At the Wildflower Long Course Triathlon on May 4, defending champion Jesse Thomas came down the first steep downhill of the challenging 13.1-mile run course and thought, "Oh God, my foot does not feel very good."
Despite all of the adrenaline and excitement of capturing his third consecutive title, he was in significant pain, which he took as a pretty bad sign.
He spent the following week getting X-rays to discover a navicular stress fracture in his foot, an injury that first showed up more than 10 years ago at the end of his college running years at Stanford.
"It turns out [the fracture] is the same one from college that never healed," Thomas said. "It's been bugging me since I started training for triathlon about three years ago, but I've just modulated my training to deal with it. It flared up really bad on the Wildflower run, so I finally got a scan on it, and sure enough, still broken."
Because he started riding, went to grad school, and generally focused on other non-running activities after college, the fracture wasn't much of an issue for years. Even early on in his triathlon career, he was more concentrated on getting his other two sports up to speed, and running was naturally a lower priority. As he’s become a stronger all-around athlete, his coach Matt Dixon has helped him modify his run training to accommodate pain flare-ups. (Before at least four of his races last year, he took some time off running, and he rarely runs more than 20 miles a week.) For longevity in the sport, he says, surgery is the only real solution.
Thomas consulted with his doctor, Dixon and wife, Lauren Fleshman, and decided to undergo surgery this afternoon in Palo Alto, Calif. His doctor, who has performed the same procedure on many elite runners, told Thomas it would be better to deal with the fracture now instead of finishing the season and potentially allowing it to fully break, which would be much harder to bounce back from.
Thankfully, Thomas actually sees this as opportune timing.
"It's serendipitous that I have my first kid coming at basically any time, and it's kind of like—well, if there's a time to take a few month break in the middle of my career, this might be the best time possible to do it. It's weird, I'm not a spiritual person, but to a certain extent I feel like my body and foot held out through out Wildflower and then said, 'alright, it's time to chill out dude.'"
The further silver lining is that once he recovers from the surgery, he'll hopefully be able to train effectively on the run for the first time in his career.
"In order to continue my career at the level I want to—especially with the possibility of doing an Ironman in the future—there’s no way 20 miles a week of running would cut it," Thomas said. "It's kind of exciting for me to have the possibility to see what that could lead to."
If all goes smoothly, Thomas will be back swimming and riding on the trainer within 2–3 weeks, riding outside within 6–10 weeks and running at three months. He hopes to be back racing by October or November.