DNF

Last weekend I won my sixth race in six races in Virginia. I made it six for six, no mistakes, perfect speed, absolute precision. Three of those I won by twelve seconds or less. The goal was to win, so I raced for the win, with confidence in my ability, no matter how close it was.

Today, for the first time ever, I received a bold DNF next to my name. I denied every hint of fatigue my body showed me. Rockett’s was my third triathlon in two weeks, having just completed Colonial Beach triathlon a mere 14 days earlier. I told myself, this time is different. I would win 3sports without digging deep into the well to be able to recover and race hard again the next weekend.

But that wasn’t the case. Before the race I was receiving cheers from my friends. People tell me, you’ve got him today, referring to what was hopefully going to be an epic showdown between me and my coach Michael. They tell me to crush it, and after the past few days of hesitation, and doubts running through my mind, it all cleared half an hour before the start. I told myself I was going to do it. I was ready for it and psyched to have a killer race.

When I jumped into the 92 degree water, I knew the swim would be the worst part with the heat. It was nearly ten degrees warmer than the air and felt like bath water. If I could make it through the swim without overheating, I would cruise on the bike to once again battle the heat later on the run.

When the gun went off I found myself keeping up with the fastest guys. I was in fourth for my wave for the majority of the swim. But towards the end I could feel myself overheating. My entire body hurt. The water, which before felt warm, now felt scalding. It was sucking every bit of energy from my body. I lost my draft on my teammate and lost twenty seconds on him in the last 200 meters.

When I came out onto the dock I instantly assessed the horrible feeling plaguing me. I had attained an extremely high body temperature on the leg of the race that is supposed to be refreshing. Instantly, we were required to run up a long flight of stairs. I realized the heat had zapped all my energy. I did what I could to salvage a fast T1 but with a heart rate of 198, the highest I have seen all year, in any training or race, my body simply was not responding to my desire.

Out on the bike my legs weren’t like the pistons I had last weekend that led me to a 26+ m.p.h. bike leg. My heart was spiked and my legs burned. I touched my chest and felt the heat radiating like hot asphalt in the midday sun. I unzipped my suit to release some of the heat but it was ineffective. Unwilling to abandon my goal, I hydrated and continued pounding out whatever energy I had on the pedals. By mile 10 I had caught Michael and I was in 3rd place overall. The first two guys were out of reach and had won the race, but third was still up for grabs and I knew I had to pull away from Michael to get a gap on him before the run or else 3rd would be his.

But with a strong surge, he still managed to keep me in sight, and before I knew it he was back up near me, pushing the same speed. My legs were shot. Everything burned and I had almost drank all my fluids by mile 20.

I entered T2 and with the fastest T2 split of the day, kicked out on the run with a ten second lead over Michael, a lead that would quickly dwindle. At a half mile in, Michael caught and passed me. I didn’t even have the energy to surge and keep with him. His pace was lightning fast and he was racing away to a strong third place finish. My goals quickly changed. I wanted to salvage a run and stay strong. But at a little over a mile onto the run, I knew something was not right. Today wasn’t like the fatigue I’ve had in races before. It was much, much worse. I couldn’t run in a straight line to save me. My legs were giving out on me, and soon came a throbbing, pounding headache like no pain I’ve ever felt before in a race.

I thought for sure I had hydrated enough, having drank over forty ounces since the start of the race. Soon into the run, I could tell my body was shutting down. I was in over my head and having run myself to a situation of unconsciousness in one of my first triathlons, I knew that the ground was not where I wanted to end up today. At the second aid station, I made the decision to end my race. My goal was not to end up in the hospital, and I knew that was where I was headed. As an athlete, I wanted to test my body 100% to ensure that I would not regret this decision. I did not want to sit for half an hour and realize I could have recovered on the run, I could have pulled it together and finished strong. I know my body extremely well after 50+ triathlons in my six years of racing. I could have bailed with confidence, knowing I was risking my health, at the end of the swim, but I knew I may regret not giving it a shot. So I did, and I have no regrets about my decision to stop.

For the rest of the day I recovered but not without hour long spells of agonizing pain. I would go from sofa, to seat, and then to the floor, trying to find a comfortable position where my body didn’t writhe with pain. I couldn’t eat for hours, the thought of food making me feel the same illness that led me to the vomiting I had post-race. And finally, hours and hours later, hunched down on the floor, I finally felt the urge to urinate. I recognized this was a good sign, and prayed for it to be clear. But it was then that I recognized that the massive quantities I drank were no where near enough. I was severely dehydrated despite the liters and liters forced down my throat by the EMT’s after the race.

I would have treasured a strong finish at this race more than any of my wins this season. With Adam Otstot and Ben Winterroth both having phenomenal races, a third place to those two would have been an amazing achievement in my triathlon career. But it was not to be today. I am proud of my decision to bail today. I am not proud of my decision to race last weekend. That is where this all stemmed from and hopefully I won’t ever make this mistake again.

For now I’ll clean up the mess of this last race and take a few days away from the sport. I am already feeling the yearning to race again though. I know it sounds silly. It could have caused the end of me today, but it’s what I love to do. Its programmed into me.

Today I remembered what it was like to lose and I think I realized why people do not often have winning streaks like I did. I’m so excited about what I did these past few months. It was a huge combination of factors, the foremost being training, but tactics in the race and then an enormous amount of luck played a big role as well. But when I won that frequently, I forgot what it was like to lose. But that is not what caused my failure today. My failure today came from my greed. I was demanding more and more out of my body so my desire to win could be satisfied. Today my body retaliated. I’ll give it a break and then come out to fight strong again. In a month is Nationals and I know I’ll be ready.

Grayson Cobb

Grayson Cobb

I am a long distance backpacker, triathlete, adventurer, climber, kayaker, and lowly medical student currently living in Norfolk, VA attending Eastern Virginia Medical School and getting out for adventures on weekends.
Grayson Cobb

One thought on “DNF”

  1. Wise words once again. Congratulations on knowing the right thing to do…once again. How old are you really? You have wisdom beyond your calendar years…I am glad you are proud. Savor this win…because is really what it was in the overall picture…a victory of self.

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