By now, most of you know what happened on Sunday. I want to sincerely thank everyone for the awesome notes, comments, pictures, smoke signals, etc. It’s been amazing to see and hear your support and makes the entire experience worth it, regardless of outcome on paper.
It’s been about 72 hours, so I’ve had some time to digest and evaluate the race, here’s how it went down from my perspective.
Swim: Solid. Good Enough.
I swam super hard, what a surprise. It wasn’t rock star, but it was solid, and good enough to do the job. I came out of the water with Sebastian Kienle, Tyler Butterfield, and Cody Beals, a great group of cyclists to emerge with, and less than two minutes behind the leaders.
Bike: Penalty and Crying
I was first on the bike but was passed by Tyler as I put on my shoes. I rode behind him for a mile or so until Sebastian came by and passed us both. I passed Tyler and moved behind Sebastian.
I rode behind Sebastian for the next few miles and as you might expect, we passed lots of guys pretty quickly. Near mile 5, Sebastian passed the lead of a small group and continued to pull away. When I passed the same lead guy and pulled over to the right, I heard a whistle. The ref pointed at me, said something I didn’t understand (German, I presume) and waved his hand to the right and then a small circle. I was shown a blue card – a penalty.
In the moment, I was shocked, and in denial. I looked over at him 3 or 4 times to make sure that he was actually talking to me. I honestly couldn’t believe it.
I rode for the next few minutes cycling through some crazy emotions – disbelief, rage, sadness, shock, you name it. All the while debating what to do. What could I do? Should I drop out? Should I continue riding? Should I cry? Ok, I’ll cry. I let up a bit and a couple of guys passed me.
But after a couple miles of contemplation, I still wasn’t sure what the penalty was, and I had real hope that it was a mistake, or at the minimum some small penalty that would require a stand down or just two minutes. None of which I would find out until the penalty tent.
Bike: Do What You Can Because That’s All You Can Do
So I decided that I should, ultimately, test myself as best I can – execute the plan I trained for and see what happens, even though it likely wouldn’t end as I’d hoped.
So I snapped back into it, picked it back up and eventually reeled back in Sebastian and Tyler. The pace was solid, but I felt good and mostly comfortable. As planned, I’d wait until the long climb at mile 14 to make a move.
At the base of the climb, I got after it. I passed Tyler and Sebastian in the first mile, riding about 400 watts for the first 7-8 minutes. As Tyler said after the race, “Jesus, for a big dude with three water bottles you were climbing like a madman!”
I then settled into a more manageable pace, but kept the pressure on the pedals. It was during the next 4 miles of climbing that I realized I was in fact having the best ride of my career. I caught and passed guys like Tim Reed, Sam Appleton, Tim Don, Leon Griffin and Terenzo Bozzone. My effort was high, but the pace felt smooth and sustainable.
As I crested the top of the hill Sebastian came by me, maybe sensing that I wasn’t going to take the crazy descent at his speed. And as soon as the turns got nasty, I thought of Jude, hit the brakes, and he put about 20-30 seconds on me in the next 3-4 minutes.
— Jesse Thomas (@jessemthomas) August 30, 2015
I was pretty tired from the climb, so I let myself recover a bit on the long downhill and Sebastian continued to pull away. But after a few miles, I turned it back on, passing Joe Gambles and others one by one, keeping Sebastian mostly in my sights way down the road. And after about 20 long and hard miles solo, I caught and passed a group that include Michael Raelert and Javier Gomez. I was alone in 5th place, 7 places better than I’ve ever been at any point in a World Championship, and in amazing position to achieve my goal of top 10.
Penalty Tent: House of Heartbreak
But as I dreaded for miles, just a few hundred meters from T2, I pulled into the penalty tent. I still hoped that my penalty was a mistake or minor. The woman in the tent had no record of my penalty, but asked me what I saw. When I said “blue card,” she said “five minutes,” thus initiating a slow cracking process in my heart as I watched the timer count down and guys go by – 30 seconds, Javier’s group, 2 minutes, Tyler, 3 minutes, Leon and Tim, 4 minutes Joe & Terenzo, then a whole bunch of other guys. 16 in total. 21st place.
As I jumped back on the bike and rolled into T2, I knew that I’d dug deep, but there was part of me that thought, maybe if I have an amazing run…I could get back into it. And for the first couple of miles I tried to hold onto that thought despite clearly fatigued and cramping legs. I even passed a few guys, eventually moving into 16th. But when I hit the halfway turnaround and saw I was still 5 minutes behind 10th, I cracked physically and emotionally.
Run: You Guys and ‘Merica.
It was a long and painful run to the end. I’m glad my GPS didn’t work. It was super hot, I was wrecked from a big effort, massively disappointed, and had nothing material to gain by finishing – no points, no prize money, no glory. I wanted to quit. But luckily, I didn’t. And thinking back on it, there were two main reasons why:
- For better and for worse, I’ve got dozens of fans, most of them my mom and her friends but a couple of them them are aspirational triathletes young and old trying to get better in the sport, and one of them is my son, whether he likes it or not. And ultimately, if I quit for all those material reasons I mentioned, I would be letting them and myself down, and not setting the example I think should be set. So there you go, sometimes I hate this freaking blog because it makes me do stuff I really don’t want to do. But in hindsight as always, I’m supremely thankful for that.
- I had on these special American flag aviators that someone gave me after Worlds last year. I’d waited a whole year to wear these things. And damn it, for some crazy reason I was still the first American in the race. I thought to myself, “I can’t quit, I’ve got American flags on my freaking face!”
So for 40 painful minutes, I mentally and physically cycled between thoughts of this blog, cramping, what ifs, my son, massive disappointment, wanting to quit, and American flags on my face. And eventually, finally, thank God, I stumbled across the finish line 18th in 4:05:27, first American, 5:12 behind 10th place.
When I first started writing this recap, I had lots of details about my penalty, interaction with the official and appeal process afterwards. I actually took notes so I would remember it all. But after a few days to chill, I decided that it’s just not worth it to go into all that stuff because it’s beyond the point. The important takeaways for me are:
- I 100% believe I didn’t commit a penalty. And after encouragement from my family and coach, I did file a formal “appeal.” But I quickly found out there is no real appeal for bike penalties – your time, place, etc, can not be changed regardless of circumstance. This sucks a lot because in a race like that one, it costs you big time. But I’m still glad I did it. After lots of back and forth conversations with the head official, the appeal official, and through them, the field official who made the call, I solidified my belief that a mistake was made.
- Every officiated sport has good calls and bad calls, and most of the time, your perspective dictates the goodness and badness of that call. Was it on your home team, the visiting team, a superstar, a benchwarmer, etc? I’ve been on both sides of it all. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.
- When it didn’t go my way, I didn’t quit. As my Dad always told me, “You can’t dwell on it.” I’m proud of myself for executing the plan I trained for, even though I knew it wouldn’t end in the result I wanted. That was really hard to do. Really hard. And because I did that, I was rewarded with finishing top American, and proved to myself, my competitors, and others that I am capable of being in that top 10 on the right day. There’s always another race.
Honestly, I can’t thank you guys enough. Damn. The comments and feedback I got after the race has been absolutely amazing. You made me laugh and, I hate to admit, cry. I really, really appreciate it.
Sponsors: As always, massive shout out to my sponsors who’ve been just as supportive, and all of whom are with me for all the reasons you guys mentioned in your comments. They are a great group of companies, and people. Please go out and buy all their stuff.
#19 ready to go! 70.3 Worlds start at 10:45a local time tomorrow (Sunday), that's 1:45a for all you US west coasters! Follow live at ironman.com. Massive thanks to the companies and the people behind them who make this "job" possible! Good luck to everyone racing tomorrow! #im703wc @pearlizumiofficial @rokasports @jaybirdsport @redbull @dimondbikes @pickybars @accenture @rolfprima @powertappix @digipower_refuel
Thank you family. Thank you mom, dad, Janna, Darren, Courtney and Patty for the cheering and support in person on the weekend. You guys were awesome and made it so much better in the hours after the race.
Coach Matt, thanks for the guidance. I think we did it on Sunday, regardless of result. Was awesome to see and feel it come together. On to the next challenge.
Lauren and Jude, I miss you guys so much. Can’t wait to see you. Thanks for everything.
Ashley – massive thanks for the support this weekend! It was awesome to have you there, and rad to see Red Bull HQ and the coolest dude garage of all time. An awesome way to chill post race.
CRAZY ASS FANS. I love you. Seriously. Don’t ever stop. Ok. I’m going to go now.