Leap Day Sports - The Triathlife of Jesse Thomas

IM Wales – First Ironman and Holy Crap Ironman Champion

That, my crazy ass fans, is what it’s all about.

As you’d probably expect from me, I’m feeling a little emotional starting to write this blog. But I’ve heard from at least one of the many dozens of you that you’re eagerly anticipating reading it, so I’ll put a paper towel over my hands to catch the tears and carry on.

When I say “that’s what it all about,” I don’t mean it’s all about winning an Ironman. Don’t get me wrong, it is crazy ass awesome and I am beyond stoked that I won my first freaking Ironman! But “what it’s all about” is the journey, detours, and unanticipated route that led here. Seeing it through. The roller coaster of sport.

Two weeks ago I was in a pretty low place. I had sacrificed a lot at a shot to produce a career performance at 70.3 World Championships. I did all the tough, but obvious stuff like trained my ass off, ate well, spent the time and money to come over to Europe, etc. All those sacrifices are expected. But there were other significant costs as well. Strain on my family life, Picky Bars, and my income opportunities by racing less (and being less fit) to save my best form for August 30th.

It was a lot of eggs to put in one basket. And it was massively disappointing when it all went south. Last week, alone in Tenby, I finally updated my Schedule & Results page and looked at 2015 and just felt bummed. My whole season, all the sacrifice was focused on that one result at the end of the calendar. And I had nothing to show for it. It was a pretty low moment.

But now, just 6 days later, I’m on cloud nine. I had the most amazing experience, and many unforgettable moments on Sunday. In less than a week, my whole perspective has changed. I’ll look back at that season calendar and clearly be super proud and psyched about what I accomplished. It isn’t what I imagined, or planned, or expected, but it’s beautiful and brilliant in it’s own way. And I’ll certainly take it.

And so that’s what sport, and for me, what Sunday, “is all about.” It’s that it takes you on a journey. You have a plan, a direction, a route, but ultimately you can only control a few things. And sometimes, $hit happens, and you won’t go where you wanted to. But if you work hard, keep your head up, and mind open to possibilities in spite of fear and doubt, you may end up in a place you never expected. And it may be more beautiful and rewarding than where you wanted to go.

And what’s awesome about sport is that it delivers these lessons that extend to more important parts of life – family, friendships, business. The “results” of those experiences are part what you put in, and part what happens out of your control. And days like Sunday serve as reminders that help us keep at it when things take a turn for the worse, because there might just be something more amazing around the next corner.

OK, Here’s What Happened In The Race:
For those of you who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. I just won an Ironman! My first Ironman ever! My first run over 20 miles! It was crazy pants! I’m stoked! Booyah!

Swim: The Hilly Water of Tenby North Beach (strava file)

Seriously? I swam at that beach 8 times before Sunday, and every day it was gorgeous and flat. Then on Sunday it was like that scene from The Perfect Storm where George Clooney is trying to get his boat over the wave before it capsizes him. The waves were huge! I tried to stay relaxed and kept promising myself that I was actually making forward progress because at some points it was hard to tell. Eventually I came around for the first lap exit and checked my watch – 27 minutes – and thought I might be swimming myself out of it. The second loop was more of the same. I got tired, it was crazy. It felt like the longest swim I’ve ever done in a race because it was.

I felt a lot like that boat during the swim.

I felt a lot like that boat during the swim.

I exited having no idea where I was, and thinking I’d swam myself right out of the race. I ran up the crazy stairs and through the first of many amazing crowds cheering us on and just about tripped when I heard I was in 3rd place and just 2 minutes behind the leader – swim course record holder Harry Wiltshire. The ROKA guys must have put something special in my new wetsuit because that was probably the swim of my life.

Bike – Risk or Not? (PowerTap/Strava File)

I didn’t feel great to start the bike, but I was in a better spot than I anticipated, so I settled into a pace that I thought was sustainable. I passed second place pretty quickly and got within eyesight of Harry. Then at about 20 miles, Markus Thomschke pulled up behind me, who I knew was strong from Worlds, where he rode about the same split I would have have ridden without the penalty, and finished 12th overall.

About 10 miles later, just after I caught Harry in the lead, Markus went by like he’d been ejected out of a cannon. At that point it was decision time. I was already doubting my early pace for the race, and now I had to throw down to stay with the leader. Do I try to go with him and risk blowing up, or stay smooth and steady? Most of the advice I’d received was clearly keeping it steady and conservatively pacing early as my underprepared legs hadn’t ridden more than 85 miles this year. But after a few minutes of hesitation and back and forth brain fighting, I I decided I’d go with him. I knew that whether it was this race or another Ironman down the road, I’d have to eventually go outside of my plan to stay in it, so why not just practice doing that in my first one. You have to be willing to take a risk and change your plan to see what happens.

So for the next 40 miles I rode really hard, trying to stay with Markus through the many hills, crazy tight roads and descents, and amazing towns of spectators. I knew I was burning matches and taking a risk, but I tried to just let the miles go by without projecting outcomes. I remember looking at my watch, and seeing 4h 30 minutes of total race time and thinking, good lord, I’m only half way done. WTF am I doing?

Trying my best to be in a different place for a while. But I did see that guys setup and thought it was pretty awesome.

Trying my best to be in a different place for a while. But I did see that guys setup and thought it was pretty awesome. Photo cred Getty Images.

The Low Point

At mile 75 or so, Markus dropped a bottle, and he stopped at the next aid station to grab one. So I went to the lead and watched as my effort stayed the same and pace decreased every few miles. Uh oh. This is the wall. I’m hitting it. It’s large and hard and doesn’t feel very good and makes me sad. About 10 miles later, Markus went by me and I had absolutely nothing.

The next 20 miles was definitely the lowest point of the day. I seriously doubted my decision to race, and then cursed myself for riding too hard too early. I tried to balance it with thoughts of my family, and trying not to project. As coach Matt told me – just deliver yourself to the run and see what happens. So that’s what I did, just got to the end of that long ass bike ride.

Run – Damnit, Relax! (Strava File)

Markus put three minutes on me in the last 20 miles, and for the first minute or two of the run, I felt pretty wrecked. But after I rounded the corner in Tenby, I got a burst of energy that only a Dad can understand – a high five from the little guy. Jude, Lauren, and Joyce (Lauren’s mom) were standing there on the corner, and I could see Jude on Lauren’s shoulders with his hands up yelling “Go Daddy!” There’s nothing more motivating than that. And honestly, it recentered me, reenergized me, and I started to find my stride.

I hit the first mile first uphill mile in 6:25 (for reference sake, last year’s winner averaged 7 minutes/mile). My second uphill mile was 6:30. Don’t go too fast. I told myself. Take it easy. Everyone runs too hard the first 10k. Or at least, that’s what I was told. I tried to relax and pull myself back watching my mile splits – 6:20 relax, 6:06 relax, 6:13 relax, 6:24 relax, 6:10 DAMNIT, RELAX. It was like my mind was saying slow down and my body wasn’t listening. Usually it’s the other way around!

Relax! - photo cred Huw Fairclough

Relax! – photo cred Huw Fairclough

A Long Training Day

By 8 miles I was 20 seconds behind Markus. At 9 miles I took the lead and started to feel some of the work, but it still felt sustainable. I saw Lauren at 12 miles with a 90 second lead and she said that Matt had said to just imagine it as a long training day, mentally and physically, focus on nutrition and hydration. 15 minutes, calories and water, 15 minutes, electrolyte and water. Miles ticking by. I went 100% internal, and tried not to think about the race, the crowd, the competitors, or anything, just a long rhythm run.

I stayed successfully spaced out until I saw the “18.00” mile split on my watch and realized this was two miles longer than I’ve ever run in my triathlon career. Right about then I started to feel the weight of the day and possibilities. I started tightening up a bit, getting a little crampy, and worrying more and more about the solid runner, Andrej Vistica coming up behind me.

Redemption and Crying

I ran up the last long hill from mile 20 to 22 the slowest of the race, making sure I wouldn’t cramp. When I hit the turnaround, Andre had gained a minute on me, and was less than 5 minutes back. But at the top of the last major climb, I slowly started to open up my stride. And as I did, it was like my confidence grew each step. I started to believe I would make it, that I could finish, and maybe, that I could win. And there was a part of me that felt like I deserved it, and that this race was the true expression of my fitness that I didn’t get to see two weeks ago.

But it wasn’t until mile 25, when I was back down in Tenby for the 4th time amongst the sensational crowd, that I let myself smile and actually soak in what was happening. I ran the last mile full of adrenaline, excitement, and joy. I cried a lot, as many of you saw in the finish line video. As I talked about in the intro, it was an unexpected, but beautiful and amazing way to say goodbye to this season. And that last run down the chute, with high fives, and cheers, I crossed the finish line an Ironman…Champion!

Doesn't get any better. Thanks everyone. - Photo cred Getty Images.

Doesn’t get any better. Thanks everyone. – Photo cred Getty Images.

Lots of Thanks:

My wife – As I said, my wife not only was an amazing sherpa, special needs provider, absolute twitter update phenomenon, but she also sacrifices a lot for me to do what I do. It’s a busy, tough, demanding life that all of you appreciate I’m sure. She gives me the most of anyone by a long shot, and is my biggest rock of support. For that I am always and forever grateful. Thank you wif, I love you.

My family – Jude & Joyce, thank you so so much for the support this week, and the cheers along the way. It was amazing to have you both there, and seriously got me across the finish line. Mom, Dad, Janna, Jeff, Joel, Lis, Waylon, Darren, Courtney, Lindsey, Terri, Polster, James and Elia. You guys give a lot, and deal with a lot of BS throughout the season and in my life in general to enable moments like this. I sincerely appreciate the support this year and all years. Frank, I miss you dude. I know you were watching this shit go down and screaming your face off because I felt you out there. Thanks for everything man.

My coach, Matt Dixon of purplepatch fitness (and Kelly and Baxter). I wouldn’t have, didn’t believe I would ever do an Ironman when I started with you. I didn’t believe I could do what I did on Sunday. But, you did. Thank you for pushing me to that opportunity and experience, and having the confidence in me to succeed. I know you feel redemption and validation in the performance, the training, and philosophy. Thanks so much for 5 years.

My Amazing Sponsors: Read More About Why They’re Awesome!

Pearl Izumi – Geoff, Don, Kody and team, thank you! This was amazing, and your support throughout the years has been nothing short of spectacular. Thank you so so much for all the work you put into getting my feet ready to run. Wouldn’t have happened without you guys.
ROKA Sports – Rob, Kurt, Ryan and team. Damn it! We’ve come a long way in 4 years! That was, I think the swim of my career, and I have you guys to thank for a big part of it. So awesome to be a part of your team. Stoked to see you all soon.
Jaybird – Judd, Rene, Rhyan, Craig and team – you guys are awesome. Thanks for always having my back regardless of outcome. You guys are the best, looking forward to catching up soon.
Red Bull – Ashley, Josh, Per and team. Thank you so so so much for all your support the last few years. This was crazy and I think you guys believed more than I did at some points. So stoked for next year to see what we can do. Thanks a bunch for everything.
Dimond – TJ, Brad, Ethan, Chris, Matt and team! Holy cow the bike was great. Markus and I both rode under course record pace, and clearly it set me up to run well. It’s been awesome to be a part of your team this year!
Picky Bars – Guys, I’m the most absent CEO ever and I’m sorry. But I sincerely appreciate the work you put in that enables this crazy triathlife. Seriously. Big big thanks. Beers on me next week.
Refuel by Digipower – Maurice and team, thanks so much for support this year that enables me to pursue dreams like this. The powerbank has been key traveling in Europe the last few weeks, use it every day! Thanks a bunch and looking forward to stuff down the road.
Rolf Prima – Brian, Brooke and team. Thanks so much for all the support this year and since the beginning. The Ares 6 clinchers were dialed as usual and a perfect combo for this course. Really appreciate it, and looking forward to catching up soon.
PowerTap – Guys! Thanks so much for the support and equipment this year and the many years! And massive congrats on the new products! Stoked for you and really appreciate the encouragement day in and day out.
Accenture – Justin, Steve, Molly, and team. Thanks so much for everything this year guys. Had an absolute blast with your team, VIPs, and customers at the events and webinars we did. Really, really appreciate the support that enables me to do this job. Talk with you soon!

The Race Organizers, Volunteers and Communities of Pembrokeshire/Tenby: You guys seriously have an amazing event on your hands. From the moment I stepped foot in Tenby, I felt supported with kindness, hospitality, information, people going out of their way to help, support, and encouragement me until the moment I crossed that finish line. The course has the most amazing combination of beautiful scenery, serious difficulty, and fan friendliness/amazing cheer support of any race I’ve ever done. Congratulations on creating and maintaining an amazing event, and thank you so much for having me be a part of it.

Just one image of the crowds we saw many times throughout the day. An awesome experience to say the least! Photo Getty Images / Walesonline.co.uk.

You knew it was coming. Last but certainly not least: CRAZY. ASS. FANS.

THANK YOU. Seriously. Thank you. Thank you. The number of messages, comments, likes, emails, notes, kudos, tweets, etc that I’ve received from the dozens of you all over the last two weeks is honestly overwhelming. I’ve felt abundantly supported by you all and am so psyched to share this moment with you. We all deserve it, damn it! Thank you so much for following along and encouraging me like you do. As long as there’s a story to tell, regardless of outcome, it makes it all worth it.

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