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2017 Ironman Lanzarote Race Story

Crazy ass fans! That…was a crazy ass race.

Most of you probably read or saw my quick recap post race. As I said, I went through some literal and figurative ups and downs, and visited (only figurative) dark places during this race. If you want the SHORT version, check it out on my Instagram or Facebook page.

Visited some dark, dark places today at IM Lanzarote. I've never gone through such a spectrum of emotion in an athletic…

Posted by Jesse Thomas on Saturday, May 20, 2017

For the rest of you, this is the FULL CRAZY ASS FAN version with all the necessary and many unnecessary details, as well as some setup and reflection/evaluation. I know at least one of the literally MULTIPLE dozens of you will read almost this entire blog. Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions or comments either below, on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

The Leadup / My Expectations

Since ultimately, my personal race day experience was, for better and for worse, heavily influenced by my expectations – I’m going to lay those out real quick.

I hoped/expected to race as fast, if not faster than last year.

  • My swim is in as good a spot as it’s ever been, and I’ve done more prep in a wetsuit than ever.
  • My bike power numbers have been about the same to maybe a bit lower (though that could be do to just using a Powertap Hub vs P1 Pedal), but my speed has been faster than ever. I’ve been to the wind tunnel twice since the last time I raced Lanzarote. I’ve changed my position (lowered & lengthened) and changed equipment – new helmet, shoes, pedals, hydration setup, etc. I know I’ve gotten significantly faster aerodynamically. My key workouts have all been faster than last year, and my two 70.3s were my fastest splits ever. While Lanzarote isn’t the best course for aerodynamic benefit because of it’s hills, I was still expecting to ride faster than last year.
  • I was also expecting to run faster. Matt and I have brought an emphasis back to speed training and I’ve also been using new/lighter racing shoes for the first time in 3 years without problems. The dividends have shown in my fastest half ironman run splits in about 4 years.

Having said all that, I didn’t EXPECT to win the race. I thought there was a chance I could on the right day, but you never know what other guys are going to do. Given the depth/strength of the field (4 previous winners, 4 who have been top 10 at Kona), anywhere from winning to 5th would have been an acceptable result with a good personal performance. But regardless of where I finished, I expected to race faster almost across the board than I did last year, assuming similarish conditions.

But, as you know from reading my brief recap – I didn’t really perform as I expected or hoped. Here’s what happened:

Swim – Bumpy, Decent, Lots of Salt Water. GPS File

The swim felt pretty decent. Nothing crazy to report there. After the always rough start it actually stayed a bit rougher than last year – it was just a bigger group of guys. I swam well, not exceptional, but I stayed with my expected group at an effort that felt reasonable. A good start. Way to go, team.

Coming in hot (or a little bit cold) on lap 1 of the swim. Pic from Competitive Image

Bike Start – Ok to Semi Rough – Strava / PowerTap File

I had a relatively fast transition and was basically leading my group out on the bike. Thinking I was probably the strongest rider of that group outside of maybe Bart, I rode aggressively the first 20-30 minutes to make sure I wasn’t dragging anyone along with me. I was quickly alone, but the effort felt harder than I thought it should have, despite basically being at my target output. Within another 5 minutes Bart came by like a freight train. I’d ridden with Bart before, and it usually felt strong, but a sustainable/appropriate pace for me, so I looked at it as an opportunity to have a riding partner for maybe most of the race, and picked up my pace to stay with him. But within 10-15 minutes the pace just felt harder than it should have.

Race with ‘em when it makes sense, don’t when it doesn’t!

Matt and I talked about the importance (particularly after Kona last year) of racing with people only when it makes sense in your plan, and then NOT doing that when it doesn’t. So I gave myself another 15 minutes of riding with Bart, decided it was too fast/hard, and let him go. I was obviously a little demoralized so early, knowing that I’d already put in harder than planned efforts so early into the ride with little obvious benefit, but I kept my chin up (figuratively, it was actually down, it’s more aero that way) and regrouped.

Keeping the chin up while keeping it down. Pic from Competitive Image

Within another 20 minutes I was rejoined by most of the group that I’d left at the beginning, about 3-4 guys, and I stayed with them during a long climb and downhill section that was straight into the wind. Even though the pace felt a bit slow, I was tired from the chase with Bart, and there was no point in riding to the front of that group during that time given the strong headwind. Like I said, use the benefit when it makes sense. I knew that once we rounded the corner at La Santa the wind would be at our back and that would be the time to move.

Sure enough, that happened, and Allesandro must have had the same idea as he put in a massive surge up the hill coming out of La Santa. I stayed with him and after a few minutes looked back and saw we’d created a gap. I then went around him and encouraged him to keep pushing to keep the break. I rode hard at the front for the next 10 minutes or so and when I looked back Allesandro was maybe 30 seconds behind me, and I couldn’t see the rest of the guys.

Begin the Slow Unravel

By then, I felt like maybe/hopefully I was riding back into some good legs. I was in 3rd place and got some encouraging news that even though Bart had caught Romain, I was at least holding their lead steady at around 4 minutes. I climbed hard though the major mountain section and mostly maintained that gap, but all the while the efforts/climbs felt harder than expected. And sure enough, on the long descent back towards Arrecife, my effort vs expectation started to show. The pedals became harder and harder to push, and my power dropped. The gap to Bart and Romain grew. I got frustrated obviously, but knew I still had a long run to go, and knew there was still plenty of racing left with great runners both in front of and behind me, so I let myself relax, back off, and regrouped…again. It was a struggle that last 25 miles or so, but I got through it and was still excited about what I could do on the run.

While you might not be enjoying yourself, you can still enjoy the view. Pic from Competitive Image

T2 – Oh My God My Aviators

I came into transition about 7 minutes down on the leaders. I grabbed my stuff, and started running out when I realized my aviators weren’t clipped in to my Naked Running band, and they must have fallen out in my transition bag! I debated for about 5 seconds as to whether I should run back and get them and made (I think) the correct decision – I haven’t done a run without aviators on in like 10 years, so there was no way I could run an entire marathon without. So I ran back to get them and took off. As I left T2, I was 8 minutes down.

Run Start – Floating! Strava / GPS Splits

Starting the run, I actually felt pretty good. Almost shockingly good considering what the last hour of the bike felt like. The wind was the opposite direction as normal with a light tailwind, so the pace just clicked right along as went through the first mile in 5:55! My target pace in was about 6:15-6:20, which would have been a 2:43-2:45 marathon, so I told myself to settle way the F down and relax. And I did that successfully for the next 8 miles or so – feeling relaxed and running anywhere from 6:10 to 6:25, pulling 4 min back on Romain and maybe 60-90 seconds on Bart, while holding a steady 2 min or so on a hard charging Allesandro in 4th.

Out of Gas…Yet FULL of Gas?

It was around mile 10 I had my first glimpse of something wrong. I started to feel sluggish and then got a massive stomach cramp…like gas style stomach cramp. I wasn’t sure if I needed to go number 2 or not, but I ran through it and “passed” the problem without any “real” problem in my shorts if you know what I mean. It was clear something wasn’t stoked in my stomach, but I rebounded with another solid mile. Then, without realizing what had happened, I noticed I had a different cyclist next to me, who said I was now in 2nd place because Romain stopped at the police station with his own gastrointestinal issues! Ha! Ironman is crazy. Anyway, I tried to get excited, but had a looming suspicion that with still 13 miles to go, things might be looking rough.

Sure enough, the stomach, and energy just got worse and worse over the next 5 miles. My pace slowed gradually from high 6:30s to 7:20s with an increasing effort to maintain. I was passed by Allesandro, and in the short clip I saw of it post race, I had a noticeable “forward hunch” due to stomach issues. Sorry for the detail, but every 3-5 minutes I felt like I had to $h!t myself, would pass a bunch of gas hoping nothing would come out (which luckily it didn’t), and then carry on. It wasn’t pretty, didn’t feel good and probably didn’t smell that great either.

Starting to feel some pain all over and everywhere. Lots and lots of alone time out there. Pic from Ironman.

The other thing that happened in hindsight was I stopped eating. I was in a bit of a daze so didn’t notice as much during, but I remember it got harder and harder to take in clif bloks, and at one point I gagged on them and almost threw up before spitting them out. I just couldn’t stomach anything. At the 18 mile turnaround next to the finish I was completely done mentally, emotionally, and physically, and really really really wanted to stop. If I hadn’t have been in 3rd place still, I might have. Then I saw that I still had a 5 minute gap on 4th, tried to force some internal excitement, and ran what felt like an all out 7:10 mile to hold the gap. Then, I crumbled to an 8:03 mile 21. During mile 22, I was literally shuffling, so sore and tired and out of energy and stomach hurting so bad that I started to wimper and cry. I think/hope the cyclist next to was the only one that heard it, but it’s possible that the age groupers passing me at that point heard as well.

IT GIVES YOU WINGS!

When I finally got to the next aid station, I stopped. Almost…for good. I looked behind me and wasn’t sure if I could see 4th place or not. So I drank probably 4 huge glasses of water, which I had been doing, but I also drank three huge cups of Red Bull. I walked through the aid station to make sure I got it all down. I was certain the 4th place guy would pass me at any moment, but I started shuffling again, deciding I’d just do whatever it took to get to the finish line.

But miraculously, no joke, over the next 5-10 minutes, I started to regain some energy. It was literally like I was an engine completely out of gas that just would not go and then, BAM, I’ve got gas again and I work all of sudden. I’d never been that deep into bonk before but (I think) that’s clearly what happened. After a 9:08 shuffle/stop mile, I built into a 7:10, then saw I still had about a 70 second gap on 3rd and ran three 6:30 miles, still feeling exhausted, eyes weirdly halfway closed, but with strength and energy returning all the way to the finish line. I pulled away from 4th and actually made up a bit of time on the leaders. It was nutso! I crossed, stammered my way to a congrats to Bart and Allesandro, a thanks to the race organizers, then got help into the med tent to lay down and chill out! Then I moved as little as possible for the next 5 hours.

Pretty happy to be done with that! Pic from TriMax Magazine.

Reflections – The Good, The Bad, The Smelly

Clearly, I did some good things:

  • I didn’t give up. That’s always rule number one in racing, and in Ironman specifically. I certainly “blew up” by my standards, but so did 4 of the 6 contenders. I just blew up the least of the 4 of us! There is no way, given how my run went, that I would have thought I’d still finish 3rd, but just shows you it isn’t over until it’s over.
  • I had moments of showing the work I’ve done the last 6 months – It was different conditions/wind/etc, but my bike split was about 2.5 minutes faster than last year, with a 8 watt lower average power. It’s not a super clean comparison, but it’s as good a sign as any that the aerodynamic and flexibility work is working. Similarly, my run was off to what I think would have been my best marathon ever, maybe not because of the heat – even Allesandro, who still ran the first half even a bit faster than I did, ended up running a bit slower than I did last year. I think it was just a hotter/tougher year on the run course. But I did feel solid until the stomach/energy meltdown.

If you can’t tell, I’m leaning on Bart to stay upright. Pic from TriMax Magazine.

Some things that didn’t go well:

  1. I don’t think Matt and I quite nailed the taper on this one. Last year, I felt super strong right off the bat, like I really hit my taper well and was fresh on the day. This year, I didn’t feel as tired as say, Kona, but I also just felt a little flat. And given how I felt at my numbers/paces, I think I was. My immediate gut reaction post race (which is usually right) was that I probably overdid my last few big workouts leading into this race. It was a different setup without having Wildflower 3 weeks before, which meant I basically had one more week to do an Ironman type workout before the race, so I did two Ironman workouts, 7 days apart 2-3 weeks before the race (as opposed to Wildflower, then one Ironman workout). I’ll take the blame for getting admittedly excited at my output and speed and probably pushing those workouts harder than I should have. I don’t think it cost me everything, and it might not have made a difference my place, but I think I probably had more fatigue going into my taper than I did last year, and wasn’t quite as fresh as I wanted to be. Lesson: Don’t get excited in your taper, chill the F out!
  2. Obviously, I messed up my nutrition. I’ve been working a ton with Stacy Sims/NUUN to dial in my nutrition/hydration stuff, particularly for hot races. One of the things we thought I did last year was eat too much (more than my stomach could absorb, which was potentially taking hydration from my muscles into my gut, thus dehydrating me) so I took it down from like ~400 cals/hour on the bike to ~300 cals/hour. I’d practiced this lots on all my long workouts and hadn’t had any problems, but there’s no practice like an Ironman! After getting my bike back post race, I noticed I still had half a Picky Bar and half a pack of bloks, which means I at least ate 100 if not 200 calories less than my already lower planned (1300-1400 total instead of 1500 target). I think this partially set me up for the crash 80 minutes into the run.
  3. I think I was literally out of gas. I mean, I was out of fuel, there was PLENTY of gas. I’m not sure if this is related to the stomach just being empty or what, but I’ve never had that type of gas pain in a race before. It was bad news bears, and exacerbated the fueling problem because I think it made it harder to eat on the run. Sure, It was hot out there, and I felt the heat, but I’d done a ton of training and adaptation for the heat, and felt more prepared than ever for it. I’m not a physiologist, but looking at my heart rate and pace, it was clear that I just couldn’t even get my heart rate up during that crash on the run, and you’d think under pure heat stress your heart rate would stay high. Then within 10 minutes of getting some instant calories, sugar, and “Wings” into my system, BAM, it was right back on. So I think I just underfueled.

Yep, that’s what happened. Heart rate graph looked the same too.

Overall – A solid result, but also a really tough day. I cried there I said it.

All in all, I’m obviously happy that I finished the race, and feel lucky that I was able to hold on to 3rd despite what felt like DECADES of pain and suffering over the last half marathon.

But in all honesty, the performance is disappointing. Not because it’s a terrible performance, it wasn’t, but it just wasn’t up to what I believed I could do. And it wasn’t what I felt like I deserved given the work, training, knowledge, and sacrifice I put into it over the last 6 months. And maybe more importantly, the work and sacrifice others (my wife, my son, my family, my coach, my employees, my sponsors, even you guys) put into my preparation for this race. And I think, in addition to the pain, that was the reason I cried on the run. It was incredibly disappointing to live through the hours of that race, in what feels like agonizing slow motion, as you underperform your own expectations and feel like you’re letting yourself and others down as a result. It made me question the whole thing during – everything from “I want this to be over” to “I never want to do this again” type of feelings. The cost to you, your family, and your supporters of getting to that starting line with high expectations is…high. And when you feel like it’s not panning out, it’s easy to feel incredibly down. Add when you couple that with significant physical pain, that’s when you have a grown ass 37 year old dad wimpering behind his aviators for a few miles. It’s tough, man. So tough.

Next Steps – Kona, we’ll see, but first family, beer, movies, play, and all the things.

Given the bright sides listed above, I obviously don’t think I’m done. But I do need some time away to reflect and absorb. Many of you will ask about Kona, and honestly, 3rd was a tough place to finish. 1st or 2nd would have gotten me in for sure, and 4th definitely not. Now, it’s a waiting game to see how the points stack up and what it looks like. Since Lauren is due just after Kona, I’m fine with letting the gods decide my fate. If it looks/sounds exciting and attainable in a reasonable fashion, I’ll go for it, and be stoked about it. If it doesn’t, then I won’t, and I’ll be excited about not having the stress of a world championship so near the time my daughter is supposed to arrive.

So for now, I take a step back, wait and see, and just be “not triathlon” for a while. I’m on one of 4 long flights home as I write this and I’m incredibly excited to see my wife and son and talk to our little bean of a baby girl. I’m going to hang out with them, and drink beer, and watch movies, and “just play play play play play” as Jude says, always 5 “play”s. It’s going to be awesome.

One of Jude’s favorite games. It’s called “Dark Party.” We’re going to play it a LOT this week.

Like I’ve said since the beginning when only my mom and her friends read this blog, thanks all for following. Having someone to tell the story makes it all worth it.

Jesse

Thanks!

It goes without saying, thanks also to my incredible wife, son, family, coach, and sponsors for the support it takes to do this for a living. I also want to strongly recommend this race, and the Club La Santa resort, as a racing and training destination for those interested, I had an incredible stay there and really appreciate the kind hospitality shown to me by the entire club and race organization. It’s worth a look!

My Sponsors – Go Buy All There Stuff and Tell Them I Sent You!

These guys honestly make the dream work.