Catching up with Heather Jackson

Fifth-, third- and fourth-place finishes at the Ironman World Championship over the last three years makes Heather Jackson one of most consistent Kona performers. We catch up with the American star as she looks back on her 2017 year of racing.

| December 22, 2017 | PERSONALITY

Heather Jackson runs out of T2 just ahead of Sarah Crowley at the Ironman World Championship.

Heather Jackson runs out of T2 just ahead of Sarah Crowley at the Ironman World Championship.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon In the wash up of Kona did it meet your expectations in terms of results?

Heather Jackson: Hmmmm. This is such a tough one. I definitely wasn't expecting a certain result; anything can happen on any given race day, especially in Kona, where the conditions are so harsh and everyone is in peak World Championship shape taking different risks out there. So I didn't go into Kona with any expectations, but I definitely thought that if I executed according to how my training and preparation had gone, I believed I could be on the podium again. Coming in one step off the podium was definitely a little bittersweet for me, but I'm also not unhappy with fourth.

For you on race day what were the crux moments?

Oh man. There are a couple of different key moments that I literally keep playing over and over in my head. One was on the bike on the climb to Hawi when I realized that I was closing the gap to Daniela and Sarah Crowley. This helped me stay on the gas on the entire descent as well as when I turned back onto the Queen K heading back towards town. I got the gap down to about a minute when I started to feel myself fading a little bit and questioning whether I was pushing too hard or was taking in enough calories. This also happened to coincide with when Daniela took off in the final 20 miles. She described that moment after the race, that she just put her head down to go after Lucy up the road. So all of a sudden she was under a minute up the road to not even in sight and so I thought I was completely bonking and had pushed the first 80 miles too hard. My attitude went from so positive and enthusiastic to down and questioning if I was totally blowing up... But I just keep asking myself if I had made a push just a bit earlier than that point so that I could have closed the gap up to Daniela and Sarah on the bike, how would things have played out differently? Would I have been that much closer to Lucy or Sarah? Would I have had an even worse marathon because I would have completely blown up? I feel like it's so easy to play over and over in your head how things could have gone differently.

Same with the run...There were about five different crux moments on the run that I can't stop replaying in my mind. I took off out of the run transition fast trying to get a bit ahead of Sarah as we were leaving T2 at the same time.  But about four miles in I had to go to the bathroom really bad, so I popped into a porta-potty quick and she got back by me. So, out of the bathroom, I took off again and got back by her and felt great through about the first half of the marathon. To be honest, I wasn't focused on Crowley that whole first half of the marathon, although I knew she was right behind me that whole time. I was really more focused on trying to close the gap to Lucy Charles, who was in second. But then, as I got close to the Energy Lab, I went through a bit of a rough patch. I started to feel a little dizzy and my energy drop and that's when Sarah made her move. She got a gap on the climb out of the Energy Lab and it was like I was in slo-mo and couldn't respond. But then I came back around again a few miles later and was trying to make a hard surge to get back up to her, as she was in sight only about 20 seconds up the road. She obviously held on in the end, but I just keep asking myself if I could have gone with her when she picked up the pace in the Energy Lab? Did I fight hard enough? Could I have done anything differently?

How much of the season revolves around Kona? Are you going to divest yourself more going forward?

My whole season revolves around Kona. I want to win that race. For me, that means everything revolves around building my fitness progressively towards October and saving as much energy both physically and mentally throughout the year to put towards the prep for Kona and for that one race day. That said, there are definitely bucket list races out there that I want to make it to at some point, as long as they fit into a smart lead-up to October. I'm still trying to sort out 2018 but I definitely want to make it to Australia at some point! I've still never been and I also need to see a real life Kanga!!!

Jackson hugs coach Joe Gambles after her third place finish in Kona in 2016.

Jackson hugs coach Joe Gambles after her third place finish in Kona in 2016.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

As a burgeoning favorite and superstar of the racing season how do you balance demands and performance?

You are too kind. I am taking this question as meaning the demands outside of races? The other commitments and sponsor obligations I have had in the last few years has definitely increased. That said, I am so grateful to all of my partners for their support and making it possible for me to do this full time. For me, fulfilling other demands beyond performing well at races is part of my job. It's a two-way street with all of my partners and we try to make sure we are doing all we can to help my sponsors and give back and not just take. We do try to do a lot of the other demands - photo shoots, interviews, visiting offices, shop talks, etc. during this time of year (November and December), or else in the weeks that follow a race where I am recovering and not necessarily training a ton. I am also so lucky to have Wattie (Sean Watkins), who helps schedule things and makes sure when it's time to focus 100 percent on training I don't have other things to worry about.

What was the key thing you took away from this season?

I need to swim better. And I need to run better. Plain and simple. Now it's just figuring out what will crack the code for those two for me on race day. I think in the swim, it has a lot to do with confidence at the start and being better tactically, as I've been getting faster and faster in the pool, but it's not translating into the open water. On the run, I nailed a few key marathon sessions in training that suggested I could run better than I did in how do I get that sort of run out of myself on race day? These things have been playing through my head since 3pm October 14.

Your social media game is one of the best in triathlon, how important is it for you to continually provide a moving stream of content? Does it become a drag? 

Again, you are too nice. For me, social media is an important part of my profession. I am lucky enough to have some incredible sponsors who support me in so many different ways including financially, which obviously allows me to do this as a full-time career. My social media is a way for me to represent myself not only as an athlete chasing my dreams, but as a representative of the brands who support me. I 100 percent endorse all of the companies I work with and products I use and so my social media is a way to convey to fans or followers exactly what I'm using, or how I'm working to get faster as a triathlete and with social media they can follow along. Wattie always says to me: "people want a glimpse into your life," so that's what I try to provide. I never find it a drag to share what I'm doing, it's more a matter of brainstorming how I can switch some of my posts up. Lots of times I realize I post the same sort of running or biking picture over and over, so it's trying to be creative in the images or videos we put out. 

Who do you like to follow on twitter outside of the sport?

I find myself on twitter less and less, but I guess I use it primarily for news headlines. It's easy to wake up and catch the major news stories on twitter, but I more enjoy everyone's pictures on Instagram. I follow a much bigger variety of non-triathlon related accounts there - lots of breweries showing their latest brews coming out, lots of winter sport athletes or mountains showing how much snow they've got, or lack of - Mt. Bachelor! I also like any pictures/videos of little kittens, puppies, kangas or pandas.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

How do you keep yourself motivated during the off season? What tips would you give to age groupers heading into their hiatus? 

I guess, for me, the whole point of my off season is to get re-motivated...Kona is such a final big push both physically and mentally that no matter how hard I try each year to keep racing (I thought possibly Ironman Arizona this year), I just can't mentally get myself out the door anymore for an early morning 6 km swim or a hard ride or run. My mind, and therefore my body, just says no. So my off season is that full mental and physical break of no structure or "required" training until I feel motivated again. Once that's back for me, I have no issues staying motivated back in my training schedule, it's just taking the needed time for it to come back. I think that needed time, or someone's "off season," is so subjective to each individual athlete. Only you can know when you feel fully recharged.

I guess my tip to age groupers is to not feel guilty doing absolutely nothing triathlon related for an extended period of time. You shouldn't put your head down and get back into a rigid training schedule until you feel motivated to do so. For some people, that may be after only a few weeks and for others, it might be a few months. I think it also depends on how much you invest of yourself into that final race of the year, or rather the whole season- did you race a lot or a little? Did you sacrifice a lot for your training and build up of that final race? So many things go into it so I believe it's just a matter of being able to read your own body and being in tune with yourself.  

You and partner Sean have shown a real entrepreneurial streak. Is this where it is all headed post career? 

Thanks so much. I credit the entrepreneurial side all to Wattie. He has such a creative, think-outside-the-box approach to everything, including business ideas. I definitely know that my career as a professional athlete has an expiration date so I want to make sure I'm ready for whatever the next step will be. I assume for awhile it will include coaching, camps and more full time focus on our apparel company, Wattie Ink. but then probably something totally different and unrelated. Wattie always has crazy other ideas going on in his head, so I'm sure post-triathlon will be some sort of business venture of sorts.

Thanks for sending some time with us. 

Thanks so much.