photo credit: IRONMAN/Nils Nilsen

Coming off her attention-grabbing 5th place finish at Ironman World Champions this past year, American Heather Jackson is ready to kick off her 2016 season at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. As a 2-time champion, with wins in 2013 and 2015, Jackson knows the ins-and-outs of this course well. Heather breaks down everything from the closed bike course to post-race hot spots for us.

LAVA: Not only are you a 2x Oceanside Champion but this will be your 6th time racing. What brings you back year after year?

Jackson: I feel like Oceanside is kind of the U.S. opening weekend for racing. For me, it kicks off the season every year. It really gives me a good focus when you’re trying to get through those December/January months and San Diego is such a fun place to visit. The course brings out tons of spectators. Especially along The Strand where people are already at the beach. There’s just tons of spectators, even people that aren’t there for the race are cheering for you.

Talk about the Oceanside course a little. What are some aspects that really stand out to you?

Everyone always talks about the swim and how cold it is. It’s really not that bad. It can be a little choppy depending on the year. The bike is rolling with some big climbs. There’s never any section that you’re just cruising and settling in. It’s all up or down. The run is really fun because its on The Strand so it’s one of the few courses where it’s covered with people the entire length.

What would you say is the most challenging part of the course?

I think the bike is the most challenging. It’s not like a Wildflower where you’re out of the saddle climbing for 3 or 4 hills. There’s really only I think 1 big one but it takes a lot out of you. And the run is all cement so that can be pretty wearing. The bike/run combo is pretty rough. Especially coming off the winter months, if you’ve been on the treadmill and haven’t been running outside, that can be rough.

What advice would you give to first timers?

Just enjoy it! The bike course is actually a closed course so that’s good compared to others where you have cars buzzing by. The bike isn’t a double loop so you’re not going to see a ton of people out there. Especially when you’re out in no man’s land but it is really pretty out there so enjoy the bike. The run is great! So when you’re on the bike just remember that’s coming. There’s just so many people out there. And if you’re having a bad day you can always just go to the beach. haha!

You used to live in Oceanside, there’s got to be some draw there for you. What is it about the area that brings you back to race here?

So my first year as a pro and the first year I met Wattie we lived on the run course, so it always brings back those memories for me. I had no idea what I was doing at that point but I was a “pro”. Half of my training runs were on that course so all of my focus was on winning Oceanside. In my mind, there as no Kona or Wildflower then, I just wanted to win Oceanside. So for me it brings back memories of that first year. Everything was fresh and exciting so it just brings back really positive and fun memories from the beginning. Every year follows that up. It’s always such a fun weekend and always signals the start of season for me.

I know this is like picking a favorite child, but what is your favorite spot for a post-race beer?

Hmmm… immediately after the race, Hello Betty Fish House because you can look out on the run course. Later on, Pizza Port or Union Tap & Kitchen.