed.
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Are there times when you can set the “triathlete” life aside and be a “normal” married couple?
No.  🙂 Even at Christmas we train, go to bed early, and are not really all that fun to be around, if fun involves things that could get us injured, or drinking and staying up late.  I guess we’re normal during our 4 weeks of off season every year.  But our normal is probably still pretty abnormal. 
 
You guys live what appears to be an amazing life…traveling across the  country living in an RV and racing. Who came up with the idea and what  has it been like?
The RV was a dream we had in 2005.  we had a great time camping for the Wildflower triathlon, and thought “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could just race and train all the time….”.  Well, we decided to make that dream happen at 29 years old.  We took a bit of a risk, but, looking back, it was the best thing we’ve ever done. 
When we both had successful jobs, a condo, a car, and were in that ‘normal’ vein of life we realized it wasn’t at all what we wanted.  The RV was the best way to make the leap to being full-time athletes and live as cheaply as possible.  For the first 14 months we probably spent a grand total of $1000 on rent.  We got lucky with friends in Solvang, California who let us park on their property.  A lot of the time we parked on the street and just hoped not to be asked to move along.  During the summer months we would park on our parents’ properties.  Getting to races was still cheaper than flying, despite the gasoline costs.
 
The experiences we’ve had with the RV have been incredible, but it’s not for everyone.  You have to be very compatible to live in a 23ft Class C RV, and the whole point of it was really to be able to afford to commit fully to our training. We’ve found some amazing training locations, made great friends, and been able to see a lot of North America that we never would have seen otherwise.
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What is the most inspiring place you’ve visited during your travels in the RV?
We always look forward to going back to St. George, Utah.  The riding, running, and swimming (open water or pool) is really amazing.  It has National and State parks all around it.  You can get up to elevation really quickly if you want.  Quiet roads.  Running trails all over the place.  We could happily live there, though it gets a bit hot for an RV by late May through early September.
What’s the best thing about living in an RV?
You’re not tied down to anything, anywhere.  If you want to leave you can do so within a couple hours.
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And the worst?
Getting a good WiFi connection can be annoying.  Dealing with the poop tank is never enjoyable.
 
You both blog on your website and are both funny and pretty candid about what the real  life of professional triathletes are like. Are there times when you  wonder if it’s worth the grind?
 
It’s worth it.  We would rather live cheaply with the dream of getting better and winning bigger and bigger races, then resign ourselves to something else.  This is what we want to do.  We can’t think of anything else we would rather do.  No matter where we are when we retire (who knows when that will be), we’ll be extremely happy that we gave it our 100% effort.
What does a “perfect” day consist of?
A perfect race day?  Winning!
A perfect training day? Executing our sessions well, good weather, good food.
A perfect off season day? Sleep, good coffee, baked goods, being outside having fun, topped off with an evening dinner – preferably Musam Curry + Pad Thai, and a movie. 
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Name one thing each of you are passionate about, other than each other or triathlon.
Trevor – awesome triathlon equipment!! 
Heather – really good literary fiction
Trevor, 3 people other than family you’d like to hang out with for a day?

Just friends from around. 

Heather?
Ditto on the friends. I always think that listing famous or inspiring people that you don’t actually know is weird. Maybe it wouldn’t be all that fun to hang out with them!
What kind of music are you guys listening to on your trip?
We like a wide range of music but not country or “today’s biggest hits” pop crap. Classic rock, alternative, reggae, folk, rap, electronic for good beats in training sessions…
If you life were a movie what song would play during the closing credits?
 
“Into the great wide open” by Tom Petty. We’ve had a lot of good life experiences and funny inside jokes involving Tom Petty songs
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Final word of advice for age-group athletes trying to be their best? Marriage advice?

For age group triathletes that have a goal of trying to make it as pro triathlete:

Train very hard.  Harder than you think hard is.  Don’t turn pro until you win your age group all the time.  Don’t quit your job until you’re close to making prize money as a pro.  If you’re a long way off good results while working full time, the gains that you’ll get from full time don’t happen in 6 months.  They take years to materialize.  It took Heather 2 full time years, her 3rd season, before she had an amazing year.  Trevor made great gains by his 4th season full time, and we think season 5 will be the best yet.  That’s on top of 3 other years of hard training built around a full time job.
For age group athletes looking to achieve personal bests:
Train harder than you did last year.  It’s the best way to make gains.  Be consistent with your training. Appreciate that your body lumps stress at work/home into the same pile as training stress, so be willing to adjust things accordingly
 
Marriage advice:
Be patient, honest and listen to one another. Joke around and be friends! We want to hang out with each other.  There’s nobody else in the world we’d rather go see a movie with, grab a beer with, have dinner with, mud wrestle with, or use prepositions to end sentences with.
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You can keep up with Trevor and Heather’s adventures on their website: teamwurtele.com
On twitter: @teamwurtele
I love you,
– Daddy