Interview with neo-pro Amanda Wendorff
Amanda Wendorff had a lot of success as an amateur triathlete, with a multitude of age-group wins, including a 70.3 World Championship title in the 35-39 age group. This year, Amanda decided to up her game by racing as a professional. We wish her the best of luck in her rookie season!
JZ: Please tell us about your sports background. Did you participate in sports in high school and/or college? How and when did you get started in triathlon?
AW: I spent many of my formative years in the water, swimming year-round from age 7 through high school. I also ran track and cross country in high school and was a middle-distance specialist. For two years in college I ran track at the Division One level—or more accurately, I was on the track team, as I spent most of those two years injured and barely raced or trained. After my sophomore year of college, I hung up my spikes and turned my attention towards academics and career, where it stayed firmly planted for the next decade or so. I exercised during that time, and even ran a couple marathons during law school, but for most of my 20s, I was relatively inactive.
I started triathlon in 2010 at the age of 30. I’d been practicing law as a corporate litigator for the previous four years, had gained a lot of weight, and was really starting to see the negative effects the constant stress of my career was having on my health. I needed some sort of healthy, social outlet. I knew I could swim and run, and figured riding a bike couldn’t be that hard, so I found a local group to train with and entered the Steelhead 70.3. I took to the sport pretty quickly, enjoyed feeling like an athlete again, and re-found within myself a passion that had been buried for some time.
Describe the progression of your amateur career.
With a relatively late-life start, I had a steady, although somewhat quick progression as a triathlete. That first year I competed, 2010, I was really just learning the sport and trying (not always successfully) to stay upright on my bike. I trained hard and got through the Steelhead 70.3, my goal race, but I also injured my knee and that fall had microfracture surgery to repair an osteochondral fracture. The surgery was relatively routine but the rehab quite extensive, so 2011 became just about re-building.
2012 was the year I started to take things seriously and to work with a coach. I started to show some real promise, qualifying for my pro card for the first time, generally finishing on the podium in my age group in Ironman branded races, and completing my first Ironman.
From then on, I just steadily progressed and checked off the boxes. In 2013, I first qualified for and raced at Kona, and had my first overall amateur 70.3 win in Racine. In 2014, I qualified for Kona again, won another 70.3 (Puerto Rico), and then, in a complete surprise, won my age group at the 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant. Had Kona gone well that year, I might have gone pro at that point, but it didn’t—I collapsed at mile 11 of the run with a combination of hyponatremia and dehydration (yep, that’s possible). So I decided to try to give Kona one more shot, headed to Ironman Arizona five weeks later to chase a slot, and was the first amateur finisher there.
In 2015, I had a great result early on with a win and huge PR at the Texas 70.3 but then was injured for most of the summer and didn’t do much racing. I managed to heal up in time for Kona and left the Island was a prized umeke bowl- 3rd place in the 35-39 age group. At that point I decided to make the jump to the big league.
Why did you decide to race as a professional?
My decision was certainly based more on heart than rationality! My primary motivation in this sport, from day one, has been to maximize my potential and to find my limits. More than anything else, I’m driven by a personal quest for greatness and mastery. To that end, I felt that the best way to truly break through and to see what I’m made of was to line up, every single race, against the very best women in the sport.
What have been the biggest challenges making the transition from an amateur to a pro?
Honestly, my biggest struggles have not been in the swim-bike-run realm, but in the race- planning realm. I’ve wanted to use this first year as a pro to race frequently and gain experience, but there are just so few pro races these days and it means a ton of travel.
And, while my decision to go pro was very deliberate and thought out over the course of a few years, I’d be lying if I didn’t feel totally terrified, a lot of the time, about the financial implications of what I’m doing. But, to me, it’s a risk worth taking.
In terms of racing itself- it’s a totally different dynamic. The swim is faster and more important, the bike more strategic but also much more lonely. In the two 70.3s I’ve done as a pro, I’ve swum and biked much harder and started the run way more fatigued than I ever did as an amateur. I’m still getting the hang of it but I’m finding this style of racing to be a lot of fun and definitely a challenge.
What was your pro debut race and how did it unfold?
My official pro debut was last fall at Ironman Cozumel. After Kona, I wanted to get one pro race under my belt before the off-season just to have a taste of the dynamics of racing at this new level. However, while a valuable learning experience in some regards, it was not a good outcome as I had three flat tires within the first 30 miles of the bike and didn’t finish the race.
I called a do-over on my debut and opened up 2016 with the Puerto Rico 70.3, one of my favorite races. I went in with low expectations, and just wanted to be competitive—meaning, not last place. There were 16 starters, I believe, and I wanted to be Top 15. However, I surprised myself! Swimming harder than I ever had in a 70.3, I managed to hang with a pack of about 6 ladies, exiting the water in 8th place. I promptly lost a couple places in transition (rookie!) but within the first 10 miles of the bike had worked my way up to 5th place, where I rode, totally solo, for the vast majority of the race. I was passed by one woman towards the end of the bike, but was excited (and surprised) to be starting the run in 6th place.
The run in Puerto Rico is notoriously difficult- very hot, humid, and hilly, and I turned my focus completely inward, doing what I needed to do to keep moving forward (i.e., using each aid station as an ice buffet) and basically ignoring everyone else until the last 5K. The run turned out to be a battle of attrition and I was struck by how dynamic the pro race is, with frequent changes in position. During the run, I moved between 6th and 7th places several times, making the final pass into 6th (the last money spot) with about a mile to go. It wasn’t a fast run but I held it together well in tough conditions. I was beyond happy to be in the money, and to stand on stage later that afternoon at the awards ceremony with women like Sarah Haskins and Linsey Corbin- ladies I’ve looked up to for years. It was a bit of a surreal moment.
Which races do you have on your schedule this year?
The biggest benefit of being a pro is being able to plan the season as it goes. For now, I’m planning to do the Chattanooga 70.3, and then a Pacific Northwest tour in June with the Victoria 70.3, followed by the Coeur D’Alene 70.3 two weeks later. Beyond that, things are somewhat up in the air, although I am hoping to do an Ironman in August (maybe Sweden) or September and then at least a few late season 70.3s—hopefully one or two overseas.
What are your short-term and long-term goals in your professional triathlon career?
My goal for this spring and summer is to race frequently, take risks, and really learn how to tackle a pro race. After that, my big goal is qualifying for next year’s 70.3 Worlds in Chattanooga, so I will use the second half of 2016 to try to start accumulating points. Long-term- it’s hard to say. At 36, I am very cognizant that my time as a pro is limited, so I really want to make the most of this experience by going to amazing places, seeing the world, and checking off some bucket list experiences. Pie in the sky goal? I’d love to race on the Big Island again. Is it possible? Not sure, but it’s pretty fun to dream.
Do you work outside of triathlon? If so, what do you do and how do you balance training with working?
Yes, at this time I am still working part-time as an attorney. I found a firm that allows me amazing flexibility – I am in the office twice a week and do some more work from home the other days. I’ve been very fortunate- the legal field is not known for allowing a work-life balance – but I’ve got a good gig. My coach generally schedules my training such that my “in office” days are lighter from a training perspective so I can get what I need to get done before and after work, sometimes with a short run at lunchtime.
Additionally, I coach a handful of triathletes, runners, and cyclists through Multisport Mastery, and also coach at Well-Fit Triathlon Training Center in Chicago.
While I have great flexibility, I am still working a lot to make ends meet — I’m just fortunate to be able to fit it around my training sessions.
What is your favorite workout and why?
It’s hard to pick one workout! However, of the three sports, my favorite by far is cycling. I just love to be on my bike. While my training program is generally very structured (as I like it!), I think my favorite workouts are 3—4 hour unstructured rides with cyclists who are faster than me, when I can basically disregard the power meter and heart rate monitor and focus on nothing more than just not getting dropped. I learned how to bike well by simply riding with stronger cyclists, and I’m constantly in search of riding buddies who are just a little (or lot) faster than me. In my mind, there’s no better way to improve than to throw away the data and just try to hang on. It might mean an epic blow-up in the middle of a cornfield (I’ve been there!) or an emergency gas station stop for 5-hour Energy, bot those are the rides that give me the most confidence come race day.
Is there a race you are most looking forward to doing and why?
I am really excited for the Victoria 70.3 / Coeur d’Alene 70.3 double in June. This will be my first multi-race trip, and the races are two weeks apart. While I’ve watched many pros do back-to-back long course races with relative ease, it will be new territory for me to race two 70.3s this close together and I’m eager to see how my body responds. Plus, I love that area of the country and am excited to spend some time riding my bike on new routes and seeing friends out there.
Give a shout out to your coach and sponsors.
My long-time coach is Elizabeth Waterstraat of Multisport Mastery- we’ve worked together for the past 4+ years and she is still finding new ways to challenge me. This year, I’m happy to be representing Coeur Sports and TriSports.com. I’ve also gotten valuable support from Base Performance, ROKA, and Achieve Orthopedics.