Heather Jackson says “an entire mental reset” triggered by renowned coach Frank Jakobsen saved her 2021 season, culminating in that epic victory at IRONMAN Florida earlier this month.
The 37-year-old beat a stacked women’s PRO field at Panama City Beach after getting the better of a duel with Skye Moench on the run. It was a result and a performance which did not seem possible a couple of months ago.
Speaking in a video on her YouTube channel, Heather admitted: “I couldn’t have imagined a better way to cap off 2021 season. Especially after having a pretty up and down year.
“To have everything come together on a race day, that’s a huge huge ask – I mean everyone trains so hard and works their butts off. So to have it come together against the women’s professional field that we had there on Saturday – so many amazing women there.”
Heather reflected at length of how she had arrived at that magical moment in Florida – and how her season changed massively for the better during a break in August.
Heather Jackson on 2021
“It hasn’t been a very easy year for me – I feel like I was kind of off all season to be honest – coming off COVID and last year with everything cancelled and not racing and you come back to the races and I know personally I didn’t have that confidence going into race having not raced in so long.
“And also just dealing with continued cancellations, postponements, not really being sure on schedules, races changing – and then on top of the ones that I went to early in the year, not having the races I knew I could put together.
“Tulsa, I was fourth in May – and it’s not about the result, it’s just about putting the Ironman I thought I could do and I didn’t have that there. i struggled on the run a bit.
“Decided to go to Coeur d’Alene and had the complete tire explosion blowout that ended my day early, which was just frustrating because I love that race – it was my first Ironman win there so I wanted to have a good one there. So kind of down from that.
“Went to (Lake) Placid, had a great battle with Lisa Norden there, but just by mile 20 ran out of nutrition. I had a tough day on the bike keeping the calories down. So just little things all season long.”
They say that what doesn’t break you makes you, and that is certainly the case for Jackson. She believes those tribulations all provided valuable learnings, and set her on the road to that win in Panama City Beach.
“I’m so excited and stoked with those races and what I learned from them, because that led to this past weekend,” she reasoned.
“You take everything from every race but still it was just kind of an off year. So when it does come together it makes it that much sweeter. The lowest lows in our sport make the highs just incredible.”
The biggest event of all in Heather’s return to her best came during that summer break, with a phone call to Jakobsen. The rest is now very much history.
She explained: “After Placid – I knew yeah I needed to change something, primarily with the nutrition in that one, but just in general – having been training literally through from last October/November, I raced in December. We hadn’t really taken a break since the prior October. I think everything just hit me after Placid. We kind of took a little mid-season break, and I did a lot of reflecting, a lot of thinking.
“I knew stuff was off with what was going on – in terms of just with everything. Training, where I was at mentally, my confidence so we kind of took a step back, did our own thing in August.
Frank talks, and a reset
“I’m super grateful to every single coach I’ve had the opportunity to work with in my entire triathlon career, and I’ve learned so much from all of them. I think sometimes different people can come into your life that you don’t realise at the time are going to have such a huge, profound impact on where you’re at.
“In August we were chatting a lot with ‘Crowie’ – Craig Alexander – who I have massive respect for, he has supported me my entire career in various ways.
“He made a suggestion to talk to his friend, his confidant, Frank Jakobsen. He helped ‘Crowie’ throughout his career.
“So what started as a couple of phone calls turned into numerous phone calls. Just started talking with this guy and turned into, primarily for me a mental boost completely.
“An entire reset mentally in terms of confidence, how my mind was thinking, how I was thinking about racing, my training – on top of obviously making some shifts in what I was doing for training.”
It was a refreshed and energised Jackson who met in person with Jakobsen in September and it was then they hatched the plan to go to Florida.
“It was crazy even in those first few calls with Frank, and then we had the opportunity to meet with him in person in September up in St George. Yeah, it was like we’re all in, we have nothing to lose at this point.
“With the cancellation of Kona in August I wasn’t sure what to do really. I was in that hole that I was just mentioning. I suddenly felt rejuvenated and I wanted to go after one more. We looked at the remaining calendar and saw Florida and said ‘we’re all in’.”
On to (IM) Florida
With the plan in place, Heather – supported as ever by husband Sean ‘Wattie’ Watkins – went all in to make it a success.
“So the last seven weeks since mid-September was basically all in, following Frank’s guidelines,” explained Heather.
“We treated IRONMAN Florida like we treated Kona in the past. Seven-hour rides every week just so we could practise the nutrition aspect – which has been a huge shift. Just every little thing.
“I feel like you and I always pride ourselves on leaving no stone unturned in our prep and training and racing.
“But it’s crazy I feel like what we’ve learned in the last couple of months of other things that we were just leaving out there in terms of recovery, eating correctly before and after training and a bunch of other little things.”
Now, with Florida in the rear-view mirror, Heather can reflect happily on what she’s achieved, and ahead to big things to come in 2022.
She said: “Honestly yeah, I can’t thank Frank enough for literally re-shifting my entire season to be able to end on a note like this. And also to just get me excited for next season, 2022, especially coming out it looks like we’ll have Kona next year – knock on wood.
“Just the general re-motivation, re-excitement. I’m stoked. We did everything for seven weeks and the work paid off and I’m entering a little break now but I’m more fired up than ever for next year’s racing.”