They said it: Heather Jackson's journey from hockey to Kona

Heather Jackson finished third at this year's Ironman World Championship and looks to be on track to continue her steady improvement in Ironman racing. caught up with the American last fall at Challenge Aruba.

| March 24, 2017 | PERSONALITY

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

Heather Jackson opens her 2017 season at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside next weekend. Today's TriathlonLife column revisits an interview we did with the American last fall after her big day in Kona.

After finishing fifth in 2015, it was hardly a surprise that Heather Jackson moved up two places in the finishing order to take third last year at the Ironman World Championship. A former collegiate hockey player, Jackson competed as a track cyclist for a time before turning her sights on triathlon and becoming one of the best in the world over the Ironman distance.

We caught up with Jackson before Challenge Aruba, just 10 days after her big race in Kona.

You can listen to the entire interview on our podcast here. At the finish line in Kona I had a quick chat with your coach Joe Gambles and he said that you’d had a near perfect year of training leading up to the world championship.

Heather Jackson: What I did in my prep and my season and all the work I put in across the three, it paid off, and doing those little things right actually helped and worked and everything came together. It’s so easy for an athlete to do that and put their heart and soul into one race and one race day and it might not be a good day. You could have any little thing go wrong – you could get a flat tire, you could cramp up, you could drop your nutrition on the bike … there’s so many things that can happen and make you go from top of the world to not, so when it comes together it’s a day to be grateful for.

It’s motivating  and inspiring – I feel like I made the next step and can I make another step.

After you came fifth last year, a lot of us on the media side of things anticipated that you’d go better this year, but it’s a lot easier for us to make predictions than it is to actually make all that happen.

I had a lot of fans and supporters who said “you’re going to improve on that,” but there were also people who said “it was a lucky day last year” – you always want to prove those people wrong and that I’m learning this distance and it wasn’t a fluke. I’m so happy to have done that. It was a year that came together. Joe (Gambles), who is now coaching me … he’s incredible, but part of it is that he’s also a racer and for me it’s been huge validation to do a workout, or string together weeks and weeks of workouts and have him be complementary and say “not so many pros are able to do this.”

For me this year it was consistent – he’d put a week of training in, I’d do it, we’d evaluate and he’d put the next one in. It was consistent and I think that’s so important. I had an injury a few years ago and that set me back a whole season or more. If you can stay healthy and injury free and do that, its so huge and you can up your game in all three.

Joe is so observant – he can critique any little thing in all three sports. For the three disciplines for me it’s been learning new form with my swim, new approach and tactics with my swim. My bike training has completely gone 180 in some of the workouts I’ve been doing, so I’ve been completely reinvigorated with my training.

Do you ever look back and wonder how a Princeton hockey player ended up on the podium at the Ironman World Championship?

[I often wonder] What if I’d grown up swimming? Those are four to six minutes that people who grew up swimming have. I’m from New Hampshire and I grew up on frozen water. I seriously did not start swimming until post-college. It’s been seven years now.

What are you looking forward to working on over the next year and leading into Kona?

I improved my swim this year by three or four minutes – relative to the group that I was eight to nine minutes behind last year. I was only a minute behind Rinnie, who was two-minutes quicker this year. If I’d just made that jump to her group in the swim, maybe that would have changed things for this year. So, for me, if I can get two more minutes this year … on the bike I think I can get a few more minutes out of myself … and the run, I know I can run faster than that. I ran a 3:07, and I think I can run a 3:00 or 3:02.

I’ve got 10 minutes I can work for this year.