Leap Day Sports - The Triathlife of Jesse Thomas

Oops, I Broke My Foot

People used to say I looked like Karate Kid. Well he hurt his foot too and came back to win, so booyah!

If I’ve learned anything from sport it’s that highs and lows are part of the game. Sometimes your dreams are achieved in ever glorious triumph! Other times they’re dashed in heart wrenching disappointment. Oh, the drama! Yeah, the lows suck, but without them the awesome highs don’t exist. You have to persevere to make it worth it. You can’t feel like I did two weeks ago, without feeling something like I do right now.

But before all you Crazy Ass fans go riot in the street, do a dozen man march on Capitol Hill or send those floaty candle things from Karate Kid 2 down the Okinawa river, let me tell you that’s it not that bad. This journey still has a long way to go. It’s not a long term, career ending, or even too big a step back. It’s a 3-4 month hiatus. And the silver lining is – it’s going make me faster than ever. So don’t cry, little tiny crazy ass fans, all will be well.

Because I don’t think these stories are told by pro athletes enough, and I know at least 3 of you want to hear it all, the full soup to nuts story is below. Here we go:

I couldn’t help but think of this SNL commercial when I wrote this blog.

A Forgotten Injury

My hand made bionic wheel leg from the old Stanford days.

My hand made bionic wheel leg from the old Stanford days. Though what may be funnier about this pic is the glasses & shoes.

This story starts 10 years ago, back when I was a strapping young steeplechasing lad at Stanford. After a school record setting & All-American track season, I was too eager to start cross country, ran too much, and got a stress fracture in my navicular bone. Since it was my last season on the Stanford team, I was starting my master’s degree, and had a job on campus, I didn’t give the recovery my full attention. I didn’t stay on my crutches and built a bionic wheel leg that strapped to my knee to scoot around campus (seriously). I disregarded any pain I felt, did my requisite time in a boot and carried on with my life. I started riding my bike, broke my neck, started a company, got married and went to business school. Lots of stories there but the point here is that I wasn’t worried about my foot anymore and eventually forgot about it.

Sporadic “Ghost Pains”

When I started training seriously for triathlon about 7 year later (3 years ago), I’d feel my foot a sometimes during and after running. I was convinced it was “ghost pains” from the fracture – tightness related to the ligaments or stiff joints in the area. It was incredibly sporadic – sometimes it would hurt after lots of running, sometimes it felt better after lots of running. So Matt and I “managed” it. I had frequent massage, stretching, joint mobilization, orthotics/inserts, etc. But mostly, I just didn’t run that much. I ran 20-25 miles a week for my first two years as a pro, and would take 3-8 day stretches off if it got sore, which sometimes happened after races or big training blocks. But since we were focused on developing my swimming and biking anyway, it didn’t really matter.

First Run Focus

This year was the first time that Matt and I put some real work into my running, which my results have shown. I out split Javier Gomez at Alcatraz, and ran a 1:10 at Oceanside. In the leadup to Wildflower, I had the best run workouts I’ve ever had as a triathlete – hilly 5:20 pace felt easy, I finished a long interval run with “smooth” 4:39 mile. My foot was a little sore off and on, but it wasn’t anything different than years before. I took the days before Wildflower very easy like I normally do, no big deal.

Wildflower Pain Train

About 3 miles into the run, after a steep off-road downhill into a tight right turn, my foot got angry. It wasn’t a pop or anything, it was more like it started yelling louder and louder and louder until, despite being in the middle of a grudge match with Leon Griffin, it was the primary voice in my consciousness. The fact that I could feel pain through the adrenaline meant that something wasn’t good. Nevertheless, I continued on because, who knows if it’s that bad? I’ve felt it before and bounced back fine. Plus, I want to win.

Damn you, Leon!

Damn you, Leon!

See that line in the upper middle of the right bone. Yeah, that shouldn't be there.

See that line in the upper middle of the right bone. Yeah, that shouldn’t be there.

The run down Lynch Hill was a mix of pain, celebration, and a little bit of sadness. I was stoked, but I had a tiny feeling in the back of my mind that my season might be over. Yep, I celebrated, and did some fun interviews. But when I walked back to my family in the finish chute, hugged them, and gave a half smile, the first words out of my mouth were, “I think I broke my foot.” They were shocked, but I had to tell someone. It was a weird counter environment to the celebration happening around us, kind of like being in a music video or something.

In Limbo to Diagnosis

I spent the next 12 days, getting a host of scans, evaluations, and consulting with two of my most trusted medical advisors. This is the hardest part of the process, being in limbo, knowing something is wrong, but not knowing what. I swam in the river, cried on the trainer, you name it. It was an agonizingly long and frustrating couple of weeks, but my advisors were hugely valuable. The eventual diagnosis – navicular stress fracture.

My week in limbo had some open water swimming - no kicking, no push offs.

My week in limbo had some open water swimming – no kicking, no push offs.

The Decision – Smartest for the Long Term

Given that navicular fractures rarely heal on their own, and I’ve carried one around for over 10 years, it was clear that I needed to get surgery to fix it long term. But the decision had to be made as to whether I’d do it now, or try to train through Worlds and do it in September. But if I did the latter, I’d risk permanent joint degradation or fracturing it all the way through, making a relatively safe and predictable procedure much riskier. So it made the most since to just bite the bullet and do it now, killing my 2013 Worlds aspirations, but giving me the highest chance of a successful recovery.

Reading the Signs – Baby Time

There is one other obvious X (or Y, we don’t know) factor in this whole thing – Lima Bean. In some ways, it’s fitting that my body gave me three awesome results, held out for a threepeat at Wildflower, and then said it was time to chill the F out right before our first baby is due. If I have any aspirations of being a World Champion (which I do), or doing an Ironman (maybe, we’ll see…), I need to get this surgery at some point in my career. Well, there probably isn’t a better time than now to do it. I can rest, do what’s best for my career long term, and focus on my family during a very crazy and important time in our lives. I’ve heard the term “blessing in disguise” a fair amount the last couple days.

The Prognosis – Surgery Today, Late Season Racing Maybe

I go into surgery this afternoon – wish me luck! My surgeon has performed this same procedure for many world class endurance athletes – including my wife. He’s the best in the biz, so I have a lot of confidence it will go well. I’ll be 3-6 weeks on crutches (hopefully more like 3, as Lima is due two weeks from Friday). I can swim with a sock over my boot at 1-2 weeks (should make for interesting pics/video), ride stationary bike with boot at 2-3 weeks, ride normal at 8-10 weeks, and run around 12-14 weeks. If everything goes smooth, I could race by October, which would let me get a couple 70.3s in, and take a crack at defending my Rev3 Florida title. I’m not going to rush anything, but that’s out there if my body lets me do it.

How I Feel – Mix of Bummed, Excited & Thankful

Obviously, it’s never easy to go from shape of your life to crutches and a boot, but I’ve been processing this reality since mile 3 of Wildflower, so it’s not a complete shock to the system. I do believe I had a legitimate shot at a podium this year at World Championships, but I know that challenge will exist for many years to come. Sometimes the best path forward requires a step back. I really do believe, as do the doc and coach Matt, that this procedure will enable me to train much more consistently on the run, like I never have before. So my new mantra is 1:08. Who knows if that will ever happen, but it definitely won’t unless I put it out there, so BAM! Until then, it’s another opportunity to focus on my swim and bike. It could be just the last push I need to bring it all up to a world champion level….

I am also incredibly thankful for the amazing season I’ve already had. It’s been a huge confidence builder, and one I can easily store inside for a few months. I’m also thankful for the people that have supported me through this process. Lauren, coach Matt, Matt Lieto, John Ball, Amol Saxena, and my family have been absolutely awesome. I also want to say that I have the best sponsors in the business, all of whom were incredibly supportive when I told them what happened and what I needed to do. I can’t tell you how much easier it is to go through all of this with such an incredible support network, it might even make me a little emotional. So thanks a ton you guys, it means a lot.

Telling the Story

I’m going to do my best to blog, tweet, facebook, and instagram the crap out of this process. Like I said, I think it’s a story that isn’t told enough from a professional point of view. So please feel free to comment, tweet me back, etc. The best part having some Crazy Ass Fans following me is that I never feel alone during any of these experiences, particularly the difficult ones. It’s the most motivating and powerful healing tool a dude with Aviators could have. Thanks guys and see you on the other side!

50 comments to Oops, I Broke My Foot

  • Hey! I hate to hear this. Hate it. You have such a great attitude, hold on to it. Baby lima bean is coming at the right time, as everything does in life! And, after surgery, I asked myself…why did I wait? My performance was so much better because you won’t realize how much pain you have been training/racing through for years until you are in a better place. Good luck!!! And good luck dad!!!!

  • Jesse,

    Thanks so much for sharing. I love the fact that you are so open with your fans. I hope you have a speedy recovery and look forward to reading more about your journey.

  • Brett

    Damn. I just thinking you’ve been awfully quiet leading up to lima’s birth. Not the news any of your CAF’s wanted to read. But, it sounds like you are handling with a great mindset and, you are right, this is going to be the best thing long term.

  • Dan

    Damn it’s real shitty to hear this! Sorry man. Hopefully the surgery goes well and you fix it for good. 1:08/1:09’s are definitely possible for you.

    You broke your foot and still won. Wow. you are a legend and a tough man. As an aspiring pro myself, I’ve looked up to ever since 2010 and it’s been great following your progress. I’m sure you will clear this hurdle just like all the others. Good luck!

  • (head shaking) Dude. Dude. Dude.

    Good luck and god speed.

    In the words of Oscar Goldman – “We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better…stronger…faster.”

  • marian

    thank you for writing this. how disappointing. and yes, when i started reading, i thought – well, that will give him some time with the lima bean… so there is that. you will come out better and faster!

    sending speedy and complete healing to you!

  • Jason

    Hey man — just wanted to say thanks for sharing your story. I agree that these stories aren’t told often enough b/c I’ve been looking for a success story for the same injury I suffered recently. Even though yours is different it still helps to see someone you respect and admire work through difficult physical ailments with supreme optimism and courage. Your story along with my coach and pro triathlete Zach Ruble recovery help in times where you’re struggling to see a positive outcome. I truly appreciate your willingness to share your experiences and have no doubt you’ll clock that 1:08.
    And by the way, if you do know any triathletes/runners who’ve recovered and made a successful return after breaking an ankle in 3 places with hardware for the tibia and fibula I’d love to hear some positive outcomes.
    Thanks again Jesse for providing a great perspective and speaking of perspective — good luck with the newest edition in a few weeks – have 2 daughters myself and its a game changer – nothing like it!!!

    • Jesse Thomas

      Jason, huge bummer to hear about your injury, and glad you feel that this can help a bit. I’m sure there are people that have gotten through something similar to yours, its just a matter of time and perseverance. Just give yourself lots of both and you’ll be back at it. Good luck dude!

  • Best wishes to you for a speedy recovery. You have a great attitude about it.

    I had a navicular sfx in 2010, diagnosed 6 days before I was to run a marathon. I did not have surgery, but instead spent 6.5 weeks in a hard, non-weightbearing cast and on crutches, unable to swim, bike or run. It’s nice that you’ll be able to get back to activity in just a few weeks afterward.

    Best of luck, and keep us posted!

  • Thom Woodard

    Thanks for sharing this story. I too had a stress fracture in college that has since healed. However, over the last 2 years I’ve gotten back into running daily–about 17-22 miles per week. I didn’t think much of my former injury until last year when I trained for a half marathon. I increased my mileage and started getting ghost pains after the longer runs. It freaked me out! I ended up not doing the race, taking a month off, and going to a sports doctor to see if my stress fracture had returned. The doctor said I was fine, but I’m still a little reluctant to run anything more than a 12K. Anyway, it was good to hear about your experience. I realize that you’re a pro athlete and I’m just a guy who runs casually, but since we’re cousins I thought maybe we both inherited similar weak bones or something. Anyway, I wish you the best of luck with your surgery and hope you heal soon.

    • Jesse Thomas

      Thom, thanks for the note man! Maybe this weak navicular thing is genetic, huh? Hope it’s coming around. With appropriate rest, yep, you can manage it, I think I just took mine a little too far. Good luck with it, and thanks for posting.

  • Kristin

    Sorry to hear, but you know what made me follow you and become a crazy a$$ fan? It was one of your first geeked-out blog that talked about statistics and how each individual point on the graph is not important, it’s the positive slope you’ve created from your reusults. Remember this isn’t a time series graph…well done Jesse.

  • Allen

    Texas fan says good luck and hang in there. Enjoy the time off and the baby.

  • Anthony (grandpachamp) DuComb

    Jesse,

    Get well my young friend and enjoy your new baby. Things turn out for the best generally.

    PS Baby and mom welcome to stay at Casa DuComb/Isenberg too!

    Anthony

  • I’m a new crazy ass fan (making my way through your archives :D) and going through recovery from an injury myself (thankfully just an angry tendon in my knee but dang if I wasn’t scared for my season/doing triathlon ever again before I got diagnosed). Good luck with the surgery, and I hope recovery affords you the time to take it easy with family and come back all refreshed and ready to kick some ass!

  • Hey – 3 thoughts:

    1) I love that you never mentioned this in your WF race report. By not bringing that up I think you honored your competitors well.
    2) Too bad we don’t have a picture of you in the roller contraption at the NASCAR race.
    3) If it’s not too late, you should do the surgery without anesthesia. Take a page from the Jens Voigt book: “I’m mother f’ing Jesse Thomas”. goo.gl/cXHYW

    Tbone

    • Jesse Thomas

      Hahaha. No way I could pull off Voigt. I would love to have a pic of that bionic wheel leg. Damn, wish we could find one, that thing was so terrible!

  • Way to be an epic badass and still win with a busted foot, first of all. Sorry to hear this news. That said, it sounds like you are handling it like a true pro and making the best out of the given circumstances. Hoping the surgery goes well and you enjoy every second of recovery/bonding with the new addition in a few short weeks!

  • Hope your surgery is going well! What a huge bummer for the rest of your 2013 season… Good thing you’ll soon have a new baby to focus on. :) Having been through the new parent thing myself, I’ll agree with the ‘Blessing in Disguise’ comments. :)

  • Jenn

    Jesse, I think my jaw dropped when I read “I broke my foot” I am sorry to hear that! I remember you telling me about ghost pains and your 1-10 scale pain threshold and I’ve really hung onto that insight. But now, what am I to do?! Ill keep my fingers crossed mine truly are ghost pains and I’ll stick with the 1-10 pain scale. Otherwise, Im blaming you.

    All joking aside, like you already know, this could not have come at a better time. Lima bean will make the time fly by and you will be one happy, recovering Papa! Thanks for sharing your latest.

    • Jesse Thomas

      Still use the scale, mine just got to a 9 in the middle of the race and I wasn’t going to stop! Keep everything 7 or below and your good!

  • Michael Keene

    Ditto what everyone else has said. You’ll be successful with all this healing and come back better than ever. You are already a great inspiration to all us badass fans, now you’ll have hero status in showing us all how to do this process of stepping back, repair, slow build to a stronger body and person. We all get injured and it sucks; been there many times. It’s all in what you do with it. Best of good thoughts to you and your family, young dad.

  • Ben-Jammin

    Hey Jesse, I’m truly sorry to hear about your stress fracture. It seems you have a really strong, open mind going in to this ordeal, and I’ve always thought that a strong, open mind is a serious weapon. This is why I still try to levitate random objects and/or myself by channeling The Force, but alas, I guess I don’t have the requisite concentration of midi-chlorians in my blood. I’m looking forward to reading your reportage concerning the surgery and recovery process. I had to sit out my junior year of high school XC with a stress fracture. I got to read a lot on the stationary bike, which allowed me to reread the entire Lord of the Rings series, and some crappy Star Wars fan-fiction. This time spent injured left me with a ravenous hunger for greater success, a greater knowledge of my body, and a deep, abiding hatred of fan-fiction. Anyway, good luck man. And best of luck to you and Lauren as you all transition into being super awesome parents. If you and L-Train are ever in New Orleans, my lady and I would love to show y’all a great time.

    PS
    If you have some available down-time coming up, time where you can relax with your feet up for a bit, you should totally check out the Song of Ice and Fire books by George RR Martin. Great stuff.

    PPS
    So, you ran a 1:15 trail-half-marathon with a broken foot!??! That’s freaking awesome.

    • Jesse Thomas

      Ben, this comment cracked me up dude, thanks a ton. Really sorry you haven’t been able to levitate random objects and/or yourself yet. It’ll come, stay on it.

      I haven’t read those books, but Lauren and I are big Game of Thrones fans. Have you seen this video about people that have read the books (language is bad, but it’s hilarious) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CLCOvZOh1o

  • Wif

    100% confidence in your decision coming from the wif in your corner. Great things ahead Mr. 1:08 dad to be.

  • Please keep us CAF updated. I agree: this is not told often enough! I have no doubt you will come back stronger. I think 1:06 :)

  • Renee Young

    Seems like a smart decision short term for the family and long term for the career. Athletes heal faster then regular people so you’ll be back soon and better than ever!

  • Tawnee Tatro

    Anxious already for your return! Hang in here! You’ve made the right decision!

  • Chris

    Good luck with the surgery and a speedy recovery! As a newbie age grouper your humor and attitude is inspiring. Gotta say I was really bummed when I heard this but you can never get back the time when LB is first born and now you can enjoy guilt free!

  • Seth Venezia

    Jesse- You BROKE YOUR FOOT on mile 3 of Wildflower and still outran everyone to a 1:15. Beast Mode Engaged!!

    Best of luck with Lima Bean.

    Can’t wait to see you back at it soon.

  • Ian

    Hey Jesse, big fan. Gutted for you, but if you find yourself doubting you will come back even faster, just remember this guy:
    http://www.triradar.com/news/alistair-brownlees-2012-achilles-injury/

  • Karen

    Bummed to hear about the injury but glad to hear the surgery went well!! Wishing you the best as you recover and get back out there to *kill it*!

  • Angela Meyer

    Holy smokes, I had no idea that you were experiencing all of this — I am so sorry. The thing that’s impressive to me isn’t just that you raced and trained at such an elite level through all of this, but that at no point did your positive and energetic personality reveal so much as a passing cloud. Wishing you a full & speedy recovery, kiddo.
    AMM

  • Lenny Mayzel

    Wow dude! Recover well and you’ll be back to killing it in no time…

  • thank you so much for this blog. I am a 2nd year uni student and a member of the Edmonton triathlon academy who was going to be racing my first world cup at the U23 level this year but came down with a fifth metatarsal stress fracture. It has been extremely frustrating changing race plans and having to take time off of running and thus losing some fitness. Your post gives me hope that everything will get better.

    Thank you so much!

  • Jonathan Ralston

    Yo Jesse! 9 out of 10 doctors say aviator wearing dudes recover and heal much faster than, say, like, non aviator wearing dudes. its a scientific fact. like totally look it up, for realz! thanks for sharing the ups and downs of your epic journey–it is what makes your story so great and super fun to follow!

  • Tony

    Hope you recover quickly Jesse , you’re an awesome dude! Looking forward to seeing you smash the Worlds next year!

  • Margaret

    I’m quite late on the comment thread. I just needed a little reassurance about an athlete’s post-op experience. I’m an avid distance runner and may be needing surgery on both my feet. Not looking forward to extensive down-time and getting back in shape again. Glad to see that you’ve been able to get back to training and doing what you love.

  • Joe Boselli

    Hey Jesse, Just came accross this while searching “navicular stress fracture recovery” on the web. Sorry you had 2013 come to and with this but I was curious about your recovery time! I go for surgery may 1st (about two weeks from today). I am an avid crossfitter, yogi, and all around athlete. It kills me that I am looking at a hardcast and crutches for 8 weeks. Just curious to see how did your recovery go? After cast was removed, did you do Physical Therapy? How long? Would love to hear back from you if possible! Hope everything went well and congrats on the new baby!
    -Joe
    bosellij1@gmail.com

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