Julie wrote the following great report about our recent Bix 7 experience:
Bix 7 Race Report
Julie Ford, Socorro, NM
As I was preparing for our trip to see family and run the Bix 7 in Davenport, Iowa, I looked up our results from 2002, the last time we ran the race. Fearing that our younger, fitter, much-more-time-on-our -hands selves had set the bar high, I was relieved to see the time of 1:02. Beating that time this year? Piece of cake, I thought.
When we arrived in Iowa a couple of days before the race and went on some practice runs, my confidence wavered a bit. I didn’t remember the hills being so, well, hilly. And the humidity—wow- enough sweat-inducing humidity to make shoppers at the grocery store where we stopped mid-run for some much needed water steer their carts clear of us. I was beginning to think our tiered goals of breaking an hour and possibly pulling off 8 minute miles were going to be tough to accomplish.
The morning of the race I woke at 4:30 am to the sound of hail. Or so I thought. It wasn’t hail, but it was about the heaviest rain I’d heard in a while. Still high from meeting 2004 Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi the night before, I had trouble going back to sleep. Instead, I envisioned the race course and the running greats, like Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson, who would be pounding the same pavement as us. I thought about the joy that I’ve received from running and racing since I ran my first 5k a decade ago. I thought about the fact that with a race of this size, the only competition worth even conceptualizing was myself. Of course, being the competitive sort that I am, I also wondered how many of the 12,000+ runners would show.
When we got to the starting line around 7:30 we learned that heavy rain and thunder weren’t enough to scare those many thousands of runners away. Even with the start organized into three different waves, there was still more congestion than I had remembered from running the race eight years ago. As we wiped the rain from our faces and tightened shoelaces, poised stop watches, and rendered our Garmin GPS useless (turns out our model doesn’t like the rain so much), we were wall-to-wall with runners of all ages and sizes. Following the singing of the national anthem there was a perfectly(?) timed thunderclap so loud that the crowd erupted into laughter. Nervous laughter, as we considered what was ahead.
Upon hearing the starting horn we…waited. Being in the second wave meant that we had a few seconds until the super-human runners (and those who were actually contenders for this 7-mile National Championship) in front of us got moving. Once we could start running we were so tightly packed that it was slow-going. Since the first mile of the race involves a climb up a serious hill (9% grade I think), perhaps it was a good thing that we couldn’t go out too fast. Still, with all of that pent-up adrenalin pumping from pre-race jitters, it was frustrating to not be able to go at the pace we were used to. Eph and I weaved in and out of runners and around slick puddles as best we could. It was mentally taxing to do that maneuvering in treacherous conditions. At the first mile mark volunteers called out times, and we realized it had taken us over 9 minutes. Not a fast enough pace if we wanted to meet our goals.
In the second mile of the race we enjoyed reprieve as the course goes downhill. However, being that the Bix is an out-and-back, I reminded myself that I might not enjoy this scenery nearly as much when going in the opposite direction in mile 6. The traffic thinned a bit, but Eph and I were still maneuvering in and out of runners, at times opting for the grass on the side of the road for a little more breathing room. Here is where a trail running background (which neither of us have) would have been helpful. The technical parts of weaving in and out and stepping from road to curb were uncomfortable. As we were doing our best to forge openings for ourselves and increase our pace, I remembered noticing that while we were doing all of this passing, nobody was passing us. The lesson here could be that we started too far back and should get closer to the front of our wave next time. However, it could also be that we were running a smart race. I prefer to think of the latter.
Somewhere during mile 3 we got a view of the leaders coming back to complete the second half of the course. If I hadn’t been so focused on dodging puddles and other runners, I may have been able to see up-and-comer Ryan Hall, who would go on to be the overall race winner. Near the turn-around point of the race is where the most spectators gather (though I should mention that there are spectators cheering at almost every part of the race- the way that the Quad Cities community is involved in this race is incredible). Fortunately Eph felt more confident in his abilities to run in a big crowd and look around at the same time, and he spotted Robinson and Keller cheering with the rest of our relatives. After some high-fives with the family, we prepared ourselves for another big hill waiting to be climbed. By now runners were getting more spread out, and we had space to focus on short strides, even breathing, and whatever mental gymnastics were necessary to crest another Mississippi River valley hill. As Eph and I were planning our race strategy a few days prior, we had decided I should use my penchant for uphills to gain ground while he let gravity do the work for him on the downhill at the finish. I stuck to this plan, doing my best to maintain the challenging, but somehow doable, pace we’d established.
With that hill behind us, we continued to push ourselves to pick up the pace. Without the use of a working GPS, we had less of an idea of our exact pace. However, we were running pretty hard. The few words we exchanged with each other were tough to get out. Instead we used pointing and nodding (as in—Eph pointing to a fit looking woman 20 yards ahead and me nodding as we accelerated to pass her). With our focus on the runners ahead I somehow missed the marker for mile 6. I remember glancing at my stopwatch and trying to calculate pace and getting confused and concerned. Realizing that the math was sucking too much energy, I decided to forget about it and just focus on gearing up for the downhill finish.
Fortunately, that downhill finish came sooner than I expected. Bidding me adieu, Eph took off ahead. Alone, I tried to push myself to lean forward, bounce off my feet, and cast my fears of sliding on my tired ass down slippery Brady Street aside. Seeing how many spent runners I could pass was definitely a good motivator. When I reached the bottom of the hill I remembered (painfully) that the race isn’t quite over. There’s still a corner to round and the finish line seemed farther ahead than it should have been (as always seems to be the case in this kind of race). Trying my best to push myself to use any juice I had left, I thought about crossing the finish line. Although I didn’t glance at my watch and couldn’t make out the electronic timer up ahead, I told myself how annoyed I’d be later if I missed my goals by a slim margin. I made every step and every second on the clock count. And soon enough, I heard the timing chip beeping as I stepped across the rubber mat. Looking down at my wrist, I was thrilled to see that
I had easily broken an hour and even managed to beat (slightly) an 8 minute mile pace by running a 55:35. Eph, waiting for me at the finish, pulled off a 55:02.
In an article in the newspaper the following day, Meb, a past Bix 7 champion, was quoted as saying something to the effect of “The real credit should go to the runners who do not do this for a living. They are the ones who have to squeeze in workouts and races around the other parts of their lives.” I was struck by that comment, as it seemed to me a very gracious way for a hero of a runner to acknowledge the mortals who run large road races. In my mind, the credit also needs to go to the race organizers. Participating in a race of this scale is completely eye-opening, as far as the amount of logistics involved. If you’ve never run in a race this size, you really need to, if nothing else than to get a newfound appreciation for how much work and community support is necessary for an event like this one to go smoothly—even in pouring rain.