Leap Day Sports - The Triathlife of Jesse Thomas

7 Things I Learned at Wildflower

So I decided not to write a race report for Wildflower.  It’s been two weeks, and I’ll bet that after articles, videos, live chats, Facebook, and Twitter, you’ve heard enough about a borrowed bike, aviators, Matt Lieto’s Clause “C”, and “Mystery Man” turning into Mr. HappyPants after the finish.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good lessons to be learned, some specific people to thank, a few laughs to be had, and of course, a little introspection.  Plus, I need to write this stuff down, or I’ll forget why I had a good day and wrongfully assume I actually know what I’m doing.  I hope the takeaways below are things that you can also use for your own training, racing, working, quilting, whatever.  So here is a less typical – and hopefully less annoying – report, as told through the 7 things I learned at Wildflower.

1.  Hard work in the pool will make you faster.

Duh, right? I swam a lot the last few months, but I’ve been disappointed my improvement didn’t translate to races as hoped.  Well, I certainly have a long way to go still, but it’s starting to pay off.  Wildflower was hands down my best swim ever – fastest 2k by 1.5 minutes, and 1-2 minutes closer to the guys I’d swam against in my first two races this year.  Best part, I felt genuinely relaxed most of the swim, almost like you should feel in a 2k swim of a half ironman, craaaazzzzyyyy.  I’d like to think this is all my doing, but it’s certainly not.  The massive-volume-coupled-with-bouts-of-intense-speed-plan (MVCWBOISP) put together by Matt Dixon with Gerry Rodrigues is beginning to pay off.  If you want to swim fast, try incorporating some MVCWBOISP into your training, it works.  Thanks Matt & Gerry, two more minutes to go!

Two dudes embrace, one in aviators, one in a backwards trucker cap, both in full spandex. (Thanks to Jay Prasuhn for the awesome photo)

2.  Matt Lieto is a cool dude.

You may have sensed a bit my bromance (single-sided…on my side) with Matt Lieto but I’ll shout from the mountain tops that Matt is indeed an awesome guy.  Sure, he gave me a ride, let me stay in his cabin, and lent me his helmet, but he also gave me a ton of knowledge that has definitely helped me improve in the sport.  Matt, thanks for the exemption to “Clause C” and thanks for the help; it more than makes up for you waking me up on race day at 5:30am by knocking on my wall and saying you were out of toilet paper (not joking).


3.  Nutrition and electrolyte balance is KEY.

I’m still a rookie and learning, but I think this was the first time, I took in close to enough salt and calories during my race.  I basically ate 50% more and took in 50% more salt.  While I still cramped quite a bit during the run, my butt soreness didn’t reach “oh my god oh my god oh my god” causing me to drop out, and I didn’t bonk.  That’s the first time neither of those have happened in a long course race.  Here’s to you, salt!

4.  I need a haircut.

Seriously, I mean, by the time it’s air dried under my helmet and during the run, that thing is a lion’s mane.  Someone call my stylist!  Her name is Lauren Fleshman, and she’s also my wife.

5.  Don’t be afraid to walk.

A mile into the run, I cramped BADLY on the first uphill section.  When you know how hilly that course is, you know that’s bad news bears.  But…I didn’t freak out.  I walked, tried to keep it loose, then eased into the flat and downhill.  From there out, anytime it got really steep, or I felt the slightest twinge, I walked.  Counter-intuitively, I think this actually made my run faster because a) I didn’t drop out (definitely slower), and b) I didn’t spike my heart-rate every hill, so I had energy to run the downs and flats fast.

I also walked through every aid station I stopped at, which was about 8 of them.  Walking let me slow down, and concentrate on getting the calories/hydration/electrolytes in my mouth as opposed to on my face and mane.  It might cost you a few seconds every time you stop, but it will save your race.


6.  Proper post race recovery will help you not feel like a** for the next 7 days.

Wow, Mr. Happypants is bad at recovery – finish race, talky talky talky, awkward hug with interviewer, talky talky talky, no cool down, no real food, no shake out, maybe a few adult beverages, 3 hours sleep, and a 13 hour drive home in the Man Van.  I’d have to check with purplepatch, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the proper way to recover, and I paid for it the whole week.  Sure, I felt pretty badass on Monday warming up  the pool for training using a pentair mastertemp 400 and thinking, “I’m the freaking Wildflower Champion.” But the coolness vanished when I started getting smoked on repeat 100’s by the 13 year old girl on my swim team.  She apparently doesn’t know I’m the Wildflower Champion.

Mr. HappyPants on Cloud 9. Who needs recovery?


7.  If you have a dream, freaking go for it.

I decided about 18 months ago to diverge from a “post MBA career” path to a “have no idea what I’m doing but I feel like I want to try triathlon” path.  And now, I can honestly say that regardless of what happens from here on out, I’m happy with that decision.  Yes, I have many more goals, a ton of improvement to make on my progression, but in terms of validating that decision, the the rest is just icing on the cake.  That doesn’t mean I won’t stay hungry (the icing’s my favorite part) but it means even if I never win another race, if this is as good as it gets, I’ll take it and never regret that decision.

It is my dream to compete at the highest levels of triathlon.  Pursuing that dream requires much more than ambition and drive, it also takes support and inspiration.  I’m going metaphor here, so stay with me – if drive and ambition are the motor of my “dream car”, then my family, friends, coach, and sponsors are the chassis that support it, and those who inspire me provide the fuel to make it go (boomshakalaka, metaphor style).  Two people who inspire me are my wife, Lauren, who has persevered through horribly timed injuries to win national championships and provide thousands with heartfelt, honest perspective unlike any elite athlete I know, and my brother Joel who has overcome a ton of early setbacks, changed careers to pursue his passion, and recently accepted attendance to his law school of choice with a fellowship.  When it comes down to it, that’s what this whole thing is about, having the guts to reach for something you might fail to grab, and all the support that is required to take such a leap.

So if you have a dream, draw inspiration and support from those you can, and go for it.  I have a long way to go on my progression through the sport, but regardless of what happens, I’m happy I’m in the car, and I have those who inspire and support me to thank.  So thank you all so much, and see you at the next stop.


In addition to those thanked above, some specific shout-outs go to:

Matt Dixon, for providing the vision, the plan, the path, the process, and all the other terms that set me up with the ability to have a great performance on the day.  Lots of work to do still, but enjoying the it a ton so far.

Nick Alden, for lending me his bike.  It would have been a really long run without your bike man, seriously thanks.

Rob Vermillion, who helped me get ready for that crazy run by supporting me on a rainy, cold, hilly long run sessions.  You’re the man.

Steph Rothstein, Lauren, and Jenn Hughes handling 18 hours of Eugene Marathon Expo for Picky Bars without me.  You guys rock and did an awesome job.

My parents for all the encouragement and support, especially my mom, who’s drained many a phone battery listening and giving me her perspective over the years.

Of course, the rest of my support crew, you guys are the ones that make it happen!

14 comments to 7 Things I Learned at Wildflower

  • Miriam

    Love it Jesse! Congratulations and I love the recap! Both exciting and funny.

  • Congrats again Jesse – couldn’t have asked for a better “recap”. You’re not only a talented athlete but a good writer as well. Your posts always manage to bring a smile to my face.

    Can’t wait to see the new do. 😉

  • laryeth

    beef master. You rock.

  • Meggie

    I particularly like #7. Its great to see people go a non-conventional path and be wildly successful. Going start-up or corporate or wtv MBAs do would’ve been more traditional and “less risky”, but what you’re doing is WAY cooler. It inspires me to take a few more risks when I lack spontaneity (which is always) or want to back off my goals.

    WHY HASN’T RAY BAN CALLED YET?!? I mean you’ve given the aviators a new market…

  • T-bore

    Classy, love the inspirational part. Keep it comming


  • Teddy

    Love your stories, it inspires me & others, you are Mr Wildflower, Ayoba to you …

  • Z Kerns

    That Photo of you and Matt should so make theChive as randomness… er something.

  • Clydesdale Extraordinaire

    You’re the man. Like the real man. The man that other men want to be. Keep killin’ it, bro!

  • Pete

    Great article. Txs.
    OK, I’m looking for the wonder drug to improve my swimming. Besides the volume you mentioned that worked for you, should I get an instructor to improve my technique? I’ve read over and over that swimming speed is mostly technique not sweat unlike biking and running (at least at my slow swimming speed). Got a comment Champ?

    • Jesse Thomas

      All – thanks for the congrats, compliments & comments, much appreciated! I’m just pumped you guys are reading this stuff and enjoying it.
      Laryeth – No, you rock.
      Meggie – No Ray Ban yet? What’s the hold up, right?!?
      Teddy – Ayoba? Had to google it, thanks! South African? Cool!
      Pete – I do think a technique coach helps, to a certain extent. When I first started swimming and had absolutely no background in it, a technique coach helped me identify the 3 or so most important things I could work on – for me, body position, catch/elbow position, and something else (honestly can’t remember). But (big but here) I think those things only helped to a certain level, and I spent a long time focusing on technique and not improving nearly as much as I have recently. I think in addition to swimming more, it’s just swimming faster. Quite a novel idea right? Honestly though, that has made a huge difference, and in my opinion, more than the technique work. It’s possible that the early technique work enabled me to increase volume and intensity, but I’m not sure that’s what happened. I think that swimming fast makes you improve your stroke, it’s just like running fast, you can’t run fast with a crappy stride, it’s just impossible. I think the same is true with swimming, you can’t swim fast with a crappy stroke, so the fast swimming teaches you to swim correctly. I think a lot of triathletes spend all their time swimming at or near race pace (and slower) and don’t do enough stuff faster or way faster than race pace to make themselves more efficient. I’m no expert, but that’s my two cents as an athlete trying to figure it out. Hope that helps!

      Thanks guys!

  • Meggie

    Jesse, I have no idea. But, I mean if you can get this head bob down, you could ask these people https://www.myhdaviators.com/Default.aspx?did=738&refcode=hdaviators&aid=1001446. HD vision and aviators spells winning to me. Just practice that head bob first.

  • Anna Timbie

    Nice combination of celebrating your accomplishment and building on it. I’m looking forward to cheering for you at Vineman!

  • […] before mile 6. I caught Matthews right at the top around 10k (the EXACT same place Matt gave me the clause “C” last year). I made a big move on the following steep decline and created a gap. Oh my god. I’m in the lead. […]

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