In a field of big names, two distinguished prep runners were likely known only to their peers when they started the 43rd annual Quad-City Times Bix 7 Saturday.
Nonetheless, the two highly decorated high school runners added some more luster to their impressive resumes by the time they finished by winning their first Premiere Buick GMC Dealers Bix 7 High School Challenge.
Male winner Brayden Hamblen, a Deer Grove, Illinois, resident who graduated this spring from Rock Falls High School, came in with a time of 37 minutes, 20 seconds for the seven miles. Female winner Anna Hostetler, about to become a senior at Mid-Prairie High School, finished with a time of 42:56.
Hamblen was the Class 1A cross country champion last fall in Illinois and the Class 2A 3,200-meter champ this past spring. He will attend the University of Illinois this fall and run cross country this fall and track next spring.
Hostetler was not only a state cross country champ in Iowa as a junior, but also had the fastest time of all classes. She also has the fastest 3,000 and 1,500 times in the state, and was the Gatorade cross country runner of the year in Iowa.
Still, it was clear this win meant a lot to both, especially considering each of their high school athletic programs will receive a $1,000 donation for their win from the Premier Buick GMC Dealers.
“It’s great,” said Hamblen, whose time is a record in the boys high school division that started in 2013. “It’s definitely great to be able to give back to the program. The town of Rock Falls and the high school did so much for me … like sending me to national meets … so it’s really great to give some money back.”
Hostetler also expressed appreciation.
“It’s exciting,” she said, “But it kind of shows I wouldn’t be where I was without the fan club back home, my family, my team, even the other parents. It was exciting to represent them.”
For Hamblen, this was his fourth try at the Bix, his first win. The cool temps helped, he said.
His strategy was to take it easy up Brady Street and lower the pace on the middle miles.
“Once I got past the hills in the back, I was just trying to put the pedal to the floor as much as I could … the fifth and sixth miles and then just cruise down Brady,” he said.
Hamblen said he really wasn’t aware of what place he was in until late in the race.
“At around mile five, I started looking around a little bit," he said. "And I didn’t see orange (the color of the racing bibs the prep division wore) around anywhere. I was still going to run as hard as I could because I didn’t know if anybody was in front of me.”
Hostetler, too, did not know if she was out in front.
“At the beginning, I didn’t know because there were so many people,” said Anna, who ran with her younger sister Marie through the first 4.5 miles before Marie got sick. “I thought maybe I was, but it’s kind of hard to tell with that many people spread out.”
Anna Hostetler said you really couldn’t ask for a better summer morning to run.
“I felt pretty good the first couple of miles,” she said. “After that it kind of hit me. Coming up the long street (Kirkwood Boulevard) before you come down Brady, it was kind of hard going down that hill so fast.”
It was a much longer race than her longest high school race of 3.1 miles, which changed her normal strategy, but one of the Bix at Six training runs helped.
“You got to go at a little slower of a pace,” she said.
Hamblen didn’t even enter until the final week, when he got permission to run before heading to the University of Illinois cross country camp Sunday.
It’s clear he enjoys the atmosphere.
“Obviously the Bix is great on energy,” he said. “The fans, the people watching really give the runners some motivation and let us really get amped to just come home. It’s definitely a challenging course, but I thought I closed it out pretty well.”
The Hostetlers had an extra voice of encouragement in the crowd. Their father and coach Mark urged the sisters to enter.
“They’ve never run further than a 5K (3.1 miles),” said Mark, who was a runner at Illinois State University. “I wanted them to stretch it a little bit and be involved.
“Bix 7 is a big deal in Iowa. I wanted them to be a part of it and see what it’s like and see that running is bigger than the little high school races.”