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July 28, 2011

Jesse Thomas

Written by Dena Evans

PicnicStoryJesseFinish-300x180A Bend, Oregon native, Jesse Thomas carried a successful high school running career into a collegiate tenure that featured a Stanford school record and All-American performance in the steeplechase, as well as US Junior National and Pan-American Games Championships in the 10,000m.  Along the way, periodic injuries required Jesse to maintain fitness with cross training.  After dabbling with multisport events after graduation and attending business school, Jesse finally decided to give his full attention to triathlon training with amazing results, none more exciting than winning the professional flight of the 2011 Wildflower 70.3 Triathlon.  Along with several of our FNF athletes, Jesse competed at the Vineman 70.3, where he took 10th.  Only one year ago, Jesse competed as an amateur in the 2010 Escape from Alcatraz.  His biggest weapon remains the run – consider that his half time at Vineman was the fastest among the pros at 1:11!


Jesse, married to 2010 US 5K Champion (and September 2010 Pro’s Perspective) Lauren Fleshman, took a moment to share his story with FNF while recovering from the Vineman performance.



1.     Many of our member runners participate in multisport events on a regular or semi-regular basis.  You have been able to mount a career as a professional triathlete after a long history of running success.  How did you find triathlon, or did triathlon find you?


It was a combo of both, we were like moons orbiting each other for 7 years before finally colliding.  Wow, that is nerdy even for me.  Anyway, I started riding my bike to cross-train during an injury in my 5th year at Stanford.  But then I graduated and worked in a start-up - 100 hrs/week, NOT training, just waiting for my millions to come rolling in.  After about 3 years, I decided I needed to get active again.  So instead of running, I started doing all three sports to mix it up.  My first triathlon was a small local event after a night out with my buddies.  I felt like I was going to throw up, but that local, “just for fun” atmosphere brought me back to what I loved about running before I took it “seriously” in college.  So I tried it for a year, and then reversed course and went to business school (no training again).  Finally, after graduating at the peak of the recession, I decided I may as well enjoy not making money.  So I started training to become a professional triathlete.


2.     What were the main hurdles you have had to address to move from being a promising competitor with natural abilities to a serious contender?


Oh boy, lots of hurdles.  When I started, I swam like a dead fish, except I couldn’t float. It’s still a struggle.  I eventually had to spend time just swimming to try and make up the years of pool time that my competitors have on me.  I spent about 4 months in the pool this winter, swimming 25-45 thousand yards a week.  My hair turned green.  I actually got comfortable in a speedo.  It was weird.


I’ve also had to build a surprising amount of strength on the bike.  You’d think a runner would translate to a good cyclist, but it’s not the case.  Runners have the engine, but not the legs.  When I ride with some of my competitors, cardiovascularly, I’m chilling, but my legs feel like they’re going to fall off at any moment.  It takes years and lots of miles to build that strength, and I’m still building it.


3.     What is your favorite triathlon distance and are there any multisport event combinations that you enjoy even more (run, swim, run, etc)?


I don’t really have a favorite distance, but anything that has lots of running is good!  I just like a course to be hilly, hard, and take me through some cool scenery.  Wildflower, Escape From Alcatraz, Vineman 70.3, all those come to mind.  I like it when I can forget that I’m racing for a bit and just enjoy punishing myself out on a beautiful course.


4.     What mental and physical overlap have you been able to find with lessons you learned as a young runner? Do you find that any of these apply to the other disciplines you train for now?


Absolutely.  I use lessons I learned as a runner all the time.  There are simple things, like the ability to push myself, and the motivation to train and improve.  But more importantly, I’ve improved my ability to listen to myself, and know when to stop when I’m fatigued to the point where I risk injury and burn out.  Those were lessons I learned, the hard way, as a runner.  I was routinely injured and overly fatigued.  I don’t think I ever really mastered them until I started doing triathlon.  And as crazy as it sounds to me to say this, I’m already a better triathlete than I ever was a runner.


5.     How does a typical training week for you play out, in terms of integrating in each discipline?  What is the hardest part of your training week?


Matt Dixon of purplepatch fitness is my coach and the Yoda behind my training.  I would say that no week is really the same under him, which is great.  I have blocks where I focus on each discipline for 5-10 days, then recover, repeat.  I would say, generally though, I swim 5 to 6, bike 4 to 7, and run 3 to 4 times a week.  It sounds like a lot (and is), but I don’t work full time, so that shouldn’t be interpreted as the correct way to train for everyone.  Recovering from your workouts is the most important thing.  If you have lots of other stuff going - family, full-time job, travel, etc. - you need to do less to recover properly.  Believe me, I actually have time to train more, but don’t, because it would mean poorer performance.


The hardest part of my week is definitely a long swim with fast sets.  Swimming is the only sport I still fear when I go to workout.  The pain is still so foreign (I feel like I’m drowning!) that it’s hard to relax.


6.     This month, we are talking to our members about the importance of warm-ups – including drills and strides to prepare for hard workouts, etc.  Have those parts of training been impressed upon you as well by coaches through the years?


Warm up is key!  Do it to it!  You have to “turn on the engine” as Matt says.  I think the easiest way to illustrate the importance of warm up is that before a half Ironman - a roughly 4 hour race for me - I still warm up for at least 30-45 minutes, including fast strides or hard buildups in the swim.  Whatever I can do to get my body prepped to go hard, I do it.


7.     Who have been some of the individuals that have had the greatest impact on the trajectory of your athletic career so far and why?


My coaches throughout the years – Don Stearns my high school track coach taught me to be tough and keep going.  Mike Reilly, my college steeplechase coach, taught me to be in the moment, and focus only on the small, individual steps required to achieve an athletic goal.  My current coach Matt Dixon has been so influential in my understanding of a complete athlete, including the importance of recovery.  All of them guided me with deft hands at appropriate times of my athletic career.


My parents have always been super supportive and influential.  My dad took me on my first run, and always had me playing sports with him.  My mom has been so supportive, I don’t even want to think about how many races & games she’s been to during my life.


Lastly, and most importantly, my wife, Lauren Fleshman.  She not only supports me and the pursuit of my dreams, but she inspires me as an athlete and a person.  She’s my hero.


8.     What challenges are you looking forward to tackling over the next year and beyond?


I’m so pumped about the next two years.  I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’ve improved and become competitive quicker than I expected.  I’ve got some big goals for the Half Ironman World Championships over the next 2-3 years.  I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m beginning to see the real possibility of being competitive with anyone in that discipline.  I’ll still just keep focused on the next step, one at a time, and eventually, with some luck and the support of my friends & family, I’ll get there.


Finally, thanks so much for interviewing me, it’s an honor!  And good luck to all you runners & triathletes out there striving for your own goals.  Keep at it, one step at a time, and it’ll come!  If you ever see me at a race or out training, please don’t hesitate to stop me and say hello.


Last modified on September 23, 2011
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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