Now in its third year, Ironman 70.3 Panama has attracted a cadre of elite athletes on both the men and women’s side. Here, we spent a few minutes catching up with the race’s first two female champions, Canadians Heather Wurtele (2013) and Angela Naeth (2012) about their expectations for tomorrow as well as their plans for the remainder of the season.
Triathlete: As the defending champion, do you feel more pressure going into tomorrow’s race?
Heather Wurtele: There’s always pressure, but I try to look at it positively. It means that people believe I’m a threat to win, and that it’s possible for me to win again. This year the field is really deep and there are a lot of great athletes here. So I’m excited. It’s fun to have the first race of the year against a really competitive field.
Triathlete: Do you feel like you’re truly race-ready this early in the season?
HW: I do. I always have a really fantastic block of training in the winter in Canada. Sometimes I wish I could replicate that right before Kona. For me, that’s the harder part. Just the time on the trainer makes me really strong. I keep it hot and humid in the garage. And I do most of my runs on the treadmill. You just crank up the speed and have to hold on. I find that gives my run an edge.
Triathlete: The bike course has changed to a multi-looped course. How will this affect your race plan?
HW: Last year, I came out slightly behind in the swim, but I was able to catch the bikers on the climb up to the Bridge of America, so it might take me a little longer this year because it’s a bit flatter. Also, the ride over the bridge gave us some nice breeze which we won’t have tomorrow, so it may feel hotter out there. I prefer the climbing courses, but this is going to be a lot more technical with all of the turns and running, plus the age-groupers on the course gives it a different dynamic.
Triathlete: You’re known as a strong biker, but you still have one of the faster runs in the sport. What would you consider your major strengths, then?
HW: I feel like I’m pretty solid across the board. I’m usually not out with the front pack of swimmers, but usually not too far behind. The ride is where I can get my way to the front. But I’ve come off the bike second or third and ran my way to the front, too. So I’m happy that now everything is consistent and running is my strength.
Triathlete: Is Kona the big goal for you this season?
HW: Kona is always a big goal, and I’ve had frustrating races there. I never felt like I’ve achieved what I’ve been capable of in Kona, so it’s always the battle to get ready for that big race. I really do love racing, and I have trouble putting all of my eggs in the Kona basket. So I’m doing Ironman Canada—I’ve always wanted to race there, and my husband is the defending champ–so that’s exciting. And also that the Mont Treblanc 70.3 is in Canada, I really want to do that race, too. Next up, I’ll be doing Los Cabos at the end of March…partly it’s just to validate my Kona spot and to get points as well. Otherwise, I’m looking forward to racing well tomorrow and having a great season.
Triathlete: You won this race in 2012, but didn’t race here last year. What made you come back in 2014?
Angela Naeth: Panama is a great place to be. I had an awesome experience when I last raced here in 2012, so I was looking forward to coming back. It’s also a way to get points for Kona.
Triathlete: As a returning champ, do you feel you have a pretty good idea as to what to expect tomorrow?
AN: I have no idea, actually! The course has changed to a 4-loop course, so it’s so much more tactical. I just know to be very aware of my surroundings, since there are more turns and more people out on the course. Although the loop courses I’ve done before have been really fun. You feel like you’re in an actual bike race, and it’s a great opportunity to race strong.
Triathlete: You’ve excelled at all of the distances of triathlon—Olympic, 70.3, and Ironman. Which do you like best?
AN: I’m definitely better the longer the race. But Olympic-distance racing is great because it’s fast from the get-go and over so quickly. As for Ironman, I’ve only done one, and I have a lot to learn. [Editor’s note: She finished fifth in Ironman Lake Tahoe in September.] It’s a new ballgame.
Triathlete: So will you be racing any Ironmans this year?
AN: My plan is to race Kona. It’s been my dream since I started triathlon. I don’t think you can find a professional triathlete out there who doesn’t want to be a world champion. I’m excited to take this next step with my coach, Mark Allen. Who better to guide you into Ironman than him?
Triathlete: You’ve never raced in Kona, but have you been there?
AN: I actually went recently for a part-training trip, part-honeymoon with my husband, Paul [Duncan]. We got married, kind of on a whim, after Ironman Tahoe in September. I guess you’d call it an elopement. We decided to do it, grabbed a few of our friends, and went to Lake Mead to have a wedding. It was awesome.