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Without a doubt, Kona burns in the mind of American favorite Heather Jackson. In order to improve on her third-place finish from a year ago, Jackson aims to satisfy her Kona qualification standard with a finish at Ironman Boulder Sunday. The twist? She’s getting that Kona qualification done well earlier than in years past. Will that decision provide her the rest (and resulting bounce) she needs to move a few steps up the podium?
Triathlete.com: You’ve made Tucson and Bend your training bases, but you decided to come to Boulder a few weeks ago to acclimate. Is the Boulder Bubble all that it’s cracked up to be?
Jackson: I definitely can feel the altitude. I even feel it when we get to Tucson, so that tells you something! And maybe it’s where I am for the race right now, but it seems super busy with traffic… a lot of cars around the last few days.
Triathlete.com: Was completing an earlier Ironman as your box-tick Kona qualifier something you planned on at the beginning of the year? Obviously, you can’t defend your Ironman Lake Placid title from a year ago, being that it’s a male-pro-only event this year. Ironman Boulder seemed to fall nicely in line, early in June, instead of late in July.
Jackson: Yeah, I had to figure out a different plan. My options were to travel to Europe, or come here to Boulder a month early to acclimate. To fly somewhere, get jetlag and deal with that is not ideal. Altitude isn’t either, but it’s the better of the two options for me.
Triathlete.com: We remember your win at Ironman Lake Placid last year held a special place for you.
Jackson: It was. I wanted to win that race so bad. I mean, I played hockey there when I was younger, so I was so excited for it. It was as close to a home race as you could get.
Triathlete.com: Knowing you are an emotionally fueled racer, will it be hard to replicate that emotion here in Boulder?
Jackson: Of course, I want to win this weekend, but yeah, I don’t have the tie to this race—or many others—that I do with Lake Placid. But for this weekend, I’m ready and trained, so I want to tick the box. The one thing I am happy about is I’ll be able to save the emotions I experienced… and maybe save that for Kona! It was a bit of a rollercoaster. It does take it out of me.
Triathlete.com: Is getting the Kona box ticked early primarily to set you up for an earlier recovery, and a more gradual ramp into Kona in the fall?
Jackson: I think so… at least that’s the plan. I was so, so stoked with Kona last year, but on the day—in comparison—Lake Placid was a better day. There, I felt great on the bike, generated my highest power, got off, and felt like running. With heart rate and pacing, it felt like I was out for a Sunday jog.
Kona is always going to be a different scenario for every athlete but regardless, for me, I reached a better peak at Lake Placid last year, and it was hard to reach it again in Kona. August was a big rush to get recovered.
Now, where I’m racing an Ironman much earlier, it’s not as big a ramp up. That means I’m not as deep into an Ironman block of a month of longer rides or runs. I can get a long day out there this weekend, fully recover and build back up in July and into August. By then, I’ll be where I am now—but fresh.
Triathlete.com: Has your coach (Australian pro Joe Gambles) been pretty instrumental to this change in your program this year?
Jackson: Joe’s been behind it, and it’s been great having him provide that structure. He actually wanted me to do an earlier Ironman so I could be fully recovered and hit Chattanooga [for Ironman 70.3 World Championship] as well, but I may pass on that one. I get so mentally invested, I would actually see it more taking from my Kona prep. To take a week to taper to race the top girls, then a week to recover, it takes from that focused block. I know for some it’s part of the training bur for me it takes away.
Triathlete.com: What’s the plan for the rest of the year? With so much focus on improving in Kona, is another heat camp in Tucson going to be the plan again?
Jackson: Yep. After this weekend, we get back to Bend, which we’ve been excited for. The rest of the month will be recovery at home there. I have a few 70.3 races through the summer, then after that it’s back to Tucson. Seriously when I get to Kona, it doesn’t fell that hot. It’s moist, but you’re so used to real hot, Kona just doesn’t feel that bad!