Leap Day Sports - The Triathlife of Jesse Thomas

IM Lanzarote Race STORY

CRAZY ASS FANS.

This thing called triathlon…it’s crazy, just like you. IRONMAN triathlon…it’s really freaking crazy. IRONMAN LANZAROTE…well, let me tell you that thing is certifiably insane!

As I cruised the last lap of the run, wishing the race was over, exhausted, trying desperately not to collapse and refusing to think about the biggest potential win of my career, I had an out of body moment. I rose above myself, looked around and thought – This is freaking crazy. Ironman is crazy. Me. That guy running to my right. The woman running toward me. All these people running out and back on this road…we’re all bunch of lunatics!

And when I finally crossed the finish line, after a few moments of sheer joy, relief, shock and awe, my thoughts went to gratitude. Gratitude for the people who helped me do this ridiculously crazy thing that I just did – my crazy ass fans, sponsors, employees, coach, and family, but most importantly, my wife and son.

Ask any one of these people if what I do is crazy, and they will answer, BLEEP yes it is! And that doesn’t mean they think the race itself crazy. Well, yes, it’s crazy to swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 with 8k of climbing and then run a freaking marathon. That’s a big day. But the crazier thing that these people understand all too well is the days, weeks, months, years…the life you lead that goes into preparing for a big day like that – the many sacrifices you make, and more importantly, the many sacrifices you ask them to make.

Winning this Ironman was obviously very, very hard. Lanzarote lived up to it’s reputation as an extreme course, one of if not the toughest in the world. It was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. But the hardest part of Ironman Lanzarote wasn’t the day, it was the last 4-6 weeks of prep with Lauren and Jude. You’re in an almost non stop cycle of training, sleep, eating healthy, stretching, physical therapy, getting your bike/wetsuit/shoes/gear ready, heat acclimation, prepping for travel, planning, etc. All of this on TOP of your job AND while incredibly tired from the training load. It’s a massive strain, and anyone that’s done it, or supported it, understands.

And even though Lauren and I talk about balance and time management with color coded google calendars, and we love and support each other as much as possible and post pictures of many fun moments in this crazy life with our #superadvanced burrito, it’s still really, really, really hard. And we struggle with it, just like every other triathlete “team” does, particularly those crazy enough to try a freaking Ironman.

So before I potentially lose you in the many ups, downs, and crosswinds of my race story, I wanted to tell you the first and most overwhelming thought I had after I crossed the finish line. Massive, massive gratitude – to all those people mentioned above, and mostly to Lauren and Jude. And while I’ll come home an Ironman Champion, I am so looking forward to doing my best to repay you with a month or two of NOT being an Ironman.

Even though it isn't always smiles at the finish line, I'm super thankful for this triathlon team that got me through this Ironman.

Even though it isn’t always smiles at the finish line, I’m super thankful for this triathlon team that got me through this Ironman. Thanks Nils at N2Photo for the pic.

NOW, HERE’S THE STORY:

Thank God for Wetsuits, Two Laps and Dolphin Dives (strave file)

After a great beach run start into the water, I got absolutely DEMOLISHED by a tight swim with lots of pros and amateurs from the Ironman’s All World group, who started with us. It was definitely the most physical swim start I’ve ever been in! I eventually got elbowed, punched, kicked, and pull-dropped from the second group about 1/3 of the way through the first lap. At that moment, I conceded that my race was over and the whole day was clearly going to be a complete disaster, which is a fairly normal thought during my swim.

But..as I wrote about in my preview, Matt and I had mentally and physically prepared for, and planned on racing solo the whole day solo. So I let go of my self-defeating thoughts and kept cracking alone at my own pace. Thanks keeping at it and a great new wetsuit, as I neared the end the first lap, I saw the group just 20-30 seconds in front of me. So I absolutely, hands down BLITZED myself for the last 100 meters before the beach, dolphin dove like it was my job, and sprinted full tilt around the short beach section, just barely catching the group at my absolute max heart rate of the race!

That little mountain on my swim HR graph is me wrecking myself trying to catch back up to the group between lap 1 and 2.

That little mountain on my swim HR graph is me wrecking myself trying to catch back up to the group between lap 1 and 2.

Once gasped breath back into my lungs and settled back in, the second loop was fairly manageable, and I was stoked to realize upon exit that I was with Timo Bracht, course record holder and many many many time IM Champ.

Even though this wetsuit is super duper fast, I'm still fastest in it when I'm like this.

Even though this wetsuit is super duper fast in the water, I’m still fastest in it when I’m like this.

Lots of following Timo and ROBOT VOICE (PowerTap / Strava File)

Starting the ride with Timo was pretty ideal. He obviously knows the course well, but is also great rider and runner who is known for great pacing pacing and finishes. I’d prepped for a solo day, but I decided that the benefits of trying to stay with him could outweigh me deviating from my race plan, allow me to “turn off” my brain, give me some confidence in pace, and a lead/line to follow through some of the crazy technical sections I had only seen once in a car.

So I (annoyingly) stayed mostly behind Timo for almost the ENTIRE ride. Like I said later (as you’ll read below) sorry man! There were a few sections that felt too hard, and a few that felt too easy, but most of it felt and looked on my power meter to be around the appropriate effort, so it really wasn’t too much of a deviation from the plan. I passed him a few times, but he always passed me back within 10 minutes or so. On the crazy technical downhills, he’d pull away, and on the climbs, I’d catch back up or even pass for a bit.

One of the couple of times I led Timo up a climb. That valley below is still half way up this climb! It was cray cray!

One of the couple of times I led Timo up a climb. That valley WAY below us is still half way up this climb! It was cray cray! Thanks Paul at Competitive Image for the pic.

I kept it pretty mechanical internally, using my robot voice every 15 minutes to say, “15 minutes, DRINK. 15 minutes, EAT and DRINK. REPEAT,” for 5 hours! I don’t think I even had a song in my head, it was just a lot of robot voice mostly. Like Wales, at about 4h15m, I was ready to be done riding my bicycle, 112 miles is a really long way. But we slowly worked our way through field, moving from 9/10 to 4/5 coming off the bike.

This was in my brain for 5 hours.

Given the craziness of this course – the extreme wind/crosswind, steep climbs, technical descents, and a few really bumpy roads, I was super happy with how my bike and wheels performed. I felt strong and stiff on the uphills, and steady, smooth, in control on the downs and flats. And…it all lead my body to a pretty solid run as well. Let’s talk about that now.

Definitely worked hard, but the trusty steed got me there fast and ready to run.

Definitely worked hard, but the trusty steed got me there fast and ready to run. Thanks Paul at Competitive Image for the pic.

Just Try To Run The Whole 26 Miles (Strava File / Mile Splits)

I felt really happy with my ride, but had hoped it would mean coming off the bike with a lead against David, Ivan, and even Timo – three of the best runners in the sport. But David was up about 90 seconds, and even though Timo and I passed Ivan and I thought he was well behind us, he came roaring by me in the first mile of the run. Jan, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t even thinking about when I started the run.

I clicked right in behind Ivan and Timo on the headwind out section. After a couple of miles, Ivan dropped back a bit and it was just me and Timo again! Yay! We traded some leads and chatted a bit. I told him thanks for leading me through basically the entire ride and sorry if it was really annoying, and that I passed you a few times but you’d always pass me back! He was awesome and said no problem and that we’d work together on the run, which we did. After we passed David around mile 5, we could see Jan about 2 minutes up and he said, “Now the game is catch Frodo.” I said, “Sounds good!” while thinking, I’m actually pretty dang happy with where I am and I’m a little worried that my Wales marathon was a fluke so I’m just gonna chill and concentrate on running the whole 26 miles thank you very much.

Timo and I on the chase.

Timo and I on the chase. Photo from Club LaSanta/Ironman.

But a few miles later, somewhere around 7 or 8, I slowly started to pull away from Timo and David. It wasn’t a conscious move at all. I was just repeating an internal monologue, in non-robot voice now for some reason, good form, smooth, relaxed, really…long…training run, good form, smooth, relaxed... I felt like I was floating for about 5-6 miles, never looking back, just running by myself, until I saw at the next turnaround that I had about a minute gap on David, Ivan, and Timo.

Just pretending it's a long training run, where it's really hot, and people happen to hand you water to dump on your head.

Just pretending it’s a long training run, where it’s really hot, and people happen to hand you water to dump on your head. Photo from Club LaSanta/Ironman.

Don’t Think About This Crazy Thing That Might Happen

I never trust splits from spectators because so many times during races I hear stuff like “You’re a minute and a half down!” and then 100 meters later someone else, “He’s two minutes up!” 50 meters later, “One minute!” etc. Spectator enthusiasm is unmatched, their split accuracy however, not so much. BUT, I did start to notice that in general, the people I passed who were giving me splits were getting more and more excited, most of them screaming things I didn’t understand in Spanish with the word “Frodo” here and there.

In spite of the increased excitement around me, I stayed as “chill” as physically and mentally, possible for the next few miles, constantly reminding myself, long way to go, don’t get excited, don’t overdo it, etc. But at the next turnaround I was just 15 seconds behind Jan, and could tell he wasn’t feeling too great. I passed him shortly after and in pure class as is Jan’s style, he encouraged me, saying something like, “Nice job man. I’m feeling like shit! Keep your shit together because the boys are coming!” I told him thanks and hoped his calf was all good (an injury he’s just getting over, among other things like having a 3 month old, a ridiculous off-season post Kona win and prepping for a world record attempt at Roth).

10k more to go, in the lead, holy poop. Thanks Paul at Competitive Image for the pic!

10k more to go, in the lead, holy poop. Thanks Paul at Competitive Image for the pic!

I continued to float away, getting an obvious shot of adrenaline after passing the World Champ. I hit 10k to go and had about 40 seconds on Jan and 1:30 on the other guys. I knew that if I could get to the next turnaround just 5k down the road with the same or an increased lead, it would be unlikely anyone would try to chase me down. Let’s do this!

Then about 6 minutes later, the adrenaline wore off and I started to hurt. A lot. I really really wished at that point that a marathon was 21 miles. That’s when I thought about how crazy this whole thing was. But I just tried to keep my form, eat and drink, popped some Red Bull to get a boost and keep it going. At the final turnaround I had ~1:40 on Jan and 3 min on others.

Feeling the heat (salt and sweat)! Doing my best to stay relaxed. Thanks Paul at Competitive Image for the pic.

It got salty and sweaty out there. Doing my best to stay relaxed. Thanks Paul at Competitive Image for the pic.

For the next 3 miles, I honestly didn’t let myself imagine the win, or what it would mean. I forced my mind to stay in training run mode – smooth, don’t push it, relax.

Then with about ¼ mile to go, I saw the finish line and the emotions came crashing in. Relief, joy, shock, and like I said, gratitude. I was STOKED! I gave some high fives and broke the tape with a scream that may have alarmed some of the spectators. Crossing that finish line is definitely a moment I won’t forget. Thank you all for your support on the LONG ROAD to get there.

Pretty freaking stoked. Photo from Club LaSanta/Ironman.

Pretty freaking stoked. A moment I won’t forget. Photo from Club LaSanta/Ironman.

This Was AMAZING…and I Don’t Want To Be a Wet Blanket, But I am Going to Be for Just a Minute or Two.

Guys, I am SUPER STOKED. This is the biggest win of my career, and honestly maybe the coolest sporting moment of my life. I won a big race in a great field after putting in a TON of work to get there. In some ways I’m in a bit of shock, but in other ways, I feel like my support crew and I deserve it. We worked our asses off for this. Matt had me in the best shape of my life, I was ready to go, and it showed.

Awards with the amazing race found Kenneth. The entire race organization was amazing. A truly spectacular event from start to finish and highly recommended as a bucket list race. Thanks Paul at Competitive Photo for the pic.

Awards with the amazing race found Kenneth. The entire race organization was amazing. A truly spectacular event from start to finish and highly recommended as a bucket list race. Thanks Paul at Competitive Photo for the pic.

BUT, the thing a lot people love to do is take this massive jump to the next step and start making proclamations about me winning Kona and this and that. Guys, I LOVE your confidence in me, I feed off it, sometimes when I don’t have it myself. But I do just want to be really honest and put this win in perspective…my perspective at least.

It was a course ideal to my strengths, that’s why I chose it! Saltwater, two loop, wetsuit swim, crazy hilly, windy, technical, long bike course, with a small field that broke up and allowed me to climb back into the race, and a very tough, windy, (and actually a bit hilly) run. It was hot on the run, but the bike was mostly not too bad. It was a good day for my strengths. I beat some really good guys, which I’m stoked and proud of, and I beat a World Champ on the day, which I’ll definitely take and cherish. But, like I said, the guy’s coming off a big injury, a crazy off season, having a kid, has other race priorities, and had some technical issues that cost him lots time in transition.

As I said, Jan was 100% class as always on obviously a very early race back for him.

As I said, Jan was 100% class as always on obviously a very early race back for him.

Don’t get me wrong, I am STOKED to head to Kona, it’s the last big check mark on my career bucket list. And I’m stoked to give it absolutely everything I can in prep and on the day. But it’s a TOTALLY different race, a massive change from aspects of Wales and Lanzarote that suit my strengths.

Kona is the hardest race on the planet because it's the World Champs, but Lanzarote and Wales had over 7k feet a climbing, putting me with my best chance to ride back to the front. Photo Club LaSanta/Ironman.

Kona is the hardest race on the planet because it’s the World Champs, but Lanzarote and Wales had over 7k feet a climbing, putting me with my best chance to ride back to the front. Photo Club LaSanta/Ironman.

Thank you all so much for your unfettered and undeterred enthusiasm! And if you read this and still say, “I don’t care what Jesse thinks he’s going to ride 3:58 and run 2:35 and set the Kona course record I know it!” That’s honestly awesome, and I love you for it. I just wanted to be honest in how I feel about the race and what it means to me.

I’m stoked for the journey ahead. I get to start with a big break now, and like I said, NOT be an Ironman for a few weeks. Later this summer we’ll get cracking on some prep for the Ironman World Championships in October. As always, I’m stoked to have guys along for the ride.

Some Special Thanks!

  • Descente – Thank you so much for your support. The new gear is so awesome, got me through TONS of big training days, and I’m stoked to help bring it over the pond. The kit was superb again, and held up great with no chafing and awesome storage for Ironman! Thanks guys!
  • ROKA – Dudes, some special stuff out there today. So stoked for this step and the next few we got coming up!
  • Jaybird – PEOPLE check out Jaybird’s new headphones, the Freedom, smallest, lightest bluetooth headphone you can get. They are, as all their headphones are, excellent! Thanks for your incredible support guys!
  • Red Bull – I definitely needed some wings on that run and you came through like always. Thanks so much guys for all the help on this road. On to Kona!
  • Dimond – Guys, like I said, the bike handled this course superbly. Stiff and light on climbs, handled the crosswinds and descents without a problem. And most importantly, FAST and got me to a place where I could run great. Thank a ton!
  • Refuel – You guys have no idea how much I used my chargers this trip! Two 20+ hour travel day, and being in a foreign country made it super duper convenient. Really appreciate the support and the goods!
  • Picky Bars – Every time I leave the office doesn’t burn down. Thank you for keeping that record perfect.
  • Powertap – Again, the P1 pedals and Joule combo was flawless! Kept me in check and steady for 5 hours of tough riding. Thanks so much guys!
  • Knight – Guys, the 65/95 combo was perfect for the super windy conditions. Didn’t feel like I was fighting the wheels at all in the crosswinds, but felt fast, stiff and light throughout. Really appreciate the support!
  • Also, thanks to supporters – Tririg (awesome/fast aero bars and brakes) Zealios (fantastic sunscreen that kept me lobster free in the Canary Islands), Ice Friction (super fast drivetrain treatment well worth the investment), Ellie & Jay at Rebound Physical Therapy (keep me injury minimal!) for all the help!
  • Coach Matt Dixon of purplepatch fitness (& wife Kelli) – This was a big moment for me and for all of us. I owe so much to you guys for all that has happened in the last 6 years. Thanks a ton. Also, thanks Paul for your continued bike help!
  • Like I said above friends & family – mom, Jeff, Janna, Waylon, Joel, Lis, Nikki, Theo, Darren, James, and Elia, and you know what, I’m gonna throw Matt Lieto in there too. Also Leah & Gray, Jules, Jesse, and Littlewing for the help with Jude. Really appreciate all your guys help in this life.
  • CRAZY ASS FANS
  • Special shout out to my DAD for coming all the way out to Lanzarote last minute to support. Was super awesome to have him here, spend time with him, and have him be a massive part of one of the coolest moments of my life. I owe a lot of my athletic background, and more importantly, the Aviator style, to that man!
My race day support crew. Thanks Pop!

My race day support crew. Thanks Pop!