Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | March 10, 2012

Famous Rivalries in History: The Showdown at McCormick Place

Great rivalries add spice to life. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frasier. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Coke and Pepsi.

Some rivalries take on a life of their own, turning deadly, like the Hatfields versus the McCoys. But some rivalries, like the Road Runner versus Wile E Coyote, can benefit both parties. The competition pushes them to dig deep, to bring their A games. Wile E forces Road Runner to be faster, to play defense. Road Runner keeps Wile E’s mental skills in top form. There’s even a spill-over benefit. The rivalry keeps Acme Corporation in business.

Likewise, in the running world, rivalries have pushed athletes to excel. They strive to beat one another and set records along the way. Meb and Ryan Hall. Deena Kastor and Paula Radcliffe. Jeff Heath and me. Unfortunately for me, Jeff is Road Runner and I’m Wile E Coyote, about to fall off a cliff without knowing it.

But that didn’t stop the trash talking leading up to my recent 5k showdown with my rival. Granted, Jeff’s 5k PR is about 3 minutes faster than mine, but I could tell he was nervous. I smelled the fear. I’m sure he was doing track workouts like a fiend in the weeks leading up to the race. I pictured him with the Rocky theme blasting in the background, a crusty old coach with a stopwatch on the sideline shouting “Again! Faster!”

I worried, though, that our rivalry might become ugly. When I turned my ankle in a pothole on my morning run a week before the race, I imagined Jeff out there the night before, breaking up the pavement with his bare hands. I thought about hiring someone to smack him in the knee with a metal bar, a la Tonya Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan. Yes, I wanted to get Jeff Gillooleyed. But in the end, our battle would be one of sheer determination.

(Cue dramatic music.)

The showdown was to happen at McCormick Place, the largest convention center in the US, and the location of exciting events such as the auto show, the annual dental convention, and the International Manufacturing Technology Expo. Clearly, it was a venue made for drama.

I’d never done an indoor 5k before, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When I arrived at McCormick, however, I saw how it was going to go down. The course looked like the security line at the airport – down the length of the exhibit hall, a 180 degree turn, and back. Again and again. Just looking at it made me want to take off my shoes and put all liquids, gels and aerosols in a one-quart ziplock bag.

I had arrived at McCormick with my friends Chanthana and Jackie, but we were a little rushed and lost each other in the gear check area. Fortunately, we all met up in the start corral. And there he was, Jeff Heath. In my memory, he wears black from head to toe, a Stetson hat low over one eye. He speaks like a laconic cowboy. “I reckon we best settle this score once and for all.”

(Cue more dramatic music.)

In reality, he was wearing bright yellow and said something like “Hey. How’s it going?”

The horn sounded. And Jeff left me in the dust. Actually, there wasn’t even any dust, since we were running on concrete. He left me in less than dust.

Fortunately, I was able to catch sight of him at every 180 degree turn. Jeff would zip by in his yellow shirt. Shortly thereafter, I’d see Chanthana and Jackie who were holding steady. I, however, drifted further and further back in the pack.

At the mile mark, I noticed that Jackie and Chanthana had caught up with Jeff. A few turns later, I saw that Jackie was ahead, with Jeff and Chanthana just behind. At the next turn, I saw Jackie, then a few seconds later I spotted Jeff, but no Chanthana. I scanned the crowd. Where did she go? Then, at the next turn, I saw her. She was ahead of Jeff! A mile to go and her lead was gaining. Jeff was falling back. Falling back so much, in fact, that I was gaining on him. Could I possibly catch him?

I picked up my pace. At about the 2.5 mark, I pulled up along side him. “Hey, Jeff, how’s it going?”

(Cue uplifting music, violins soaring – the underdog is winning!)

I passed Jeff. But I was at a pace I could barely sustain. I live in fear of vomiting on the course, and doing so during an indoor race raised the prospect to a whole new level of disgusting. But I was ahead of Jeff! I had to hold on! I was going to beat him! Then, just as we made the final turn to the finish line, he sprinted past me like I was standing still.

(Bleep out expletives.)

All in all, though, it was a good race for me. A new PR by 20+ seconds, and third in my age group. And, unlike other races where I’ve placed third, this time there were more than three people in my age group. There were, in fact, 93. I could tell Jeff was proud of me. “Hey, that means you beat 90 other old ladies,” he said.

But the real thrill of the day was Jackie, blowing past all of us, with Chanthana close behind. A good day for the lady runners.

And so the showdown at McCormick came to a close. But like Wile E Coyote, I’m already plotting my next attack. I’ve been scouring the Acme Corporation catalog, and I just ordered rocket powered sneakers. Watch out, Mr. Heath. Watch out.


  1. I’ve been waiting for you to finally write the recap! This is hilarious and so true about the course. It also reminds me of the lines while waiting to board a roller coaster at Great America.

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