Steve Jackson races for the Every Man Jack team and he recently grabbed the overall win at Ironman Florida - a race he was actually not meant to do. The season was meant to be over after Kona, but things changed and Steve Jackson adapted. He also had to deal with injuries the last few years and with great tenacity he overcame.
Slowtwitch: Steve, thanks for your time.
Steve Jackson: No, thank you Herbert! It’s a pleasure and an honor to be interviewed by Slowtwitch. I have joked with friends over the years that once you get interviewed by Slowtwitch, you have officially made it in the sport.
Slowtwitch is near and dear to my heart because my Aunt Linda told me about the site when she first got me started in the sport in 2011. I knew close to nothing about the sport, training, equipment, bike fitting, aerodynamics, etc. I wanted to learn everything and anything so I spent a lot time reading articles on ST. I actually didn’t even know there was a forum section for the first month. Once I found the forums, it was information overload but I slowly learned a ton over time. I am very much a student of the sport and I owe a lot to the ST community as I have learned so much over the years.
ST: That is great to hear, but now back to you. Are you currently still recovering and relaxing after that Ironman Florida effort, or are you already on to the next challenge?
Steve: Yes, I am definitely still recovering and relaxing. Though I’ve done a few very easy swims and a few easy rides on Zwift just to keep the blood flowing. I happened to get on Zwift the other day and I was struggling within 5 minutes. I texted my coach, Eric Limkemann, and he told me he laughed when he saw me sign on Zwift. My wife, Mandy, gave me the official offseason honey-do list over the weekend. So I’ll be trying to knock as many of those things off the list before getting back to any serious structured training.
ST: The way I understand it, Florida was not really on your race plan this year.
Steve: Yes it definitely wasn’t. After I finished Kona, I told Mandy that I had so much fun and I definitely wanted to come back. She then brought up the idea of racing a fall Ironman this year. I initially didn’t think the quick turnaround was enough time to recover and still be able to race well, especially in the hardest age group in the world: M30-34. I mentally started to turn the corner when I thought about what I would be doing come race day and if I would be watching the tracker and regretting not signing up. Due to the logistic changes of Florida, I was able to get a late entry into Florida. I knew it was huge risk and even the morning of the race, I had no idea how the race was going unfold for me. But I was willing to take a shot and it certainly paid off.
ST: You have been battling injuries and related troubles the last few years. Did you think it would eventually be just end of competing?
Steve: Absolutely. When I started having hip issues in 2015 and then had surgery - FAI and 3 labral tears. I thought I might never be able to run or bike again, let alone race a triathlon. It was one of the most trying times of my life as the recovery was incredibly uncomfortable, slow, frustrating, and mentally challenging. There were days where I thought the surgery was a failure and I would mentally and emotionally break down. I just wanted to get back to doing what I loved. Fortunately, I have a great support system from my wife – girlfriend and fiancé at the time, and family, and some of the best doctors around. I followed my doctor’s orders to the T and I think they would tell you I am their most compliant patient. I took my recovery very seriously as I knew with this type of surgery, you really only have one shot at a proper recovery. It took about 6 months post-surgery until I could do any consistent biking or running without any pain.
ST: What about the rhabdomyolysis? Did you feel especially lucky?
Steve: The surgery was supposed to take 2-3 hours but it ended up taking 9 hours as the damage was much worse than the MRI showed. My non surgery leg was slightly abducted during the surgery and I developed a severe strain in my abductor. I woke in the recovery room and my non surgery side hurt more than my surgery side. My muscles had started to break down and I was peeing tea color. It took the doctors a few days to figure out what exactly had happened but my creatine kinase (Ck) levels were over 40k. I felt pretty unlucky at the time as I was in the ICU on my birthday and in the hospital for much longer than originally anticipated. These aren’t things that happen to a healthy and very active 29 year old. But in the end, after all the recovery, I do feel very fortunate to have made a full recovery. It wouldn’t have been possible without my family and team of doctors/therapists (Dr. Matthew Harris, Dr. Mai-Vi Callahan, and Mario Burbano).
ST: Christmas 2017 you ended up with a bike wreck, and that took you out some time. Can you elaborate?
Steve: I was out on a solo bike ride on Christmas Eve and I hit some sunken asphalt at 25mph which I never saw coming. I didn’t know it at the time but a bunch of cyclists had gone down here before on this same exact section of road. Fortunately, some friends were riding together who came up on me as I was lying on the side of the road. They called Mandy for me and I was taken to hospital in an ambulance. I still joke today but when Mandy first got the news on the phone, her first question was but how’s the bike? I ended up shattering my left clavicle into 3 pieces and needed surgery. The same orthopedic who did my hip surgery was willing to come in and do the surgery that same day, on Christmas Eve nonetheless. He put in 9 screws and a plate to piece everything back together and he told me afterward that my clavicle was 2.5 cm away from puncturing my carotid. After about a week, I was able to ride on my trainer and then I was able to run after about 3 weeks. I wasn’t given the clear to start swimming, riding outside, or riding in aero until 7 weeks post surgery.
ST: You did Kona and did a 9:05 there. What left you hungry for more?
Steve: Most of all, I had a lot fun. Every time I passed my family and friends that came out to support me, I told them this is a f*cking blast. The race itself was a surreal experience and the crowd support was just insane. What left me hungry was that I executed my race plan perfectly and raced my race and that landed me 33rd in my age group. I feel like I am so close to being at the top, yet so far away. This leaves a ton of room for improvement, hence the hunger for more. The competition drives me.
ST: Talk about your Kona race.
Steve: My plan was to get out fast on the swim and find clean water, bike conservatively, and run confidently. I can say that I executed precisely to my plan. The swim start lived up to the hype with all the fans lined up and the ensuing boxing match! I executed the best swim of my career and I was able to find some feet in a fast front group and let them do most of the work. I got on the bike and knew I didn’t want to be one of those guys that pushes too hard, too early, and walks most of the marathon. Once I got on to the Queen K towards Hawi, I was being passed as if I was standing still group after group. This could be attributed to the near-perfect conditions or all of the questionable and blatant drafting on the course. Or maybe my race plan was just too conservative. The run was a blast! The crowd support is insane and I thrived off their energy… Until I hit the turnaround in the energy lab. It was like someone flipped a switch and it turned into an inferno. Coming down the finishing chute and crossing the finish line… it’s a moment I will never forget.
ST: Did you have time to do other stuff in Hawaii?
Steve: Yes. My family and I did a coffee tour, went to the Black Sand beaches, and visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The national park was really cool and I highly recommend to anyone visiting the island. We also went to South Point where Mandy and I jumped off a cliff.
ST: In Florida you won overall in 9:09. Where does that rank for you in terms of importance?
Steve: Honestly, the time doesn’t mean much to me. It was the lessons that I learned from the race that will stick with me. I was always and still am a naysayer when it comes to racing Ironman’s back-to-back but I was able to prove myself wrong. I pushed myself on the bike more than ever and suffered through the entire run. It was more of a mental battle than anything as I had thoughts about dropping out on the first lap on the run. I learned a lot about myself from the race.
ST: I actually meant being the very first person to cross the finish in an Ironman.
Steve: Oh…. Whoops…. Well it has been a goal of mine to win an overall title and cross that tape in an Ironman. It was a pretty awesome feeling and it definitely ranks up there in races that I am proud of.
ST: But the Florida 2018 time I believe is also your slowest IM time to date.
Steve: Yes it was, and funny that you mention that. My first Ironman (Florida 2017) was my fastest at 9:03 - which included 4 stops on the bike for some mechanical issues. This year’s Florida race was on a much harder course than the usual location of the race in Panama City Beach. Still, that 9-hour barrier eludes me! Obviously courses and conditions play a big role in overall time, but it is a goal of mine to break 9 hours on a legit course.
ST: Did your coach try to talk you out of going to Florida?
Steve: Surprisingly no. Though my first question to him was me asking if I was crazy. I told him to shoot it to me straight and tell me what he really thought. He basically told me it boiled down to 2 things…. was I mentally in it? And was I healthy?
ST: How and when did you connect with Eric Limkemann in the first place?
Steve: It’s a long story dating back to 2002 when I was junior in high school. I started swimming on the club team at the University of Pittsburgh and Eric was a junior on the college swim team. The college swimmers would swim with the club team during holiday breaks and over the summers. I looked up to him as swimmer as he was the school record holder in the 500, 1000, and 1650 and he was just a beast to train with. In 2004, I started swimming for Pitt in college and Eric became a graduate assistant coach my freshman year. The athlete/coach relationship began. Fast forward to 2011, after graduating college and taking a few years off from any kind of structured training, I got into triathlon and reached out to Eric for help as he was moving up the pro ranks.
ST: How do you split up your training during a normal training week?
Steve: I’m up at 4:30 am every day during the week to get in either a swim or run. I’m working out by 5 am so I can get in a session before work. Typically, I swim 3 times a week, bike 3-4 times a week, and run 6-7 times a week. After work is either a run or bike inside on the trainer. Saturdays are my long ride days with the occasional run afterward. And Sunday is long run day.
ST: And as a former swimmer we would to learn about one of the toughest swim workouts you do including warm up and cool down.
Steve: Oh that’s tough as there are a few that sting. But here is one that is a ladder for the main set…
300 IM k/d/s
Main set (make the interval on the way up, get faster on the way down):
100 on 1:40
200 on 2:45
300 on 3:50
400 on 4:55
500 on 6:00
400 on 5:00
300 on 4:00
200 on 3:00
100 on 2:00
250 easy choice
5x50 on 1:00 build to fast
ST: You are also part of the EMJ crew. Since when?
Steve: This was my 2nd year on the team. My favorite part of the team is the camaraderie, the healthy competition, and getting to know others who take the sport seriously but not too seriously.
ST: Could you do any of this without the support from your wife?
Steve: Absolutely not! She is my rock and she knows me better than I know myself. I can’t even imagine going to a race without her. If you have ever been to a race where I am racing, you will start to understand as she is the biggest cheerleader in all of triathlon. You will likely hear her before you ever see her. If you don’t believe me, check out her Facebook live broadcasts of my races.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Steve: I think it surprises some people that I have a pretty demanding job working as an engineer for a major energy company in Florida. Our business is 24/7/365 and the hours can be demanding but I still find time to fit in training.