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Jesse Thomas took his fifth victory in a row at the Wildflower Long Course Triathlon on Saturday. We chatted with Thomas about his five-peat experience. (Be sure to check out his race report about his day too.)
Triathlete.com: You mentioned in your blog that you would prefer winning every race in the last mile instead of being out front for so long. What didn’t you like about leading?
Thomas: “In a race like that, it’s so hard because you can’t focus anywhere but backwards when you’re in the lead. Before I took the lead on the bike—which I’ve only had on a couple races in my career—I was hurting, but I had these dots out in front me. I thought, ‘Keep your head down, keep reeling them in.’ Then you have the lead and you think, ‘What if I cramp? What if I flat? What if my water bottle flies off?’ and all the sudden your mindset flips to all these other things.”
“And that’s all I could think about during the run—‘oh man, am I cramping?’ I kept racking my brain trying to figure out what guys in the field could come and pass me. ‘Oh god, is he a fast runner? I can’t remember. What if [pro runner Ryan Hall’s brother] Chad Hall runs like a four-minute pace and catches me?’ You just start thinking about all that negative stuff.
“The one thing I remember thinking up the hill on the run was, ‘Oh my god this is so bad, those guys are definitely catching me right now,’ and then I realized every single guy going up that hill thinks he’s having the worst race of his life. You’d have to be an alien to be having positive thoughts up this hill.”
[consults his Strava to look at splits]
“I ran a mile in the middle of this thing from 4.2-5.2 where I averaged 7:49. I ran a whole mile at 7:49, that’s how much climbing there is. And for two minutes of this run, I was averaging 9:25 pace. For a guy who normally runs 5:20–5:30, that is really slow.”
Triathlete.com: What was your mindset going into this year’s race compared to last, where you were coming off of injury?
Thomas: “It was honestly the most relaxed I’d ever been before the race. Not because I was overly confident, because I mostly get nervous based on my own expectations. I felt like with this race I had the least to prove to myself. Last year I didn’t know if I was going to be able to race at this level again. Now I’m through that and mostly healthy, so that was pretty nice. It kind of worried me before the race because I wasn’t sure if I had my game face on.”
Triathlete.com: Your training partner and friend Matt Lieto had a solid day and finished second. You guys train together a lot and I’ve heard he’s a bit faster than you in the pool but you’ve got the edge in open water.
Thomas: “The coolest part of the day was seeing Matt do well and beating all the other guys and having a solid race across the board, because he’s been waiting for that moment. He’s a lot faster than me in the pool. He leads my lane and I can’t stay five seconds behind him. He crushes me in the pool, which kind of makes me think he swims like an a**shole in the open water. I know I am a bad pool swimmer compared to how I swim in the open water.”
Triathlete.com: You had (wife) Lauren and (almost two-year-old son) Jude with you at last year’s race, but not this year’s. How did that change the experience?
Thomas: “I just miss those guys a lot and Jude was mad at me and giving me the cold shoulder on FaceTime. He’s getting old enough to get pissed when I leave. He was amped when I got home though.
“With him getting older, it makes him more fun to be around so I just want to spend more time with him. He’s legit become my little buddy. He’s like my friend. [laughs] Because I’m so busy, outside of Matt Lieto, he’s the only other guy I spend a significant amount of time with. I’m going to be super bummed when he gets old enough to have friends of his own. That’s the main thing—there are times now where I get back form a long bike ride and I just think ‘I get to hang out with Jude.’”
Triathlete.com: Two factors potentially pull people away from Wildflower—Ironman 70.3 St. George the same day and the second year of the swim, two-mile run, bike, run format that came as a result of the drought. What do you think will/should bring people to this race?
Thomas: “I think people should be excited about racing this course as is because it’s super unique and even harder than the original. I don’t know if that turns more people off or ultimately turn more people on. It’s a super unique experience—it’s amazing how much of a difference it makes. I feel like Wildflower could just own that and call the T1 run like the ‘Lake Burner’ or give it a name that sounds like a treacherous challenge and get people psyched. They could bill it as the hardest half-iron triathlon in the world.”
“It’s fun. And it should be—if you’re a triathlete, you’re not putting in all of this time training to go do something that’s easy. The hard part should be fun. When you finish that race, you’re going to feel a sense of accomplishment that you would not feel in any other triathlon. And the atmosphere is still an awesome, super fun festival, with 3–4 different races over the course of the weekend and lots of family-friendly stuff.”