Articles by Dark Mark

Thomas and Lyles Repeat as Wildflower Champions




The anxious athlete felt the cold, wet, grit of sand under their feet, unconsciously grabbing the beach with their toes while pulling their size medium women’s swim skin up and over their shaved legs. Inhaling deeply, they zipped it up tight against their lean and beautiful body. They pulled the swim cap down over their flowing, curling locks, tucking aberrant curls up under the fluorescent cap. They put their swim goggles into place and swung their arms in circles to loosen the shoulders, feeling the blood rush to their fingertips.* 

The year is 2011 and newly minted pro Jesse Thomas is toeing the line at the legendary Wildflower long course triathlon for the first time. He would go on to win, racing in a swim skin made for a female and on a borrowed bike – an inauspicious beginning to what would lead to an unprecedented stranglehold on this now 34 year old race. This would be the beginning of JESSE THOMAS’ REIGN OF TERROR, and on today, April 30th 2016, he would be going for his 6th straight title. 
*Creative license. There isn’t actually a beach and I don’t know what size skin he wore. The rest is probably true.
I sat down with Jesse at a local Red Lobster and chatted over some hard lemonades. 
Dark Mark: You first won here 6 years ago, riding on a borrowed bike and wearing a woman’s swim skin. Now, you have top of the line bike and swim sponsors in Roka and Dimond. This race really is the genesis of your career. How long do you anticipate on coming back to this race? 
Jesse Thomas: It has been a crazy 6 years, I never would have expected it to become what it has. Honestly though, I feel super satisfied with what I’ve accomplished here and the last two years I’ve thought it was my last year. But I keep coming back because I love it and I owe this race so much for what it’s done for my career. I also love the people that own and operate this race and think it’s important to support the independent races out there. 
If and when I don’t win and I’m not the returning champ, then I might use a year to try something else, or look at my season or schedule in a different way. But who knows, I don’t usually decide what my season is going to look like until after the year has started because I don’t like to feel pressure to make my training and body match a schedule that doesn’t make sense. But long story short, this is a great event, and I owe it and it’s founders a lot for everything they’ve done for me over the years.
DM: What is it about this particular race that has allowed you to be so dominant? You have faced your fair share of heavy hitters that have made the trek out to Bakersfield (? will double check that before publishing) over the years. 
JT: Definitely not dominant, there have been some super close races. Each year has had it’s own challenges both in my prep leading up to it, and in the competition. The fields have obviously never been “stacked” like an Oceanside or St. George, but I’ve faced 1-3 solid guys each year and just have been lucky enough to never have a bad day here, which is crazy because I’ve had LOTS of other bad days in the last 6 years. 
The course is a combo of playing to my strengths and hiding my weaknesses – it’s a wetsuit swim, it’s a super hilly bike, and a crazy hard hilly run. With the swim/run/bike/run combo, it favors me even more because I can make up a lot of my gap to the front group on the first run before the ride even starts. Overall, the course is so tough that you just spend an extra 15-20 minutes riding and running vs. a typical half, and the more of that the better for me.
DM: What was it like having your best friend Matt Lieto finish second last year? Was that bro hug the bro-est of bro hugs ever? I bet it felt great. 
JT: It was amazing. We both cried. The only thing that would have made it feel better was if you finished in 3rd.
DM: I had talked for many months about coming in and dethroning you. As an athlete with a 5k PR of 20:07(3x), I was obviously a major threat to your crown. Describe to me your feelings when you found out I had to withdraw from this race, as I had talked so much shit in the months prior.
JT: 100% relief. I would have looked like a total fraud if I had been beaten by a man who is so publicly anti gluten free.
Note: If you have not watched the finish line interview of JT’s first win at Wildflower, you should. You can’t help but to share in his excitement, and you can kind of see why he keeps coming back. Watch it here.
Though Jesse certainly knows how to win this race, it is never without competition. This year he would be facing Terenzo Bozzone, Matt Lieto (who came off the bike with him last year and finished only 2 minutes back), uber-American Matt Russell, Jason Pedersen, uber-biker Maik Twelsiek, Big Matty Reed, and the omnipresent Thomas Gerlach who finished 4th here last year. Uber-runner Chris Baird who often finds himself with the fastest run would be there to throw down, as well as Ben Collins who is a threat to any podium when he is on form. Uber-driver Patesh Singh did not start.
The women’s side would feature super swimmers Lauren Goss (who finished on the podium last weekend at St. Anthonys) and Emily Cocks, Maverick Multisport athlete and another front pack swimmer in Laurel Wassner, and Smashfest Queen athlete Alyssa Godesky. Also on the start list was Liz Lyles, looking to repeat her success here last year where she won, largely on the merit of her race best run which was more than 6 minutes faster than the 2nd fastest on that day. Jess Smith would be racing for the first time since having a baby, and by all accounts, it’s a pretty good baby. 

This years iteration would feature a 2.2 mile run from the swim to T1. Palo Alto based athlete Thomas Roos would lead out of the water (25:16), followed 30 seconds back by former Olympian Matty Reed and Dane Alexander Schilling (Roos would go on to finish 3rd to last). Jesse Thomas would come out in 11th place after a 26:14 swim, joined by the likes of Collins, Bozzone, Twelsiek and Lieto. Matt Russell, not known for his swim, came out in 31:04 but the strong bike/run combo he possesses becomes even more potent the longer the race goes on. The splits posted online do not reflect the times for the 2 mile run, so your guess is as good as mine who ran what for that. Smart athletes covered the 2.2 trail run in shoes. peXJ1I8G

Once on the bike, JT and Bozzone set pace, the two sharing the lead from the start of the bike until near the end. Jason Pedersen factored in early, himself leading the race by mile 11. Pedersen was still in the lead nearing the halfway point of the more than 3,000 feet of climbing bike course, with Jesse and Terenzo keeping him in their sights while still going back and forth between 2nd and 3rd. Collins and Lieto sat in 4th and 5th, with Lieto 90 seconds back from BC. By mile 40 Jesse had had enough and charged to the front, Terenzo followed with Pedersen making like the New Kids on the Block and hangin’ tough in 3rd. 
Jesse was first onto the run, 1 minute and 20 seconds out of T2 before Terenzo exited.  However, Terenzo immediately put in an effort and by mile 1 had already caught up with Jesse. They exchanged a smile and a nod, the two acknowledging this brief moment of respite, this calm in the middle of the storm, the eye of the fury that is the pain of the back of a half Ironman run*. Moving quietly but aggressively up the field was Matt Russell, who hammered out a race best bike split and was picking off runners left and right. Thomas Roos had already thrown in the towel and was chugging beers with the legendary Naked People somewhere in the middle of the run course***.
By mile 7, Thomas had done his thing and held a 90 second lead over Bozzone, while Chris Lieferman had ran his way up to 3rd with Chris Baird keeping pace. Jesse Thomas never faltered and made that now-familiar trip down the finishers chute; kissing hands and shaking babies, the Mayor of Wildflower gleefully accepting the finishers tape as it were the key to the city and hoisting it above his head*. Terenzo would come in a few minutes later, with Leiferman, Baird, and Russell rounding out the podium. Thomas had the fastest run of the day.
Jesse Thomas (photo Ken Frickle @PescadoPelado)
Terenzo Bozzone (photo Ken Frickle @PescadoPelado)
1   4:05:32 Jesse Thomas (26:14, 2:18:27, 1:17:01)
2   4:08:17 Terenzo Bozzone (26:12, 2:19:11, 1:19:16)
3   4:10:36 Chris Leiferman (27:43, 2:19:54, 1:18:31)
4   4:11:17 Chris Baird (29:35, 2:19:03, 1:18:30)
5   4:12:54 Matt Russell (31:04, 2:17:19, 1:20:45)
6   4:14:15 Nathan Killiam (27:44, 2:20:37, 1:21:49)
7   4:15:23 Jason Pedersen (26:12, 2:21:34, 1:24:09)
8   4:18:37 Matthew Lieto (26:13, 2:21:34, 1:26:34)
9   4:19:14 Maik Twelsiek (26:15, 2:20:54, 1:27:24)
10 4:19:50 Ben Collins (26:15, 2:20:54, 1:27:24)
First out of the water was an expected Lauren Goss with Triathlon Preview Show co-host Emily Cocks nipping at her toes (26:46, 26:49), while defending champ Liz Lyles found herself almost 3 minutes back in a group with Robin Pomeroy, Leslie Miller, and Jess Smith. Then there was the 2 mile run which I don’t have splits for, so here is a cool picture of a dog:
By mile 20, Lyles and her ridiculous abdominals had asserted herself and was leading the race, 1:20 up on Cocks with Goss, Wassner, and Pomeroy trailing. Wassner moved up to 2nd (+1:33) by the bottom of Nasty Grade around mile 45, with Lyles capturing the bike prime. The normally strong rider Goss was moving backward by this point and found herself in 5th between Cocks and Pomeroy.
Lyles was first onto the second run following her race best bike split (2:41:13), with Wassner  (2:42:01) and Emily Cocks (2:45:49) in pursuit. Pomeroy, Goss, Godesky found themselves coming out of T2 and fighting for top 5. Lyles had The Right Stuff and used her run speed to dominate, recording again a race best run (1:27:21) and Wassner holding her 2nd place spot with the 2nd best run (1:32:48). Cocks ran well and held onto 3rd, with Pomeroy coming in 4th and Goss holding on to 5th place after a 1:35:25 run. 
Liz Lyles (photo Ken Frickle @PescadoPelado)
Laurel Wassner (photo Ken Frickle @PescadoPelado)
1   4:42:18 Liz Lyles (29:41, 2:41:13, 1:27:21)
2   4:48:42 Laurel Wassner (29:00, 2:42:01, 1:32:48)
3   4:51:33 Emily Cocks (26:49, 2:45:49, 1:34:09)
4   4:57:47 Robin Pomeroy (29:02, 2:48:14, 1:36:08)
5   4:59:43 Lauren Goss (26:46, 2:52:49, 1:35:25)
6   5:04:00 Alyssa Godesky (30:13, 2:50:22, 1:38:05)
7   5:05:40 Erin Green (31:45, 2:53:33, 1:35:00)
8   5:07:26 Leslie Miller (29:44, 2:54:02, 1:38:30)
9   5:08:14 Jess Smith (29:39, 2:53:05, 1:40:15)
10 5:08:31 Kelly Kosmo (29:40, 2:54:56, 1:39:38)

Articles by Dark Mark

After several weekends of stacked racing in the 70.3 and 140.6 distances, New Orleans 70.3 was the lone race this weekend. A P500 event with a $30,000 prize purse, most top gunners had already blown their wad at the plethora of other, better pointed and better paying races in the weeks prior. While 500 points can seem like a lot, Ironman scoring is like pinball. You can score a million points but still kind of suck.

Race favorite and last years champion Andy Potts pulled out late, which is also how he got his last child. This left last years first loser Matt Chrabot as one of the race favorites. Other contenders include TJ Tollakson,Maverick Athlete Jake Rhyner, Thomas Gerlach (fresh off a solid 14th place showing at Texas 70.3), and Paolo Sousa coached athlete Taylor Reid…though we won’t hold that against him. Another podium threat was bike shark Andrew Starykowicz. 
left shark
Speaking of sharks, this brings me to my next point which I know weighs heavily on every athlete’s mind: the constant and ever present threat of shark attacks.
While New Orleans 70.3 swim is in a protected harbor a few miles inland from the Gulf, sharks need no reason to travel from the Gulf of Mexico, past Cat Island, around Lake Borgne, through the Rigolets straight via Chef Menteur Pass, across Lake Pontchartrain, and then into Southshore Harbor Marina, because they are an APEX predator. Scientifically speaking this means they can do whatever they want. I asked several pros to rank the threat of shark attacks on a scale of 1-10:

Matt Chrabot


Thomas Gerlach


Jake Rhyner


Sarah Piampiano

(I had not considered the threat of the alligator, another apex predator, which led me to another thought, who would win in a fight: an alligator or a shark?)

Andrew Starykowicz

So there you have it. An answer to the age old question of who would win in a fight: an alligator or a shark.
The women’s field featured returning 2x champion Sarah Piampiano, quick runner Cait Snow, trigger happy,will-she-or-won’t-she-show-up, non-practicing doctor Dr. Amanda Stevens, superfish Laura Bennett, Maverick Multisport athlete Sarah Cameto and someone named Amelia McCracken who made this featured lineup for obvious reasons.

The Men: 

First out of the water in the wetsuit legal swim was Matt Charbot, followed 26 seconds later by Starykowicz and a small group including Brazilian Fernando Toldi, Ruski ITU fellas Jaroslav Kovavic and Ivan Tutukin, with Iowan TJ Tollakson clinging on to the tail of that group. A few minutes back from that group emerged Rhyner and Canadian Reid.
On the out and back bike course, athletes rode into a 20 mph headwind which would benefit the stronger riders in Starykowicz and Tollakson. Starykowicz would quickly and not unexpectedly make his way to the front of the race and was the first to the turnaround, finding himself about 3:16 up on Charbot and Tollakson, with Reid riding quickly but still 3 minutes further back of Matt and TJ. 
Starykowicz took advantage of the tailwinds and put his 60 tooth chainring (probably) to work and blasted the return leg in an obscene 52:43, or 31.8 miles per hour, coming off the bike with his second sub 2 hour bike split in a week. 2nd onto the run course was Chrabot, over 8 minutes down from Starykowicz, with Reid moving up on the return leg and coming off the bike in 3rd. Tollakson never came in off the bike after he had a flat tire at mile 46. 
Starykowicz went off hard on the run with his inimitable run form which some have said looks like “a robot gorilla about to shit its pants,” and maintained his position to finish first in 3:46:52. Reid was hard charging though and caught up with Chrabot 6 miles into the run, going on to finish 2nd in 3:52:19 with a 3rd best on the day 1:16:27 half marathon. Chrabot rounded out the podium with a new appreciation of apex predator Andrew Starykowicz.
Andrew Starykowicz (photo credit:
Reid and Chrabot with 2k to go (photo credit:

1)   3:46:52  Andrew Starykowicz 
2)   3:52:19  Taylor Reid 
3)   3:53:07  Matt Chrabot 
4)   3:56:05  Ivan Tutukin 
5)   3:56:55  Raul Tejada 
6)   3:57:30  Fabio Carvalho 
7)   3:59:22  Jaroslav Kovacic 
8)   4:00:03  Denis Sketako
9)   4:00:24 Thomas Gerlach
10) 4:04:21 Fernando Toldi


The Women:

 A wind that would prove to be a factor all day shook up the swim and a nasty chop prevented any real groups from forming as Laura Bennett came out of the water first, 1:17 ahead of non-practicing doctor Dr. Amanda Stevens, who herself was about 90 seconds up on Sarah Cameto, with Amanda Wendorff and Cait Snow coming out of the water almost 5 minutes back of Bennett. Defending champion Piampiano, who came back from two flat tires last year to win, had her work cut out for her, emerging more than 6 and a half minutes down from Bennett who was already several miles up the road as Piampiano was stripping off her wetsuit and removing her swim cap, revealing her trademarked fiery red hair (sorry Doug MacLean). 
Once on the bike, Piampiano put her bike prowess to work, moving her way up the field while Cameto herself had already moved up to the front of the race making up 3 minutes on Bennett and becoming the first woman to the turnaround. Piampiano was already only 71 seconds back from the lead at mile 28, erasing her large swim deficit and setting herself up for a repeat victory if she could nail a strong run.
​Sarah Piampiano (photo credit:
Piampiano continued her strong riding, eventually taking the lead and coming out of T2 first, 45 seconds ahead of Cameto. Once on the run it became clear that Piampiano was going to run away with her 3rd victory at New Orleans, which she sealed with a 2nd best on the day 1:25:51 following her race best 2:17:04 bike. Sarah Cameto would hold tough to finish in 2nd place with Laura Bennett finishing 3rd.
1)   4:19:57  Sarah Piampiano 
2)   4:26:48  Sarah Cameto 
3)   4:29:51  Laura Bennett 
4)   4:30:21  Caitlin Snow 
5)   4:33:23  Amanda Stevens 
6)   4:34:15  Amanda Wendorff 
7)   4:38:37  Bailey Hinz 
8)   4:44:37  Erin Spitler 
9)   4:46:12  Maggie Rusch
10) 4:50:28  Palmira Alvarez

photo credit: Gators of the Swamp via photopin (license)

Articles by Dark Mark

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Articles by Dark Mark

In 1998 I had a paper route, and at this time Dave Mirra was my idol. Every other week, I would collect the dues from everyone on the route and return the money to the newspaper, sans any tips I earned. There was nothing I wanted more that year than the Haro Dave Mirra 540 Air.

One week, instead of returning the money to the newspaper, I just went ahead and went to the bike store and bought that bike. Sure I got in trouble and I think my parents had to bail me out, but that was the greatest day of my life.

My friend Nate and I spent the summer trying to ride up an 8′ tall quarter pipe we built. We painted it white and it had two red stripes going up the middle. I pasted some Haro stickers on there, as well as some Fox stickers and whatever else I could get my hands on. I don’t think we ever made it more than to the top of the ramp where we would slide our bikes down and then go down the ladder in the back, but it was a blast. I spent countless hours playing his video game as I didn’t really have any other friends besides Nate. The songs are still burnt into my brain and when they come on I go right back to that game.

Eventually I got older and moved to Chittenango, ironically where he grew up and honed his skills. Through the great mystery that is life, I got into triathlon, and met Ben, and met a friend of Dave’s, and went to Kona, and used that as a means to introduce myself in the picture above, the Cervelo house in Kona where I had no right to be at by all accounts.

Dave was incredibly friendly and engaging, no hint of arrogance or pretension; he asked ME questions. We asked him to host the beer mile, as I had seen his hosting ability on display on MTV’s Challenge, and he was quick to agree. 

As a quick aside, we had met briefly before at a local triathlon. I couldn’t believe that he was there, and I remember waiting on the bike for him to pass me. That moment didn’t come until the last half mile, and we came into transition together, a picture of which I have and absolutely fucking cherish. I beat him out of transition because his transitions sucked, but he quickly passed me on the run and I remember smiling as I was getting passed by him, even through the pain that only a sprint triathlon can bring.

We later had him on the show and as the shows usually go, it got a little low brow, with swears getting tossed around casually. A few days later, I am watching tv with my girlfriend at the time and my phone rings. It’s Dave Mirra. 

“Dave Mirra is calling me.”
“So, answer it. It’s Dave Mirra.”

I answer and he is nervous that the show is too rough. I tell him that compared to some of the other episodes, his sounded like an episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

When he came to town a few months later, we went out drinking and played some pool, which of course he was good at. He had a core group of friends from years back. Nobody would ever assume he was worth millions.

We would keep in touch occasionally and I was always motivated by his results in triathlon and the way he raised his kids. Every time he liked one of my pics, I geeked out. It was Dave fuckin Mirra.

Articles by Dark Mark