Forgive Josh Izewski and Andrew Colley if they weren’t overwhelmed by their first glimpse of the Brady Street Hill.
The two runners, part of the Zap Fitness Running Club, are entered in the elite field for Saturday's Quad-City Times Bix 7, and they said they are very accustomed to running hills.
"Mountains," Izewski said, correcting a reporter. "We run mountains."
Zap Fitness, founded in 2001, is based in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, a tiny town of about 1,300 nestled into the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"Not a very big town," Colley said. "It’s a touristy town, but it’s up about 3,500 feet so we get a little altitude training. It’s nice."
Colley and Izewski are part of a five-runner Zap Fitness contingent in the Bix 7. They are joined by Joe Stilin in the men’s field and Joanna Thompson and Nicole DiMercurio in the women’s field.
All of them are between 25 and 28 years of age, and most of them ran for major colleges in the southeast part of the country. Colley and Thompson competed at N.C. State, Izewski at Florida, DiMercurio at Georgia and Stilin at both Princeton and Texas.
They help oversee adult running camps in Blowing Rock during the summer months while also doing their own training in hopes of making it big in the running world.
Thompson is the only one in the group who has been to Bix — she was ninth here last year — but Colley and Izewski drove the course Friday, then ran it. Despite all the hills, they pronounced it "manageable."
"Driving the course seemed a little bit harder than actually running it," Izewski said.
Final four still around: The four runners who have taken part in every Bix 7 race through the years all will be out there again Saturday. Or at least Don Fish, Gary Fischer, Steve Clark and Ed Lillis all are entered in the race.
Fish has branched out into serving as an agent for some of the elite runners, forming an organization called the Rift Valley Runners, which includes Kenya’s Kenneth Kosgei.
Fish even had Kosgei, Simion Chirchir and former Bix 7 champions Silas Kipruto and Leonard Korir over to his Davenport home on Thursday night for an authentic Kenyan dinner. He served barbecued goat, sikuma wiki (a vegetable dish similar to collard greens) and rice.
Was it any good? Kosgei simply scrunched his face into a grin and nodded hesitantly.
"He’s being kind," Fish said.
Lots of withdrawals: It’s normal for a handful of the elite runners to drop out of the Bix 7 in the weeks leading up to the race. Elite athlete coordinator John Tope normally counts on about 10 percent of the runners coming up with some sort of injury, encountering visa problems or deciding they’re just not running very well.
This year it was more like 30 percent. More than a dozen runners backed out, including three — Kenya’s Bernard Ngeno, Sri Lanka’s Hiruni Wijayarante and American Chelsea Blaase — in the past day or two.
In most cases, it was because of some sort of physical ailment. Ngeno pulled out because he missed his flight out of Nairobi.
Top volunteers: The Bix 7’s volunteers of the year were honored at a pre-race party Friday afternoon at the Roglaski Center at St. Ambrose University.
Will and Lisa Lacy were honored for their supervision of the water stop at Kirkwood and Farnam, and Tim Ingold and Kathy Bucciferro were cited for their work with special needs children at the Arconic Jr. Bix 7.
Early retirement: You may have noticed that 2017 Bix 7 champion Sam Chelanga is not back to defend his title. That’s because he has retired from running at the age of 33.
Chelanga first came to the United States from Kenya so he could become a lawyer and help the impoverished people of Kabarsel, his hometown. In fact, he took up running at the suggestion of two-time Olympic medalist Paul Tergat, a family friend, as a way to pay for his education.
He attended both Fairleigh Dickinson and Liberty University, had a great college career and eventually became a U.S. citizen.
But earlier this year he decided it was time to quit. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and begins basic training Sunday at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He is scheduled to start officer candidate school in Fort Benning, Georgia, on Oct. 15.
"I left running because I wanted to do something (where) every morning, I wake up and feel fulfilled," Chelanga said in an interview with letsrun.com.
"I got into running with the mindset that I was going to help my community back in Kenya," he added. "But now I have two kids, and those kids are going to grow up in the United States. This is their new community, this is my new community. … Leading young men and women for the United States in the Army, it’s the biggest honor I would have ever asked."