Steelhead and Chicago: A Race Report

My trip to Chicago and to race Steelhead 70.3 started with me showing up to the airport and the woman at the desk said my flight was delayed and I would miss my connection. But, no worries, she was going to stick me on a direct flight leaving in 30 minutes. And, rush my bike down to the plane. And, take me through the back entrance to security to get there on time!

On the way back, I was also going to miss my connection. I had a two-stop flight Chicago -> SFO (ugh) and only a 25 minute layover and getting in at 11 p.m. But, the mean woman on the phone said I couldn’t change to the direct flight leaving 45 minutes later because I booked with a Rewards ticket and there were no Rewards seats, blah, blah. But, when the flight was delayed an hour and half and that meant I would miss the last bus from SFO to Marin, I asked the woman at the desk could she please, please put me on the direct flight getting in over two hours earlier. No problem!

Lesson #1 from the weekend: You might as well ask.

Lesson #2 was the basic lesson of long-distance racing, but I finally fully appreciated it: There will be ups and there will be downs. Push the ups as much as you can because they will pass and don’t worry about the downs too much because they will also pass (hopefully).

I tried to share that lesson with a guy who was stretching at the top of a stupidly steep hill on the run. He did not appreciate the wisdom.

The whole rest of the race weekend was just awkward.

I hung out with my parents — not awkward — and we drove from Chicago to Benton Harbor, got there about 10-15 minutes late for the pro meeting. But, I couldn’t see anybody I recognized, couldn’t figure out where the meeting was, why didn’t I see any of the other pros? Why was I standing at a normal race talk with hundreds of people? The only person anywhere that I recognized was Heather Jackson (not because we’ve ever met, but because she’s fast and I’ve seen her win stuff). So, I ambushed her and had a really awkward conversation — awkward on my part, she was perfectly nice.

Me: Hi, uh, sorry, you’re Heather, right?

Her: Yeah

Me: Hi, I missed the, sorry, I’m Kelly, Hi.

Her: Hi. *shake hands*

Me: Uh, I missed the pro meeting I think?

Her: That meeting right there — *the regular big race talk*

Me: Sorry, uh, no, the pro meeting? I think I missed it?

She told me I didn’t miss much, where to get my stuff, etc, but I still couldn’t figure out how I could have missed the whole thing in just 15 minutes. Then, I looked at my phone — “The Time Zone on your phone has been updated to Eastern Standard Time.”

Oh. Shit.

Had another awkward conversation with the registration people.

Me: Hi, sorry, I didn’t know there was a time change, or, uh, I knew, but I forgot. And I missed the pro meeting.

Her: No problem. Do you know if you missed anything important?

Me: Uh?

Then, the crazy storm started dumping water.

Since, I missed the meeting, I didn’t know we were almost definitely not having a swim and doing 30-second time trial bike starts (huge perk to not having the three-second pair starts the age-groupers had). So, I imagined a run-bike-run, or a swim in the 7-foot waves, or a bike-run in the pouring rain, or crashing on the wet roads – Did I need to buy rain clothes? Maybe another pair of running shoes? Should I change what I eat? What if we do do the swim?

My mom took this picture of me getting ready. She took like 10 pictures, but I wasn’t smiling in them, so she told me to smile:

And then I spent the rest of the night worrying that the guy, whose house we were renting from Airbnb, would steal my bike or kill me. Not that he was anything other than totally nice and helpful and the place was super cheap and convenient.

In the morning, it was official: no swim.

The extra 30-40 minutes of sitting around would usually be, again, awkward, because I become convinced all the pro girls hate me and think I’m stupid and slow and that I shouldn’t be there anyway. Not that any of them do. But, everyone was very cool and fun and welcoming and all those other thing.

Then, I had to cut a bunch of people in line for the bathroom because I’d been standing there for 20 minutes and not moving and it was getting close to my start and I started freaking out. So, you can add all those people to the people who actually do hate me and think I suck and am stupid.

The race, by comparison, was fine.

Everyone passed me on the bike, which sounds super depressing, but wasn’t. We started at 30-second intervals and since the majority of pro girls bike in the 7-10 minutes faster than me range, most of them caught me. But, I knew that and it actually gave me something to focus on and think about when they passed and try to keep them in sight. I held the gap on most of the girls who passed me (ie. if they were on pace to put six minutes on me when they passed and only ended up putting five on me — well, small victory).

The crazy winds that cancelled the swim were still crazy on the bike. And there were lots of turns, so you kept unexpectedly coming into a headwind. I actually struggled the most with the shitty roads, had a hard time pedaling through so many bumps and cracks. I fell apart some at the end, but less — I think — than at Vineman.

I tried to eat more than Vineman too, so we didn’t have another collapsing disaster. I got down about 800 calories, but was throwing up a little almost constantly. My stomach hurt so much, so eating any more was just not an option.

The throwing up a little in my mouth frequently didn’t end when the run started. The only two girls behind me passed me in the first two miles and I felt terrible, so shitty. I couldn’t down a gel.

If I felt this bad four miles in, how was I ever going to finish?

Went through all the usual: I don’t need this shit, why am I even doing this, I suck, why don’t I find satisfaction in a nice hobby like stamp-collecting.

But, then, oddly, it passed.

Mile 6 actually dropped back down to a reasonable time and I felt optimistic. Still couldn’t eat and was still feeling a little nauseous, but all I had to do was just keep going, it didn’t have to be fast, it just had to be forward — not a brilliant mental strategy for success.

This is me pushing it as hard as I could the last 1.5 — for like a blazing 7:50 mile.

It’s also one of the few pictures that doesn’t look like a squat shuffle.

So, I finished in 4:18. And, I was dazed as shit and burning up even in the cold, windy weather. But, I was ok and that’s on pace for a huge PR if there had been a swim — so, at least it’s progress in the right direction.

Now, I just need to figure out how to eat more without throwing up. And, I need to stop getting in my head on the run and run fast. And, I need to pick up my feet when I run, so it doesn’t turn into a shuffle quite as quickly. And, I need to like go faster. But, still, right direction.

9 thoughts on “Steelhead and Chicago: A Race Report

  1. Well, I have been reading you for a bit now. The reason I started, is because I saw you comment on someone’s site somewhere, and I was like who is this?? Read a bit, and totally connected with not always feeling confident. I thought to myself why wouldn’t this person feel confident?? I go through stages, where I feel like a billion bucks, and sometimes I feel like a slug. I think that is normal. I think you are good for people to read just cuz you don’t always put on a confident face. If people like you don’t always feel so confident, than that helps others realize it is o.k.

    Anyway my thoughts. What is with the P.G. race report?? What a bunch of crap. Who are you???? 😉

    1. I mean, honestly, I could come up with plenty of non-PG shit to say in response to that, but it comes down to this: what happens happens, sometimes that means a race actually goes relatively according to plan and that’s good. That IS the goal. You don’t wish for disasters or to feel terrible or to think you’re awful just because it would make for a more interesting race report. What a bunch of crap.

  2. See you this weekend at Alcatraz? I signed up last night. Figured might as well see what can be done. I want to swim—even if it is in the freezing Bay.

  3. Congrats on having a good race!

    I am wondering though, you seem to have GI issues every long race? Maybe you have to switch nutrition brands? I cut HFCS (=G’rade) out of my nutrition. Also, anything that could form a giant blobby mass in my stomach on raceday and soak up hydration (chewy Powerbars, Abbazaba, Cliff-ShotBlocks etc.) is a no-no…

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