When you tell people you’re running your first Quad-City Times Bix 7, the reactions can be scary.
They shudder and immediately warn you about the Brady Street hill, the heat and, yes, the other hills. They shake their head, and size up if you really know what you're getting into. They say, “It’s not like any other race,” and “It’s fun and awful at the same time.”
They're right to react this way, and then some.
I moved to Davenport in January, and each time I've mentioned running in a conversation, someone would bring up the Bix. Whether they've regularly hosted a sideline party or would be racing for the 30th time, everyone seems to have a Bix 7 story.
And now, I do, too.
I've been a runner since middle school, and I’ve entered at least 30 road races, mostly 5ks and 10ks, along the way. Sure, I can hit the road on my own, but there’s something about thousands of runners being in the same place at the same time — the quiet restlessness of the start line and the zig-zagging of the first 100 meters and the back-and-forth of passing (or getting passed by) strangers.
After running my first Bix 7 on Saturday (clocking about 51 minutes), it's true what the experienced say — nothing compares with this race.
I didn't run with a camera, but there are selfies of me on at least three strangers’ cell phones. I saw T-shirts reading “Is beer a carb?” and a child asking for high-fives while holding a live frog in his hand.
There were fathers pushing children in strollers, a guy running barefoot and a woman who was four months pregnant. “I think he’ll be a running baby,” she told me.
The crowds never seem to let up. They chanted for people who stopped mid-stride to grab a beer, for the women wearing "Ghostbusters" costumes, Augustana College students, someone wearing American-flag socks and anyone who had energy to dance.
On Friday and Saturday, I watched my new home fill up with people at the Street Fest in a way I haven't before. My mom was in town from Kentucky and we waited in line to get autographs from Meb and Joan Benoit Samuelson, and we got chills thinking about their Olympic times.
When I asked Meb for advice during our photo-op, he offered this: “Be patient.”
After the first 3.5 miles and the Brady Street hill, which people casually call “vicious," I think I know what he meant. Still, he didn't seem fazed when I saw him and the elite pack sprinting on the other side of the Kirkwood Boulevard median.
Thinking back through my running history, I realized Saturday's 7-miles would be the longest road race I've ever run. But you know what? From the live music on every corner, ranging from “Wagon Wheel” to "Walk the Line," and the feeling of the Quad-City streets swelling up, this race felt like one of my shortest.
Chatting with sweaty finishers, I think that's why about 15,000 people sign up each year — no matter what kind of shape they're in.
Most of us don't set records, but we ask "How'd you do?" to anyone who will answer. We swap good and bad mile times and we say, "Next year, maybe I'll do this differently. But I'll still do it."
After crossing the finish line, I high-fived a man who beat me by a few footsteps. It was his eighth time running the Bix, and while he said his days of personal records are over, he’ll keep signing up until he can’t walk.
“I just couldn’t shake you the whole way,” he said. “But that’s what keeps us going, right?”