Culture

Triathlife: So Long And Thanks For Everything

In a final Triathlife column, Jesse Thomas explains why he's 'officially' retiring and looks back on his favorite moments during his career.

You can also listen to the full Triathlete Hour podcast episode, where Jesse talks about being done with triathlon, what he’s learned, and his next moves.

So yeah, I’m retiring from professional triathlon. I know what most of you are thinking, “Who cares?” Yep, you’re right, mostly no one. But for the DOZENS of crazy ass fans who do care and are thinking, “Wait, didn’t Jesse retire like a year ago?” You’re kinda right and kinda wrong. Here’s an explanation:

I haven’t raced a triathlon in almost two years, but I haven’t “officially” retired publicly. I feel really silly for making an “announcement” about it – particularly given all the craziness in the world right now and how incredibly unimportant it is that I’m retiring from triathlon. But, I’m doing it anyway because:

  1. I still get asked about it.
  2. I know my DOZENS of crazy ass fans demand a story of why and a cathartic wrap up.
  3. To tell you all what I’m “turning pro” in next – no, it’s not Dinosaur Suit Racing.
  4. Because I’m bored and need a break from Picky Bars work and COVID news.
  5. I want to publicly thank a whole bunch of people who helped me and cry a little bit as a result.

So here we go.

Big Race, Big F Up, Big Injury, Here We Are

My last triathlon was Challenge Roth…2018. Reflecting back, I think subconsciously I felt that this might be my last big one. I was fit going into it, but my body was hanging on by a thread. I had a sciatic problem that numbed my left leg, sore feet, a seizing shoulder, and the thing that made me feel the oldest of all my injuries, a freaking hernia!

I was incredibly lucky to have damn-near the race of my life at Roth, accomplishing all my goals: top 3 (3rd), sub-8 (7:54), and sub 2:45 marathon (2:44:52). I knew, as I wrote at the time, that it was a “career day.” But man, my body was crushed. I’ll never forget climbing Solar Hill on the first lap with Cam and Sebi—but shortly after my left leg went numb and stayed numb through the run (and for about four months afterwards). I was physically, emotionally, and mentally burnt.

High-five at Challenge Roth.

Also, it just so happened that Picky Bars was in a damn-near crisis as I crossed the finish line. In a big transition from a small manufacturer to a large one, we made about $150,000 worth of bars that for some reason had rice protein in them that tasted BAD. We couldn’t sell them. We gave them to food banks and were out of stock for two months. We lost a whole bunch of money. It was really really really bad. *Fun fact: About nine hours after I crossed the finish line at Roth (1 a.m. Germany time), I was on the phone with our new contract manufacturer in Oregon trying to negotiate a faster delivery. Nutso.

Needless to say, I needed a break from triathlon, for my body, mind, business…and also for my family. Zadie (our second) was born five days before Kona the fall before Roth, and as anyone that has two rugrats knows, it’s a HUGE change. Our family needs, combined with my desire to spend more quality time with her and Jude, pulled me further away from full-time triathlon.

While I worked full-time resuscitating the business, I decided to pursue a “less time intensive” athletic goal—a marathon. (Side note: So funny that a marathon is a “step back” in training for an Ironman). Deep down, I thought I had an outside chance of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Trials (sub-2:19), which would have been on my 40th birthday and, I think, a cool story — “Old triathlete guy with hernia makes Olympic Trials, AMAZING!” I was running great last March, felt like I was “on track,” and even won a super hilly half marathon in 1:08 against some legit runners, but I broke my navicular (in the race), an injury that I know from experience takes about a year to heal from.

So there you go: six-month business break, one-year literal foot break, COVID, and here we are—21 months since I swam, bike, and ran real fast. Time flies!


RELATED ‘TRIATHLIFE’ COLUMNS

Triathlife: Lessons In Making My Family My Top Priority
Triathlife: What My Competitors Have Taught Me
Triathlife: What’s My End Game?
Things To Know Before Turning Pro


Am I Sad? A Tiny Bit, But Mostly No

So do I miss it? Yeah, a little bit, but not enough to want to switch from what I’m doing now. I’m really happy, and here’s why:

1. I spend more time with my family and, more importantly, more quality time where I’m not crazy exhausted. I always joked that I was more of a “grandpa” for Jude’s first five years than I was a dad. (“Let’s read a book on the couch instead of go play outside, buddy.”) But now we go rock climbing, kayaking, biking, or I just have energy to actually wrestle with him (“Daddy Monster”) when I get home. Zadie has a totally different relationship with me than Jude did at her age because I’ve spent more time with her—she’s really scared of Daddy Monster. Finally, it’s no secret that triathlon puts stress on your marriage as well, and there’s no question that less training and racing has had a positive impact on Lauren and I’s relationship, which has been healing for both of us.

2. I’m really proud of what I accomplished. Sure, there was/is more in the tank. I believe I could be competitive professionally for another few years if I really wanted to make sacrifices to do so. I didn’t accomplish every goal I set during my career, but I accomplished a lot I never thought I would – not just big wins, but also friendships, relationships I had professionally, some of my work with sponsors, and the writing I did for Triathlete. It’s been an amazing ride, I can’t complain.

3. I am REALLY digging working full-time at Picky Bars! At this point in my career, the potential impact on my family, local community, and the world in general is much higher with Picky Bars than it is for me winning another Ironman. I love the challenges we face every day. I love building the team we have here, and creating new products and campaigns that positively impact people. I honestly look forward to Monday morning each week, it’s freaking great!

The Triathlete Magazine covers Jesse appeared on.

So while I do miss parts of triathlon – mostly the people, the camaraderie, and the experiences (definitely not the swimming, I haven’t swam in over a year, ha!) – it feels a little bit like when you visit high school after graduating. There’s nostalgia for sure, and part of you would like to experience some of that again, but a bigger part of you feels like you’re past that time in your life and onto the next phase, and that feels good.

So What Am I Up To Now? Turning Pro…Again!

So on to my next big challenge – “going pro” in business! I spent the last nine years becoming a world-class triathlete, a pretty good husband and dad, and a part-time “amateur” CEO. I’m going to spend the next four to five years becoming a world-class CEO, husband and dad, with some part-time racing mixed in for fun, challenges, and to stay happy and balanced.

I am super psyched about the prospects for Picky Bars. We made some big gains in the last 18 months, and while it certainly isn’t just because of me, it’s encouraging to see that me working full-time didn’t make the company worse! We’re navigating the craziness of a new COVID world, and are lucky to be focused on online/direct-to-consumer where sales are stable and we’re doing our best to give back as a result. We’re profitable, and I’m paying myself for the first time, booyah (so pro)! My vision is to build a company that positively impacts our communities through food products, content, community building, and giving back.

Like when I decided to “go all in” on turning pro, I’m going all in on Picky Bars as well, and am raising our first round of investment capital ever to help grow the business and take it to the next level. We just signed a lease on a new 4,000 sq.ft. warehouse/office space! The combo of physically moving and raising our first capital makes the transition from “part-time CEO” to “world-class CEO” feel legitimate in the way “going pro” in triathlon felt. It’s a clear mental shift and environment shift, like when you go to college and the change of scenery facilitates the change of mindset as much as the transition itself does. So anyway, I’m stoked about all that.

I will continue to race and tell stories – challenging myself is a core part of my being that I could never give up, just like I couldn’t give up business even when I was racing. But my racing now will be a combination of chasing MTB Strava segments, surfing the Deschutes River wave, and competing in crazy/fun multisport events like the Pole Pedal Paddle and maybe the Tuckerman Inferno or Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon. I may still do a marathon or two, trail races, and whatever other fun challenges pop up, but it’ll be secondary to my family and business goals.

So yeah, that’s what I’m doing. I’m incredibly lucky to have something like Picky Bars that I feel just as passionate as I felt about my pro racing career. I know that’s rare.

Now It’s Time For Me To Cry. Thank You All So Much.

I’ve said many times before that becoming a professional athlete was a lifelong dream of mine. I never could have guessed when I was a kid, or even in my late 20s, that I would finally achieve that goal in my 30s and have the experiences I had. It was so fun. What a freaking ride. There’s no way I could have accomplished any of it without the huge support of my family, friends, coach, sponsors, competitors and fans.

I could thank a lot of people for a REALLY LONG TIME – in fact, I did, if you’re interested, I wrote ~1500 words of legit personal thank yous on the full version of this post on my website, but I realize that isn’t for everyone. So I’ll keep it short here and say:

  • Lauren, Jude, and Zadie, you are my reason for it all, thank you.
  • Mom, Dad, my brothers, step-parents, family and friends – thank you for 40 years of support.
  • My coach Matt, competitors, advisors, and friends in the sport, thank you for pushing me to be better athletically, personally, professionally.
  • My sponsors for enabling the journey through product and financial support.
  • The many industry people who helped me along the way.
  • The CRAZY ASS MF FANS who read this, the 50 articles I wrote for Triathlete, and all the blogs on my website. The story-telling made it worth it, ups or downs. Thank you so much.

Finally – A Few of My Favorite Memories

There are too many great memories to list them all, but I’ll leave you all with a brief list of some of my favorites.

  1. My First Wildflower Win – borrowed bike, hand-me-down-unbranded kit, gas station aviators, no one knew my name. So shocked. Still my favorite story.
  2. Winning my first Ironman in Wales two weeks after a heartbreaking 70.3 World Champs.
  3. As a joke, shaving my legs in the Wind Tunnel at Specialized, only to discover it saves me nine watts! The story sparks a huge media blitz and a full study of shaving affects.
  4. Duct taping my jersey closed after it broke in T1 at Peru 70.3 and still finishing 2nd to Andy Potts.
  5. Winning (and beating Jan Frodeno, sorry Jan, I know it was a training day but still) at IM Lanzarote in the first-ever pair of ROKA Phantom Aviators.
  6. Crowning myself the Eagleman 81.3 Champion after missing a turn on the bike and riding an extra 11 miles.
  7. Winning my 4th Wildflower after not racing or running for a year with a broken foot, and my first race as a dad. I thought my career might have been over prior to that race.
  8. Riding up Solar Hill with Cam Wurf and Sebastian Kienle, at Challenge Roth – finishing 3rd in my final race, and going sub-8 hours.
  9. My “How to talk to your family about triathlon” article for Triathlete gets published to ESPN.com.
  10. Wearing my kit home on the plane after a disappointing 70.3 World Champs, just to earn a small bonus from my buddies at ROKA.

If you made it this far, you truly made it to the end, congrats! As I said, I’ll still keep competing and doing random, fun stuff (like Dino-suit racing) so you can keep following me on Instagram where I’m most active, Strava, Twitter, and . I’d also encourage you to sign up for the Picky Bars email newsletter as I often write there, as well as our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.

Best of luck to you all. Thank you so much. Stay safe and healthy out there!