Triathlete editor-in-chief Julia Polloreno caught up with Heather Jackson on the heels of her runner-up finish at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship this past Sunday.
Triathlete.com: It’s been a busy and successful season for you, with wins at Oceanside, Alcatraz, Wildflower and a few second-place finishes at big races, and of course your recent runner-up finish at the 70.3 world championship. Is there anything in particular you can credit for such a banner year?
Jackson: I think just having teamed up with Cliff [English, her coach] and coming in with this progressive, calculated plan targeting what I wanted. It was a steady, consistent season for me, whereas in the past I’d have a good race, and then a horrible race—it was just so up and down and I didn’t necessarily know why I was doing something in training or why one day would go well and another wouldn’t. I told Cliff that Oceanside, Wildflower and Vegas were the three I really wanted to go after. The other races mattered to me but he targeted and built the progression around those. There was less pressure than in the past, where every single race mattered so much. It was more about the end goal—Vegas.
Triathlete.com: When you put all the emphasis on one goal—Vegas—how do you not let that pressure become counterproductive? How do you use it as a driving force instead?
Jackson: There was kind of this switchover for me. It took the pressure off early in the season because everything I was doing was preparation for Vegas—getting that experience and learning from racing. Then it was a pressure cooker in the final three weeks. [Her fiancé] Wattie experienced a few blow-ups [laughing]. I was just getting so nervous. I would miss a mile repeat by five seconds and be in tears. Having him by my side definitely helped me to tone it down. Then on race morning I just kept saying, ‘It’s just another race on any other day. Don’t think if it as ‘your entire season has been towards this race.’’’
Triathlete.com: I know you’ve been doing a lot of mountain biking in Bend. How did that factor into your training?
Jackson: I was on the mountain bike the first two to three weeks of my seven-week build for Vegas, when those weeks were more about long miles, not too much specificity with both the running and the biking. I think I was on my TT bike once a week then. I was doing three to four mountain bike rides, and we’d just go out for five to six hours. The trails in Bend are just crazy. You have such a focused block the three to four weeks before Vegas that I think it was a good break. I think mountain biking has definitely been helping my TT riding because I used to ride at like 65-70 rpms and that can be somewhat detrimental when you get to the run, depending on how much you load up. Now I’m more up to like 80 rpms. It keeps the mind fresh too—you don’t get bored. It’s so much fun and the time goes by so fast. You have to be focused on what’s on the trail ahead of you.
Triathlete.com: If you look at the mountain biker that you were in Maui last year [for the Xterra World Championships, which she will race again this year] versus the biker that you are now, what’s the difference?
Jackson: Wattie grew up mountain bike and BMX racing, and having that time with him on the bike has helped me out a lot with picking up new techniques with cornering and stuff. I’ve definitely improved technically and for Maui now I know the course and the kind of training to do and what to expect there. Hopefully that will pay off.
Triathlete.com: Can you take us through your race on Sunday?
Jackson: I was actually just looking at the swim times—I’m so frustrated! I know fitness-wise I’m there, it’s more positioning in the water. Whenever I went to sight I’d be all the way over to the left and thinking, ‘what the heck am I doing over here?’ It was just a lot of zigzagging—I don’t know what was going on. The goal was to go all-out the whole time and minimize the gap onto the bike. The ITU girls were obviously going to push hard to get a gap and I knew I was going to be around three to four minutes back, and unfortunately it was closer to four. It was just a matter of who I could get out with, and I targeted [eventual winner] Mel [Hauschildt]. I knew she was probably the biggest competition and I lined up with her and she had a green cap on so I could see her. I was on her feet until the turn-around, but going around the buoys there was this big bunch up and that’s where there was a group of 10 to 12 girls that got off the front and Mel was in the middle of them and then there was a few of us—me, [Angela] Naeth, Cat Morrison. I think I just need to be more aggressive, sight better. The goal was to go really hard the first 10 to 15 miles of the bike, on the super hilly part, to push a big gear on the ups and the downhills and try to get away from the big group and try to get as much time back as I could. I ended up out there with Naeth, who’s obviously a strong cyclist, and we were kind of going back and forth on the way to the turnaround but kept getting caught up in groups of people. It’s tough because you get into your groove and then there’s a line of like eight people. I got to the turnaround and thought, ‘this is just getting frustrating,’ so I went all-out for about 10 minutes up one of those hills. I looked back and no one was there and then it was just about the last 25 miles—head down and just trying to keep my pace up. It was ‘push as hard as you can, what you know you can do from your training, but not go overboard because you know that you have a good run now.’ It was about having confidence in my run and confidence that the ITU girls were probably pushing really hard at the front and just knowing that if you’re going to push it that hard on the bike you’re going to pay at some point. It was just patience, patience, patience on the bike. I knew I needed to get off the bike in front of Mel for any shot, so I knew that was gone, but I also knew that maybe the ITU girls didn’t have the endurance, so just tried to keep it positive and tell myself that I knew I could do it and that I’d done it over and over in training. I had that final lap as part of my plan with Cliff, knowing I could pick it up then when the short-course ITU girls were hurting…I think it was the final ¾ of a mile when I passed Anabel.
Triathlete.com: What’s on the rest of your racing schedule for the year? What are some of your long range goals for 2014?
Jackson: Next week I’m doing Cross Vegas and the super-sprint, then Ogden [Xterra National Championship] then we’re driving back to Bend. Then we’ll make a quick trip to the LA Triathlon because it’s a big Herbalife [a sponsor] event. Then we go over to Kona for race week, then over to Maui.
Triathlete.com: Do you have thoughts of racing Kona?
Jackson: Yeah, definitely. Cliff if really pushing it right now. I really wanted to target the half so it will still be another year probably. I’m going after Mt. Tremblant now [site of the 2014 Ironman 70.3 world championship]. My guess is I’ll try to go for 2015. Cliff keeps slipping it in there.
Triathlete.com: Seems like you bring a lot of energy and personal style to this sport. What are some of your cultural influences—who or what are you drawing on?
Jackson: I think it was just realizing that making yourself known in the sport beyond your racing has value—connecting with your fan base and relating to people. I came from a boarding school, East Coast, khakis-and-polo style. I remember one time I was singing to Pink—I love Pink—and Wattie said, ‘you’re so much like her, you should express yourself and feel comfortable being yourself.’ She’s just herself and does her own thing—I like that.
Triathlete.com: It sounds like balance and having fun is important to you. I’ve seen Wattie’s Instagram feed, I know you stop for beers during rides!
Jackson: [laughing] Yeah, I think balance is key. I definitely go into lockdown where I watch what I’m eating and drinking, but one beer? It’s actually proven that it’s good for you! We’re very into little details adding up to make or break your race, but some things aren’t those little important things you need to worry about.