Alright boys and girls, settle down, get comfortable, put on your crazy ass hats, streamers, kazoos, foam “Number 1” fingers, bifocal Aviators, and get ready for some serious race reporting. That, my friends, was a crazy ass weekend.
As I wrote about in the Preview, this race was a last minute addition in an effort to get back on the horse after a tough World’s performance. I was here to try and take the next step, to begin rebuilding my confidence, and get some points for next year.
But the other story was that Sunday was also my five year anniversary with Lauren. And our original plans were to road trip/vacation together after a crazy year where we spent less than 50% of our time in the same zip code.
So the “deal” was that I’d go race Poconos, as long as I could get back as soon as possible, ideally that same night, so we could spend the night with her parents at their yearly family excursion at Carpentaria beach in southern California. This meant I would race a 70.3 at 7am in Stroudsburg, PA, and then try to catch a 3:15pm flight out of Newark for LA. Sounds tight right? You have no freaking idea.
Soundtrack – Hungry Eyes from Dirty Dancing. Why? Because of what Dan Ross tweeted me (below). I like this song a lot, and the video is 80′s perfection, but I have no idea what Dan is talking about.
@jessemthomas say hi to Patrick Swayze as he shows Baby what dancing and true love looks like.
— Dan Ross (@derossjr) September 29, 2012
Let me start off by saying that I absolutely loved this course (hilly, beautiful, sunny and cool weather), and that the race management, staff, and volunteers were well organized and on their game. But…the race logistics were like a GMAT question (have to give an age grouper I met the day before the race credit for this analogy, loved it). Two transitions 25 miles apart, a finish line a mile from T2, and parking another 2.5 miles past that. The race organizers had well-coordinated free shuttles to everything, but on Saturday night I did the math in my head, I realized that I’d have to be ON THE ROAD at 11:45am (no time for shuttles) in order to drive to the rental car place, take the shuttle to the train, take the train to the terminal and check in. Since the race started at 7am, and I’d probably race around 4 hours, this would give me ~45 minutes after crossing the line to grab morning clothes, run to bike, grab bike and bike gear, bike to car, pack bike, change and leave. Yeah right.
I honestly thought more about making my flight than the race itself. And as I drove in to the parking to take the shuttle to the start, my fears increased. I kid you not, the parking lot was at the top of a ginormous hill. In the 2.5 miles from T2 to the parking lot, I’d bet the road climbed 2000 feet, in the snow! (just kidding, but it was uphill). Better save something for the ride back to the car, Jesse.
While I was warming up and setting up transition, the race organizers announced that one of the buses got delayed, and we were going to start about 15 minutes late. There goes my flight.
Swimming it Smooth
I got out to a decent start. Since Vegas, the only part of my training that’s felt good was my swim, so I was expecting to feel ok. I was in 4th place with the front pack, but about 400m in, the two front guys dropped us. I came out of the water with the two guys most on my radar (Jordan Jones and Maik Twelsiek).
Oh My God What Just Happened T1
Something absolutely nuts went down after I exited the water. It was unprecedented, something I’ve never done ever before in the history of my career. I had a good transition. Boomshakalaka! I was like, wetsuit off, BAM, Liquid Shot in my pocket, BAM, helmet on my head and strapped, BAM! It all happened so fast, yet so slow. It was like a beautiful, up-tempo symphony of taking stuff off and putting it on. I grabbed my bike and left T1 first in my group. Success!
My original plan was to ride with the group for the first 30 miles or so, but since I had some momentum, and didn’t want the other guys to catch and sit on me, I changed my plan. I decided I’d try to push it for the first 5-10 miles and see if I created a gap. If so, I’d keep going.
From a speed and coldness perspective, the first 4 miles (which dropped ~900 feet in sub 50 degree weather) felt like riding an Olympic luge in a wet bathing suit. Luckily, I had plenty of adrenaline pumping to keep me from freezing over. Tucked and rolling, I moved into first place by mile 2. According to my Garmin/Strava data, I hit [Mom, Lauren, skip to next paragraph now] 53 mph somewhere in there. I rounded the corner at the bottom and looked at my watch, 4.3 miles in under 7 minutes, 37 mph.
After the downhill, the course was rolling and curvy, so I pushed the pace to keep out of sight. I put in a strong 25 minutes to the turnaround and got my only split, about a minute ahead of the chase pack. In another 10 miles or so, I’d be on some really cool country roads, where you could never see farther than 20-30 seconds in front of you. So I made the decision, keep up the effort to get out of sight and then settle.
Riding to Terms With Vegas
Once I hit the country road, I felt very alone. My mind wandered and I thought of something Jordan Rapp told me before World’s, “Go out and express all the hard work and training you’ve put in.” Since I didn’t really get a chance to do that in Vegas, I felt myself making up for it here.
This race was as much about getting back on the horse after a poor World’s performance as anything else. It was about proving to myself that World’s wasn’t indicative of my fitness or potential, that I was better than 20th in that race. In a funny way, during that 20 miles of country road by myself, I psychologically processed the “loss” of World’s. I got angry, and rode for a few minutes unnecessarily hard, like I was racing an invisible Vegas ghost. Then, I got depressed and teared up for a minute (I’m known as a bike crier). It was weird.
As each mile went by and my strength held, I started to believe what I wanted to prove to myself. Eventually, I could feel myself “accepting” and coming to terms with what happened at Worlds. Now, I could restart again, and just go out there and enjoy racing. I took deep breaths, soaked in the beautiful scenery and realized how awesome all this was. It now felt like I was in one of my favorite places in Jesse’s World – working hard, but having fun on a gorgeous training ride. I felt at home.
Part of feeling at home was the much cooler weather. And I’ll tell you what, it made me have to pee, A LOT. Sorry for the quick change, but this discussion is going to happen. I’ve never peed so much in my freaking life. I don’t think I’ve ever actually gone on the bike before, but I had to go so bad, and I was all by myself so I just said, ah [fudge] it, I’m going. I probably took 3-4 small to medium sized pees in the last 15 miles of the ride. If anything, I was CRUSHING my hydration plan. One thing I discovered during this process is that peeing on the bike is a lot better than peeing while running. You’re leg/kit/shoes dry much faster in the wind, and cycling shoes are less likely to retain water (pee) and won’t bug you as much when wet. In the future, I will always try to pee on the bike when faced with the option. A warning to any competitor considering drafting off me. Anyway, that’s pretty much how I finished the bike, riding hard, but enjoying it, and taking a pee every 15 minutes or so.
A Mile at a Time
As I exited transition, I immediately felt the bike in my legs. My feet were still a little cold (pee), and I’d worked hard. I hope I didn’t leave my run on the bike. I knew I had at least 3 minutes on the other guys, but I knew that Jordan Jones would be charging for me. Jordan is a very good runner, who ran down Lance at Texas, and also ran into a very respectable 13th place at Vegas from the group I started the bike with. I was worried.
In general, I’ve struggled with my confidence on the run this year. The focus on my bike and swim has kept me from doing the same type of run work I’ve done in the past. My increased bike strength has also made me capable of sustaining a much harder riding pace without realizing it, which is great, but can leave my legs feeling like Jello. My run just hasn’t been what it was last year, after my disaster run at Vegas, my confidence was at it’s all time low.
The first few miles didn’t do anything to make me feel better. I felt like [split]. My legs were beat, my stomach was turning over, and I had to pee a lot. I tried to stay focused on being relaxed, but I was hurting. One mile at a time.
I kept drinking and taking in Liquid Shot. I felt a little better after a couple of solid burps released some tension in my stomach. And, of course, I peed two more times. Then I stuck out my tongue, picked my nose and farted all at the same time. Just kidding. Ok, all the body humor is out of my system (my dad will LOVE that pun).
At the halfway, I got my one and only split and saw Jordan, charging, 2 minutes behind. [Shift]! That’s close. I’d averaged 5:50’s, and he only needed to make up 20 seconds a mile to pass me, which was certainly possible if he felt good.
A Runner’s Mentality
This information lit a fire under my ass. It’s funny, as soon as I started running harder, I felt better. It was like I was discovering my stride again. My body remembered. Oh yeah, I CAN run. In fact, I can run fast. I started to click. To get into the zone. Express your fitness. Express your run. You will, first and foremost, always be a runner. Believe that, show that.
For the next 5 miles it was like someone else was running inside my body. A runner, not a triathlete. And this person was there to prove to me that my body was capable of going faster. It wasn’t HARDER, it was just faster. A quicker cadence, a lighter foot strike, just increasing the tempo. Mile 8 split – 5:25, mile 9 split – 5:29, mile 10 – 5:33. That’s running, dude.
As each split rolled through, I knew the chances of Jordan catching me were growing slimmer and slimmer. I continued a controlled press, as much for sustaining the smooth feeling I had as for maintaining the lead. I heard a lot of awesome “You got this, Jesse!” and “Go Aviator!” and even a couple “Jesse Bieber!” out there. It was awesome. I rolled into the last corner and gave some hi-5’s into the finish a very happy dude.
Bonus Section: The 4th Leg – Get Your Ass to the [Farting] Airport!
I crossed the finish line, gave a quick interview, and then the first thing I did was look at my watch. 11:06. I had 39 minutes to be on the road.
I waited another couple of minutes to catch my breath, grab some water, thank the race organizers for an awesome event and tell them that I was very sorry I had to leave so quickly, but it was my 5 year anniversary and my wife’s orders were to get to the west coast! I congratulated Jordan and Maik for a tough race, and then looked at my watch, 11:14. 31 minutes, gotta roll!
I ran down to get my morning clothes bag, which had not only all my morning clothes, but also a pump, my bike tools, and running shoes (read – a very large and awkward, heavy ass plastic bag). So I took off “running” to T2, about a mile away, holding a giant bag with two hands in front of me, 11 minutes after finishing a half ironman. It felt like an extreme county fair game, like potato sack racing for a mile with the potatoes still in the sack. This is ridiculous…It’s going in the race report! So halfway through the run, I reset my watch and started timing my 4th leg.
I arrived at T2 at 11:21, grabbed my bike, and my bike gear bag by 11:26. Then I rode 2.2 miles uphill back to the car in my race kit, finishers medal dangling, carrying two gigantic plastic bags in one hand, steering with the other hand, racing flats still on my feet riding on top of my bike shoes. I weaved through crowds, traffic, and spectators initially thinking “Oh my god that guy is way off course, he’s lost his mind!” but then they’d double take and say, “Hey! That’s the guy who won, nice work!” “Thanks man! Gotta roll!”
I swear I biked just as hard up that hill as I did in my race. My legs were dead, my bag arm cramped. I wanted to quit, but I told myself, NO! It’s your anniversary. Stay in the game, dammit! I crested the hill and bags were flung next to the trunk at 11:35. I had 10 minutes to pack my bike and be in the car. It would surely take a world class performance to make it, but today was my day. This is your moment to shine. I hit the lap split on my watch. It’s go time.
I found another dimension of myself with that bike – so fast, and so focused, whipping out tools, taking off wheels, wrapping stuff up. I was like Mr. Miyagi, chopstick-catching flies with BOTH HANDS AT THE SAME TIME. Famished, I stuffed Picky Bar that fell on the ground in my mouth and chewed while I worked. I sweated profusely, the most I’d sweat the entire day. It hurt bad, but I pushed through the pain. I may have blacked out for a few minutes, I don’t know for sure, and I never will. When I zipped up the final wheel into the bag, I threw it in the car and stopped my watch. 9 minutes 41.27 seconds. Seriously.
I threw the rest of my clothes in my bag and jumped in the car in my race kit, race belt and all, and went tearing out of the parking lot. Time – 11:47! Booyah! I made it back to Newark, on my flight and eventually all the way to Santa Barbara in time to have burgers and beers with Lauren and her parents. Success.
- My wif gets top billing this week. Though she deserves it basically every week, she was above and beyond her normal support level. Not only did she understand and totally support my decision to race on our anniversary. She also talked me off a confidence cliff the night before when I was freaking out. She was awesome. I love you, wif, it’s been an amazing five years.
- Coach Matt Dixon – The mark of a good coach is knowing when to listen to your athletes feedback, and when to push back against it. Matt knew, before I did, how important it was for me to race again. He encouraged me to get out there, even though I initially didn’t want to. Needless to say, I’m glad I listened to him. Thanks for all the help, Matt. Turns out you’re a lot smarter than you look.
- The crazy ass fans. Twitter, facebook, newsletter subscribers, and all the people that cheered me on out there. Thank you for the support this weekend (I met one self-professed CAFan on the bus, Jenn, who kept me company and kept me loose on the ride out to the lake, thanks!). But more importantly, thanks for the support post Vegas. The response to my Vegas race report was greater than anything I’ve ever received, and it motivated me to get back out there again. Boomshakalaka!
- The Poconos race organizers, staff, and volunteers – Like I said, this was a logistically difficult course and the race organizers here did a great job of keeping everything as smooth as possible. Thank you specifically Gretchen and Kirsten for helping me get my bike and gear afterwards as well, and being cool with me leaving so quickly! Thanks also to the volunteers and people at the aid stations who not only gave me a ton of stuff, but cheered me on and kept me going.
- Mallory and Joe (Spider Monkey) at Specialized – My fastest bike ever! Haha, seriously, it was. The new Shiv was rad out there, and with the recent build & tune up, felt smooth as ever. Thanks guys!
- Geoff, Kody & all the guys at Pearl Izumi. Stoked to bring the fastest run split, back to PI where it belongs. Booyah! Thanks a bunch guys for all the support, looking forward to next year.
- Rob & Kurt at Roka Sports – You guys are on to something with that wetsuit. It’s fast! Thanks for all the help, psyched to get it out there to some people.
- Gerry Rodrigues of Tower 26 – Again, the swim training is paying off. I felt more relaxed in a better position than ever here. Thanks for all the help and support Gerry!
- The guys at Rolf Prima. Another fastest bike split on the TDF 60’s. Thanks for everything dudes!
- Robert at First Endurance – Nutrition was spot on this race. My energy was even the entire time. I stuck to my 70.3 Nutrition Plan and it paid off well. Thanks a bunch for an awesome product Robert.
- Steve at CycleOps – Definitely used the power meter a lot this race to keep myself in check and consistent. I’m going to get a wrap-up and power file for you guys to see what went down, so stay tuned. Thanks so much for the help!