My oh my oh my oh my oh my….
THAT was a big one, crazy ass fans. The biggest one of this journey so far. I honestly don’t know where to start. I’m stoked. I’m crushed. I’m sore. I’m hung-over. I’m really, really hungry. Let’s begin.
Coming into the race, I bounced between confidence and doubt. I was 3rd here last year, but as I wrote about in the preview blog, this was the best field I’ve faced outside of a World Championships. I’d had some great training in Bend, but was really fried, and worried I wouldn’t recover in time. The race was a perfect opportunity for me to have a big performance in a big field, my primary goal for the season, but there was plenty that could go wrong.
I finally told myself that I needed to stop projecting, analyzing, and predicting the future based on the past or present. It’s simple and cliché, but I needed to focus on the now, stay in the moment. I told myself before the race that regardless of what happened or was happening, I wouldn’t project an outcome, I’d focus on getting through that moment, and move on to the next one. All I have is now. Courage over confidence.
Swim: Smooth Chest Bumping
Luckily, I read my race report from last year (they do have a purpose!) and went out chill. Matt, Gerry and I worked on taking 5% off the first 200 meters, “quick, but not hasty.” So I kept as calm as possible, which wasn’t easy because this one dude to my right insisted on chest bumping my shoulder. He must have been really psyched to be swimming next to me.
The pace ratcheted up the entire first half of the swim. I struggled, but stayed with it. I could tell at one point I was with Tim O’Donnel (US 70.3 Champion) because he had a special color cap because he’s Tim O’Donnel & US 70.3 Champion. On the way back, my bluff was called and I got dropped a couple of times, but I managed to exit the water with a few 2nd pack contenders. I heard I was only 90 seconds off the lead, and 75 from the front pack, so I ran the long transition like a scared bunny rabbit. I didn’t wear a monitor, but I’d guess my heart rate was around 275.
This is what happens when you search bicycle bunny rabbit. This video has well over 1 million views, the internet is clearly AWESOME. I’ll just go ahead and make this the race theme song as well.
Bike: Get after it (PowerTap/Strava File)
I left transition a minute down on the front pack. Matt and I planned that if I was under a minute behind, I’d crank early to try and catch. If I was more than a minute, I’d let my legs come to me, and make a move in the 2nd half. But god damn it, what do I do if it’s exactly a minute!?!?
I decided to go. I kept the scared bunny mentality and rode as hard a bunny could possible pedal a size medium Shiv. At some point cycling phenom Bjorn Andersson came by me and I stayed with him as we reeled in the group. At the out & back 10 miles in, we were just 20 seconds back, and by 35 minutes we’d caught the group. I yelled a SUPER LOUD booyah inside my head and tried to recover a bit.
The group was huge, 15 guys or so, definitely the biggest group I’ve ever been in. For the next 30 minutes, the pace was fairly chill, and according to Matt & I’s plan, I readied myself to make a move in the hills.
Turns out that was everyone’s plan. At each hill, roller, you name it, the pace ripped. It was like repeat 1-5 minute intervals from 400-500 watts. It honestly felt like a group ride, not that we were drafting, but the pace changes were just insane. I took a couple of pulls early on, but it was obvious my legs couldn’t do much to break the group, so I just I stayed near the front to cover any moves.
Eventually, my break away and smoke these foo’s plan faded into hang on for dear life scared bunny rabbit plan. I visualized group rides, racing with Jordan Rapp and Andrew Starkowicz, anything I could do to give myself confidence I could stay with it. To my amazement, the efforts kept coming, and it seemed no one got dropped.
Around mile 45, the collective group remembered that we still had to run, and things calmed down a bit. I started to mentally prepare myself for what I knew would be the hardest run of my career. Andy Potts, Tim O’Donnel, Frederick Van Lierde, Jordan Jones. All great runners coming off the bike together, and we had Andi Borcherer, who rode like a man possessed, 3:30 up the road.
Run for the Win (Garmin/Strava File)
I had semi slow transition, and remembering that I went too hard last year out of transition, tried to ease into the first two miles to catch back up to the group. A 5:25 and 5:15 isn’t what I’d call “easing” but it was necessary to catch Andy and Jordan, who were rolling up ahead. My damn Sartorius was cramping again, and I got a little freaked out a couple of times that I’d have to stop. The pace felt hard for the next mile or so, but relaxed around mile 4. My cramps started to ease, and my confidence started to rise.
As I’ve commented before, people love to give you splits, but good lord there is some variability in standards of accuracy. Depending on who I listened to, we were between 1:20 and 2 minutes back of Borcherer at mile 5. I tried to do tired math in my head – we’d cut roughly half the deficit in half the distance. If I didn’t go, we might not catch him. I felt strong, relatively recovered/relaxed, and it seemed like each up hill Andy & Jordan were hurting a bit. Yeah, it might be too early. I should probably be patient. But going up the steep incline into the crowd at mile 6, I felt Andy and Jordan slowing and heard someone yell “Go Aviator!” So I gunned it. Jesse Bieber Mode engaged!
Looking back, even as I made the move, I think there was a sliver of doubt in my head. I knew I had a long way to go and I didn’t feel THAT good. But my focus was Borcherer and the win, and I thought if I caught him, it was mine. I felt fairly strong for the next 3 miles and reeled in Borcherer much faster than anticipated, passing him by mile 9. 4 miles to go and you’re the Oceanside Champion! But these 4 miles would easily be the longest of my life.
The Cost of Too Early
I NEVER looked back, but even as I passed Borcherer, I could hear Andy behind me from the cheers of spectators. My guess was anywhere from 10-15 seconds. I knew that if he caught me, the momentum would be almost impossible to overcome. I continued to push the pace, running 5:20 miles for 11 and 12, keeping distance, but not doing enough to break the “rubber band.”
In painful, remarkable similarity to last year, with about 2k to go, I felt my tank start to sputter. I told myself not to project. Stay in the now. 6 minutes of running, you can do this! I thought of specific workouts I’d done, the pain I’d gone through, how bad I wanted to win, anything and everything to keep my mind and body motivated.
1 mile to go, still in the lead, but he’s closer. Come on legs! 3/4, the 2nd place lead cyclist comes by me. Damn it, hold on! ½ mile to go and Andy comes by. I tell myself something I learned from a high school hero of mine, “every race comes down to 5 seconds of passing or being passed. If you can hold on that 5 seconds, you’ll win the race.” I did EVERYTHING I could to hold on to Andy. I sprinted like I had 50 meters to, but my body shut down, like it was disconnected from my brain and being. With every stride he pulled away. There was nothing I could do. It didn’t matter how badly I wanted it, or how much pain I was willing to endure. It was over. 30 meters from the finish, I watched Andy celebrate across the line, the 2013 Oceanside Champion, the 5th of his career. 10 seconds later, I stumbled across the line and may or may not have let out a breathless “F$%&!”
Looking Back: Still Psyched
Here’s the thing though. It isn’t a sad story. Yes, it was a brutally bittersweet, emotionally (and physically) painful way lose a huge potential win. But, turns out I also got 2nd place. At Oceanside 70.3. In the deepest, most competitive field I’ve ever raced outside of a World Championships. I beat some really accomplished guys (European Half Ironman Champion, US Half Ironman Champion, Kona 3rd place finisher, and many others). And, I lost to one of the best half ironman athletes of all time by 10 seconds, forcing him to run a 1:10 half marathon to hold me off. When I forget about the close loss, I realize one obvious thing – this was, hands down, the performance of my career.
Lessons Learned: Experience Matters
You know what, the exact same thing happened to me last year when Richie passed me in the final half mile (to put me in 3rd) after I’d burned myself trying to catch Potts for the win. I said after that mistake, that if I had to do it over again, I’d do the same thing, because you go for the win. The reason I made that move this Saturday was going for the win. I wasn’t sure we’d catch Borcherer, and I thought if I made a move, and caught him, I’d break Andy and get the win. It was a big risk, but I had to go for it.
In hind sight, I was wrong. I didn’t have to make a move that big to catch Borcherer. I could have stayed with Andy, and we likely would have reeled him in together. Had I done that, and saved a move for the last mile or two, maybe the result would have been different. I’ll never know, but it’s a learning experience I’ll take with me down the road. Andy said after the race that he’d done the exact same thing to Rasmus Henning and Craig Alexander (both triathlon legends) on this course. He’s an experienced, savvy and competitive racer, and he showed the value of that experience on Saturday. Hopefully another year or two under my belt will net the same thing.
@jessemthomas I suspect wind tunnel tests will show the aviators cost 10 seconds.Worth it.
— Andrew Marchington (@amarchng) March 30, 2013
Tons of people to thank for the awesome weekend. In no particular order:
Justin, Tom, John, Molly, Jason, Steve, Christine, Stephanie, Nancy, and the rest of the crew at Accenture & the Challenged Athletes Foundation – I was invited to do a quick Q&A with Bob Babbit at the CAF lunch on Friday. Like my last CAF event, it was a fantastic experience. I met some really inspiring and kind athletes. It’s just good people with positive energy. It was also great to chat biz & triathlon with the Accenture employees & VIPs. The whole experience enhanced my weekend, and made me feel like I had another community at the race cheering me on. I appreciate the support and involvement guys, and congrats on a great event.
— Jesse Thomas (@jessemthomas) March 29, 2013
— Justin Model (@jmodelnyc) March 29, 2013
Mallory, Dave, Nadine, and Matt at Specialized. Matt helped me fix my broken Di2 shifter after a very stupid biff off a curb 18 hours before the race. Mallory, Dave and Nadine were cheering fanatics the entire race. I think Dave lost his voice. Super fun. Thanks for all the support you guys.
— Jesse Thomas (@jessemthomas) March 30, 2013
Rob & Kurt & ROKA crew. Dudes, the wetsuit is fast!!!! I came out less than a minute from legit front pack swimmers, the closest I’ve ever been in such a stacked field. Thanks for coming down and cheering as well.
Pre-Orders are live…And flying!We are thrilled to welcome you all to the ROKA team.
— ROKA Sports (@rokasports) March 31, 2013
Pearl Peeps! Geoff, Don, Kody, Paul and everyone else. Thanks for not only making some fast ass shoes, but also some rad podium gear that I luckily got to wear. I’m psyched! Thanks so much guys.
Picky Bars Peeps Patrick, Loren, Laurel, and Sasha for keeping the ship running (and improved) while I’m a away. A huge month for us guys, thanks so much!
— Picky Bars (@pickybars) March 30, 2013
As always, huge thanks to coach Matt Dixon who once again proved he “know’s what he is doing.” I honestly didn’t think I’d be ready for this race, I was slammed, but somehow he resurrected me from the dead. Onward and upward!
Sony Medical, Carestream, and Allied Media for the support. Can’t wait for the neck story to come out, really appreciate the help you’ve given!
Swim guru Gerry Rodrigues for the support both in general and on race day. Another huge step forward from a year ago. Progress!
Stacy Sims for the nutrition consultation. Big first test on a half ironman, seems to be coming around!
You are a beast jessemthomas and you do it with style. Solid 2nd place at the Oceanside 70.3!… instagram.com/p/XgWFi7AtnO/
— JayBird (@jaybirdsport) March 31, 2013
— Rolf Prima Wheels (@RolfPrima) March 31, 2013
CycleOps Power – Thanks for the support guys! Equipment was stellar, stoked!
Dr. Mitchell Greene for helping me stay in the now and giving me the mantra of courage over confidence, both of which I used in this race.
Dan, Faith, Lauren, Katya, and Sandrine! Thanks for letting me chill with you guys this weekend. Seriously good times and kept me loose with plenty of dude like potty humor. Loved it!
Of course, the rest of my (updated) support crew, thanks dudes!
Finally AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, the CRAZY ASS FANS (including my family, wif, and friend Emily who drove 3 hours to watch)! Seriously, huge help this weekend you guys. I’ll be honest, I cried a little bit looking through the twitter and facebook feed (don’t tell anyone). It was awesome to see how much you guys were cheering me on, and to see how stoked and heartbroken you were at the same time. I really appreciate all the support, seriously. It’s huge. We’ve got a long journey ahead, but it’s been an awesome ride so far!
Eurostar. About as crazy ass fan as it gets. Thanks guys!