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Tour de Bix not your average run


Dispatch/Argus Photo By Nobuko Oyabu

A sea of 18,388 people makes its way up Brady Street hill in Davenport at the start of the Bix 7 road race last July.

It's seven grueling miles of hills, heat, humidity and elbow-to-elbow crowds. For upwards of 20,000 runners who gather in Davenport from around the world each July, it's one of the year's peak experiences.

The Quad City Times Bix 7's allure starts with the fact that the course is anything but a piece of cake. The typical Saturday race is a 5- or 10-kilometer jaunt -- 3.1 or 6.2 miles. At seven miles from start to finish line, the Bix is just a little longer, and a little more special, than the average run.

The real Bix 7 voodoo doesn't hit until you show up early on race day and become part of the sprawling crowd gathering at the foot of Brady Street hill. (More on that hill later.) So many people run the Bix that entrants queue up on side streets by their seeded times to prevent the chaos that would ensue from letting everybody try to line up at one time in the same place. Walkers are at the back of the pack, seemingly stretching back to the river's banks. Up front are the Olympians and human rockets, hoping for a piece of the $100,000 in prizes.

Helicopters hover overhead. TV cameras aim down at you from scaffolding and the railroad overpass on Brady. The excitement is building -- and so is the temperature.

You're usually already part of the seething mass of humanity when you start to really worry about the heat. July is prime heat-and-humidity weather along the Mississippi River. During the 1997 race, the mercury hovered at 79 degrees, with 88 percent humidity, when the starting gun went off. Officials made frequent warnings to drink lots of fluids on the course -- something anybody deserving of their Nikes knows.

Still, the heat took its toll, as it's perhaps bound to do at an athletic event with that many eager participants.

If you're back in the pack -- which is where you belong, unless you're running sub-7-minute miles -- it can take you several minutes to get to the starting line. You shuffle forward, your thumb on the button of your running watch, ready to start the timer when you get to the official start.

The first big challenge on every tour de Bix is Brady Street hill. No matter how much training you do, it's a struggle to get up the hill, which seems more like a mountain on race day -- a mountain alive with a million panting pilgrims.

Runners are usually so relieved to get to the top of Brady that they forget that the hard part of the race is the back half of the course. But atop Brady Street, the worst of it seems behind you. There are bands at Palmer College of Chiropractic, booming stereos, crowds of enthusiastic people to cheer you on. Hang a right on Kirkwood Boulevard and, if you're lucky, it thins out enough for you to really run.

You're feeling great, cooking along, ignoring the fact that you're on a gradual downhill grade you're going to have to run back up in a little while.

You go under the railroad underpass on Kirkwood. If you're a middle-of-the-pack runner, you see the leaders somewhere around here, on the return leg -- sleek athletes who look like gazelles in shorts. You hang a left on Jersey Ridge Road for a block, trying hard not to think about what's next. You turn onto Middle Road -- and that's where you see that precipitous saddle-back ridge at the top of McClellan. Runners fall off to the side of the street, walking. About now those new Air Max shoes feel like cement blocks.

You tell yourself just to keep your legs moving. You're not even to the halfway point. There's no way you can stop now.

You make it to the top -- big relief -- and smile. You're almost at the turnaround now, a big morale booster. McClellan is easier going back the other way. And now you get to run down Mount McClellan, really screaming along Middle -- if you're crazy enough to waste your precious energy sprinting at this point in the run.

You start to see the bleak expressions once you start back up Kirkwood. What was a breeze on the way out has become slow torture. This is where the real test of your will begins. The worst of it is over once you get to Bridge Avenue. You resolve to keep your feet moving -- and to drink water every chance you get.

There's a huge rush when you turn back onto Brady. You tell yourself it's in the bag now, virtually all downhill. You try to maintain a decent pace as you crank along the flats, screwing up whatever energy you have left to kick down the hill. When you get your first glimpse of the river, you forget what nightmare getting up Brady was as you fly down hill, trying not to run right out of your shoes -- or fall down. The finish line is just around the corner. You feel as quick as one the Kenyans who streaked by you a half hour earlier on Kirkwood, going the opposite direction.

You turn the corner and -- what's going on? Where's the finish line? The fiends have moved it halfway to Bettendorf -- or so it seems. You grit your teeth. You flail the air with your arms and try to kick, refusing to acknowledge the little kids and grandmothers leaving you in their dust.

And then -- thank God! -- it's over.

You stand in the chutes, panting. You tell the volunteers you're OK, you always look like this after you've run seven miles on a hot July morning. A little while later, you find your friends at the beer truck. You debrief one another, comparing your pre-race strategy with your performance, vowing to cut 10 minutes off your time next year.

Your friends are too polite to laugh. You return the favor when they predict the remarkable improvement in their own Bix 7 performances come next July.

-- By Mike Romkey (February 9, 1998)

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