Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hills and Thrills at the Bix 7

There's something about this wonderful summer weather we've been having (brutally sunny, average temperature 267º, average humidity 650%) that makes me crave a good uber-hilly race. After all, nothing makes you feel like a rockstar runner like toughing it out through the Trifecta of Running Pain: heat, humidity and hills.

So when fellow FASTie, Kristi, tried to talk me into running the famous Bix 7 with her, it didn't really take a lot of convincing. This 7-mile race is famous not for being fast and flat, but for being hot and hilly... and also tons of fun. It's hard to imagine how a race held at the hottest time of the year on a challenging course could be much fun, but the key to having fun at an event like this is to not race it. And that was our plan.

I arrived in lovely downtown Davenport, Iowa on Friday evening and even though I had a hard time finding a place to park (and finally ended up paying $5 for a garage), getting in and out of the packet pickup was a breeze. The expo was so-so; about what one would expect for an event this size. I browsed around briefly, but nothing really caught my interest. The race swag was also unexceptional, but considering this race only cost $30 or $35 to enter (I can't remember how much, exactly), it's no more or no less than one would expect: a cotton t-shirt and a color poster. The real "swag" of this race is the post-race party, as you will see shortly.

This race attracts a very prestigious elite field, thanks to the thousands of dollars in prize money offered to top finishers. Apparently Joan Benoit Samuelson and a whole bunch of Kenyans were among the elite runners this year. And I totally ran with them. True story.

Okay, when I say I "ran with them" I actually mean I saw them fly past me as they were heading back toward the finish line and I was still shuffling along at Mile 2. But I digress...

This is a pretty large event, especially considering it's in, well, Iowa. I mean, what else is in Iowa besides... corn? So for a race in Davenport to draw a field of over 18,000 runners and walkers, including some very big-name elites, it's really quite impressive. And that the race is so well-organized to handle such a large field is even more impressive. Kudos to the race director!

Kristi and I arrived at the race start early and got positioned in our assigned starting corral. The sun was shining, the air was warm and sticky, and we could see Brady Street hill (with it's 7% grade) looming ahead of us. Oh, we were definitely in for a fun time.

We ain't scared of no hills!

Before we knew it, the race was underway and we were making our way toward the starting line. We were probably positioned in the middle of the field, and it only took two minutes to cross the starting line. Not bad for a race this large.

The first 1/3 mile climbs over 100 vertical feet, and while this sounds like a pretty steep climb, it really wasn't that bad. Of course, I say this as a person who was not racing. Kristi and I ran the hill at a leisurely 11:00 pace; we weren't in any hurry. There were a lot of people in this race. A LOT. Even if we had wanted to run faster up the hill, I don't think we could have, just because it would've taken far too much effort to weave around the slower people.

When we crested that first big hill, we picked up the pace a bit, but we knew the hill climbing was far from over. Indeed, I believe the worst hill in this course is actually the last one, at Mile 5-6. It's not the steepest, but it comes at a time when you're already pretty tired from climbing all the other hills. And it's looooooong.

So just how hilly is this course? Well, for the sake of comparison, I pulled up my Garmin data from the Steamboat 15k, "Illinois' Toughest 15k". That course (which is over 2 miles longer than the Bix) has a total climb of 310 feet. The Bix has a total climb of 394 feet. So the Bix has nearly 85 more vertical feet of climb, but over a shorter distance... which, in theory, makes it significantly tougher.

But not if you're just running it for fun!

Kristi and I ran at a moderate pace, enjoying the multitudes of spectators and entertainment acts along the way. There was nonstop live music the whole seven miles, and the cheering spectators along the sidelines were all drinking either coffee or beer... or both. I was very impressed with the people of Davenport for all their enthusiasm for the race. There wasn't a single spot along the course that didn't have spectators lined up five deep.

Water stations were plentiful and well-organized. I think I actually finished the race better hydrated than when I started it. We stopped at every station, not only to get water to drink, but also to get water to pour on ourselves. We were ever-so-thankful for those spectators who had set up hoses to spray water on the runners, and for the patches of shade provided by trees along the course.

We were also extremely thankful when we reached Mile 6 and it was all downhill to the finish. And what a downhill it was! That 7% grade we climbed at the beginning of the race? Well, now we were going to run down it. And boy did we fly! We ran the last mile at a fairly comfortable effort, but it ended up being an 8:21 pace.

As we rounded the final turn, we could see the finish line up ahead. Kristi began to surge. I followed suit. She wasn't trying to break away from me; she was just trying to push me a little bit. She knew I could keep up. And I did. We sprinted and crossed the finish together. (And in case anyone is curious, our finish time was 1:08:41. Not too bad for a fun run!)

Then we began our hunt for the food and beer. And that's when things got really interesting.

If you like junk food, the Bix is the race for you. Bananas, bagels and Gatorade? That stuff is for wussies! You won't find any of those things at the Bix. What you will find are popsicles, Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies, potato chips, chocolate milk, cereal bars and beer. And it's an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord. I did not eat all of those things, but I enjoyed a Hostess cupcake and an orange popsicle (very refreshing on a hot day!). And a couple of beers.

Now, when they say it's all-you-can-eat, they mean it's all you can eat within the boundaries of the post-race party. You're not supposed to bring a shopping cart and fill up the trunk of your car with food to take home. That's just plain rude. And they apparently do crack down on food-snatchers, according to the website. But that didn't stop this guy from oh-so-subtly stuffing his shorts pockets with Twinkies and cereal bars.

Are those Twinkies in your pockets, or are you just happy to see us?

But what makes the post-race party so interesting isn't the food and beverage. It's the people. There are some fascinating people at this event (besides Mr ShortsStuffer above). Allow me to share a few of them with you.

The funniest thing isn't this guy's Spongebob hat or his bitchin' beard, but the fact that he gave me his email address because he wanted me to send him this picture. HahahaNO!

It seems I have my head in a strange (very strange) man's armpit. We all smelled bad, though, so it didn't matter. I vote for this guy for best outfit, hands down.

Those two guys were just the tip of the iceberg. There were hundreds of runners in silly outfits and costumes, including a whole team of Marilyn Monroes, and a group of people dressed as Angry Birds characters. There was even a costume contest, with prizes and everything! I seriously regretted not having worn my tutu. This was definitely a tutu-worthy event.

So after some discussion, Kristi and I have decided that next year we need to get a big group together to run this race, come up with an awesome team costume idea, and rule the costume contest. There are prizes at stake, people! I don't actually know what the prizes are, but I'm sure they are wicked cool. Like a million bucks, or a new car, or a coffee mug or something like that.

So who's in??? You could win a million dollars! (But don't count on it.)

Peace. Love. Train.

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