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.
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)