Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bix 7 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 12th Edition 
143.1 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Bix 7
Place: Davenport, IA
Miles from home: 1953 miles
Weather: 70s; bright sun; humid

At the beginning of this month I took on the Peachtree Road Race-a 10k on the fourth of July in Atlanta in its 45th year. Drawing nearly 60,000 people it is more an event than a race. Closing out July, I ventured to Davenport, IA to an area I am quite familiar with to tackle the hills of the Bix. This one-of-a-kind 7 miler, itself in its 40th year of running with nearly 18,000 runners, follows much of the same format as Peachtree, in so much that a lot of the runners are there for the show. While the Peachtree owes much of its existence to Jeff Galloway, the Bix has both Joan Benoit Samuleson and Bill Rodgers to thank for flourishing as it has.

Quick history lesson: When the 1980 Olympic Games were boycotted by the US, Bill Rodgers instead decided to go to Davenport to compete.  Soon thereafter Joan followed suit and the two have been mainstays ever since. Now the largest non-marathon event in the Mid-west, it is a race of tradition, hills and Slip N Slides (stay tunned.)

My own race experience is of little consequence. I am out of running shape. I am also not a short distance runner even if I was in the sort of running shape I wanted to be in, which I am acutely aware is relatively fast at best.  In addition, a 12 hour (!) expo had me at the Swirlgear booth on my feet for a long period of time.  If you have ever worked an expo and tried to race it is like competing in the Iditarod. However, as the first ever speaker the Bix has had at their expo, I live by what I speak. Whatever you have on that day, give it. If you do, you should never be disappointed.

This is of course, flowery language that any competitor, myself included, can scoff at and ignore. I can always be disappointed. I certainly gave just about everything I had on this day and found myself not even remotely close to happy to with the end result. In fact, about 14 seconds is all that kept me from being downright disenchanted with my running. However, let me get to a little course description before I go much deeper.

The Bix is known for Brady Street Hill. Runners barely run a block before they begin charging up a quarter mile long hill. This sort of incline is tough enough as it is but coming right at the start before you can even get warmed up makes it more difficult. Having a huge crowd around you makes it even worse.

**Here I am going to take a small sidestep from the course description to talk about placement of yourself in a race. I started fairly far up in my corral, based on a time I submitted which wasn’t too far off my actual finish time. Yet, within yards, I found myself running up the backs of people who absolutely obviously did not belong there. Runners, this is my impassioned plea: you know where you should be in a race. Please not only do yourself the favor of not having hundreds, if not thousands, of runners pass you, which is disheartening in and of itself, but also dangerous to the runners around you, by putting yourself in the right place.

About 100 yards into the race, runners pass underneath some scaffolding. I am unsure who was on the megaphone but a deep voice boomed: “Runners, if you are passing under me right now, you have virtually no chance of winning the Bix.”  It caused a hearty laugh amongst many of us as it was 100% true. Barely 20 seconds into the race and we knew it would take a series of incalculable miracles for any of us to cross the finish line first. Now that doesn’t mean our own goals are not important, regardless of our pace, but as important as they are, they do not supersede the group collective of the running body. I cannot tell you how often I have begged and pleaded with my fellow runners to do what they can to be courteous. Runners are known by many (most other runners) as the nicest people. Well, we can also be courteous too if we line up where we ought to. I wasn’t even racing per se and I was beyond perturbed at my fellow runners. Working together means we all win in the end.

This was a very long aside but it absolutely needed to be said. Back to your usual race recap**

As often is the case with a race with a signature feature for which it is known, it is other portions of the race which can be more taxing. After the Brady Street Hill, those running the seven mile race see those running the Quick Bix, a 2 mile race where runners crest Brady Street, turn around and head back toward the finish, branch off. A block later, the Seveners (I just made that up) turn down Kirkwood Boulevard. A runner at my pace (6-7 minute miles) will experience their first breath of elbow room right around this turn, just as the boulevard narrows a tad with a tree-lined median. Here is where the neighborhood occupants come out to play.

This particular race day it was far from as blistering as it could be.  It was in the low 70s at the start with the sun blocked by some haze. It wasn’t good conditions, it just wasn’t horrible. But if it had been a hot day, the people out with a variety of watering-down-the-runner contraptions were ready and waiting. As you continue down this tree-lined street, you pass under an extremely low bridge.  Only 8’8’’ tall, competitors can and do jump up to hit the pieces of plastic that hang down to warn you that “Truck that hit Tubes will hit Bridge.”

Down a hill competitors run before two quick turns have them mounting a hill with a worse grade than the infamous Brady Street Hill.  Cresting this hill and immediately going back down it makes you realize that on this out and back course, you will be doing the same up and down in about a mile.

At the turnaround is one of at least two wet pieces of thin plastic covered in water that a local family has out for runners to have fun on.  If you chose to muddy yourself and add some time off your overall finish, head up their yard and slide back down.

Completely that, turn around right before River Drive on the banks of the Mississippi (the only place in America where this mighty river runs east-west) and head back toward the start.

My race consisted of realizing I was starting far too back, that the heat and humidity were once again going to rob me of any decent skills I had, and that even if I pushed it I would still be full minutes off what I knew I could do. So instead, I decided to run hard but have fun.

As slow as the race was for me, I was very pleased with my first mile of 7:13 given the bobbing and weaving of the aforementioned crowd and then the hill we had to conquer. I was a little less pleased with my second mile of 6:07, given the downhill nature of the run. By the time we hit the third mile I had already seen not only the elite men and women head back in the other direction, but many of the runners I could have been running with if I was in shape. That was a little disheartening but alas. When I got down to the first slip and slide, I only made a half-hearted attempt to go up the yard about ten yards before sliding down like a baseball player going into second base. I wanted to have fun but I didn’t want to treat the race like a complete joke.

After sitting at the expo for many hours and hearing everyone who had run the race previously tell me how horribly difficult the return trip home was, I had psyched myself out.  Even though I had just ran down the hills and knew what was in store, I was cautious.  Honestly, while the bump around mile 3 and then again 4 was a toughie, for the most part the rise back to Brady Street wasn’t too shabby.  In fact, I was getting my wind to me around mile 5 which shouldn’t have been a surprise. I am not a sprinter. I do well at long distances because if I have a strength it is not getting as tired as others.(If you can call that a strength, that is.)  But now I felt good. Even with the hills I had run a pair of 7:15 miles and was enjoying the day.

On the return trip back there were thousands of runners streaming in the other direction.  I heard my name on numerous occasions and through my hands up in hello with a quick “Hi!” Most of the time I couldn’t pick the friendly face out of the crowd but on occasion, eyes would lock and a smile would break out. These are friends you know, work with or will see but for some reason during a race hearing your name and seeing a friendly face gives you a boost. I somehow, out of the thousands, saw Lacie Whyte of Swirlgear who I am working with an a new book to be released this fall. (Details to come!)

Even though my time was going to be meh, I decided to have an un-meh time, if you follow my drift.  Before getting back to Brady Street, running down Kirkwood Boulevard with all the fans provided ample opportunity to high-five kids, dance to some music and, most importantly, have another go at a slip and slide.

This time a horizontal slippie in the grass median of the two lanes, I saw what looked like the most inviting slide ever. The water appeared cold and refreshing, if water has a look to it. Unlike the well-meaning people out with a spray bottle or a water hose, I had a feel a dip here would actually be beneficial. You see, when you are already drenched in liters of your own sweat, a spray bottle is laughable at best.  But the dilemma as I approached the slide was how I was going to go about this.  Did I want to chance another leg under baseball slide?  I still had more than mile to go and I really didn’t know if this area had been vetted properly by the beer-swilling crowd. What if there were rocks or sticks underneath?  So, I somehow decided that face-first was best.

Gathering up a head of steam I splooshed down the blue plastic setting off a shower of water in either direction.  As I slowed to a stop, a young lass snapped my picture with her phone. I stood up, said "Send that to!” and continued on. I am sure she had no idea what I said and since I have yet to receive the picture, it appears my words went unheard.  (Bummer.) I have a feeling it was pretty epic.

Onto Brady Street we turned and even though the start was at the end of this hill, I knew we had another half of a mile to go after it ended.  The course is not a pure out and back and therefore mileage must be tacked onto the end. I could see I could salvage some pride by running a semi-fast last mile and nail a sub-7 minute per mile average.

As I thanked the guy who passed me and said he loved my presentation (I think this might have been said to either soften the blow of him passing me or soften my spirit so I wouldn’t fight back with a kick), we turned the corner and saw the finish ahead.

Pushing a little harder than needed just to make sure I had done my math right, I hit the finish line in 48:44.  I was only 503rd overall out of over 10000 finishers. At least I snuck in under 7 minutes per mile, even if I didn’t get into the top 500. Then again, even if I had run the time I am entirely capable of, I would have barely made the top 200 and just edged out this 57 year old pixie from Maine named Joan something or other.(That's Joan Benoit Samuelson if you didn't catch it.)

Yet one of the random people I saw in the crowd was a woman by the name of Carolyn.  Carolyn was in attendance at the speech I gave on Friday and afterward came up to me almost in tears.  The gist of her story was that at age 68 she was on the fence of whether she had it in her to ever run her first marathon.  She mentioned that after hearing me speak, she decided it was now or never.  We spoke at great length and I gave her my card as I wanted to possibly make sure she stuck to her plan.  Mostly I did it because I wanted to be inspired daily by Carolyn as she chased her own dreams. I then recommended the Quad Cities Marathon in Davenport for this local as her first marathon.

Here’s hoping I see her cross the finish line soon.


Unknown said...

Loved the recap! I may have to consider planning my next trip back home to coincide with the 2015 Bix!

Unknown said...

Hi Dane, thx for the recap of Bix7; good to hear you enjoyed yourself(as I did too). It was my first time racing as a ‘sevener’ and in Davenport. Hope to be back next year. Btw, good seeing you a the expo! Take care my friend. Jorge