Heather Jackson Hits Her Bike-Run Stride

After five weeks of the “train more, race less” approach in Boulder, Jackson is ready to contend for a 70.3 Worlds title.

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After five weeks of the “train more, race less” approach in Boulder, Jackson is ready to contend for a 70.3 Worlds title.

Heather Jackson’s 2012 focus was to speed up her run. Formerly known as a strong cyclist, the third-year pro showed a transformation into bike-runner with promising results this year: She ran a 1:16:10 at the Carlsbad Half Marathon in January, a 1:20:51 half off the bike at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside (the day’s fastest run split) and a 1:21:08 at the hilly Wildflower Long Course Triathlon en route to a course record.

To get her run times down, Jackson lost around 20 pounds, which meant losing some of her muscular strength on the bike. “My bike power definitely isn’t the same as two years ago, but that happens when you lose 20 lbs of fat/muscle,” Jackson says. “In return, I can run 1:18s off the bike instead of 1:30s. That’s been the search: finding the balance between the two.” (Learn more about that balance here.)

Going into this weekend’s Ironman World Championship 70.3, where Jackson finished fourth last year, the 28-year-old may have found the perfect balance for a viable shot at the podium. Instead of racing often to prep for Vegas, Jackson—who normally lives and trains in San Diego—chose to spend five weeks training in Boulder, Colo. She had never been to the popular triathlete training spot, and after going on her first ride there while visiting, she decided to stay before heading to Las Vegas.

“I love San Diego; the laid-back vibe, the beach, but it still has that same kind of vibe in Boulder,” Jackson says. “Where we were staying, you could ride for five hours out the door and hit one traffic light. It’s refreshing. You’re in the mountains, and coming from New Hampshire, it reminded me a lot of home.”

So far her decision to forego racing the past month has proved to be beneficial—she’s had a solid five weeks of swimming, biking and running at altitude with no injuries or illness. Her agent/boyfriend/coach Sean Watkins (aka “Wattie”) has been an integral part of her training. “He basically runs the workouts and keeps me from going overboard,” Jackson says. When she swims, he videotapes her stroke. When she does run speedwork, he rides alongside on a mountain bike to give her water. He also helps her recover with post-workout massages.

Jackson has incorporated new mental approaches to racing in the last few weeks. Although she had a decent fourth-place finish at Ironman 70.3 Vineman in July, she says, “I was definitely fitter than my performance—it was more mental and tactical errors.” Her swim has typically been an area of frustration. “I have a tendency at the start of the race to think ‘Oh god, here comes the swim, I’m going to be five minutes back.’ But now I think, ‘I’m going to be out a few minutes back, but I can ride with you guys, if not out-ride you, so watch it.’”

Her motivation also picked up from swimming open water every Tuesday and Thursday at the Boulder Reservoir, practicing sighting (which she says she’s “horrible” at) while wearing her speedsuit. She’s been chasing Ben Hoffman, Joe Gambles and Richie Cunningham around the 1000-meter loop for an extra challenge. “I actually looked forward to it. There are no lane lines. The sunrise is gorgeous. It’s way better than ‘Oh great, let’s go Masters.’”

The consistent training and renewed motivation may be the key to a podium finish this Sunday. Jackson has regularly ridden 95 miles every Wednesday, sometimes with the likes of Julie Dibens, and has incorporated a lot of hilly strength running. “I’ve definitely had a more focused block with the bike,” Jackson says. “Instead of just riding hard up a hill, we would plug in intervals, VO2 max sets—much more specific. Not only do I feel stronger on the bike, mentally I feel a thousand times better given that that was my strength a few years ago and it gave me the strength to get up to those girls. I feel like I got back to that here in Boulder.”

Jackson will compete this Sunday, September 9, at the Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Henderson, Nev. The pro race starts at 6:30 a.m.

RELATED: Heather Jackson’s Tips For A Strong Triathlon Run

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