With his long blond locks flowing behind him, Stephen Bowser drew a few surprised glances from onlookers Saturday as he sprinted across the finish line of the Quad-City Times Bix 7 road race among the top 100 runners.
The extra attention wasn’t because of his hair. It was because of his feet.
The 25-year old resident of Cedar Falls covered all seven miles of the race pounding the pavement without any form of footwear. Shirtless and wearing only shorts, he looked a bit like Tarzan running through a concrete jungle.
While Quad-City motorists may complain of potholes, Bowser had no trouble navigating the course with his bare feet.
“The roads are pretty smooth,” said Bowser, who was the 79th male finisher Saturday with a time of 40 minutes, 25 seconds.
Bowser didn’t pick up running until college and says he’s been competing in races barefoot for about the last four years.
“When I first started running I ran a couple of marathons and was pretty banged up and so I kind of read about running barefoot and minimal shoes and decided to give it a go. It works and I have fun,” said Bowser, who took about a year to get to the point where he could comfortably run fast without hurting himself.
As Bowser was walking around the post-race party, a woman told him she couldn’t even cross a street barefoot, let alone seven miles. But the Bix 7 isn't even that big of a deal for Bowser. He's planning on running the The North Face Endurance Challenge in September at Kettle Moraine State Park. That race covers 50 miles.
Record runs: Two age-group records were broken Saturday at the Bix 7.
Terry Van Natta, a 72-year old from Sugar Grove, North Carolina, established a new record in the men’s 70-74 age group with his time of 52 minutes, 49 seconds. Ronn Baker of Omaha, Nebraska set the old mark of 53:43 in 2009.
In the 50-54 women’s age group, Susan Riley of Columbus, Ohio set a new Bix 7 mark with her time of 48:50. The effort cut 24 seconds off of the previous record held since 2007 by Cynthia Woods of Bolingbrook, Ill.
Andriette Wickstrom of Storm Lake, Iowa, just missed breaking her own record in the 60-64 women’s age group. Wickstrom finished Saturday in 51:44, two seconds off of record time she set one year ago.
Still running: The four runners who have never missed a Bix 7 kept their record intact.
Don Fish, Ed Lillis, Steve Clark and Gary Fischer each ran the race for the 42nd time Saturday.
Mastering their craft: For the second time in three years, Geneseo native Bryan Glass won the men’s masters division at the Bix 7.
Glass, who now lives in Springfield, Illinois, finished in 37:17 to take a more than three-minute victory over Dubuque's Chad Leitzen in the category for runners age 40 and over.
Get breaking news sent instantly to your inbox
“A year older and about the same time … I’ll take it,’’ said Glass, who ran 37:11 a year ago. “I know I’m not going to get faster.’’
Cynthia Sanger of Newton, Massachusetts, won the women’s masters title in 44:49. At 41, she is 18 years younger than the runner-up in that category, four-time Bix 7 winner Joan Benoit Samuelson who at age 59 ran the seven-mile course in 45:32.
Repeat feat: Eight competitors Saturday repeated as age-group champions in the Bix 7.
Marisa Hird of Naperville, Illinois, won the 30-34 women’s age group this year in 43:14 after winning the 25-29 title one year ago, while seven other runners repeated the feat they accomplished in 2015 in the same age group.
Two men’s entries repeated as age-group winners. Frank Bay of Milan won the 75-79 field while Joe Zimmer of Boise, Idaho, won the 80-and-over division for the second straight year.
McKenzie Yanek of Bettendorf repeated in the 16-19 women’s age group, as did Wickstrom in the 60-64 age group, Gwenell Hobson of Albany, Illinois in the 65-69 category, Jan Gustafson of Orion in 75-79 and Marilyn Smith of Davenport in 80 and over.
Thoroughbreds: The 65-69 year-old men’s age group included two placewinners with four previous Bix 7 overall champions between them.
Joseph Nzau, the Bix 7 winner in 1983 and 1987, and 1980 and 1981 Bix 7 winner Bill Rodgers finished third and fifth in the age group this year. Nzau finished in 52:55, while Rodgers crossed in 56:52.