An Interview with 2016 Ironman Lanzarote Victor, Jesse Thomas
Last weekend pro-triathlete Jesse Thomas made headlines with his incredible podium-topping performance in Ironman Lanzarote. Jesse, a powerhouse 70.3 athlete and former collegiate steeplechaser, was fresh off his historical sixth consecutive win at the Woodstock of triathlon – Wildflower. From there he traveled to Spain to brush up on the infamously challenging Lanzarote course, famous for its crosswinds and seemingly never-ending climbs.
Lanzarote was only the second time Jesse has tackled an Iron distance event, and was the next chapter after he won his first ever attempt in Wales last year. Needless to say, Jesse's showing that he can tackle and dominate 140.6 as much as he can 70.3.
We caught up with Jesse after he broke the tape at Lanzarote to talk about his Ironman performance and dig a little deeper into his multiple KOM bike effort.
Q: Ironman Lanzarote is a notoriously hard race. How did your preparation differ from some of the other long course races you've done?
It was the first Ironman I'd ever specifically prepared for. Although to be honest, I didn't do too much different. I probably rode an extra 1-2 hours a week, and ran an extra 5-10 miles a week. The riding was similar to a lot of stuff I do normally; lots of big gear work, two long 4-4.5 hour long rides a week, and a mix of easy, endurance, and high intensity stuff.
Outside of that, I did some general heat adaptation - rides indoors on the trainer and runs on the treadmill for a week or so before I left (I arrived 9 days before, so I had some time to adapt). I also was a couple pounds lighter than I have been for other peak races, about 168 lbs.
Q: Did you get a chance to recon the course prior to the race? What were your thoughts, and did the course live up to its reputation?
I got to ride the crazy section (Haria) once, and some of the other parts closer to where I was staying 1-2 times, then I drove the section I couldn't ride. It was absolutely insane. Obviously, it's very hilly with 8.5k feet of climbing. It was REALLY windy in the days leading up to the race and I was a little nervous about the descents and some of the more exposed flat sections. It ended up being windy on the day, but not as bad. It easily lived up to its reputation. It is a very difficult course and has to be one of, if not the toughest course out there.
Q: What key workouts did you do in your lead up to IM Lanzarote that you feel helped you the most during the race?
For the bike, two days stand out.
- About five weeks before the race, eight days after Oceanside, I did a 4.75 hour ride of 112 miles with 4,000 feet of climbing. I averaged 23.5 mph at 280W (300 NP). I did three 40-60 min efforts where I averaged 330-350W. That was the best long ride of my life by a lot, and knew I was in a good position to race really well if I could keep it up.
- Thirteen days before the race, eight days after Wildfower, I rode 100 miles with about 6,800 feet of climbing at 22.5 mph, 287 NP with some 20-40 minute race pace plus efforts of 290-340 watts over 4.5 hours. I then ran off 6 miles at 6:00/mile pace, and the whole workout felt good, relaxed even. That's when I knew I was ready to go.
Q: You must have had an inclination that you were in contention for the win based on your fitness level and pedigree in other races with challenging courses. Based on that what was the plan going in to the race? Specific power zones? Approach to pacing?
I honestly didn't think I had a realistic shot for the win because of Jan [Frodeno, reigning Kona champ]. I thought if I had a good day, I could beat the other guys, which would have been the best race of my career. I planned on being alone most of the day - both of the rides above I did alone, no music, no nothing - just hard solo rides with 1 quick stop for water. So I was mentally prepared to just do my own thing. I knew I could average about 280 watts and 300 NP and still come off the bike and run well.
Power data from Jesse's Ironman Lanzarote bike effort.
Q: How did you fare in your execution of the plan?
I ended up having the luxury of a great ride "partner" Timo Bracht - the course record holder and many time Ironman and Roth champ. He's known for pacing himself well, so I just stayed with him. Luckily it felt right, so it really wasn't much of a risk. If anything, the climbs were a little slower than I might have done myself, and that's where I passed him a few times, but on the descents he was rolling and I had to push a bit to keep him in sight. Overall though, I think I ended up with a 304 NP, and 273 average, which is just what I thought would be right.
Summary data from Jesse's Ironman Lanzarote bike effort
Q: Coming out of the water several minutes down on the front pack makes you the "hunter." Is this your preference or doesn't it matter?
I'd definitely prefer to come out with the front pack! I have to put in a lot of work on the bike to bridge, and in some races it's nearly impossible when there are big packs in front of me. That's why I choose races like Lanzarote, Wales, and Wildflower, they have courses that are hard enough to break up the packs and make it more likely I can catch.
Q: What information were you getting in terms of your position on the course in relation to the other competitors?
On the bike, almost nothing. I could see Jan about 2 minutes up on some of the sections, but we really didn't know what was going on. It might have been better that way anyway, as it just forced me to think internally and ride the appropriate pace.
Q: What was the hardest moment of the race, physically or mentally?
The last 5 miles of the run. I'd passed Jan 4 miles before, and had built a 50 sec lead or so, but I really started to hurt at 21 miles. I had to stay focused on running my own pace, staying relaxed, and not thinking about what it would be like to win - or lose. It was tough given the surroundings, the pain, and the potential, but I think I did a good job of it, and that's partially why it turned out the way it did.
Q: What did you do to celebrate the W?
I just got home to Bend last night - two days later. I made dinner and had a beer (and juice) with Lauren, my wife, and Jude, my son. I'll go to a local brewery here tonight with them and some friends, but that dinner last night is as good as it gets.
Jesse Thomas lives, trains and grew up in Bend, Oregon. He's an NCAA All American and school record holder for the Stanford track team. He's married to 2x US 5K champ, Lauren Fleshman, and is the proud dad of Jude.
Before becoming a pro triathlete, he started a fuel cell company and is now the CEO of Picky Bars. Check him out on Strava, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and his blog Leap Day Sports.