Heather winning Ironman Japan in May of this year
“Less is more.” That’s the new mantra of Heather Fuhr, who picked up the 15th win of her career at Ironman Japan this May on less than six weeks of serious training.
The win further established the San Diego-based Albertan as one of the most decorated female athletes in the history of the sport. Only Paula Newby-Fraser has won more (24).
Fuhr has toed the line in Kona since 1991, winning in 1997 and finishing second twice, in 2002 and 2004. Known for her blistering run, she still has one of the fastest all-time marathon records on record - a 2:51 split en route to wining the 1998 Ironman Switzerland.
At 38, Fuhr is a bit long in the tooth for most pro sports, although she is still considered in the prime for an Ironman athlete. Nonetheless, after almost two decades of racing, she is facing the twilight of her career.
A reflective Fuhr talks about the upcoming Ford World Ironman Championships. “I think most people do way more training than is necessary to complete an Ironman. I’ve been very conscious going into Hawaii not to make the same mistake I did last year, “she says, referring to her disappointing 25th place finish. Her time of 10:03:06 was almost an hour behind winner, Natascha Badmann.
Heather at Ironman USA 2005 - Photo: Steve Bower
She boils it down to overtraining leading up to the race. More specifically, she says she got back into training too soon after winning Ironman USA in Lake Placid, three months before Hawaii.
“It’s become very clear that I can’t do quite as much training as I did when I was younger. This year, I’ve adjusted my training so that I can get the most out of every workout by spacing the long and hard workouts further apart and taking more recovery days.”
Ironman Japan was a good shot in the arm. Ever more so since she only decided to enter the race after Newby-Fraser convinced her to sign up a few weeks before the race. She hadn’t raced in Japan in 9 years.
She decided to experiment and see how an Ironman race would go with a shorter than usual build-up. That build-up included 5 long rides with Newby-Fraser and 3-4 long runs, all under control.
“After the disastrous run in Hawaii last year, I must say I was a little anxious about the run in Japan. Would my old form return? I started the run, and my legs felt incredible – had I really just swum 2.4 miles and rode 112 more? It was a great feeling.”
At this point in her career, she says she never knows whether she will win another Ironman. “There is definitely something to be said about going into an Ironman fresh.”
Ironman USA 2005 Podium - Photo: Steve Bower
She hopes her new approach will translate into a top-5 finish on Alii Drive. But she cautions that the field is solid with a few surprises in the mix. “Unlike any other year, this year is going to see more of a changing of the guard. Look for some of the young up-and-comers to start making their mark on the race.”
Although she raced the Hawaii course a tireless 16 times, she says it never gets any easier. “The difference is in perspective. I have had almost every experience imaginable during the race. I am more comfortable knowing that whatever the day dishes out, I can handle it!!”
While she doesn’t like to make any specific predictions, she says it’s hard to bet against either Natascha Badman or Michellie Jones who finished 1-2 last year.
And for Heather Fuhr? She says she no longer has anything to prove on the lava fields. “I’ve gone from zero expectations in 1991 to many years of placing an incredible amount of pressure on myself to finish well. Now, if I have a bad race, life will go on. And if I have a great race, it’s icing on the cake.”