With 14 years behind her since her last sprint up the Brady Street hill, Liz Nolte took home second place.
In her months of training leading up to the Brady Street Sprints and Saturday's Quad-City Times Bix 7, Nolte knew it would be a tough go, trying to beat the wickedly fast Jen Paul.
"I'm seeing stars at the moment," Nolte said just after crossing the finish line. "I'm going to have to train a lot harder to beat Jen next year.
"I hit the wall at the same place I always do (about two-thirds into the quarter-mile sprint). It all came back to me."
Sprinting used to come easily for Nolte, a Sherrard High School standout who went on to Western Illinois University on a track scholarship.
But Saturday's Quad-City Times Bix 7 is another story.
"I'm terrified," Nolte said of her first crack at the entire 7-mile course. She hopes to run nine-minute miles, but, as Race Director Ed Froehlich pointed out at the last Bix at 6 training run, the hill and the crowd of runners is likely to double her goal time on the first mile.
Despite her fears and the nervous stomach that plagued Nolte on Thursday, she is ready. Training for the Bix since March, she has logged 120 miles of practice.
At 31, the Moline woman was desperate to do something for herself. She has a 2-year-old, a 4-year-old, a husband in nursing school, a full-time job and an identity crisis.
“I feel like I’ve lost my identity,” she said. “I’m the wife. I’m the mom. I lost myself along the way.”
Running has long been her go-to workout. At one time, it was her life. Her dedication to running and her eagerness to get back into it made her an ideal subject to profile in a brand new Quad-City Times' project: virtual reality storytelling. A team from EON Sports VR is capturing Nolte's Bix run, and the whole field of runners will serve as extras. The 360-degree video and photos of this year's Bix will be the centerpiece of our new app, QCT VR, which is to become available in August.
At Sherrard, Nolte ran 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprints, along with competing in the high jump. But collegiate track was far more demanding than she imagined.
“It killed my competitiveness for the sport,” she said. “I felt like I was there to run, not to get a degree.
“I lost a lot of fire — a lot of ambition — to run. I ran for the first year, and I didn’t run for a good year after that.”
Instead, she focused on her degree and a career in television broadcasting.
“I legit thought I was going to be the next Katie Couric,” she said. “I dug in. I loved it.”
In 2008, she landed an internship with NBC, which took her to the Olympics in Bejing. She was assigned to help with track and field.
“I worked 23-hour days,” she said. “I was delirious for the month I was there.”
She then took a job as a reporter for WHBF-TV, Rock Island. She reported, wrote and recorded her own stories.
“I was a one-woman band,” she said. “I think the tripod weighed as much as I did.”
After three years, she’d had enough. But she didn’t want to leave the Quad-Cities.
“I really had no desire to go anywhere else,” Nolte said. “It’s just home.”
Liz and her husband, Nick Nolte (not the actor), became foster parents to a 5-month-old girl, Ren, more than four years ago. They recently adopted her.
Liz gave birth to their second daughter, Elliette, about two years ago, and she said the move out of infancy has made her less sleep-deprived.
So, it was time to get back into her running shoes.
“I need to do something for me. If I don’t, I’ll go crazy,” she said. “Running is less a mental challenge than figuring out the logistics of care for the kids, because my husband gives music lessons every night.
“If not for my parents, I couldn’t do anything.”
When she read about “Women’s 101” running group, sponsored by the Cornbelt Running Club, she saw her chance to get back in the race.
She ran with the group once a week for eight weeks in the spring and found the training and the inspiration she was looking for.
“It’s great to join a tribe like that to get back into it,” she said. “I found people that run my pace, and I found people to push me.”
As a sprinter, short distances are no problem. But the seven miles of hills that make up the Bix course are slightly intimidating, even though she ran chunks of the race a few times after high school.
But one of her training partners, her stepdad, is a Bix expert, having run 41 of the 42 races.
“We run together, usually along the river, and he’s really enthusiastic about it,” she said. “My mom’s always just really pushed me to be active. My birth dad was an athlete, too.
“Since I haven’t been running for a couple of years, my girls haven’t known this side of me, and I now hear them say things like, ‘Mommy run fast!’
“One thing I’d really like to do — an impact I’d like to have — is to show other moms that it’s possible to do something for yourself. You can get yourself back.”