Leap Day Sports - The Triathlife of Jesse Thomas

2014 Wildflower Race Report


That’s what you are. This one is for you. Thank you so much for all of the encouragement and support over the last year. I am remarkably stoked to write something with a happy ending for the first time in a long time. I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit of a cryer, so if $h!t gets weird, it’s tears in my keyboard.

I wanted to put all of your tweets, messages, comments, quotes, encouragement, stories, drawings and put them into a gigantic collage and say, “This is what I thought about.” Because honestly, it is. They kept me going through the ups and downs of the last year. But, my artistic skills suck, powerpoint isn’t good at collages, and a computer screen is too small to fit all the awesome stuff you said. Plus, I know the craziest ass of you want to hear how the race went, so here it goes.

Swim – Jackie Chan

The start of the swim was your normal washing-machine-on-high-speed-affair. Even though it’d been a year, I felt surprisingly calm and mentally/physically ready for it. But clearly, I wasn’t. Two minutes into I felt like I was on the wrong end of a Jackie Chan movie, getting my ass handed to me. It was very physical, and I kind of freaked out. I had my first ever mini panic attack. I had trouble breathing, I slowed down, and got dropped. I swam the last half of the swim completely solo, just trying to stay calm. Pissed and tired, I worried my race was over, coming out of the water 2+ minutes behind Callum Milward and Andrew Starykowicz and 30 seconds behind Leon Griffin, the guys I was keying off of.

Time to get after it.

Time to get after it.


That’s what my body said to me as I ran the hardest I’ve run in a year for two very hilly miles. I could see Leon in front of me and instinctively tried to close the gap. It hurt really bad, everywhere. But on the bright side, it kept me from thinking solely about my foot. I closed within 10 seconds of Leon and jumped on my Shiv. Here we go.

Jude clearly feeling my pain.

Jude clearly feeling my pain.

Bike – So Very Tired

I could see Andrew just 10 seconds up when I started the bike and had a decision to make, do I try to ride with the fastest cyclist in the triathlon history? I made the decision about 37 seconds later when, pedaling as hard as I could, he pulled away from me, even with a dropped seat post. For the next 15 miles I honestly struggled to stay with Leon and Callum as we watched Andrew eventually pedal out of sight. My legs were wrecked, from just a two mile run. That wasn’t good. I was happy that I was already in the top 5, but given how I felt, still doubtful I could make it through the race.

In the hurt box early on the bike.

In the hurt box early on the bike.

The Racer’s Mindset

Around mile 30, my legs started to feel a bit better. We took the middle section relatively easy and I got in a lot of water, OSMO, and a Picky Bar. Thinking back, it was during this few miles that, somewhat unconsciously, my racer’s mentality kicked in. Given the leadup and uncertainty going into this race, I could have been content to be conservative, stay put, and go for a podium. For a few moments though, all thoughts of the past faded away, and my mind instinctively started thinking about how to win. And I realized that if I wanted to win, I had to make a move, and I had to do it now. So I went.

Making a move on Jolon Road.

Making a move on Jolon Road.

I rode the last 20 miles without looking back. From what I can tell on Strava, I rode this section almost 2 minutes faster than I have in previous years. It was risky, it hurt, and there was a lot of doubt, but I just did it. I had Justin Timberlake in my head so it was all good. I came into T2 about 2.5 minutes behind Andrew with an unknown gap to Callum and Leon.

Long run time.

Long run time.

Run – A Promise to Lauren

When I decided to race, a decision I made finally on the Sunday before, I promised Lauren that if my foot hurt on the run, I would pull out. She made me repeat that promise again as the last thing I said to her before I left that morning. So when I came into T2, I took a deep breath, put on my trainers, not my racers, and told myself I was headed out for a long run. I disassociated myself from the race. I had to be completely conscious of what my body was going through. I couldn’t let the race push me through another setback. I promised.

And, not surprisingly, I felt pretty terrible. Almost every step. My body clearly wasn’t prepared for this effort and continually told me so. I started cramping about 10 minutes in, my hamstring, then my quad. When I did, I slowed way down and hobbled through it, worried that if I stopped I might not be able to start. I walked through aid stations and the steepest parts of the hills. It was ugly. But my foot held steady, and that’s all that mattered. That’s all I would let myself think about. Long Run.

Bearing down a step at a time.

Bearing down a step at a time. Thanks Aaron Hersh for the photo.

Actually, I Do Want to Win

I passed Andrew about mile 6, and moved into the lead. And within the next few minutes the emotional wall started to crumble. I was so happy to be racing so well considering the doubt I had going into the race, but I was also so fearful of losing it all. What I let myself realize for the first time was that I really, really wanted to win. I think I knew it deep down all along, but I didn’t let myself think about it as a possibility, because it would to be too difficult to have and then to lose. It did matter to me to be the first “4peat” winner, but more importantly, it mattered to me to prove to myself that I was back, that my career wasn’t over, and that after a year of setbacks, disappointments, and doubt, I could once again return to the sport I love.

So instead of being excited, I got scared. I was only 4 miles away from this amazing possibility, but every couple of minutes I’d cramp and come close to walking. I still worried about my foot. I had no idea how close Leon or Callum were. It was 100% fear.

No matter how down you are, the naked dudes at mile 8 always help you turn it around. Thanks Kaori Photo for this and many other awesome shots on the blog).

No matter how down you are, the naked dudes at mile 8 always help you turn it around. Thanks Kaori Photo for this and many other awesome shots on the blog).

Thoughts of Encouragement

But like I said above, I got through it a step at a time by combating each negative thought with words of encouragement from you guys, my coach, my sponsors, and my friends. And as I got closer, and the chance of winning grew, I thought mostly about Jude and Lauren. I thought about how much my life had changed since the last time I raced and how badly I wanted to win this race for them, to show something for the support and happiness they’d brought me over the tough last year. That’s what got me through, all the way up the last hill, and down the hill that broke my foot a year before.


Coming home to these guys.

As I rounded the corner into the finish chute, I saw Lauren and Jude and started crying. It was so bizarre. Lauren told me a few weeks ago – when it was still an outside chance I’d be able to race – that she had a dream that I crossed the Wildflower finish line crying. She said she didn’t know what place I was in, or how I did, but that I was just so happy to finish. And really, that’s how I felt. So happy to finish. And while I’m sure I still have many ups and downs to come, I felt the emotional weight of the last 12 months of struggle lift from my shoulders. About 20 meters before the finish, I literally felt lighter, and finally let myself celebrate. I crossed the line ecstatic, to “Hey Jude” playing in the background. One of the coolest moments of my life.

The extent of my vertical leap after 13+ hard miles.

The extent of my vertical leap after 13+ hard miles.

Thank You

Like I said from the outset, this win was for you guys that supported me as much as it was for myself. There’s a lot of doubt that comes with pushing your limits and enduring setbacks. And there’s no way I could have gotten through it without your support. Specifically, I’d like to thank my wife Lauren and son Jude, my mom, dad, Janna, Jeff, Joel, Liz, Waylon, Darren, Courtney, James, Elia and of course, Matt Lieto, for helping me through the last year. You guys made it possible. And like I said many times before, you Crazy Ass Fans. If you’re still reading, you clearly qualify. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement.

I’d like to also say that EVERY SINGLE ONE of my sponsors below supported me 100% during the last year. When I first told them I would be out for 4-5 months, they were bummed for me, but none of them blinked. They were behind me. But what’s more amazing is that even in the face of continued setbacks and another 5-6 months without racing, they stood by my side. I can’t tell you how much of a difference that made. It allowed me to come back on my own terms, in an intelligent way that didn’t compromise my long term health and goals. That is NOT common in our industry and I want to sincerely thank them for doing that. I represent myself, so I have deeply personal relationships with each of the people and companies below. Please know that they are across the board the best in the business and much more than just a product and a logo. I can’t thank them enough.

  • Geoff, Don, Kody, Kelly, Mike, Phil, Tony and others at Pearl Izumi. Holy cow I love that new kit. My favorite ever, comfortable and clearly fast. And a fastest run split in a stability shoe (M3), awesome! The continual shoe help of getting my feet dialed and healthy has been invaluable.
  • Gavin, Eric, Mark, Chris Y., Adam, Chris R., and Bobby at Specialized. The Shiv and my position was dialed. Thank you guys so much for the multiple Win Tunnel sessions to make that possible.
  • Rob, Kurt, and Tbone at ROKA. Dudes, you’re the best. Can’t state more than that. Thanks for being awesome partners and better friends. The Maverick was tops as usual. Here’s to big things going forward.
  • Ashley, Steve, Per, Nils, and Brittany at Red Bull. Thanks so much guys. The Red Bull on the run kept the cramping at bay and my energy up. Really appreciate you guys believing I’m capable of big things.
  • Patrick, Anna, Betsy, Mike, Mel and Justin at Picky Bars. It meant so much to have you guys there cheering me on, and the naked dudes at Mile 8 with the Picky Bars hats on kept me going at the darkest point in the race.
  • Justin, John, Julie and the team at Accenture. So sorry I couldn’t race Oceanside and thank you so much for being so amazing about it and inviting me anyway. You made this day possible by letting me be smart and safe. Really excited to race at our next event!
  • Jay, Jen & the team at Rebound. Jay guided me skillfully to enable this run off of two weeks of training – not to mention the last year of support during all the ups and downs. You guys are awesome and a huge part of what makes this possible.
  • Jason and Adriann at Jaybird. Thanks so much for the support and the belief when you could have easily decided it was done. You guys are a small awesome company that’s becoming big and awesome. So excited to be part of it.
  • Brian, Brooke, Joel and Pete at Rolf Prima – Again, thanks so much for continuing a partnership in the midst of a major injury. You didn’t have to and you did. That meant a lot. Love being with you guys, my first ever sponsor. The wheels were dialed as usual!
  • John at Maximum Mobility – Thanks so much for your MANY HOURS of work on my many injuries over the year. The strength and flexibility I’ve gained is invaluable.
  • Tim and Mary at PowerTap – Thanks a ton for the products that keep me tracking my progress and allowed me to ride safely when my foot wasn’t ready to go outside.
  • Larissa, Alyssa, and the team at Strava. So excited to work with you guys this year, and thank you as well for the patience on my racing. Appreciate the support!
  • Also, I’d like to thank Terry, Dixie, Kendra, Anne, Betsy and the whole team at Tri-California, which owns and operates this race. It is one of the most iconic, and important races in triathlon history. It’s still family owned and operated and these guys feel like my family now. Regardless of what happens in my career from here on out, Wildflower will always be a big part of my connection to triathlon, and I love that. Thanks so much you guys.
  • Lastly, of course, I’d like to thank my coach Matt Dixon and his wife Kelli for the incredible support over the last year, never wavering from the long term plan and vision, and being smart and judicious about each step of the way with limited information. Here’s to the start of a good year!

Extra Credit:

I’ll be honest, I’m excited to be done talking about Wildflower for a while. It’s been awesome, but it’s time to move on to the next thing. But if you’re just catching up or if you’d like some more stuff to check out, please see the following:

That’s if folks! Enjoy your weekend!

39 comments to 2014 Wildflower Race Report

  • Meredith

    This made me teary eyed. While I know the past year was physically and mentally tough; sharing the journey and you taking the win at Wildflower (4th time holy shit!) is a win for every single person out there that has had to come back from an injury only to realize that they are stronger and tougher than they were before. Congrats!

  • Alfredo

    I came across your story by chance. And let me tell you, it has fill me with so much satisfaction to see you back and winning. Don’t know you or your wife but I can tell by your writing and that of your wife you are the real thing. Keeps me motivated and beleiving good things happen to those who persevere and put family and friends first.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Jessica

    Dude, you’re awesome. What a fun race to watch in person. So glad I was there. Congrats!

  • Grace

    Fan-freakin-tastic post, Jesse. My USC Tri teammates and I were floored to hang with you for a bit before awards, and we are continuously inspired by your persistence, athletic ability, and genuine love for the sport. Keep it up and know you’re a role model for budding triathletes everywhere! CONGRATS

  • You are da Bomb! Personally I like that you are REAL inside and out. And remember last year I TOLD YOU you would be able to run like that again (maybe even better) Thanks for keeping it real and the tears 🙂

  • Congratulations on an amazing race! I spectated long course this year and it was incredible to watch. I’ve DNF’d WF Long Course twice, and seeing your struggles this past year, knowing everyone has their own crap to get over, reminds me that I still want it. I want that finish. I will go back and finish that race. Thanks for being an inspiration!

  • Jamie

    So happy to see you make a strong comeback at Wildflower! Great job on the 4peat!

  • Lauren Giannullo

    I love all of this. SO happy for you on so many levels – not just for your incredible win, but for your renewed health, your amazing perspective, and the sense of renewal this race must have given you. You’re a rock star. Onward and upward!

  • Allen

    Way to go Jesse. You are a continuing inspiration to this MOP old man age grouper. So nice to see great things happen to good people. Keep up the hard work and greatness will continue to follow. Hoping to catch you in Bend this summer if you are around during Pacific Crest Tri. Go Picky Bars!

  • Jomo

    Dude – this is the best story ever! I can’t wait for the movie. I think maybe the eTrade baby plays Jude?

  • Aaron P

    Wow! What an amazing comeback. So stoked for you. Congratulations on an inspiring win!

  • Betsy T

    Love the Justin a Timberlake song (which gets merrily stuck in my head on a regular basis). Did you know that, in an interview, he said that, for him, marriage was about growing together and individually, while reflecting back to each other the best version of what you hope each other to be? I love that about the song. And I’m very relieved that it was a change from Naked Eyes, which gets stuck in my brain so much on the bike!

  • Matt Purvis

    Awesome race man! Congrats! Glad to see you’re still running.

  • Brad

    Major congratulations to you! You did a great job explaining all of the emotional turmoil going through your body. I can’t imagine how that must have felt at so many levels at the finish line. I was desperately trying to follow the race on Twitter and was so stoked to hear you were not only racing well, but had pulled into the lead. It was as exciting and tension-filled as it can get staring at a screen waiting for the next update from anyone who was there. Wow, just wow. On a side note, some friends and I have noticed there hasn’t been word if the foot is ok. I hope it is and you have a full and satisfying year on the race circuit.

  • Nicole

    Tear jerker!! So happy for you and grateful for your honesty and authenticity. Life ain’t always beautiful, but it’s a beautiful ride. 🙂

  • Seth

    Dude, when you won at wildflower I felt a perosnal win. I have been having se injury and stress issues lately and to see you come through with that, and your family behind you totally inspired me. I’m not going for overall wins but of I not beating myself in races, I’m beating myself down. Knowing only the least of your story and seeing you battle through bad news I was able to find some strength. I know not all of our stories and situations are compairable but seeing you battle through the worst of it made me push my own limits.

    Professional athletes don’t most empower their sponsors brands, they empower the sport by showing what’s possible, not just what’s logical. I whole lay appreciate you turning yourself inside out for this sport and for your fans, and mostly, for yourself. Because when I see a pro continue to test their limits for theirselves I gain a little confidence that I’ll be able to continue to push my limits through the worst of it. Not for a place, but for myself and the people who helped me get there.

  • Holly

    So stoked that this worked out for you! I replied to one of your blogs 6 months ago as I followed your recovery while dealing with my own heartbreaking year and eventually surgery for a femoral neck stress fracture. I was going to race wildflower but with my coach decided it was too soon. Boulder 70.3 will be my first try post op and I hope to have my own personal success story. You’ve given me hope and inspiration these last 12 months. Congrats on a job well done.

  • Incredible, incredible race and story. Congrats on the 4peat, and most importantly, conquering a race after a tough year. Bad. Ass.

  • darren

    more intensity.

  • George

    You are the man. You deserve every bit of this win.

    Keep racing and keep being awesome.

  • Jason

    Waking up at 5am for a run I don’t want to do is hard but after reading this in bed I am up ready to go. You are an inspiration to me and I am sure to many others. Congrats on the race. It is awesome to see good things happen to good peeps.
    Keep writing, training and winning.

  • I’m waiting for my breakfast to settle before heading out for a 4.5 hour ride, Jesse, but didn’t expect to be crying this morning. As one who has suffered many injuries and setbacks, I totally understand how you feel. I’m coming off my first ever age group victory from last weekend in my opening tri and am still riding the high. Eagleman and IM Lake Placid await for me this, my 50th year. I’m stoked by you, your story, and your crazyass fans and blog. Thank you
    PS Hey Jude at the finish line for you and your boy was awesome!!!

  • ProfShanks

    You won Wildflower 4x, you get to cry all you want. Soooo glad to have you back racing!

  • Itzel

    SO cool! Congratulations Jesse!! Big hug!

  • Michael R. & Ashley "Rocket" Rappa

    Jesse you our “Americas Triathlete” you embody everything good in the sport, you inspire us to be better, to never give up and to endure when things don’t go your way! You keep on listening to those voices in your head that say, “one more step”, because each moment forward is another way to express to the fans that it’s going to be ok. Damn good Jesse, damn good… Now go out and get it!

  • Dan

    You straight up Ryan Gosling’d that. I was so happy to hear you gutted out the win! Once Lauren tweeted that you were 2nd out of t2, 2.5 min down, I was just shaking my head and smiling because I knew you’d get it. 4x=Legend!

  • Bart

    Congrats, your C.A.F’s all knew you still got it. You left out one thing so I’ll go ahead and say it…Boomshackalacka!

  • Mike

    I just find it really inspiring the mindset you take into your races. You had a sorta similar mindset when you first won this race 4 years ago. “Just race, do my best, and see what happens.” And i just find it amazing that with that in mind you ended up with the mindset sometime on the run like, “Oh man I might actually win.” Then you finally cross the finish line like, “Oh I won…well cool…didn’t expect that.” Most athletes go into a race expecting so much of themselves and when they don’t achieve that they get upset. I’ve definitely taken it to heart that its more important to go into a race doing it to better yourself and that its more about pushing yourself and the love of the sport that time or place. And that mindset often lead to better results than constantly telling yourself that you must win or must have a certain time at all costs.

  • Muna

    It is a year of redemption stories, and this one is at the top! What an amazing journey and an inspiration for everyone who is ever injured or doubts themselves or takes what they have for granted. I had just been reviewing your blog from the last year because I hurt my foot and was looking for information and then I heard you won and could hardly believe it. The guy who hadn’t been able to run and was going to dust off his legs actually freaking won? Total awesomeness. Really enjoyed the Competitors Radio podcast, too. Looking forward to what you and Lauren do next!

  • Nicole

    Congratulations on an amazing and inspiring win! I’ve been following you through your injury and you taught me that even when you’re at your lowest, you have to pick yourself up and push through it. You are such an inspiration to all of us and I thank you for being completely real and honest. Congratulations again on an awesome 4peat win!

  • Wes

    As always a very honest and inspiring post. Thanks for letting us all follow along with you on this journey. Congrats!

  • What a great blog. I loved reading this – was following you all day, and saw the photos coming through – what an amazing achievement. The hard work that you put in making this all happen, the way in which you allowed everyone to help you – and that takes some doing, I know! – and the way in which you pushed through is so inspiring to everyone. I know that I will carry the thought of you in this race with me in my races and at times I will draw strength from thinking “Jesse has doubts, and look what he did!”. It is amazing to be involved in a sport where those winning the races connect so directly and openly with those who are in the middle, or in my case, at the back. It makes a huge difference to us, I can tell you. Thank you and wishing you, Lauren and Jude all the best for your next training season!

  • Jarrod

    Great job Jesse! Hey when is your next race?!

  • Jen

    I was thrilled when I found out that you won Wildflower again this year, and so excited to read your post about it. Then, weeks later, I got in a bike crash and shattered my collarbone. I had surgery to get a plate and 9 screws put in. At the time, I was 7 weeks shy of Ironman CDA, which would have been IM number 2 for me, and I was most of the way trained by that point. The sadness, pain, and frustration have been huge, but I am so freakin’ glad I can come back to your posts on injuries and comebacks. Thanks for sharing an honest account of that journey. It means more than you realize to many of us age groupers, especially the ones who are in the trenches with major injuries. You rock! I will try to channel my inner Jesse for my own comeback. Cheers.

  • Sam C

    I never got a chance to tell you, THANK YOU!!!!!!! From the bottom of my heart I can’t thank you enough…For beating the self proclaimed “CAPTAIN AWESOME”. After having to hear his “speech” a day earlier with Bob B on stage about how when he wins “records fall”. BAAAAAa never wanted to cut the power on the mic so bad in my life or boo at them on stage at the garbage coming out of his mouth. Ok enough of that. A late congrats, and all the best to you and the family. See you back at Wildflower.

  • dylan

    hi jessey u are my biggest fan. I usually go to wildflower every year with my dad to watch u. last year when u won with a broken foot….. that was AMAZING!! I don’t know if u rememember but my friend and I came over to ur cabin in 2014 and u gave us two pairs of ur aviater glasses…. I will never forget that moment. hope to run intp u again.

  • dylan

    if u could respond that would be great

  • Jesse

    Thanks Dylan! I remember you guys for sure and really appreciate you following along! Hope things are going well buddy!

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