Normally by this time, about 3½ months before any runners takes those first adrenaline-infused steps up Brady Street Hill, the game plan for the Quad-City Times Bix 7 is etched in stone.
Everything is thought-out, plotted-out, laid-out, ready to go.
There is very definitely a plan right now for the 47th running of the annual race through the streets of Davenport, scheduled for July 24.
But this time a lot of it is written in pencil.
Unlike a year ago when a global pandemic forced the Bix 7 and almost every other road race in the world to be held on a virtual basis, there will be actual people charging up Brady Street this summer.
“We’re going to put on a race that is both safe and special,’’ Bix 7 race director Michelle Juehring said Wednesday at the event’s annual kickoff at the Waterfront Convention Center. “The Bix is back. The Quad-City Times Bix 7 is back.’’
However, the changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, including uncertain vaccine rollouts and the ever-changing guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control, has caused Juehring and her staff to be extremely flexible as they plan this year’s race.
“We know that how we envision July now is going to change. It’s fluid,’’ she said. “So while all of our plans are strategic and knowledge-based, we make them with hope and optimism. Some of them are written in pencil.''
Runners again will have the option of doing the race on a virtual basis rather than doing it in person, as people have been doing since 1975. Juehring said people have been signing up for the race for several weeks but they can decide later which way they do it.
The field for the in-person race, which occasionally has attracted 20,000 entries, will be capped at 10,000 and the entire throng will not go flying up that first hill together, as they always have.
The Bix 7 will use a “rolling start.’’ Runners will be spaced six feet apart in the starting chutes and will take off in small waves every five seconds. Juehring estimates it could take more than two hours for everyone to start.
Entries in the Prairie Farms Quick Bix, the 2-mile alternative to the full race, will start before the usual 8 a.m. and for the first time will have their own separate race rather than being blended in with the 7-milers.
For the 7-mile race, the field will be lined up according to how fast the runners are, with the elite field in front and walkers toward the back.
With everyone spaced out so much, it will be necessary for the runners to run the out-and-back course clockwise instead of counter-clockwise to avoid congestion at the top of the Brady Street Hill. The elite runners will reach that point on the return trip before two thirds of the participants have gone up the hill.
Juehring and her staff are working with officials from other races and with several other organizations to make sure that the event comes off safely. She said she has ongoing conversations with organizers of the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta and Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., two other massive summer races that are planning to return to in-person events.
She said they also are working with the Roadrunners Club of America, Running USA, the International Institute of Race Medicine, Mass Participation World, the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security and Chicago Event Management.
“We’re glad that we can learn from others around the globe and then in turn share what we are learning,’’ she said.
She also is coordinating with a professor from Manchester University who is an expert in race flow analysis.
“He is helping us use cutting edge technology to allow our participants to participate, line up, run and finish in a socially distant manner,’’ Juehring said.
Despite not having a live race last summer, the Bix 7 has retained almost all of its long-time sponsors. Among those who spoke at Wednesday’s kickoff were representatives of the Quad-City Times (the title sponsor since 1981), Arconic, Genesis Health Systems, the Isle Casino Hotel, Prairie Farms, Running Wild and the Premier Buick GMC Dealers.
Most of them said they were impressed with the way the virtual race went in 2020 even in the midst of the pandemic.
“I must commend Michelle and her staff for the way they pivoted and still gave us an option last year,’’ said Eric Dresing of the Buick GMC dealers.
Juehring said almost all of the components that have been part of the Bix 7 in the past will remain intact, including the Brady Street Sprints on Thursday and the Arconic Jr. Bix 7 on Friday.
The Premier Buick GMC Dealers again will sponsor the High School Challenge and the First Responders Challenge, which debuted in 2019.
A field of world class runners still will compete for prize money although that group will be capped at 20. Juehring said that within a few days after that was announced, 15 of the spots were filled.
The elite athletes still will be housed at St. Ambrose University and added steps will be taken to shelter them from exposure to the virus.
“We’ll have a bubble, not as strict as the NBA’s, but precautions will be taken to keep them safe so they can run our race and then get on to their next race,’’ Juehring said.
She said the R. Richard Bittner YMCA of the Mississippi Valley, which has been built across the street from the Quad-City Times building, also will have a role in the race. Some of the races for younger age groups in the Jr. Bix 7 will be held in the YMCA’s parking lot and the YMCA will offer free child watch services for race participants on Saturday morning.