Whether they’re traversing the West in their RV or cutting wacky race report videos, Canadian super-couple Trevor and Heather Wurtele do things their own way.
Morning swim of 4,500 yards at the Kroc center, a great pool in Coeur d’Alene. … After that swim we did a quick little grocery shop and hit the road for a couple hours before stopping for a run in Montana. I’m not really sure where we were—before Missoula a ways. … An awesome 55 minutes of running and exploring.
This meandering road trip in the American West would be a dream come true for many triathletes. But for Trevor and Heather Wurtele, it’s just a couple of stops along the way. This is their life, a typical blog entry for the couple, just part of their journey from Canada to California last winter for training camp.
They’ve become best known in the triathlon world as the Canadian pro couple with the RV lifestyle. But if you’ve been hearing about them more and more, it’s because they’re lighting up long-course racing. Heather is a four-time Ironman champion, and this year has had strong finishes at competitive races, including a course-record win of 9:16:02 at Ironman Coeur d’Alene, runner-up finish at Ironman 70.3 California and a victory at Rev3 Quassy. Trevor, a consistent top-10 finisher in the half-iron and iron distances, won Ironman 70.3 New Orleans last year, and took second this year in the same race before winning Ironman Canada.
Considering they didn’t even start triathlon until their mid-20s, they’ve come a long way in little time. While many of their competitors were racing in junior programs, they spent their adolescent years in Canada skiing and mountain biking. And up until they became interested in triathlon, Trevor literally didn’t know how to swim, and Heather had never ridden a road bike.
“We did adventure racing before we did triathlon,” Heather says. “We were pretty into that for a couple years, but it was extensive equipment-wise, needing kayaks and everything. And we kinda sucked at orienteering, so we didn’t like racing and getting lost.”
Actually, let’s back up. Heather and Trevor, who live much of their lives together in a 23-foot RV, grew up together in Vernon, British Columbia, in the Okanagan Valley. They went to high school together—and were partners in chemistry class—but “just good friends.” They say they went their separate ways in college, but got back together when they both moved to Victoria for work and postgrad study. They led an active lifestyle, and, after seeing local hero Peter Reid win Ironman Hawaii in 2003, Trevor had the urge to do a triathlon.
He signed up for the 2004 Ironman Canada, did a few lead-up races, and finished in 11:09:06.
The following year the couple moved to Norway for a year, where Heather worked toward her Ph.D. (which so far remains unfinished) in plant genetics and forestry. They came back in 2006, and trained hard as age-groupers, with lots of promising results. After a year of racing, Heather got her pro card in 2007—partly out of frustration, you could say.
“I remember being annoyed because I went to Vineman in California and finished fifth,” she says. “But I was an age-grouper, so I didn’t get any money! If I were a pro I could have at least gotten something. Because that’s kind of where all our money went to outside from work—buying equipment and paying to go to races and stuff.”
An “aha” moment came on their second trip to the Wildflower Triathlon, after sleeping in a tent the year before. They drove down from Canada with friends in a truck with a camper on top. “On the way down we’d sleep at a rest stop, and when we camped it was pretty convenient,” Heather says. “We were like, ‘Huh. We can do this.’ And we didn’t want to have a mortgage and monthly bills because our income was really unsure.”
So in 2008, when they had fully committed to becoming professional triathletes, they did what many pros do and walked away from promising careers—Trevor as an international currency broker, Heather as a scientist for Natural Resources Canada. Then they did something almost no pros do: walk away from their condo and most of their earthly possessions and buy an RV—a 23-foot Ford Regal (purchased at discount from a place called Repo Depot), which they have called home ever since.
“We’ve been here for four and a half years,” Trevor says. “There’s times where we think maybe we should just rent a place, or get out of it and find something more permanent. But it’s just so convenient because we’re never in one place for the entire year. It seems like such a hassle when I see these athletes who have to rent places in two or three locations and move all their stuff. We can just pack up in half a day, and we’re wherever we want to be.”
They got a rude awakening that first winter—one of the most severe in famously mild Victoria: 5 feet of snow, minus 10 degrees (Celsius) outside at times. Among other inconveniences, they were forced to ride on the trainer inside the RV, and wondered to themselves what they’d done.
But in February 2009, the rubber first met the road: They pointed the Ford Regal south to California. It was the start of a stressful year, they both concede, learning how far they could go in the RV, stretching their income and navigating the difficult, uncertain road of being first-year pros.
“People think, ‘Well, you’re a pro now and you get to train all the time, so the results are all of a sudden just gonna come,’” Heather says. “It doesn’t work like that. You really have to learn how much is too much. We were training really hard because it was all we had to do. We were learning how to do it properly—and how to recover.”
By early 2010, they only had $3,000, an RV and their triathlon gear to their names, with no sponsor salary. And even though these two can really stretch a dollar if necessary—commuting by bike, never eating out, parking on a friend’s property—they admit that at that point, things were getting a bit stressful. So they could finally breathe a sigh of relief at their first huge victory: Heather won Ironman St. George that year, and the couple knew they wouldn’t be starving anytime soon.
Heather followed up with another great year in 2011, and the pair had racing breakthroughs in 2012. They’re reaping the rewards not only of working with coach Paulo Sousa for three years, but also of refining their RV lifestyle—which meant becoming a bit more settled.
“The first year we drove around a lot, but it works a lot better if we can just set up shop in one location and then train for a few months,” Trevor says. “It’s all well and good to be able to move around, and we certainly love that, but you can end up spending too much time on the road. I think a lot of the reason we didn’t have the year we could have had the first year was we didn’t have a permanent, set location, so a lot of the energy went into just finding a place to park the RV, and just little things that add up throughout the year.”
Nowadays they spend most of summer in Kelowna, British Columbia, near Vernon. They fly to long races, but if the drive is less than 12 hours, then they take the RV (they know all the best roads, sights and stops by now) and are able to roll into town early to get acclimated.
They’ve also worked with their coach on optimizing their lifestyle. “Stuff like picking good venues, spending more time at a location, minimizing driving time, and also the timing of the trips,” Sousa says.
Sousa, who has experience coaching couples (including Brandon and Amy Marsh), has the Wurteles focusing more on their own races. “The most important thing is to coach each of them as an individual and not as a couple,” Sousa says. “They might have a lot of workouts that are gonna be the same, but still make sure you’re not compromising the training of the other and vice versa.
“When I started working with them I felt that when they were racing together they had some trouble focusing—they always had the other in their minds because they’re tremendously supportive of one another.”
But Sousa also thinks that the power of a couple can also have positive benefits. “The fact that Trevor has improved so much has made a huge difference for Heather in terms of motivation, and in terms of seeing that things for Trevor are going as well as they’re going for her. It’s a more positive dynamic for sure.”
And they’re clearly having fun. Trevor’s quirky race reports on YouTube have gone viral. He’ll recap his races—the good and the bad—with race photos, double entendres and corny pop culture references from “Top Gun” to Elvis to “Anchorman.”
The positive dynamic is paying off in their performances as well. Heather in particular can put together a killer run—her half-marathon at Quassy was a blazing 1:22. And they both think the best is yet to come.
“We got started in the sport pretty late, so we have a good number of years left at it,” Heather says. “There’s just so much left to improve—especially the swimming for both of us. Not long go we were like, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to make a living as pro triathletes?’ We made a big leap and we’re doing it—and we’re starting to see results.”
You can bet that they’ll be documenting it every mile of the way.
The Long Haul
Trevor and Heather Wurtele have become road-tripping virtuosos. They live in Canada and often drive to Southern California and St. George, Utah, for training (and train along the way), and have all the routes down. “The limiting factor of seeing really cool places is our need for a pool,” Trevor says. Here are some of their favorite places along their two main routes.
“The Ponderosa Pine forests there are amazing for training. That place is awesome.”
“One area we’d love to go back to was where we spent most of 2009—in Solvang. There’s really amazing riding and running—and wine—but we’ve just never really found our way back there.”
“There’s a really nice rest top in … where is that?” “The middle of nowhere, Montana.”
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
“The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is an old railway converted to a 73-mile-long paved asphalt that’s a cycling-only path. So you can go through this long ride through beautiful scenery in your TT position, winding down this perfect path—no cars or anything.”
St. George, Utah
There are some state and national parks in Utah that are always pretty amazing. We love Sand Hollow, which is the start of Ironman St. George. Zion National Park too. Snow Canyon, where the bike goes, is amazing for sure.”