How Jesse Thomas Creates Success by Nailing the Basics

The sense of accomplishment when everything comes together for the good is a cherished moment for coach and athlete.  This weekend was one of those occasions with the wonderful performance by long-time Purple Patch pro, Jesse Thomas.  It was, by all standards, a career performance.  While Jesse has won many races and established himself at the upper end of the sport, a podium finish at the best race in the world, with a sub 8-hour finish and a lightning fast marathon was a great feather in the cap.  It was his performance at the right time and the right race without much potential left on the table.  It was a wonderful effort and a well-deserved result, especially when we realize Jesse’s task of life-management needed to allow such performance.

Like you and me, Jesse is very busy.  Two children, a company to run, and then we add professional triathlon to the mix; it is a challenge that most of his competitors don’t face, at least to his level, and yet the goal performance arrived.  Challenge Roth has been Jesse’s primary goal race for all of this season.  At the start of the year, we set out several goals, but all were anchored around the performance at Roth.  Historically, Jesse is relatively young at the IRONMAN distance race, and he has always chosen the tougher courses that won’t deliver faster times.  The reason behind our thinking was that these tough and hilly courses suited his physical characteristics, but also that they were some of the more interesting races in which to participate.  The courses had personality and offered much more interest for Jesse over simply chasing a PR.  I loved this lens and embraced preparation for races such as IRONMAN Wales and Lanzarote, as it got to the basic essence of why Jesse was participating in the sport in the first place.  This anchored around personal challenge, excellence, and individual accomplishment.  He loves to race but for his own passion and joy of accomplishment.  It wasn’t to simply say that he could run xx fast or finish in xx time.

While obviously happy with his progress at the distance, including a couple of overall wins, this year, we decided to anchor our vision and goals around going fast.  Jesse has no interest in going to an IRONMAN Florida to chase a PR, but he did become intrigued with going to what many believe to be the best race in the world - Challenge Roth.  It always attracts a massive field with support in the hundreds of thousands and also provides a legitimate shot of going really fast for once.  We decided to shift and focus on the following goals:

  1. A podium finish
  2. A finishing time under 8 hours
  3. A run split at 2 hours and 45 minutes or faster
  4. To truly race and be willing to risk the above if an opportunity for even greater reward presented itself on the day

While the last “goal” was subjective, it anchored our lens in preparation.  Prepare as well as we could, then be willing to take chances when they popped up in front of us when racing.

Not unlike our thinking when setting up a program for any time-starved individual, the mission of our training was anchored around a few simple and actionable components.  I share these to assist in your understanding that great performances are not magic, but a culmination of specific work, applied consistently, yielding effective training (not just more training). I would label the key decisions and planning around:

  • Arriving Fit n’ Fresh:  With Jesse, we never count total training hours as a barometer of success, instead, we integrate the best program for any given week around his commitments in other parts of life.  We don’t always hit the same amount of hours as life ebbs and flows, and this is OK.
  • Only Go “Big” When it Counts:  Jesse is a larger professional athlete, so I built the program around two days each week that were really challenging.  More than this would create deeper fatigue and lead to negative responses, so the vast majority of weeks only included two hard days.  The rests were supportive, general endurance, or preparatory/recovery.
  • A Dynamic Mindset:  We wanted to make these key sessions count, so we would be flexible if the body just was not ready.  We moved things up and back as needed to retain quality, often meaning reducing the length of some supportive sessions or skipping entirely if needed - without guilt or loss of confidence!
  • Focus on the Key Supporting Habits:  A true commitment to high-quality sleep, appropriate fueling, strength and conditioning, and great eating.  Nothing was obsessive but instead anchored in consistent quality.  If these fell down, then training had to be reduced.

While there is obviously more to it than just these elements, these are the most critical and anchors to the mindset.  The great thing for me, as the coach, is that I have Jesse to go and execute.  He is not only smart but willing to commit to this process throughout the journey.  It is a tougher path, as he is clearly completing less training than his peers and has to embrace a very organized and fluid approach to the training progression globally.  He doesn’t have the luxury of just showing up.  He must plan his weeks, then execute with the above points in mind, knowing that each week might not go exactly as planned.  He is forced to get better and better at making decisions and not constantly seeking validation of his worth or readiness in training.  Instead, he seeks as perfect as possible within the context of life.  Guess what — this is the same for you!  You don’t have the luxury of just showing up, and success is not simply checking off all the sessions in the program.  It is incumbent on you to plan, adapt, and evolve with what life brings, but the mission is to weave consistency over many, many weeks.

When race day came for Jesse, as it will come for you, he arrived as well prepared as he could within the context of his life.  He was fit, after all, he hit 15 to 18 hours almost every week (yes, more than most of you!), but was he fit enough to accomplish these goals set out?  He couldn’t pretend to know an answer to this question, so we simply let the body provide it, instead of guessing.  Before the race, I asked him to embrace the occasion and enjoy the best race in the world.  I asked him to race with freedom and be willing to ride above his normal level early in the race if the race scenario presented itself.  We assumed he may be in the vicinity of the uber-bikers, Sebastian Kienle and Cameron Wurf, and knew that pacing legally behind them would be of value until it felt like too much.  It was a calculated risk that the effort would place him well relative to the rest of the field but not dismantle the run potential.  This was a risk, but it fell under our fourth goal, and Jesse has the racing mentality and courage to not wonder while in process of trying but to race without shackles and wait for the body to prove the answer.  It did.

The rest is history, with every goal checked off and a wonderful experience.  I was so proud to hear his excitement as he explained the atmosphere of leading the race up the famous Solerberg climb on the bike with thousands of fans lining the street “Tour de France style.”  He had fun, embraced the occasion but achieved the results because he had the courage to follow a plan that was appropriate for his life situation and commitments.  The success was born out of nailing the basics, not some magic approach of secret training solution.  If more athletes could truly — and I mean truly — embrace this lens then our results would be even better.

It isn’t the easy path, but it is the right path for the time-starved athlete.  Bravo Jesse, you did yourself proud, and I am thankful that Purple Patch is a part of your journey.

Photo:  James Mitchell for Activ Images.