Spring Check In: 2018 Season Kick Off at Oceanside!
I am getting ready to kick off my 2018 season at one of my favorite races in the world!! I chatted with editor and long-time friend Brad Culp about my off season and how I'm feeling going into Oceanside 70.3 for a Wattie Ink. feature:
Heather Jackson knows how to have a good time. She’s almost always smiling or laughing, and usually it’s both. She’s not afraid to throw back a few pints or glasses of wine during the off-season. She knows the importance of letting her body and mind relax after spending 10 months laser focused on the singular goal of crushing the Ironman World Championship. It’s an exhausting endeavor, and a little downtime at the end of the season is as important as the big training blocks that get her ready to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Daniela Ryf and Mirinda Carfrae.
But as with all things, moderation is an important virtue. Jackson admits that for the past two seasons, she’s let herself have a little too much fun after big performances on the Big Island. In 2015 she had a breakthrough fifth-place showing and the party was on. In 2016 she made her way onto the podium, finishing third, which was an even bigger cause for celebration.
“It was a full-on party afterward,” she says. “Then we got this epic winter in Bend and Wattie and I would snowboard every other day. All of a sudden February rolled around and I was like, ‘Shit—Oceanside is eight weeks away!’ The start of last season felt super rushed.”
Last year’s fourth-place finish in Hawaii was bittersweet for Jackson. It’s hard to be disappointed with fourth place at a race as competitive as Kona, but after going from fifth to third, finishing fourth felt like taking a small step back. Sure, her time of 9:02:29 last year was nine minutes better than her third-place time from 2016 (not to mention 19 minutes faster than her fifth-place time from 2015), but no matter how you dissect it, fourth is not as good as third.
But maybe fourth place was a blessing in disguise. The post-Kona party was significantly scaled back this winter, and it helped that Mt. Bachelor had one of its worst snowfalls in recent years. Instead of spending the off-season ripping up the slopes in Oregon, she and Wattie spent the winter in Tucson, and the tinge of disappointment she felt after last year has made it much easier to get refocused on the big goal of becoming Ironman world champion.
“I know I have limited time to go after Kona and race at this level,” she says. “So I have to put everything I have into these years that I have left. I’m just more focused than ever because of that. There’s no time to waste and I’ve been in the sport long enough to know what I need to do.”
As has been the case every year since 2011, Jackson’s season will begin with Ironman 70.3 Oceanside this weekend, a race she’s won twice and finished second at on three occasions. She has plenty of history in San Diego’s northernmost suburb. When she first met Wattie and decided to move to San Diego to try to make it as a pro, the two actually lived on the run course. But Jackson isn’t heading to her former hometown this weekend for the sake of nostalgia. Under the guidance of coach Joe Gambles, Jackson has already put in a 15-week block of training that started right after Thanksgiving.
“I’m much more focused and motivated coming into this year,” she says. “It’s not like the motivation wasn’t there the last couple of years, but this year feels different. We’re way ahead of where we were at this point last year. I feel like my fitness is already where it was in the middle of last summer because of the block we just put in.”
Gambles training program has no doubt been effective for Jackson over the past two years, but it’s not for those who need a lot of variety in their training. Gambles is very methodical in his approach and has had her doing basically the same workouts each day of each week, with small increases in distance, time, speed or power as her fitness increases. It might not sound like the most exciting regimen, but it’s all about the accumulation of marginal gains. And it works.
“It can be tough, because you always know what’s coming, and sometimes it’s a workout that you might not be looking forward to, but it also makes it easy to track progress,” she says. “The schedule is the same week-to-week, but each week we just add a few more intervals, or maybe a little more time to each interval, or maybe a little more power on the bike. It’s a super calculated approach.”
Tuesdays have been Jackson’s biggest days throughout this 15-week block. It’s what Gambles calls “race simulation day.” Each Tuesday she’s started out with a long ride in the morning with a handful of hard intervals, then she recovers as much as possible during the afternoon before a tempo run in the evening. Each week both workouts got a little harder and a little longer, and the rest got a little shorter. It all culminated two weeks ago with a 65-mile hard ride followed immediately by a 12-mile tempo run to give her body a close simulation of the effort she’ll have to put out in Oceanside this weekend.
Jackson will need every ounce of fitness, and maybe a little bit of luck, to pick up win number three in Oceanside. The start list is likely the most competitive we’ll see at any 70.3 race other than the world championship this season. She’ll be going up against 2016 world champ Holly Lawrence, two-time Olympian Sarah True, and run phenom Anne Haug, just to name a few. While the goal is to win every time she lines up, Jackson knows this is really just another stepping stone on the long road to Kona.
“Every race is a good check to see where your fitness is at, but we never lose sight of the big goal,” she says. “This is just the first of many checkpoints leading up to Kona. And Joe is so calculated. He has the whole year planned out. Regardless of what happens this weekend, we both know the work we still have to do to get to where we want to be in October.”