Heather Jackson's Rookie Ramp Up

This year, a spiky-haired, tattooed, former hockey player from New Hampshire will be jumping in Kailua Bay for the first time as a professional triathlete.​

Thirty-one-year-old Heather Jackson—a crowd favorite on the race circuit—will join a small group of rookie pros on Saturday who are ready to make their stamp on the IRONMAN World Championship. 

Known for her consistency at the half-distance, Jackson stepped up to IRONMAN late last year at IRONMAN Arizona, where she struggled with her nutrition. This year, Jackson—who last did this race as an age-grouper in 2008—approached her season hoping to gather enough KPR points to qualify for Kona. Despite not finishing where she'd hoped to at IRONMAN Texas, her June victory at IRONMAN Coeur d'Alene solidified her place on the world's stage this month. 

Below, Jackson shares her thoughts on pressure, the nutrition Rubix cube, changes in training, and the Kona experience. 

Pressure Cooker

"I put so much pressure on Texas. I went in with such specific expectations and a plan of who I'd ride with, etc. After that we said 'all right, we just need to calm down; if we get to Kona we get there.' It's the added pressure of going into an IRONMAN with that as a goal versus just thinking of it as another race—as I would Oceanside or Wildflower."

"I was much more relaxed going into IRONMAN Coeur d'Alene. I knew what I could swim and bike—I just wanted to put one together, basically. By then I had been so down on myself, I already had it in my head that I would be focusing on (IRONMAN) Austria instead. It took the pressure totally off. And obviously I had a good day there."

Liquid lunch

"I had a horrible day in Texas. At mile 80 I started seizing up and cramping. I did not have a good nutrition plan for the heat. Right after that, the focus went completely over to nutrition. For my long rides it was no longer about seeing how hard I could push, nutrition was all I worried about. It was just like drinking, drinking, drinking, and following my nutrition plan."

"I've switched to pure liquid nutrition. After Texas, I reached out to Jesse Kropelnicki at QT2 systems, purely for the nutrition side. (Jackson is still coached by Cliff English.) He upped my bottles to three 200-calorie bottles an hour, from a bottle and a half plus some bars and gels here and there—versus just trying to get the calories in. I'm no longer eating bars in 100-degree race weather." 

"Nutrition is the number one thing I've worked on since Arizona. You can get off and walk, or you can actually be able to run off of your fitness. I run 20 miles on Sundays, but you can't run that if you're getting off a 100-mile bike with nothing in the tank."

Photo Gallery: Heather Jackson in Kona

Full Circle 

"Kona was my goal in triathlon back when I first got into the sport. I came into the sport late compared to other triathletes and Kona was the only race I knew. As far as turning pro and making it my career, I took my time. It's been all about making the choice to step up at the right time. To finally be at this point racing it as a pro when it was the goal way back then, it's exciting. I keep having to tone myself down!"

Course Recon

"When I'm out on the lead bike (Jackson has done the women's leaderboard for the past few years) you see just how quickly things can change. One person who looks like they're dominating gets out to Hawi and all of a sudden they're getting passed by everyone. It's the same thing coming past the airport, with only 15 miles to go of a 112 mile ride  and people can start cracking—it's crazy the amount of time you can lose. It's the same on the run: you go from being on track for a three-hour marathon to a four-hour marathon in the last 6 miles. It can happen to anyone."

The Jackson Factor 

"This is not what I'm going to do, but Cannondale got me this amazing new bike, I was like 'damn, now I'm going to have to TT up to the front just to get a few minutes of TV time!' I need to have a good swim to limit my loss their. Once I get out of the water—time to go to work."

"You're going to have that front group that always rides together. I'll be out there probably alone somewhere in the middle, riding my ride. I've been in races where it's surge-y and you have to make choices to stay with others or let them go. I'm going to go out there and race my race and see where it puts me."

Kona Support Crew

"My parents here, and so is my stepbrother, who has never come to one of my races, which is exciting. A couple of friends are coming out to support me, too. It will be good—to have those very familiar, calming friends."

Training Changes

"It's a different mindset with IRONMAN training. On Fridays, I'm on the couch thinking about the next day—which is usually an eight or nine hour days. With halves, I used to get scared for Saturdays because the efforts were so hard. With IRONMAN—it's just a different kind of pain ahead."

"I came into IRONMAN so gung-ho, like how I train for the half-distance. This year, Cliff (English) has been pulling the reigns back a little. It's a different perspective on training—you don't get so caught up on the seconds here or there when you have longer efforts. I'm still doing the speed stuff, but you have to place it within this bigger context. If you're off by a second here or there it's not the end of the world."

Soaking in Aloha

"I love Kona! You step off the plane and it's the island smell—I love everything about the town. Lava Java and getting an acai bowl and the poke shack—all the things everybody does, but it's like 'yeah because they're awesome!' I love the vibe of the whole week. It comes and goes so quick and Kona's gone for another year.

Taper Time

"I actually like the final week holing up—we always say I'm on the couch 'caging the beast.' Just sitting there, waiting, counting down. It gets me excited.

Rookie Camp

"I'm a rookie at any race I haven't done yet. In that sense, I would've been a rookie going into Coeur d'Alene, too. I'm trying to view Kona as any other race. You can do the homework—know the course, know how hot it's going to be, know the aid stations. I'm going in as prepared as I can be."

Originally from Ironman.com

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