One of Christo Landry’s most vivid memories of his only previous visit to the Quad-City Times Bix 7 was the night before the race.
He and the other elite runners were hanging out at St. Ambrose University and fellow American Abdi Abdirahman, who was born in Somalia, brought him a heaping plate of ugali, the sticky, heavy porridge that is a staple of the diet of the runners from Kenya.
“I thought it was pretty cool that a multi-time Olympian was bringing me a plate of something that the Kenyan runners eat every day,’’ Landry said.
Landry won’t need to contend with the Kenyans when he returns for the 40th anniversary Bix 7 on Saturday and the 28-year-old former William & Mary star looms as one of the favorites to win the U.S. national 7-mile championship in the race.
But he is quick to point out that he will not be the favorite. Meb Keflezighi, two-time Bix champion, Olympic silver medalist and reigning Boston Marathon champion, is in the field.
“He had a pretty decent marathon in the spring,’’ Landry said, with tongue in cheek. “And he won the U.S. half-marathon championship in 61:23, which is very quick.’’
But Landry figures to be Keflezighi’s primary competition. He has had a breakout season, winning the U.S. 10-mile championship at Cherry Blossom in Washington, D.C., the U.S. 25k title at the Fifth Third Bank River Run in Grand Rapids, Mich., and the U.S. 10k crown at Peachtree in Atlanta on July 4.
Winning Bix would give him a grand slam of sorts.
“It hasn’t been any one thing,’’ Landry said of his recent success. “It’s just an accumulation of successful cycles that have been built on one another. Now when I go to a race and run 20-30 seconds faster than before, it’s putting me in first place instead of third or fourth.’’
It’s been a long, hard climb to get to this point. After college, Landry moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., when his old William & Mary coach, Alex Gibby, became the head cross country coach at Michigan. He helped him out as a volunteer assistant coach while continuing to work to lower his times.
Gibby was relieved of his duties at Michigan in June and Landry plans to move with him wherever he goes.
“I like working with him and I think he can take me where I want to go,’’ Landry said.
Where does he want to go? The 2016 Olympics, of course.
“The goal of any runner is to get to the Olympics,’’ Landry said. “To think of what it would mean to wear the USA uniform at Rio … I can’t really put into words.’’
He said he is a totally different runner now than the road-racing novice who finished 10th in the 2011 Bix.
“When I came there three years ago, it was something like the third road race of my post-collegiate career,’’ he said. “I had just started my summer cycle and I wasn’t very familiar with the roads.’’
He has taken a liking to the road scene now. Unlike track races, events such as the Bix 7 provide a chance to hang out with competitors and get to know them.
When he won at Peachtree earlier this month he spent some time chatting with Keflezighi after the race.
They weren’t competitors there. Meb ran the race for charity, starting at the back of the pack and raising money for each person he was able to pass in the race. He managed to pass more than 22,000.
“He told me he had people stopping him at water stops and asking him to take a picture with him,’’ Landry said.
They will be competitors Saturday but Landry said he doesn’t expect it to be just a two-man race. Although Abdirahman and defending U.S. national road racing champ Aaron Braun have had to withdraw for medical reasons, Sean Quigley is in the field. He finished third in the 2010 Bix. And Landry said to watch out for Diego Estrada, who ran for Mexico in the 2012 Olympics but is now an American citizen.
“I have no clue what kind of shape he’s in but if he’s running well, he’s someone to watch,’’ Landry said.
Still, the man to beat undoubtedly is Keflezighi, for whom Landry said he has tremendous respect.
“If I’m doing anything like what he’s doing when I’m 38, I’ll be pretty happy,’’ he said.