Change of plans

Looks like plans have changed.

I may be hiking the Appalachian trail this year rather than next. I may be leaving in early September or late August rather than March. If that is the plan I will hike it North to South. If I set out of August 27th, the earliest I can leave, I will hike attempt to hike the 2000 mile stretch before the new year.  Another option is to hike as far as I can until it is absolutely miserable, then section hike the rest.

The reason I would do this is to not miss next year’s triathlon and cycling seasons. I am swimming, biking, and running faster than ever before and I may not want to miss next year’s season.

A few setbacks are keeping me between the two options. The first is the cold. It is going to be absolutely freezing by the end of my journey. And not only will that makes days of the trip miserable, but it will require me to wear pounds more of gear.

Secondly I would be missing Duathlon World Championships in North Carolina this year. I would also miss the late season triathlons. Also, I would most likely not hit my goal finish date and I will probably spend Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s day without a human companion.

I would also not have any company on the trail. Most thru hikers would be finishing up in Maine when I am setting off from their destination. I would pass them going the opposite direction on the trail. I would spend most nights alone in shelters or even if I was with a companion, I would most likely say goodbye in the morning rather than having a hiking partner. Much of my trip would be spent with no sight of another human.

I have absolutely no idea how I will react to such solitude and harsh conditions. I have no idea what to expect to get from this adventure and I have no idea if my body and mind will hold up to the stress but it’s worth the test. We’ll see.

Impatience, All you did was bring the end closer

High school cross country and track athletes run themselves into the ground because all they see is the end to their career in four years. Beyond that, most of them will never race again. I did the same. I ran until I could not physically run anymore but my perspective was even more stunted. I would look season to season. So I had three months to get into great shape and attempt to become one of the fastest runners on my team.

I would either lose motivation or get injured and sometimes both. At least when I became injured I was not able or allowed to run. And after maybe a week my interest and excitement would return with full vigor for the sport that I dreaded shortly before. I raced my best my sophomore year. I ran all my personal records of high school my sophomore year. I became accustomed to those speeds, times, and placings. I enjoyed the thrill and racing as one of the top.

Of course I got injured though. First it was iliotibial band tendonitis. My junior year the same injury plagued me on the opposite leg. And my senior year I topped it off with a completely torn ligament in my ankle and a stress fracture. Post injury I would come back with a burning desire to run my hardest and race those splits I could once reach. I didn’t want to accept the injury as an excuse to take it easy. So I ran even harder than I did before and the result was still the same. With the training load I took on, I was bound to get injured every time.

Between years I raced triathlon and cycling under my coach Michael’s leadership, coaching, and rules. I have yet to get injured over his guidance. He knows what he’s doing and better yet, my eye is on a long term goal rather than seeing the end of my career approaching way to quickly.

Fact is, I was never one of those high school prodigies. I showed up and ran 25 minutes for my first 5k. And yes, breaking one hour in a 10k was once a goal of mine. Beyond that I was never the guy that could train hard every day and expect results. I tried but I failed. I have always needed to train, back off, train, and back off again.

I suffer from a torn ankle ligament that I did not have enough patience to let heal. I still have regrets about running myself into the ground through high school. When I see most of my old teammates, they are busy running themselves into the ground in the other direction. Meanwhile I am a freshman in college, in the best shape of my life, have not had a drop of alcohol in my body since, well I forget, and I am running, cycling and swimming faster every year. And my goal is long term. And of course the goal of health and relationships is there, but I swear I can make it big. I sure want to and it seems my body is complying with this challenge.

This morning I ran a 10:59 2-mile. It was the first time I had run that race at that speed since my sophomore year. Yet now I am not lying to myself and I am not hiding inevitable injury. Now I am recovered and on a steady path to improvement. Fact is, high school distance running destroyed me for years. It broke my body, it shook tears out of me, and it turned all of burning desire to hatred of a sport that I claimed I loved.

My senior year, having been plagued with a stress fracture and a sprained ankle simultaneously, I did not return to the sport with burning desire. I remember walking into my much respected coach’s office and handing my jersey to him a folded paper grocery bag. I prayed he wouldn’t be in his office so I could just drop it off and walk away quietly from a four year career. But I had to walk in with my head held high and tell him how I could not do it anymore. Before, I  wore those colors with pride and enthusiasm. Now, I turned in as a sad, confused cripple.

That season they didn’t have enough uniforms to give to all the athletes. So the next day, another runner wore my singlet and shorts. Just like that, I was replaced. A spot opened up for another excited kid.

I pray that kid doesn’t have to go through what I did. I pray for the guys who I once ran beside and I especially pray for the guys who are still there. I pray for the high school guys on my triathlon team to keep patient and avoid injury. And I pray that no one is ever as impatient as I was.

No one but me is at fault for these sufferings and I do believe those injuries happened to help me grow. And I do think that the rush to get fast in four years is shared by most high school runners. But now, that troubled past is gone, my heart is bigger than ever and my peak lies a long way from now.

Not my day

A half mile from the finish I passed a guy who barely mustered the question, “What age group are you in?” and upon my short breath response he exclaimed “Good!” and relaxed into his own pace again.

I spent the whole morning yesterday on the chase. And although I recently had a breakthrough at Power sprint triathlon, yesterday was not my day under the spotlight. A guy from Freeman High School gained almost two minutes on me on each leg of the race. Sadly my chase was fruitless and I never saw him.

I had a highly unusual swim in which I lost minimal time to my competitors. However, the bike leg unveiled my rusty mountain bike handling skills. My body hit the ground four times throughout the ride but with no major injuries. They simply were reminders of the fact that I had not ridden this course in this direction since last year. To add to my difficulty I had a rubbing front brake that in addition to slowing me down, squealed at me the entire ride.

With that said, Xterra is a race of problems. Nothing seems to go perfect and the person who does well is typically the one who handles those challenges the best. In road triathlons, preparation in the months and weeks and night before the race can almost always prepare a racer for the day to come. However, in Xterra, no quantity of training or preparation can completely prepare an athlete for the challenges to come during the race. Those preparations can only give the racer a false sense of readiness. Experience, patience, confidence, and perseverance outweigh the fitness which solely propels on-road triathletes to victory.

In Xterra my four years of training are useless. My only foundation is the two Xterra triathlons I have done before. The challenge, although frustrating at first, is in essence what entices me to the hellish race.

Conrad Stoltz, the winner of the Pro division this past weekend raced with a three inch open gash on his foot. He wasn’t making excuses so what is my rubbing front brake compared to that. I was almost happy that the brake rub was the worst thing that day.

My run went smooth. I made sure to pace and yet I still cramped. My kick was late though. I prefer to feel like death at the finish and with this race I simply had to much left in the tank in the last mile. I finished second in my age group but still my competitor and I both beat everyone in the 20-24 age group.

Awards

I guess after going two years straight without being beat in my age group it serves me right to be humbled this year. I’m excited for the competition. If I am in the best shape of my life and so are they, I won’t mind losing. Endorphin fitness is home growing some of the fastest juniors I have ever seen. I hope the guys share the same dream as I do and maybe one day we’ll all race alongside each other wearing red, white, and blue.

Redemption

Xterra is this weekend.

Two years ago I raced the Southeast Championship race in Alabama. It was my first off road triathlon. I wish I could say I crushed it but I did almost the exact opposite. Underestimating the ninety degree heat, my calorie, electrolyte, and fluid consumption were all way below minimum. To put it simply I bonked. At the first aid station on the run I cruised, sipping a tiny amount of Gatorade.

The next one I wasn’t so fly. I stood their for minutes. I drank about a liter, ate three gels, and ended up running away from an four-hundred pound EMT that exclaimed “Son! Come here! You don’t look in good enough shape to continue!” Ask me what happened from there on and I have not a clue. Ask the guy who grabbed the back of my suit to prevent me from running and he’ll tell you I replied less than polite to his concern for my health. Ask the people who ran by me and it seems they saw me crawling up from the ground. Those people would tell you I was grabbing trees left and right to hold myself up. But I remember no such thing. Ask the man who walked me to the finish line and he’ll tell you I was very stupid that day. I know for a fact he was right.

Feeling like death

I finished. I ran the same time I biked. So I biked REALLY fast, and suffered from it on the run. I finished despite having lost over three liters in fluid. I finished despite having heat stroke.

I guess that prepared me for the next year. This past year I did the shorter of the two races just to be safe. I did more than be safe. I came out of the swim in fifth as if I forgot I am supposed to usually come out of the swim in about fiftieth. Two miles from the end of the bike I heard a staff member radio in, “Number one has just passed.” I turned around totally startled. I had only passed one guy on the bike! I passed the other three in transition!

Having absolutely no clue I was in first, I had no pressure I guess because I rode better than I ever have. Then came the run, my strong suit. I had the race in the bag and yet still a few hundred meters before the finish I still asked a volunteer, “Am I in first?” I wasn’t delusional. I heard right the first time. So I got to hold up a finish line banner for only the second time in my triathlon career.

Xterra Sport 2008

In two days I will return with a vengeance to the Championship distance. This time I come prepared with almost 100 ounces of Gatorade Endurance, S-Caps electrolyte tablets, and lots of gels. Oh yeah and add on top of that a home course and another two years of training under my belt. I think I’m ready. Maybe there will be a follow up on “Just the Beginning for Cobb?” in the Times Dispatch.

There’s no chance of holding up the banner. That is for the bunch of pros racing for the ten grand prize purse. Maybe a worlds qualification can be had though. Maybe another semi-conscious run is to be completed. My mom told me that she won’t let me collapse at the finish line anymore. I can’t promise that be it a good or bad race. I pray for the former. We’ll see.

Songs that…

Here are some playlists I have made over the past week or so. I have listened to all these songs so many times it would drive anyone else insane and they still produce the same feelings for me. Some I have known for years, some for weeks. But they all are very special for some reason or another. So I figured I would make a playlist to attempt to summarize the overwhelming feelings each one gives me eveytime I listen. It is not surprising that some artists have produced a couple of songs I feel are worthy for these playlists.

Understanding my knowledge of the music world is very limited, I still do feel these songs came to me for a reason. Most of them are free to listen to on youtube or myspace if you desire sampling.

Songs that make me feel alive

“Passing By”- Zero 7

“Mad World”- Gary Jules

“Requiem for a Tower”- Clint Mansell

“Teardrop” and “Angel”- Massive Attack

“Prophecies” and “Opening” -Philip Glass

“Something So Right” -Paul Simon

“How it Ends” and “The Last Beat of my Heart”-Devotchka

“Where are you Going?” -Dave Matthews Band

“New Slang” -The Shins

“Clay Pigeons” -John Prine

“The Ballad of Love and Hate” -The Avett Brothers

“The End to…” -Holy Ghost Tent Revival

“16…Maybe Less” -Iron and Wine

“Two Boys” -The Itchy Hearts

“The Simplest Thing” -Hey Rosetta!

“Gassenhauer” -Carl Orff

Songs that make me happy

“Happy Happy” -Spookie Daly Pride

“No Rain” -Blind Melon

“Stir it Up”- Bob Marley

Songs that say “I ain’t happy” but still make me happy

“Clint Eastwood”- Gorillaz

Songs that I run to

“The Modern Age” -The Strokes

“Vagabond” -Wolfmother

“The Middle” -Jimmy Eat World

“Taper Jean Girl” -Kings of Leon

“Flagpole Sitta” -Harvey Danger

“Very Loud” -Shout out Louds

“Fortunate Son” -Creedence Clearwater Revival

“Bitter Sweet Symphony” -The Verve

“Lex” -Ratatat

“Black Betty” – Ram Jam

Songs that I like but probably shouldn’t because I wouldn’t want to get caught listening to them by anyone…

“Thugz Mansion” -Tupac

“Don’t Know Why” Norah Jones

“Everything’s Not Lost” -Coldplay

“I Love my Sex” -Benny Benassi

“Strict Machine” -Goldfrapp

Songs that make me sad

“Hung my Head” -Johnny Cash

“Sleep” -The Dandy Warhols

Songs that creep me out

“And I thought my Jokes were Bad” -Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

“House of the Rising Sun” -Animals

to be continued,

Grayson Cobb

Reaching beyond myself

This past weekend I attended a training camp with Endorphin Fitness coached by Sally Fraser and Michael Harlow. Michael and I set off to Wintergreen, Virginia on Friday morning. After driving the next day’s bike course, we met the rest of the camp participants at a lake at the bottom of the mountain for an afternoon swim.

My first excitement was with a floating trampoline near the shore of the lake. I asked Michael “How many minutes did you have on my training plan for jumping on the trampoline today?” After entertaining myself for a few minutes I got to the real reason I came here and began swimming. The water was glass smooth and REALLY cold. And I got a wicked wetsuit hickey.

A post swim ten mile run took it out of me. The guys kept making me laugh when I was running. Michael’s shorts were falling down, I had wicked gas, and the guys seemed to make everything funny. Running and laughing is not a good combination for me. So it was either run with them, laugh, and get dropped, or set the pace and either make it so they cannot talk or they’re too far behind to hear them. Dropping the pace down to 6:40 pace killed their motivation to crack jokes.

All the ten mile runners gathered for a post run ice bath in the lake. I have never seen such a vast body of water so glass smooth. I poked my finger in the water and watched the ripples ride along the surface for several meters. For the first time in the day, the sun shone out of a corner of a cloud just over a mountaintop, providing me with a little warmth. I felt at absolute peace standing in this lake at the bottom of the mountain with no stranger in sight and the sun breaking the bleakness that had preceded.

This feeling was soon destroyed by my hatred for the law of gravity. The waterfall I had admired while driving the bike course the day before turned from being amazingly beautiful to amazingly aggravating. My admiration for the winding falls beside me quickly turned into a plain focus on reaching the top of a mountain during the long bike the next day. I would watch every drop of the water ahead of me and realize that was how much farther I had to climb. The water seemed to fall forever and I seemed to be climbing forever.

Up on the Blue Ridge Parkway the sun shone, the climbs were short, and the view seemed infinite. A massive group of touring cyclists aggravated the crap out of us for mile upon mile up on the highway. They made for good jokes and good confidence boosters. Towards the end of the loop we rode down wintergreen mountain. I reached a personal speed record on a bike at 58 mph.

Michael had told me I was supposed to cut off at fifty miles, one loop, and jump into the sag but that fifty soon turned to 3.5 hours turned to seventy-five miles. I was cool with that. My body wasn’t too happy with having run out of water and nutrition ten miles ago but seeing the sag truck for the first time in hours was a pleasant enough sight to dampen the pain in my legs and the aching in my stomach. I almost destroyed an entire pan of cookie brownie sparking questions later in the evening about how that night’s desert disappeared. Whoops.

The next day’s lineup consisted of a thirty mile mountainous fast ride ending with a three mile run up wintergreen mountain to finish the weekend off. I felt good so I hammered the bike with no regard for the other guys and the run to follow. Tyler, one of the guys at the camp had his revenge on the run. He caught me before the top after starting minutes behind me. Oh yeah and he had to run twice the distance as me. And he had run twenty miles on Friday when I had only run ten.

The slowest three miles for me for four years. After a quick clean up we headed home. A solid weekend of training to solid week of recovery before the Xterra off-road triathlon. Looking at my calendar for this coming week is kind of daunting. Eight races in two weeks. Two tri’s and six cycling races. We’ll see how it goes.

A different kind of test

Test day! No I’m not waking up at 6:15 to go take the SAT’s. My alarm wakes me for a much exciting type of test: VO2 max testing! Have you ever tried running or biking as fast as you can until you absolutely cannot hold that pace anymore? It’s so much fun and its so miserable.

I wear a mask that filters my breathing into a machine that measures my consumption of oxygen, hence volume of oxygen max test. Two years ago I matched Lance Armstrong. Tomorrow may produce different results. Wish me luck!

I think the number 19 fits me

The night before my my mom caught me rambling about all the reasons why I should have a great race the next day. I kept telling her “I know I always tell you I feel like I can win it but I REALLY feel good about this race in the morning”. I don’t know if she believed me but I was right.

Since I grew up from being young and chubby, I have not known what it was like to be really flat. The beginning of this season I was far from the triathlete that I, my parents, my coach, and all my competitors were used to seeing. I was mediocre in every discipline. And just to make the situation seem even worse, I was training really hard and not seeing any improvement. It was not as if I was sitting on the couch and expecting improvement.

The day of my birthday I finally felt different. For three months I was flat. But I was confident that the next day would show different results.

Immediately upon entering the transition area, I heard thunder. I turned around to see an enormous thunder cloud hanging nearby. Within minutes it seemed the whole sky fell on us. The race was immediately postponed thirty minutes.

Despite the change of plans, the goal was still the same. I wanted to end my reign of getting third in this race. Thanks to my mental coach, Dana Blackmer, I was trained to not lose my concentration with this distraction.

In the pool, I cruised. My flip turns were easy and I felt completely comfortable in the water.

On the road I was soon passed by a faster cyclist and I did not let him out of my sight for the rest of the ride.

In transition I struggled with putting on new flimsy racing flats and a cluster of riders on my same rack.

Expecting cramps and heavy legs like I had in my earlier season races, I was surprised to find my legs effortlessly flowing under me on the run. Startled, I picked up the pace and did not slow.

After making the last turn on the way back to the finish, my body decided to finally fight back. I unpleasantly dry heaved for the last quarter mile.

The fifty year old winner and I covered the two ends of the age spectrum.

Finally I could say it. I’m back. It was a personal record for me on this course by over a minute.

Later that afternoon, I raced a thirty mile local cycling race. At the start of the last 1.3 mile lap, I made a move but it did not stick. I was reeled in and finished the race at the back of the field. My teammate won the race.

A good celebration of the first day as a nineteen year old.

One

In the morning I race. Seven hours from now I will be out on the course hammering the life out of me trying to make it swimming, biking, and running over a distance faster than anyone else that day. It should be fun.

Third. That is the place I came in the race the last two years. First. That is the place I hope to come in tomorrow. Physical training from Endorphin Fitness, mental training from coach Dana Blackmer with The Extra Gear, and nutrition may lead me to a win. Of course that all relies on the other factor, desire. Willingness to suffer immense amounts of pain and stress on the verge of my body literally shutting down.

The saying “leave it all on the course” becomes true for me. At the finish of most races I either literally spill “it all” on the course, or I have truthfully left all my energy and effort on the course. Sometimes I fall, sometimes I faint, sometimes I just know that I could not have physically gone any faster.

Tomorrow I race. I’m beginning to hate that number three. I could get used to the number one though.

Dream big

Since I managed to get my license restricted, my mom helped me run some errands today. First we went to Target looking for some 3M strips. Success. Second we went to DMV to get my new license printed with my restrictions. I am allowed to drive to “work”, community service, and school. Well, the court accidentally forgot to check the box saying I could drive to work. Fabulous. I just love DMV so much that I get to go back for a third time in a month. Next up: Blue Ridge Mountain Sports to get my new pack for next year’s adventure. They forgot to order it. One out of three successful. This epic day of failure is deserving of a ginormous set of Chipotle tacos huh? Yep.

I remember Blacksburg. I remember the awful weather. I remember the bitter cold and I certainly remember the mass quantities of precipitation that fall on that place. But, in all honesty I cannot compare it to hell (no matter how hellish it seems). Because, in the midst of all the snot-sicles and frozen toes, water logged shoes and soaked clothes, I remember the occasional break in the clouds. I remember throwing the frisbee on the drillfield with my friends. I remember standing on top of a local hill watching the sun set over the mountains. I remember walks around campus and I remember riding my Schwinn Stingray and my big wheel around campus.

I dream of racing. I dream of winning. Today I thought about growing old. I imagined what it would be like to descend the slopes of aging that lie beyond my prime years. And I thought of how I would feel if I had not attempted to chase my dreams. It sounds so cliche. It makes me cringe seeing it written: “chase my dreams”. Ugh.

But in all honesty it is a truth to life. Eventually, we will all have to consider if following a dream is wise. “Eventually” is not a very fitting word because most of the decisions of whether or not to chase those dreams have already occurred for those of us above the age of ten. Some of those dreams that we have rejected, we may look back on and think, “Whew! I am so glad I didn’t try that!” but what is the feeling when we realized we did not follow a dream. Can that feeling be put into words? Is it sorrow? Is it despair; utter regret of that decision we consider a mistake? Can it be called a mistake or is it simply a decision that was made in the past that led us to something in the future?

Today I rode after the rain had settled in the soil and the cracks on the street. The thin layer of moisture still laying on the road’s surface evaporated beneath me, giving a thick scent and heavy humidity. The air felt thick, my breathing felt labored, and worst of all after a few minutes of easy riding I was already bathed in my own sweat.

But I cruised gently and joyfully with the most ease and comfort I have felt on a bicycle this year. For some reason it was then I realized how I would feel if I did not chase a particular dream I have had since I won my first race. It is of chasing down the leaders of every race. The dream is of competing at an extremely high level, of racing in professional races; of racing against the best, of being the best; of competing in world championships, of being a world champion.

I am curious about how the saying world champion came about. Mostly we do not question it. I ever did until now. It sounds funny: champion of the world. Seems sort of like climbers who claim the “conquered the mountain”.

There is not a day that I do not think about racing professionally. But in this life, dreams don’t just come true. There are sacrifices. And with this dream there are huge sacrifices that I may not want to make. Is all the training and stress on my body, all the traveling, and the absurdity of profiting on racing really worth an attempt at achieving the dream I have?

But the feeling I had imagining having not at least attempted following this path was too much for me to handle. I do not want to ever experience that. So for now, the chance of regret outweighs the sacrifices.

My brother is setting out on tour with his new band soon. I guess he had the same questions for himself that every band member has. Is all the travel and low key gigs really worth the possibility of one day playing for thousands? There’s no way he could just be doing it for fun. It’s too hard to be good at something and not dream big dreams.

Maybe someday the dream will present itself as reality. Maybe.

Adventures of a medical student