It has taken me over a month to write this race report. But with it I hope to put this race in the past. Very rarely am I disappointed with my performance. I can have off days, just like anyone else. It is, in reality, rare that, as a triathlete, I attain some god-liked fueled rhythm where everything feels effortless. I am not saying my performance is god-like. Simply, sometimes racing feels effortless. As hypocritical as this sounds, sometimes it feels effortless to exert myself beyond belief, to push my body to the limit. But at Collegiate Nationals in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I did not get that feeling and unfortunately had the opposite of that effortless exertion.
I never signed a waiver agreeing to risks of life. I definitely did not ever sign an agreement to die someday. I was put here involuntarily. My parents did not think that maybe I did not want to be born. There are so many risks in this world and the only physical truth is the one that most of us like to avoid. But I am so glad that my parents did not think that. I am so glad I have been thrown into this life involuntarily. I did not sign a waiver, but because I was given life, I will agree to die someday.
No matter how hard we fight against disease and how much exercise and healthy eating we commit to, the end still comes. No matter if we live life protected by four walls or if we float miles above the earth skydiving, the inevitable still remains the inevitable. I once had a t-shirt that listed possible ways to die on the ski slopes of Vail, Colorado and the last line said how we could fall off the couch and die.
I’m not too worried about that whole end thing. It’s going to happen so why lose the enjoyment of life by worrying about death? Nah, I’ll stick to living. Some adults lose that approach and some kids maybe should at least slightly admit to vincibility.
Much of my life I have lived oblivious to the fact that I can be defeated. Once in mid-winter I rode my bike down and up Snowshoe’s snowy mountain road. I thought it would be a pain threshold test but it turned out to be more. At 55 miles per hour, the speed knocked the already -15 degree wind chill down to -30. When I rolled into the house, I looked my mom in the eyes and referring to my ride, said, “I don’t know what giving birth exactly feels like, but it couldn’t have been that bad”. The action of riding in a severely underdone outfit didn’t even skim the surface of how stupid it was to ride a bike at 55 m.p.h. on a snowy road.
As I am about to embark on a 2000 mile trail alone, at times with no help around for miles, I am constantly questioning if I have the maturity to totally grasp and understand my vincibility.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Pelham, Alabama for the Xterra Southeast Championships, I underestimated the heat. While refusing to quit the race and accept medical attention, with early stages of heat stroke, I risked my life. Some ways to go out are pretty epic and respectable but neither of those words describe dying at 17 because of refusing to drop out of a triathlon.
So while I cannot prepare for everything the trail has to throw at me, I have been told being adequately knowledgeable and experienced will keep me from making silly mistakes that could bring about my death. Life is an extremely complex existence that is way beyond any science or religion. No matter how much I learn about how things in the body happen, the question of how molecules come together to bring life will never be answered. It will always amaze me. But at the same time, complexity typically brings fragility. Life is fragile and the end can be brought about any number of ways. If I search all around me for ways that could bring that end, I will be distracted from everything that makes life great.
The night before my tenth birthday I touched an exposed wire that juiced my body like the two sets of baseball field lights above. Sure the shock of four-hundred and eighty volts left me frightened, but as I left the hospital the doctor’s warning of black urine took my fear to another whole level.
A senior at Freeman high school student’s lack of brains and excess of guts risked my life when he decided a stop was a stoptional. Sure I cannot live my life in fear of everything that surrounds me, but with a little caution and care I can possibly avoid many traps that would threaten an inattentive person’s life. That is not to say that driving is dangerous so I should not do it. But if I had not been on mental cruise control, thinking about my math exam rather than the world surrounding me, maybe I would have seen him pulling in front of me. Maybe he would have driven away ashamed rather than walk away punished. My totaled car sure would have appreciated it. So would his car insurance bill. Although his lack of attentiveness was given the ticket, maybe more awareness on my part could have prevented it. True, death traps surround me, but after these occurrences I learned that with care I can avoid most of them. I’m four for four on my slightly life threatening incidents being user error.
I would rather not have the reputation as the kid who went out on the A.T. at 19, completely unprepared and inexperienced, and died of hypothermia from not having adequate rain gear. Alternatively, crawling for miles to a road, eventually dying of blood loss after wrestling and killing an adult black bear, that’s not too bad. Neither is ideal of course but the difference is that one I was unprepared and the other I could not have prepared for. Yes of course I could get a desk job and live in the suburbs with the convenience of a knob to adjust the temperature within my walls in even the worst weather. I’ve been doing something like that for nineteen years and that does not really satisfy my urge for adventure.
Like I said, I don’t have a death wish. I just feel that I am going to be surrounded by danger everywhere. No need to take unnecessary risks though. That is why I am doing all my research and meticulously planning the trip down to each calorie and mile hiked each day. To accompany me on my trip is a GPS dubbed “Spot” that has four buttons. One tells my mama I’m warm and okay. One tells her I’m not doing too hot and I want to come home. Another sends my coordinates to 9-1-1 and well, I just hope I don’t have to use that button. And lastly the On/Off button will come in handy.
I do have my nightmares and I do have occasional anxiety about the trip. I have considered not commiting to the expedition. But as much as my mom wishes it did, my mind just cannot seem to win over my heart. The trail has its hold on me and its not letting go until I find out what its all about. I was given life, I will agree to die someday, but for now I get to live and I don’t mind taking advantage of that.
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.
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.
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.