Wurtele tops Whistler's last Ironman Canada 

Kelowna resident posts consistent day en route to victory

click to flip through (2) PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - Kelowna's Heather Wurtele (centre) celebrates her Subaru Ironman Canada win alongside runners-up Jen Annett (left) and Kelsey Withrow (right).
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • Kelowna's Heather Wurtele (centre) celebrates her Subaru Ironman Canada win alongside runners-up Jen Annett (left) and Kelsey Withrow (right).
 

Subaru Ironman Canada began its Whistler history with a Wurtele win, and that's just the way it's leaving, too.

In 2013, the first time the race came to Whistler, Trevor Wurtele came away with the pro men's win. In its last running before moving back to Penticton on July 28, his wife Heather ran away with the pro women's division, finishing in nine hours, 20 minutes and 41 seconds (9:20:41) to best Penticton's Jen Annett by 7:02. Kelsey Withrow of Walnut Creek, Calif. came third, 17:47 back of Wurtele.

"It's very cool. They're two of the most meaningful wins for us, too, so that's nice," Wurtele said. "It was a really big goal for me and that was motivating me all day."

Wurtele battled with eventual fourth-place finisher Dede Griesbauer of Colorado on the bike course before pulling away in the final stanza.

"On the bike, I was riding pretty well and Dede was just going pretty hard that first loop. I was just trying to stay patient," the 40-year-old said. "Sure enough, she faded at the end of the ride so I was able to get to the front before we got off the bike. I felt really strong at the end of the bike and the first bit of the run I was like, 'Sweet, this is a good day.'

"But an Ironman is always tough, so it'll always come back to bite you a little bit at the end."

Wurtele felt "awful" after crossing the line as she transitioned out of race mode, as minutes after crossing the line strongly and confidently, she creakily ascended to the top step of the podium. It was Wurtele's sixth full-distance win and first since 2014 as she's focused primarily on the half-distance 70.3 event in recent years.

"You go from giving all you have and then you can't even climb up on the podium after your legs are so shot," she said. "You know you've given it your all."

While Wurtele said the weather conditions were near perfect apart from being a tad chilly early in the bike, Annett said she was "freezing" coming out of the water and "For the first 70 kilometres [on the bike], I could barely even take my water bottle out to get my nutrition in. I missed a couple of water bottles at the aid stations because I couldn't even take them out of people's hands because my hands were so cold," the 34-year-old said. "My feet thawed out at 130 kms."

Annett said she achieved one of her two goals, securing a slot in the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. While her late push in the run significantly closed the gap on her Okanagan rival, she wasn't quite able to overcome Wurtele for her first-ever Ironman win.

"I'm not going to lie, I had my money on her to win," said Annett, who also placed second in 2017. "I'm happy for her and I'm happy about my Kona spot, so I think it was a win-win for us. It's nice to have the Okanagan girls first and second."

Annett said while in a typical race, she'd excel on the bike and get passed during the run, that didn't happen this time around. With a new course lined up to challenge athletes with more elevation gain than any Whistler offering before it, Annett adjusted her strategy to stay fresher later.

"I knew that if I went too hard on the bike, then I was definitely going to pay for it," she said. "I stuck to my plan. I don't know if I could have biked any harder and had the same type of run."

Withrow was the first out of the water, six seconds ahead of Wurtele, but proceeded to fall behind on the bike course before rallying on the run.

"I've had a few good marathons, and I didn't feel that great today, but I had some moments where I felt good, too. When I knew I was gaining on third, that was when I just killed myself," she said.

Wurtele said she plans to decline her World Championships placement, meaning that Withrow would take the second available spot. Withrow, an International Triathlon Union and Ironman 70.3-distance veteran, was thrilled to punch her ticket in her first year of seriously gunning for it.

"I've tried so hard to get this darn Kona spot and I knew that if I just stayed tough that I could do it. It didn't look like it after the bike. I was like, 'Oh man, I don't know how I feel,' but I was really excited," the 37-year-old said.

For her part, Wurtele said focusing on Hawaii ate up a fairly significant portion of her career and moved to a different stage with different focal points.

"I'm not going to go to Kona," Wurtele said. "I've focused on that race so many times in the past and I like really tough courses, but not tough because it's hot and humid, tough because of the terrain like Whistler. I'm just kind of over the Kona thing.

"I wanted to come win this race to win this race, not just to qualify."

Full results are available online at www.ironman.com. For more Ironman coverage, check out Page 58.

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