Pros prepped for Whistler's final Ironman Canada 

First-timers eager to get their chance on vaunted course

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - IN THE WATER Ironman athletes will take to Alta Lake's waters for the last time on Sunday, July 28.
  • File photo by Dan Falloon
  • IN THE WATER Ironman athletes will take to Alta Lake's waters for the last time on Sunday, July 28.

Ironman pro Heather Wurtele is no stranger to Whistler.

The Kelowna resident has been in town regularly for the Subaru Ironman Canada race supporting her husband, Trevor, who won in 2013 and was third in 2016. But she's never actually raced it herself.

That will change on Sunday (July 28) as the five-time full-distance winner and nine-time 70.3 half-distance champion will line up in the final event held here in the resort. Ironman and the City of Penticton announced a return to the Okanagan earlier this month.

"I thought Whistler was a pretty spectacular venue, honestly," Wurtele said. "It's such a beautiful part of the world and every time I've been there, the support on-course has been phenomenal and it's always had a great vibe for me."

The race will mark a return to longer distances for Wurtele, as she has done primarily 70.3 distances in recent years, but with great success. This year, Wurtele won in Campeche, and has three other podium finishes so far, including third at the North American Championships.

"It's been a really refreshing change for me," she said. "Early on in my career, I did mostly fulls, and I was really focused on the World Championships in Kona. Then I started racing really well at the half-distance and I thought, 'If I can win these races, they're easier to recover from, you can do more of them in a year.'

"But last year, after the [70.3] World Championships in South Africa, I jumped into Ironman Wales last minute. I just had a blast remembering how [a full] Ironman is a little bit more of an adventure. It's such an epic event."

Wurtele is particularly excited for what should be a challenging bike course, as she'll hope to take advantage of her challengers' fatigue and finish strong.

"I like it when it's hard and everyone has pretty tired legs getting onto the run," she said with a laugh.

Jen Annett, meanwhile, will compete in Ironman Canada as part of a quick turnaround. She took third place in Frankfurt, Germany at the end of June and will line up here less than a month later.

"I'm tired, but I know that some of that fatigue is from training and some is from the race. When race day comes, I'll be feeling good. In all honesty, this is how I feel before a race," she said with a chuckle.

While the Penticton resident generally likes to space out her full-distance races a bit more, having two close together has worked in the past.

"I'm really not too worried about it. I had five weeks between Kona and Arizona last year and I had the best race of my life in Arizona," she said. "I hope I can do that again."

Annett will have history on her side, as her last two Ironman Canada events have gone well. She took third in 2015 before rising to second in 2017.

"The win would be amazing," she said. "My ultimate goal would be to walk away with a win, and then a Kona spot [for World Championships], which would go hand in hand."

Annett has enjoyed success at the Whistler event, but she's also glad to see Ironman return to her hometown, which hosted it from 1983 to 2012.

"It was here for 30 years. It put my hometown on the map. The race here in Penticton is where it all started for me. This is where I watched and raced my first Ironman," she said.

Another contender for the final Whistler crown is Jodie Robertson, who will line up for her first race of the season because, as a full-time teacher, she is unable to take weekends to race during the school year. As well, she switched coaches in the offseason and wanted to take the opportunity to fully reset.

"I wanted a little more time for me to settle in to a new routine," Robertson said. "It's definitely a change in philosophy, for sure. It's, for me personally, brought back some of the excitement and the fire that I was looking for.

"Everything I'm doing is more effort-based as opposed to before, where things were a little more numbers-based."

Like Wurtele, 2019 will be Robertson's first Whistler race. The 2017 North American champion is eager to hit the ground running.

"I've heard it's a challenging course. There's lots of climbing on the bike, so that's pretty exciting," the Melville, N.Y. resident said. "It sounds like a very fair and honest course. I think you're going to see a lot of separation amongst everybody, putting your head down and do your own thing out there."

CHANGE TO BIKE COURSE ANNOUNCED

This year's riders will hopefully have a bit more space to manoeuvre after a slight change to the course was announced.

This year's full Ironman course will take riders all the way up Callaghan Valley Road to Whistler Olympic Park and once competitors have returned to Highway 99, they will head south to the south end of Daisy Lake before turning around and returning to Alpine. That would make the course two laps instead of the three circuits from 2018, when the course was changed dramatically after the Village of Pemberton voted in 2017 against supporting further Ironman events beyond the initial five-year contract.

Race director Christine Cogger said athlete feedback was the driving factor in making the adjustment.

"By creating a two-loop course, it's not easier physically by any stretch, but I think that mentally, it's going to be a bit easier for the athletes," she said. "There's no question that it was crowded [in 2018] and that definitely came into part of our decision."

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