Leap Day Sports - The Triathlife of Jesse Thomas

2012 Wildflower Race Report

Well, my crazy-ass, doing-bongo-drum-dance-circles-in-the-middle-of-the-street fans, hope you’re ready. We had a BIG ONE this weekend. Grab a seat, get some water and a Picky Bar. This is a long one, but it has a happy ending.

It’s impossible to describe what I feel right now. It’s a combination of excitement, exhaustion, euphoria, nostalgia, and overwhelming relief. I want to throw up, scream, cry, poop, and laugh all at the same time. Actually, that describes it pretty well.

Just like last year, Wildflower proved to be one of the most memorable days in my athletic career. But the 2012 version wasn’t the shock and surprise of victory in unbridled naivety. It was victory over pressure, fear, and relentless self-doubt.

Pre Race Mental Games

Yep, I slept in the closet. Don't knock it till you try it!

Wednesday and Thursday were super fun. I did a webinar with Matt. I drove down with Linsey and Chris Corbin. We stayed with super buddy (yep, I just said it) Matt Lieto, Jen Luebke, and legend Chris Legh back in Cabin 10, who told us all ridiculous and entertaining stories from his years of racing. I was in a good spot, excited, happy, enjoying it.

Thursday night things started to derail. I didn’t sleep more than a couple hours, and it had nothing to do with sleeping in the closet. I got nervous and worried. On Friday I had interviews, photo shoots, a magazine signing, Q&A panel, a stairway dedication, and I had to prep for the race. I tried to nap, but couldn’t. It was a non-stop day, mostly fun, but a lot of answering questions about the pressure to repeat, targets on my back, etc. I told everyone, and myself, that I really didn’t feel added pressure, I just wanted to enjoy it. No big deal. I was lying.

The morning of the race I saw Matt as I put on my wetsuit. “Hey,” I said with a solemn look on my face. “There’s a decent chance I’m sick. Felt like crap yesterday, my throat and nose is stuffed up. Not sure how this is going to go.” “Well,” he paused, “you’ll know when you get out there.”

The whole time I warmed up, I heard the announcers talking about Jesse Thomas this and Jesse Thomas that, what’s he going to do, the target is on his back, how’d his race strategy change, yada yada yada. I couldn’t escape it, this could be an ugly day. Honestly, the last thought I had just before the gun, “I can’t wait until this is all over.”

Swimming in a Mental Funk

To quote Gerry, I went out “quick, but not hasty,” – strong, but comfortable. A few hundred meters in, the pace slowed. I relaxed, but negative thoughts immediately clawed into my brain. How do I feel? Am I going slow? It feels hard. Am I sick? Oh man, maybe I’m out of it. Am I way behind? Who’s in front of/around/behind me? Eventually I decided that this is what I’ve got, so just stick with this group, even if you are way back. I came out of the water, didn’t see the clock, and ran toward the bike. Here goes.

Bike Ups & Downs

I carried a stick with me, in case things got physical out there.

I got my first good sign when the announcer said, “And here he is, our defending champion, starting the bike in 7th place!” WTF? Did he say 7th place? No, 17th place? Then I rode by Matt, “7th Place. 2:30 down on lead. Group of 3 in front. Good spot.” Normally I’d be stoked with such an amazing swim. But honestly, the first thing I thought was, oh man, all the good guys are probably in a group in front of me. I’m screwed.

On the first uphill Jordan Rapp whipped by me. Oh crap. I tried to go with him, but he was climbing VERY HARD. Am I going to hard? Jordan’s one of the most intelligent racers out there, and I knew he wouldn’t make a pacing mistake. Nonetheless, I can’t keep this up. There he goes. I don’t have it today.

I got out to the main road, finally away from the crowd, the event, the announcers, the magazine cover. The solitude gave me a brief moment of clarity – I’m negative all over the place. Debbie Downer. Every thought was negative – I’m sick, my legs are tired, I’ve got a new pimple on my forehead. This is not me (except the pimple part)! Enjoy this dude! Find yourself.

Debbie Downer isn’t fun to be around.

Then I realized I don’t even have a damn song in my head! Sacrilege! So I tried out some stuff – the new Coldplay, Kishi Bashi, Now Now. Nothing stuck. So I thought…it worked last year, should I try it? Let’s do it. Invisible Touch it is. No joke, as soon as I started singing it (literally, singing it out-loud), I started feeling a better. There’s something about the beat…when it hits your ears! It matches my cadence, or heart rate, or breathing or something. It’s a resonant frequency dude (Nerd Alert!). Anyway, I’d kept Jordan in my sight and no joke, with Invisible Touch powering me through, the gap narrowed. 50 seconds, 40 seconds, 30 seconds. Phil Collins, you’re the man!

Brought me back into it, thanks Phil.

When I reached Jordan, I pulled back and relaxed, we were passing people and I was burnt. When we hit the infamous Nasty Grade, I saw Macca on his bike and asked him, “How far up are they?” “Maybe two minutes, but they’re putting some power down.” I thought it was Matthews and Cunnama, and wasn’t sure I could give up two minutes (or more) to either of them on the run. So even though my legs felt like doo doo, I made a move. I heard Macca yell, “Now’s when the race starts!”

I rode hard the rest of the way. Jordan must have reeled back in whatever gap I opened up, because I left transition behind him. I saw my buddy T-Bone, he said 4th place, 1:45 to the leaders. Here we go.

Running Scared

Just after I took the lead. Still thinking backwards.

I started at an aggressive, but sustainable pace. With no out & backs in the first 10 miles, you’re blind on this course, and I wanted to see the leaders as soon as possible. I passed Jordan around 1.5 miles. I got splits from random people out on the course. 1:30, 1:10, 50 seconds. Finally, I passed 2nd place, and saw Matthews in first. At that point, I knew I would catch him and the hills were killing me, so I relaxed. As I did last year, I walked twice on the steepest parts of the hill 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. 7 miles to go.

At this point, you might think I was celebrating, stoked, excited, practicing my Letterman interview. Nope. I was scared. What if I cramp? What if I bonk? I want this so bad. What if my foot hurts and I have to stop? What if Rapp catches me, or Cunnama? Honestly, my mind would not let me think positively.

I passed Matt about 2 minutes later. He said I had a huge gap, and was pulling away, relax, relax, relax. So I settled into what felt like a very comfortable pace. 6 miles to go. Still in fear. I ran through the campgrounds, heard people yell you got this, smoking it, can’t even see them. Even Macca yelled, “it’s time to go for records!” But I couldn’t enjoy it. I gave people hi-fives, I smiled and said thank you, but I couldn’t shake the fear.

When I hit the turnaround at mile 10 I got my own split, 1:40 up on 2nd place, Jordan. To confident Jesse, that would have been more than enough to relax and enjoy it. But I was hurting. The climb to mile 12 were the longest two miles of my life. What if I die. One step at a time. Is that a cramp? One step at a time. Is he gaining on me? One step at a time. Finally, I crest the hill. One downhill mile to go. I asked the lead biker, “Is he catching me?” “No man, you got it. Enjoy it.”

Into the long blue finish chute, I FINALLY knew I had it. The pressure lifted. It was honestly physical, palpable. I literally felt it release. I was flying, light as a feather. Time for celebration. With my Aviator glasses on tight, I “flew” arms spread wide through the chute giving everyone high 5s along the way. Grabbed the tape and yelled. Euphoria and relief.

Finally. Time to fly.

Proving It To Myself

It wasn’t until the interviews afterward that I let my guard down, not only to everyone else, but to myself. If you were there, you may have noticed that the excitement was littered with small emotional moments.

I’ve honestly never felt so much pressure in my life. I don’t think I even realized it all until after the race was over. And honestly, the pressure wasn’t completely external. It wasn’t the magazine cover, the announcers, the signings, panels, interviews, etc. It was me. I WANTED this one. I wanted it so bad. I needed it for myself. I needed to prove to myself that I wasn’t a one hit wonder who’s career was solely defined by a win at Wildflower in a slow year. I wanted to prove that the media attention, hype, sponsor support, even the damn cover was deserved.

Soooo pumped.

I don’t think I’ll ever feel that much pressure again. Next year won’t be the same. I’ve already defended. Other races won’t be the same, I’ve established myself. I wrote months ago about finally, for the first time in my life, feeling like a true pro athlete. Now I feel like a true champion. The third fastest time ever on a back to back win in one of the most historic races in the world. I’ll freaking take it. This win certainly won’t, in my mind, define my career, it’s another step in the journey I started 18 months ago. But I feel like I can now rest knowing I wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

Thanks Verdict Photography for another Amazing Video.

Thanks

I have to say that, generally, it’s impossible to improve by almost 6 minutes without some significant support. Emotionally, physically, equipment and financially, the guys below are just as responsible as I am for this awesome break through. Thank you all so much!

  • My coach Matt Dixon – I owe a very big piece of this to him. He not only had me physically prepared in the best shape of my life. He mentally kept me in check the entire week. As nervous, doubtful, worried as I was, it would have been substantially worse, and I honestly don’t know if I could have pushed through it without him. Huge thanks for the emotional/mental support man, great stuff.
  • Mallory, Joe, Sandy and the rest of the team at Specialized – The Specialized team actually created and gave away a few hundred pairs of free aviators to people in the crowd! UNREAL! Seriously, you guys are awesome. Can’t say enough about it. They also had a full support truck there for Jordan, Dan Hugo and I and did a ton of work getting my Shiv dialed in before the race. Oh yeah, my bike split was 5 MINUTES faster than last year!

I actually got to sign magazines with my face on them for awesome fans who were wearing Specialized aviators. I'm sorry, but THAT is sweet.

Loren and Jess reppin' some Picky Bar action. Thanks dudes!

  • My cousin/Picky Bars Marketing Director Loren, Jessica, James, Tbone, Neil, Kristen, and of course my mom, for driving down from all over the place just to come and watch me race. It was awesome having you guys there for emotional support. Thank you so much.
  • My “wif” Lauren Fleshman – Lauren also played a huge role in keeping me mentally and psychologically prepared for this race, and for every race. She’s my true inspiration. Read her eloquently written account of my prep and race here.
  • Terri, Dixie, and the rest of the crew at Tri-Cal. 30 Years of Greatness. You guys deserve every bit of success you receive. The way you support the pros in this industry is unparalleled. I’m truly grateful for the enormous impact you’ve had on my career. Thank you so much.
  • Robert at First Endurance – Special shout out to FE. I did not cramp once this year, (check out my full race day nutrition plan here) and I struggled with cramps the entire race last year. Thanks a ton Robert for the amazing product, and the nutritional advice. On our way man!
  • Goeff, & Kody at Pearl Izumi. 2nd fastest run on a day like that, I’ll take it! Thanks a ton for the support guys. Awesome to hear from you both before and after the race, see you in Quassy.
  • The guys at Rolf Prima. Thanks for the gear and support guys. Like I said, 5 MINUTES faster on those TDF 60’s!
  • Steve and the rest of the team at Cycleops – Couldn’t have prepped the ENTIRE LAST WEEK in the rain without that PowerBeam Pro. Like I said, it immediately became my favorite trainer ever. Thanks a ton for all the help and support guys.
  • Gerry Rodrigues of Tower 26 – Gerry, again, thanks for the swimming instruction, both physical and mental. Almost a minute faster than last year, and more comfortable. Amazing man, owe a lot of it to you.
  • All my competitors, but particularly Jordan, who really battled hard with me out there the whole way. I know he wanted this one just as bad, and we’ll have more duels down the road. Check out his recap here.
  • My wife, my family, the rest of my support crew, my newsletter subscribers, twitter and facebook peeps. I have the best crazy ass fans in the sport. Seriously. I love your aviators, your comments, pictures, everything. It literally keeps me going through all the BS. Thanks you guys!

Always stoked to give the #1 Fan (mom) a hug at the finish line.

47 comments to 2012 Wildflower Race Report

  • Kristin

    CONGRATS JESSE!!! So excited for you– nobody deserves it more!

  • layra

    WOW!!! You did it! How amazing, even just reading your report gave me chills!!!! It’s funny how pressure can make you go into negative-ville. Doesn’t matter how much you trained and/or how prepared you are, once you let a negative thought go through your mind, they just start pouring. It happened to me this past weekend too, why is the course so hilly, I’m not going to finish, I’m going to be sooo slow, etc etc. In the end it’s all about conquering our inner fears and self-doubt; this is a big reason why I like Triathlon so much, because it pushes you constantly to do things you never thought possible.
    I’m really happy for you, like I’ve said before, you look like a really down-to-earth guy that is truly enjoying the moment. Keep it up, !’ll be rooting for you!!!!

  • unrelated note – it always cracks me up how the triathlon timing things sort of look like those ankle bracelets lindsay lohan has had to wear when she’s on house arrest or being forced to be sober.

    Anyways, this makes your win all the more impressive – think about much energy is probably spent battling all the negative thought demons and pressure and such. It’s much harder to win with a target on you back. Huge congrats and you deserve it. Now, go enjoy yourself a rice cake with a hefty serving of PB and a jar’s worth of jelly….

    When things die down, can you teach me to be as awesome as you? Thanks a million in advance.

  • Major props, Jesse! Your recap is awesome. I especially love the photos of you at the finish with the crowd going wild. I’m sure there are few moments in life that feel that good! Way to stay mentally tough and get after it for the second year in a row. Wildflower is a beast of a race for sure! Your excitement for the sport makes me want to get back into triathlons, although I could never pull of the aviators like you do. Keep up the inspirational work!
    P.S. I’m still on for giving you and Lauren that flipturn lesson when I’m in Eugene for the Trials. If there were flipturns in open water swimming, such a thing would be especially helpful :)

  • Damie Roberts

    Wow. Awesome. Extremely happy for you. Invisible Touch? I have to admit, I had to play the video just to confirm that yes, you were singing what I thought you were. Fantastic. :)

  • Karen B

    congrats, congrats, CONGRATS Jesse! So pumped up for you!! You are a huge inspiration, especially as I begin my triathlon journey. Looking forward to what’s to come for you!

  • Daniel T

    Congratulations! It’s been sweet following you on your journey these last 12 months or so and I’ve loved reading your updates. It’s always fun to brag on the freakin’ crazy cousin who is conquering the triathalon world one race at a time. Seriously.

  • Lauren G.

    Seriously, AMAZING. So psyched for you! Way to go get it, even in the face of pressure and self-induced negativity – those are the toughest battles to be had. Congrats!

  • Incredible. A huge HUGE congrats! I can tell the triathlon world will be hearing about Jesse Thomas this and Jesse Thomas that for long time!

  • Way to go Jesse…tough position to be in and takes a true champion to raise to the challenge and succeed. Years of hard work and dreaming coming to fruition. Congrats from your Canadian fans :)

  • Mark W.

    Started following you after hearing you speak at Eugene with Lauren. Flippin’ sweet! Go Card!

  • Jesse Thomas

    Thanks for all the awesome comments so far guys, sincerely appreciate it. Wasn’t sure people were going to like this race report as much because it’s not quite as whimsical/funny/from outer space as usual. But I had to write from what I truly felt before, during, and after the race. Really glad you enjoy it, and thanks again! Love hearing this stuff.

  • Rick

    Jesse,
    Major Congrats for not just the win but the repeat! And thank you for sharing the doubts, the songs, the joy. You and Lauren bring a unique perspective in your writing. It humanizes your respective sports and sharing your pain, doubts, joys, frustrations, triumphs makes us all pull for both of you even more. Hammer on dudes!

  • Jordan Rapp

    Hat’s off. I know what you were feeling – or, at least, I know how I have felt in similar situations. I thought there was a chance that it might crack you. But it didn’t. It propelled you. When you want it that bad, it can lead to bad decisions, negativity, etc. All those things you mentioned. A lot of folks crumble under that. But you did not. Since you clearly demonstrated that you won’t beat yourself, I think I better to get out the door so that I can beat you.

    PS: F’ing Phil Collins. I used to like his music. NO MORE!

    • Jesse Thomas

      Haha! You never know when an 80’s legend will turn on you.

      Thanks for the comment man. Like I said above, a well fought battle. I think had we doubled distance you had the upper hand! Good luck in Texas next week.

  • Awesome race, Jesse. Seriously impressive.

  • malb

    you rock my world.

  • Luke

    Congratulations Jesse on an INCREDIBLE win! Love your race reports and your fun approach to the whole sport. As a lowly age grouper, you and Lauren are a huge inspiration to me. Keep on crushing it.

  • Don Quixote

    Huge congrats on what sounds like an incredible life experience. Thanks for sharing humbly and honestly. It’s nice to know that Champions harness Phil Collins.

    Something I learned chasing windmills is that vibrant faith and doubt are inseparable. Doubt is the resistance that the muscles of belief train against. It must always be this way.

    You are a Champion, and I trust that reality will grow your faith and joy in racing and being. Congrats

  • d stearns

    Way to go Jesse! Loved the race report-sent chills down my spine! You’ve got a following of young fans at MVHS. Feel the love and spread the butter! Hope to see you soon.
    Don

  • Chad Peck

    Very awesome! Great write up too, Jesse…provocative, insightful (really cool run down on what even elite athletes feel as they race). I’ll be sharing this with my track kids at Scio; I think it will make an impact on some of their mental preparation. Congratulations!

  • Got chills reading this. Amazing job Jesse, and I could not be more happy for you!!!!

  • T-Bone

    Dude I’m really stoked for you and so glad I was able to be there for it. Loved the report, as always. The “insider” perspective of the doubts that go through your mind leading up to and during a race put words to a lot of experiences I have had.

    Also just so happy for you with how far you have come with this sport! Daniel and I were just talking yesterday about how funny it was when you first tried to swim, and now you’re doing 23 minutes for almost 2000m – crazy!

    • Jesse Thomas

      It’s been a long road since you guys dragged me out on an 80 mile hilly ride in 90+ degree heat the first time I ever touched a road bike! NOTHING will ever be as hard as that day, haha!

  • T-Bone

    Also, that airplane pic coming down the finish chute sums up so much!

  • Russ

    DOOD! I nearly did a back flip when I heard you gave Wildflower the business! Mondo Congrats!

  • Hallie

    Jesse,

    So proud of you! You deserve every ounce of fame. See you back on Pre’s soon.

  • Huge congrats Jesse! What an amazing race. I enjoyed reading your recap!

  • John b

    Jess, you rock man…loved the report. What an inspiration to all of us…I did 2 sprint tri’s last year and after reading this I just signed up for my first Olympic tri…it’s going to be a blast. Thanks for being YOU!

  • Andre James

    Oh man! Got goosebumps reading your awesome blog. Felt like I was there witnessing it all. SUPERB best fits it. I can already feel the tremble in Cebu come August. Must be there to see the race between you and Pete (Jacobs). Boom! Boom! Shakalaka!

  • Seth

    Boo Ya! Nice work Jesse. Congrats on your total domination.

  • Heidi and Greg

    Congratulations, Jesse! Very fun to see you on the cover of the Triathlete magazine at the airport while we were traveling to visit Michelle and Jake. Keep up the great work! Lots of love from the family.

  • dwtien

    Congrats on defending WF title! Just found your blog and love it. Looking forward to more of your writing.

  • Brett

    Great reports. It is awesome to get some insight into what you really fast guys are thinking during the race.
    I’ll be rooting for you. Best of luck.

  • Awesome job Jesse…both on the course and with the keyboard. Love your insights, and you “are” what so many of us wish pro athletes would be…keep on winning ;-)

  • Tu Tran

    Awesome job and great recap, it’s a great insight to know what the pros think. I saw you around mile 9neither the lead and cheered. I didn’t expect you to acknowledge me but you did with a, “thanks dude.” that alone made me a fan for life.

  • Justin

    Great race report. Your frankness, honesty, and personality is amazing and sets you apart from other athletes. Don’t lose it as you achieve more success!

    • Jesse Thomas

      Really appreciate this comment man, along with Erik, Brett, Johns. Thanks a bunch guys, and will definitely keep it up as best I can.

  • Lisa

    Wow! Absolutely positively awesome! A great race and a great synopsis of it too. Congratulations.

  • David

    Jesse, would you be able to sign my copy of triathlete magazine if I sent it to you and included prepaid postage envelope? If so, please let me know where to send it.

    Thanks and Congrats!

  • Jonathan @jschmit

    Finally made it out here to ready this. Love this race report. Its got me juiced to go race. How cool is it to have Macca cheering for YOU. Wow, now that is surreal. Oh and how about this for degrees of separation…I hear you met T. from Gatorade in the finish shoot.

  • JJ

    We’re all pulling for you Jesse – put the hammer down on the run like you always do! I love reading your stuff and your perspective on life, training, and competition – don’t ever start taking yourself too seriously ;-). Thanks for the continued inspiration.

  • Karen B

    congrats jesse, great job!!

  • Jon Glassman

    Congrats Jesse, amazing work!

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