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 It hit me on the Mississippi River Trail in early July.

The fear.

It was less than a month until the Quad-City Times Bix 7 and I had barely been training. I knew, in between my heavy breaths, that this wasn’t good. I knew because I had previously battled the 7-mile, ultra-hilly course; my first Bix was last July.

There’s no getting around it: To run (and finish) the Bix 7, you have to log the miles. There's no just jumping into the race on a whim. There are no shortcuts.  

As I took to the trail over the following weeks, I passed by more and more runners and walkers. With the July 29 deadline approaching, we were all training with an extra sense of urgency.

I started to realize the months and weeks leading up to the Bix 7 is crunch-time, almost universally, for Quad-City runners. Whether it be their 30th race or first Bix in a while, all want to be ready for the iconic race with all of its treacherous hills.

Also universal? The fear. First-time Bixers and seasoned runners told me a similar story: “You never know what could happen during the Bix. It’s just that scary.”

“Terrified,” was the chosen word for my Bix 7 buddy, Liz Nolte, who is the subject of the Quad-City Times virtual reality storytelling project.

During Saturday’s race, a team from EON Sports VR captured Nolte's Bix run, along with background footage of the other 13,000 participants at the start and finish lines. You can tune into the 360-degree video and photos of the race in our new app, called QCT VR, which will be available for download in late August.

The 31-year-old Moline woman was a standout track sprinter at Sherrard High School and Western Illinois University, but in recent years her passion had taken a backseat to working full-time, as well as being a wife and mother of two.

In January, she made a goal to run the Bix 7 in its entirety at nine-minute mile pace, and in the process, get a piece of herself back.

“I just needed something outside of being a mom and a wife and working,” Nolte said. “You kind of lose yourself. You feel like you’re going crazy.”

Somewhere between her first training runs on the River Trail in March and the final stretch of the Bix 7 on Saturday, surrounded by her step-dad George and her husband Nick along with thousands of other runners, Nolte said she had found what she was looking for.

The day before the Bix 7, Nolte posted a photo of herself running the Brady Street Sprints. She wrote this caption: “Find yourself again. If not now, then when?”

She also hit her goal — we finished right around 63 minutes (which is nine-minute pace).

I asked Nolte what kept her going through all of those training runs, after nights where she only slept for three hours or when her inner monologue said 7 miles was just too far for a sprinter.

“When you’re out there a lot, you start running by the same people and you start to recognize them,” Nolte said. “They don’t know they’re part of your tribe, but they are. And they push you.”

That’s what happened on Saturday.

During the Bix 7, your tribe includes running friends and strangers who tell you to keep going when it hurts (specifically around mile five), live musicians playing everything from Nirvana to Johnny Cash, volunteers who say, “You’re almost there,” and spectators who hand out beer or who hold signs reading, “You’re beating everyone that’s behind you.”

The Bix 7 has a way of bringing people together.

At the start line, our crew chatted with a few people from Nebraska, who have returned to Davenport each July for the past eight years to run the Bix.

“This is the best weather we’ve had in a long time,” one of them said. “That’ll help.”

And heading down the Brady Street hill, as Nolte and I smiled because the worst was over, I saw runners dancing and overheard a man on the phone and say, “I have a mile to go, so I figured I’d call you.”

Once you’re in it, the course is, yes, almost overwhelmingly challenging. But what’s more overwhelming is this: being part of a tribe, from the cheering crowd to the runners on either side of you.

As Nolte said, “Once you’re in it, there’s this low roar of people chattering and breathing. It’s an experience unlike any other.”

Now, because of our virtual reality project, whether you participated in the 43rd Bix 7 or not, you can step inside of that experience.

Maybe along the way, you’ll be inspired to try the Bix 7 next year.

“I hope other moms see it and overcome their fear or worries," she said. "I hope they say, I can do that, too." 

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Best looking crew out here! #bix #bix7 #bix2017

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