The Wildflower Streak

With his sixth straight win Saturday at the classic Wildflower Long Course, Jesse Thomas has entered rare territory in the sport of triathlon.

There are only a few who have win streaks as long or longer at major triathlons.

Atop the rest is Mark Allen with his 10 straight wins at the Nice International Triathlon. Next are Erika Csomor’s 7 straight wins at Powerman Zofingen from 2004 through 2010 and Ronnie Schildknecht’s 7 in a row at Ironman Switzerland from 2007 to 2013.

So far, Jesse Thomas’s streak is tied with Paula Newby-Fraser’s 6 wins in a row at Ironman Hawaii from 1988 through 1994 and Joanna Lawn’s 6 in a row at Ironman New Zealand from 2003 through 2008.

Illustrating just how vulnerable such streaks are is the big What If surrounding Cameron Brown’s record at Ironman New Zealand. Brown won 5 straight from 2001 to 2005 and 5 straight from 2007 through 2011. Odds were he would have a streak of 11 straight if the 2006 race in Taupo hadn’t had the swim canceled and the race shortened to a half-Ironman distance bike-run duathlon. As it was, Brown only lost the 2006 event at Taupo by 39 seconds to Ain Alar Juhanson.

Thomas acknowledges the thin thread that has linked his six wins at Wildflower. In 2013 he prevailed by a minute in a race-long duel with Leon Griffin. What fans didn’t know at the time was that he broke a navicular bone in his foot during the run and silently suffered intense pain in his victory. While that race was a close call, there was even more doubts about his 2014 Wildflower defense. After the 2013 race doctors inserted a pin to stabilize his foot and he wasn't able to run or compete for nine months. Just 10 weeks before the race, doctors removed the pin which began sticking through the bone. Only four weeks before Wildflower was he able to run again and his longest pre-race run was 8 miles two weeks before the race. In the final mile of his 2 minutes margin of victory he thought back on his difficult year: “I had my doubts,” he said. “Not just that I could win this race. I had doubts about whether or not my career was over three months ago.”

The rest of 2014 was also tough. After a second surgery for a sciatic nerve injury, a shoulder injury and a wrong turn at Eagleman, he raced four times in five weeks to just to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.

So could he imagine catching Allen’s 10-win streak? Thomas took a deep breath and said “I'm afraid my wife [elite runner Lauren Fleshman] wouldn’t put up with me for four more years [of pro triathlon training].”

Might the streak buy him some more time?

“She’s the best thing in my life,” he said.

Thomas said that luck played a big in the streak. “I think it is super lucky to be healthy enough to even race this race six years in a row,” he said. “I've sat out lots of other races with injuries and changed my schedule around many other times. I’ve had lots more shitty days - I just haven’t had a shitty day here. The biggest part of the streak for sure is 70 percent luck. Then I’d say 30 percent is that Wildflower is just a really good course for me.”

One factor that contributed to his win over Wildflower race record holder Terenzo Bozzone this year was his date with Ironman Lanzarote three weeks hence. “I think I was as fit as I've ever been,” said Thomas. “While preparing for Ironman Lanzarote I’ve definitely trained more through this race than I ever have before. So I've been doing more bike miles and a bit more run miles. I was strong but I thought I might be pretty fatigued. But obviously everything turned out great.”

Thomas says he chose Lanzarote for the same reason he likes Wildflower and the same reason he raced and won Ironman Wales last year. “Lanzarote will be a good test because it combines some of my strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “Like Wildflower it is a tough bike with lots of climbing. But it is also hot – which definitely is not a strength of mine. I just like tough courses, which is why I picked Ironman Wales.” Wales was definitely tough as Thomas was the only competitor to break 9 hours.

Thomas said competing against Bozzone, whose 2006 course record of 3:53:43 remains unchallenged a decade later, was a spur to his performance. “I won’t lie. It feels good to beat Terenzo on this course. But it wasn't his day and we’ve all got different priorities and different goals now. In the end, I think that record is untouchable. If it was the old course [with a full lake and no 2.2-mile run in soft sand from the swim to T2] I think I might be a few minutes faster than my best day [3:58:59 in 2012] but I still wouldn’t be under 3:56. Terenzo threw down a 3:53 which is absolutely crazy on that course.”

Thomas said that his Ironman training helped him avoid injuries for Wildflower and for Lanzarote. “I've been having a little back thing that bothers me on the bike, so I haven’t been able to spend as much time in the aero position as I’d like,” he said. “But that is part of the strategy of me racing this course and then Lanzarote. You don’t spend as much time in the aero position. It was also nice to finish this race not feeling so banged up.”