Leap Day Sports - The Triathlife of Jesse Thomas

Why I’m Racing Wildflower

It’s funny to think it was only 2 years ago. Most of you are probably sick of the story (if so, skip the next paragraph), if not, here’s a quick recap:

A bright eyed, bushy haired first year pro out of Eugene drives the ManVan with his buddy Matt last minute down to the historic Wildflower Triathlon. The kid doesn’t have a clue. He uses a borrowed bike (his broke 4 days prior), a borrowed helmet (also Matt’s), a hand me down race kit & of course, $8 drug store aviators. But, he lines up, has the race of his life, and while the announcers literally don’t know his name, crosses the finish line to win.

If it isn’t obvious by the video, I was pretty dang excited. I honestly felt like my short “career” could have ended and I’d have been happy. A year later, I defended the title, and proved to myself that I wasn’t just a one hit wonder. It was one of the most important performances of my career.

Obviously, I love Wildflower. You’d think it would be an easy decision to always come back. It was my first major Olympic distance race, it’s the sight of two of the best athletic moments of my life. I’m the defending champ. There’s beer and buddies and campfires after the race.

But this winter, the notoriously hard and hilly Ironman St. George was announced as the new U.S. 70.3 / Half Ironman Championship. At first, I was psyched! But then I found out it was the same day as Wildflower. All of a sudden, I had a decision to make. And the decision was anything but easy.

You see, a lot has changed since that goofy dude with no name crossed the finish line. I’m now legitimately doing this sport as my job, and I’m the primary income earner for my soon to be growing family. My goals have changed. While I still focus on the process of developing, I do want to win. And I want to win big. Eventually, I want to win a world championship. And the main difference between then and now, is that I believe I eventually can.

So on the surface, St. George actually made more sense. It offers bigger prize money, the chance at a 70.3 US Championship title, World Championships qualifying points, and bigger bonuses from some of my sponsors. More importantly, because of these characteristics it will also have a World Championships caliber field on a course that’s suited to my strengths. Plus, I’ve already won Wildflower. What is the bigger picture career benefit of going back? On the surface, St. George seemed like the right career move. But something inside me just didn’t agree with that decision.

I look back at that video and see that kid. He wasn’t in it for the money, to win a world title, or the sponsor bonus checks. He was in it for the love of competing, pushing himself to the limit, and for most importantly, the fun of a shared experience with his buddies, his competitors, and the people at the event around him. To me, that kid represents a purer form of athletic pursuit.

As my career progresses, and the sport for me becomes more “professional” and my goals get bigger and bigger, I think it’s important for me to remember why I started competing in the first place. I need to remember that kid who crossed the finish line at Wildflower and hugged every person in sight. He was just stoked to be there with his buddies and recount drama filled race stories over beers at a camp fire afterwards, regardless of how with race went down.

And as the sport of triathlon progresses and grows, I think it’s important for all of us, pro, age groupers, sponsors, race organizers and the media, to remember that feeling. Remember where the essence of the sport comes from. Sure, it’s always been about competing your ass off, but it’s also about having as much fun as possible. It’s about sharing a remarkable experience and embracing your competitors after a job well done. Yes, you can compete with passion, but there’s no need to take yourself too seriously. Remember to enjoy it.

Post race Bro Hugs are MANDATORY at Wildflower. (Thanks to Jay Prasuhn for the awesome photo).

Post race Bro Hugs are MANDATORY at Wildflower. (Thanks to Jay Prasuhn for the awesome photo).

I am not saying that St. George doesn’t have these characteristics. The staff I’ve spoken to there are fantastic, kind, supportive people. What I’ve heard about the race and supporting community is nothing but great stuff, and the competitors I know going there are good dudes who race hard and have fun. I’m sure it will be a great event.

But to me, Wildflower is an absolutely unique event that puts “triathlon at it’s essence” on display like no other event can. There’s so much history, and the thousands of people that pile into that campground to race, cheer and beer, share a unique experience and camaraderie that simply has never been close to equaled at any event I’ve been to over the last 3 years. It’s the nature of the Woodstock-ness of it, everyone in a shared singular environment, that makes the energy unmatchable. The epic course, the thousands of cheering campers, the multitudes of incredible food truck choices, and of course, the naked beer bong aid station. You just can’t beat it.

One of the non naked (or at least prenakedness) aid stations.

One of the non naked (or at least pre-nakedness) aid stations.

So anyway, that’s why I’m headed back to Wildflower. While I’ll continue to progress my career and evolve my goals, I think it’s important to check back in with that crazy ass kid on YouTube every once in a while. That doesn’t mean that I’ll be back every year, or even next year, who knows how things will change by then. But for now, I can’t tell you how stoked I am to go down there again. I expect a solid race and a good field up front, but I’m just as excited to hang out with everyone and have a good time, regardless of how the race stacks up. Hope to see as many of you there as possible.

Finally – Wildflower has generously given me 2 free entries to any race (Half, Olympic, MTB, etc) to give away however I choose. So let’s do this, if you’re interested, tell me Why you want a race entry. You can Tweet me @jessemthomas, write something on my Facebook Jesse Thomas Triathlete Crazy Ass Fan Page, or in the comments below. Keep it brief, please! Excited to hear what you guys have to say. Until then, happy training!

72 dpi DSC_0591

Looking forward to another year!

50 comments to Why I’m Racing Wildflower

  • Great choice! Wildflower is iconic race! So I did Wildflower in 1999 (as a 25 year old) and just felt sort of “off” all day… 5 days later I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma… Ah ha! No wonder I didn’t feel 100%… You said keep it short so I’ll just say I spent the next 6 months going through chemotherapy… Then a month being radiated… And all that sucked, of course. But I finished up the treatment and started training again and put myself on the start line again in 2000! Interesting lesson- it’s harder to race a 1/2 IM within a few months of finishing cancer treatments than it is to actually race with cancer! But I finished and felt like a hero. 🙂 Haven’t done the race since but I tell my husband every May “one of these years we need to go to Wildflower!!” I have a four year old daughter now and I’m pretty sure she’d dig that party scene too! 🙂

    • Jesse Thomas

      Wow. CRAZY story Michelle. Unreal, and thanks for sharing. So glad you made it back to full recovery, and so impressive you raced it again! Very scary business. I’ll let you know about the entry in the next couple of days!

  • Jonathan Ralston

    JMT! I am craving a wildflower race entry because events like Wildflower are truly what make the triathlon world keep turning. It is the grass roots, we-the-people essence and fun-love of the sport that carries all of the bigger events’ success and popularity on it’s shoulders. Plus my decked out ’89 steel frame Schwinn letour and speed swede speedo must attend this event! Thanks a million!

  • Manny

    Quite possibly the coolest triathlete on the planet… You’re an inspiration to this newbie racer. Keep up the good work!

  • Brent Detta

    In the spirit of manvan, Jon Ralston and I would be racing down there as fast as possible to race as dirty fast as possible, all while wearing Pearl Izumi 🙂 how awesome would THAT be? 🙂

  • Matthew

    Out of the park, mate. 100% soul. Your first world title will come to you. This decision is DNA-level top shelf. Inspiring is definitely the word… and that is coming from a cynical, 50-year old, international-level athlete in a bunch of sports. The world needs more people like you.

  • Jonathan Ralston

    Brent is correct, think ocean side 70.3 eurostar, with a sports bra, on steroids (not literally) in a swagger wagon headed souf on I-5. Bellingham to Wildflower or bust baby! Please JMT! we are even willing to ditch BC’s own Grahm cracker Hood for the weekend, dont worry he will recover!

  • Jonathan Ralston

    Actually we will probably bring Hood with us. If he refuses, he will promptly be forced into the windowless man van and brought against his will,haha.

  • Kyle

    Yo, Awesome to see you coming back! Make sure you come by for some margaritas Saturday after the race. We will have our trailer at the lake right by transition. Look for the Team Firefighter banner! 🙂

  • DPutts

    Love it. Three-peat! Three-peat! Then you can pull an MJ after the 3-peat, do other races for a few years, and then go back and win 3 more in a row. Good luck bro.

  • Josh

    Great write up as always Jesse. I really wanted to get out there this year but the schedule didn’t allow. Good luck and get that three-peat!

  • Ben-Jammin

    Hey Jesse! You and Mrs. Thomas/L-Train are really good writers. I’m a triathlon n00b, or to be more specific, I’ve never done a triathlon before, but I’m currently in training for my first one on May 26th in New Orleans. I don’t know how I would get to Wildflower, being a broke grad student/running shoe salesman and all, but where there’s a will… We sport Picky Bars at the running store where I work, and as far as sport nutrition goes, those bars are always an easy sell! Great product. Anyway, pick me bro! Good luck out there, you’re sound like a true sportsman.

    • Jesse Thomas

      Haha, thanks for following Ben. We’ll see about the entry. Stoked you guys have Picky Bars at your store. Either way, good luck in NO!

  • dude. you’re awesome. I want to race just so I can high five you at some point!

  • spike

    Hey Jesse! Congrats on your 2nd at Oceanside and good luck this at Wildflower year. I’m a 32 year old dude who got his fat ass off the couch a year ago and went from a 2h18 finish at Nautica South Beach in 2012 to a 1h43 12th AG place this year dropping 50 lbs and finishing a 70.3 in the process. Help me get to my next A race in September in Miami!

  • Dan Meier

    Dude, I love reading your down to earth, keep it real, don’t worry and chive on articles. As a former football/baseball player that happened to fall into the endurance sporting world, I love how you aren’t a “tri-geek” that takes everything tri related as life or death, but your love of the sport and passion brings out the tri-geek the way it was meant to be. That’s how I view my place in the triathlon world too. I love to get down and dirty by training with whatever equipment I have (not top of the line by any means) and not getting worked-up or stressed out about my training. That’s the way Wildflower is meant to be raced and I would LOVE to be a part of that atmosphere.

  • Jomo

    Hey man, glad you are going to be back this year! Last year I had a solid DNF on the long course – bonked on the run. It was depressing, I was depressed. Sorting through stuff afterwards I came across this freebie Triathlete magazine with a cover article about a guy named Jesse Thomas who came out of nowhere to win the year before — that was when I started following your career. Thanks for all you are putting into this social-media chronicle of yours! I will be back this year to finish that long course and to see you claim that three-peat.

  • Nicki

    Because I live in freaking Jackson Hole Wyoming and I miss my home state. Plus who doesn’t want to race with drunk college volunteers.

  • shaneo

    hey mate,
    you couldnt have described the vibe at wildflower any better from friends reports. the course the place and the energy. i would love to race there one day but living in oz makes it a tab harder. will get there at some stage. triathlon is not about the pay checks but the grassroot level events. all thre greats have raced and won at the woodstock of triathlon. love your work!

  • Matt Ison

    1. I’ve been following your blog since matt dixon posted about you and your swimming almost 3 years ago. 2. I applied for a job w/ picky bars and you graciously denied me. 3. I am an elite amateur trying to be a good pro and can’t sign up for these dangs things a year in advance. 4. I too borrow/borrow and never return the majority of my gear. And finally, 5, I really want to see the unrated version of the aid station you picture above.

  • Renee Young

    Dude I need an entry for 2014 so I can do this race again next year with my little brother Kevin Young who also races with purplepatch. I’m from Chicago and got so excited watching my brother do some crazy thing. Alled ironman Wisconsin in 2011 that I went and signed up for a 5K a month later 4 days before the race. Called Kevin told him I was going to race a 5K and should probably see if I can run that far and asked for a training plan. He told me what to do. I did not listen since I thought I should run faster than he suggested. Called him up 2 days before the race and said I want to do a 9m/m and I’m not sure I can. He asked when the race was. I said in two days. He said two days just try to finish and gave me a speed drill to do the day before. He the had me sign up for Matt Dixons running camp that January. Told me to joins Tri club in Chicago. I did and raced two sprints and an Olympic last season. Did a sprint last month I’m fort Lauderdale and places 3rd for my age group. I’ll. E seeing you at wildflower next month to do my first race with my inspirational brother. Then he’s flying out to race Racine Half Ironman with me. My first half. This year I became newbie chair for the Chicago Tri Club. So as you can see I’m hooked on Tri and would so love having an entry to wildflower 2014 since I already have the 2013 entry. Thanks for considering me. Love following you and eati g picky bars. Please distribute them in chicago. I. An put you in touch with two Tri stores. Let me know! Cheers, Renee

    • Jesse Thomas

      Wow! Thank Renee. Kevin is a good guy, and great to hear he’s inspired you to get into triathlon. I’ll let you know about the entry, going to give it another couple of days before I decide. Hope to see you there and we’d love to hear anything about stores for Picky Bars!

  • Jesselyn

    Super excited that you’re doing wildflower again! I’m a big fan and will be doing wildflower for the first time since its on my 30th bday. Can’t wait! just hoping i’m ready for the hills..

  • MBS

    I like your reasoning. In it for the right reasons.

    Good luck!

    Oh, and hope to see you in Eugene…

  • Jesse great writeup to capture the essence of WF. This will be # 25 for me and I tell everyone it’s a “wright of passage” to the season. Excited to see the best guys and gals go at it on the best 1/2 IM course period.

  • D

    You need to give me those entry passes so I can sell them on eBay or Craigslist. Ill accept them as payment for having to deal with you for so long. Thanks in advance.
    ~your bro

  • Kim Neal

    Jesse, great write up as usual. Love reading all your blogs but this one is especially touching. To see a professtional athlete still want to go back to where it all started and not just chase the money is so unique these days. My 16 yr old son has been doing triathlons for 3 years now, loves them, and I am so happy he has pro’s like you and others in triathlon to look up to and give him this kind of inspiration. I was supposed to compete in Oceanside but got sick that morning. My husband took him down to watch the swim and the 3 of us watched you and Potts fight is out down the finish line. Great finish! You are already a champ and I know you will achieve many World Championship titles in your career. Goodluck at Wildflower and with your little Lima Bean! Love reading those Tweets.

  • AKern

    Can’t do Wildflower this year, but someday- it’s on the bucket list. The crew I race with, we treat *every* race we do together like a ‘Wildflower’. (Minus some of the nudity..) That’s why we do triathlon- it’s fun! I’m sure to a spectator, it doesn’t always look like fun. That’s what’s great about Wildflower- it also looks as fun as it is. It’s awesome to see that for a pro like you, it is still about fun. Yeah, you’re going to need to buy diapers and Cheerios pretty soon, but if your job is fun, it doesn’t always seem like work. Pros who are having fun and *look* like they’re having fun are what motivate the rest of us to try it, get hooked on it, and keep going well past the age where most of society thinks this is a reasonable hobby. Cheers to those who are still at it and still having FUN!

  • JBieb –

    1. BEST. VIDEO. EVER. The interviewer looks slightly afraid over you(which is amazing).

    2. Tearjerker of a post, dude. I really like how you remember where you started. That video is priceless, and I hope you watch it often.

    3. GOOD LUCK AT WILDFLOWER!!!! HAVE FUN!!

    PS – Are you going to update your Race Calendar for 2013?? Are you going to Quassy Rev3 again this year?

  • Love the post!! Heading down now for a training weekend but would love a free entry because it help free up some funds for some Sept. tri’s I have my eye on:) and agreed its the best race ever!

  • Neva

    I would LOVE to race Wildflower to put myself “on the hook” and give myself the opportunity to succeed. An illness kept me sidelined for most of 2012; I want to make this a banner year and barrel through the finish line saying “I DID IT! I rolled with the best and I did it!”

  • Cameron

    You introduced me to almond butter and jelly on rice cake, and for that, I will always be grateful. I do triathlon only so I can enjoy this combo before EVERY workout..and during, and after. On a less serious note, it is because of decisions like this one, going back to Wildflower, that you WILL become World Champ. Soon.

  • Michelle Dinsdale

    Jesse – I don’t know a lot about you, I do know I’ve really enjoyed your articles for Triathlete magazine – you’re so funny! I watched this video for the first time today and have to let you know, you have a new fan! I just love the excitement and pure bewilderment and innocence!
    I’ll be doing Wildflower for the first time ever this year. I’m nervous but excited. I’m still a newbie triathlete and every race out there is a step further out of my comfort zone. Thank you for keeping it fun! And best of luck – I’ll see you out there (a few hours later…:)

  • Gordon Cully

    Wildflower has been on my bucket list even before I started doing tri’s when some buddies I run with went down there and raced. They came back and told me how crazy it was! In fact, the idea of someday doing this race is one of the reasons I started competing in this sport. Can’t put it on my schedule for this year but I would love to have an entry for 2014 when I will be celebrating my 50th birthday. What other reasons can I give you for giving me an entry? How about that I grew up in Eugene and have been following your exploits since your break-thru win in 2011? Love your attitude and outlook on the sport. There are not enough tri-geeks like you. Keep it real!

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