Same old race, huh?
Those of us who have been around the Quad-City Times Bix 7 for several decades sort of begin to take all this for granted.
We’ve felt the tingle when Jack Carey croons out “God Bless the USA’’ at the starting line before the race. We’ve seen the Palmer spine and the running Elvi. We’ve seen military personnel run the course with full packs, toting American flags. We’ve seen the enthusiastic support of tens of thousands of people all along the race course.
When you see it every year, you sort of forget that not every major road race is like this. You don’t realize that almost no other road race is quite like this one.
It takes a few first-timers, people who never have been exposed to the Bix 7, to remind us.
Like Jonathan Grey. He’s a veteran of the road racing circuit. He’s been to most of the big races.
His first Bix 7 left him just a little bit wide-eyed.
“It’s a small town feel but a big-time race,’’ Grey said after finishing fourth in the 43rd annual Bix 7 on Saturday. ‘’You feel like everyone is so close. It’s just a fun race to be a part of. I love coming to these races.
“The whole town is behind it. You have the mayor speak at the pre-race event. You can tell this is a big deal. On the wall is this big Bix 7 thing, it’s painted like 60 feet by 60 feet. It’s huge. It’s fun. It’s a whole town thing. It’s fun to come and have that.’’
Grey wasn’t the only one who noticed how strongly supported the race is by the local community.
Sam Chelanga, who won the men’s race Saturday, said the thing he will always remember about his maiden Bix is the way the fans constantly encouraged the runners every step of the way. He said that just doesn’t happen in most races.
“I just kept seeing (the fans) and they don’t really know who we are but there’s a relationship,’’ he said. “They appreciate us coming to their town. I like that.’’
While the spectators were out in force, the Bix 7 attracted a smaller field than in previous years. Race director Ed Froehlich said he wasn't sure of the exact number of entries in the Saturday race because of a computer issue but he thought it was about 12,600. Another 2,667 kids took part in the Arconic Jr. Bix 7 on Friday.
Participation numbers in road races all over the country have dipped in recent years. The annual survey done by Running USA has found a decline in entries each of the past three years.
The Bix 7's decline may been impacted slightly by some technical issues involving registration.
“We had problems with a changeover in computer systems,’’ Froehlich said. “Going into the last weekend, the company we were working with told us they could not handle the final registrations so at the last minute we switched over to Chronotrack and they really pulled us though.’’
Ultimately, the Bix 7 isn't so much about the number of people involved as the spirit and enthusiasm they bring to the event. Froehlich was satisfied with the numbers and delighted with almost everything else about the way things ran Saturday.
It all came off crisply enough that a lot of those first-timers were vowing this won’t be the last time they run the Bix.
“This is just fun to come to,’’ Grey said. “We love to come out and be supported. This is as good as the big city races because you guys put it on so smoothly. It’s a whole town thing.’’