Heather Jackson’s New (Off-Street) Journey

Heather Jackson’s New (Off-Street) Journey

This text initially appeared on Path Runner

Heather Jackson has lengthy been a fan favourite within the lengthy course triathlon world. Her electrical smile, shock of platinum blonde hair, and mosaic of tattoos make her arduous to overlook on race day.

Though Chelsea Sodaro formally broke the 26-year drought of an American girl successful the Ironman World Championship by breaking the tape in 2022, Jackson obtained the ball rolling on that quest by being the primary American girl in 10 years to get on the rostrum by coming in third in at Kona in 2016. Jackson has an extended listing of different successes within the sport: quite a few Ironman wins at marquee races like Ironman Lake Placid and Ironman Florida, fiery bike and run splits that put different execs on discover, and a number of World Championship finishes all through her professional profession.

Now, Jackson is prepared for a brand new problem: one that may take her off the crushed path, actually.

Heather Jackson’s New (Off-Street) Journey

(Picture: Patrick McDermott)

A Kona Farewell Tour

When the world shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes each professional and beginner had a freedom to discover new alternatives to journey in methods they by no means had earlier than. For triathletes particularly, pool closures meant little-to-no swimming for over a 12 months, throwing a bunch of highly-regimented folks for a loop.

Jackson selected to embrace the possibility to alter up her swim-bike-run routine that she had adopted religiously for the previous 11 years of her skilled triathlon profession.

“I noticed a life in 2020 the place I did not need to be on the pool day-after-day,” Jackson stated. “Paula [Findlay] and Eric [Lagerstrom] had been down in Tucson with us for 3 months in 2020. We spent these three months tenting, path working, and driving off-road. It was wonderful.”

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Even earlier than 2020, Jackson knew her years left at Kona had been going to be few by alternative. “In 2019 I completed fifth in Kona,” Jackson stated. “It gave me confidence that I used to be nonetheless robust within the sport after a troublesome end in 2018. However even again in 2019, I used to be beginning to acquire curiosity in a number of the gravel bike occasions that had began popping up.”

Jackson quietly determined that, earlier than the pandemic occurred, 2020 could be her last 12 months going “all in” on Kona. The off-road pleasure of gravel was calling her identify too strongly to disregard.

In fact, Kona was canceled in 2020. Jackson was prepared to delay her farewell look to 2021…till 2021 was canceled, too. Jackson described feeling devastated and pissed off that her want to foray into gravel must wait one other 12 months – she was decided to have a real goodbye to Kona and forgo the race that had been so necessary to her for the previous decade. Lastly, in 2022, Jackson obtained her likelihood to have a last shot on the largest race of the 12 months for skilled lengthy course triathletes. Jackson opted to make her construct to Kona as enjoyable as attainable after feeling she had misplaced a number of the enjoyment of the game because of the a number of Kona delays over the previous two years.

“The construct to Kona began to really feel a bit boring,” Jackson stated. “It was like, ‘Okay, right here goes one other 5 hour experience with some 30-minute cardio intervals.’ I did not need to really feel that means heading into Kona, so I modified issues up.”

Jackson combined in path working and gravel driving to her Kona construct and even did Ironman Lake Placid on three weeks of coaching, for enjoyable (as solely triathletes can do).

“After switching up my construct a bit, my aim was to have enjoyable each session,” Jackson stated. “I made certain to maintain my perspective gentle and optimistic so I arrived in Kona feeling able to go and never burned out.”

Regardless of toeing the road with a slight chilly, Jackson ended her last run in Kona by putting sixteenth.

The Transfer to Gravel

Jackson wasted no time in stepping into the gravel scene post-Kona. She raced the Large Sugar gravel race, a 100-mile bike race in Arkansas, on October 22 (simply two weeks post-Ironman) and was the 14th feminine general.

Much more impressively, Jackson lined as much as race the Javelina 100-mile path run race the weekend of October 29 and 30, one week after Large Sugar.

“I signed up for Javelina as a result of it’s a large, scary problem completely not like triathlon,” Jackson stated. “There are murmurs that I’m making an attempt to get my Western States Golden Ticket, however that is not true. I simply need to end and have a completely new race expertise.”

Jackson completed the race because the fifth feminine general and led the ladies’s race for 60 miles. No Western States golden ticket this time, however we do not suppose it will likely be lengthy till Jackson secures one if she so chooses to make {that a} aim.

Jackson famous that her foray into gravel and path working stemmed from a rising predictability together with her triathlon racing and coaching.

“I’d line up for an Ironman and suppose, ‘Right here we go. Standard usual,'” Jackson stated. “It wasn’t a lot that I finished appreciating the game, however I felt that for me personally, there have been different kinds of racing that had been grabbing my consideration greater than triathlon.”

The newly-minted hundred mile path runner gained confidence in her capacity to proceed to be a dominant athlete when she educated with shut buddy Paula Findlay. “Paula is likely one of the greatest triathletes on this planet,” Jackson stated. “To have the ability to sustain together with her throughout lots of our coaching periods collectively was stunning – in a great way – to me and confirmed me that I nonetheless have extra to present in sport.”

The unpredictability and dynamics of off-road racing are what most excite Jackson. “Gravel and path races are a very new world for me – and that is thrilling,” Jackson famous. “I will be racing in new locations, assembly new folks, studying new techniques and methods.”

Whereas she will not have a coach for now, Jackson will seemingly convey on a veteran off-road marketing consultant to assist her plan future seasons and strategize her targets on this new area.

Wanting Forward

After racing Kona, Large Sugar, and the Javelina 100 all in lower than a month, Jackson is understandably taking a wholesome offseason this winter. She hasn’t launched her race schedule for subsequent 12 months, however we wait with bated breath.

In reflecting on her triathlon profession, Jackson commented that what made her skilled days so particular weren’t essentially the races or the podiums, however the relationships that helped her get to the various begin traces throughout the years.

“What I am going to miss essentially the most about triathlon just isn’t a lot the racing, however coaching with my group of shut buddies,” Jackson stated. “The sensation of accomplishment you get from ending a giant coaching block alongside different triathletes additionally constructing to their large day is wonderful. I am going to miss it for certain.”

Jackson is aware of all too effectively how frequent it’s for triathletes to really feel locked right into a coaching routine. “I hope to indicate different triathletes that if there’s one thing exterior of triathlon you need to do, it is attainable to realize it – and you do not even have to depart the game,” Jackson stated. “I spent the primary years of my skilled profession religiously ticking off my exercises. I now know it is higher to alter issues up mentally and bodily than be so singularly centered for years at a time.”

Now that it is the offseason for many triathletes, we are able to all take a web page out of Jackson’s guide and do some exploring. Whether or not you are seeking to get began in path working, gravel racing, and even snowboarding or snowshoeing, do not be afraid to skip the deliberate exercise of the day every now and then to pursue one thing that makes your inside hearth burn brighter.

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