I wrote the below post to record my initial reaction after an extremely disappointing trip to Burlington, Vermont this past weekend for the Olympic Distance National Championships. With high hopes, I was overcome by illness the day of the race. Below there is a lot of self doubt in the purpose behind racing. I frequently highlight the silliness of the sport and that there really seems no real purpose behind it. I have never been one to remain in bliss to remain ignorant. Instead, I have always questioned things. One question I briefly highlight below is the question of life’s purpose. I essentially leave the question unanswered and establish that simply because I cannot directly pinpoint the answer does not mean I will cease living. Instead, despite a confidence in the near purely physical nature of this universe, I live my life as if I were completely aware of why I am here. The question of purpose is still there and arises every now and then but when the answer does not present itself, I do not hesitate. This is an attitude that I questioned this past weekend. After feeling that winning was the most important thing in the world just a couple of years ago, my attitude has evolved. Every time this doubt arises, training holds firm in my mind as a logical and respectable activity. To work, to test, experiment, challenge, and observe the body and life itself is an amazing, very spiritual process. But the purpose of racing is what was in question. I am an innately competitive being. It is a desire of mine to win and despise being mediocre at anything. The post below is raw and unedited. The words are exactly what was written in the hours after the race. But much of it has evolved in the time since then and I imagine it will continue to do so as the pain of loss fades and the glory of winning again comes into view. The process of answering this question of purpose happened in the amount of time that it took me to write the words below. It is not necessarily defined but when I reread these words, I get excited for my next competition.
Finally somewhere beyond Montpelier I decided to turn around. As if it were a gas station, I pulled into a stranger’s driveway to fill up my tank. I stuffed my face with twizzler’s and swapped out an empty water bottle. My legs felt fine and my mind was ready to take me a few more miles. But if hell had mountains, I’m sure they somewhat resemble the clouds sitting only a mile in the distance.
After squeezing two gatorades out of five dollars at a nearby gas station, I began on the thirty miles home. But while I was enjoying the sub maximal wattage I was putting out, the rain drops were getting bigger and more consistent. I thought to myself “I wonder if I can outrun this sucker?” I looked at my left hand which had heart rate zones written on it. I looked at my watch on my right hand and saw my heart rate was in the “recovery” zone. Yes I can.
The road would bear right and sprinkles of water would splatter on my arms and back. But as the road turned left and downhill, I picked up speed and rode out of the storm. I pounded on the pedals calculating my energy reserves perfectly to get me back home at this speed. I crested hills amidst corn fields out of the saddle, sat and felt the burn. It was my day and I could feel it. My legs felt rested and strong. The gloominess behind me seemed to be getting worse, and my legs stronger. The air felt light and chilly. I looked at my Garmin forerunner to see that I had been averaging 21.7 miles per hour.
I felt strong, I felt invincible. But the veins on my arms began to bulge, my legs lost their color, and I was feeling cold. Nearly a mile from my house my lungs felt weak and I felt winded. Once in my home I took only a few steps before I collapsed on my living room carpet.
Its been three days now that I have not trained trying to recover from that ride. I don’t think it’s really worth 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.