The Quad-City Times Bix 7 Miler in Davenport IA, is a road running tradition in the U.S. With over 10,000 finishers in the 2014 race, this race is larger than most Marathons. I was lucky enough to run in the 40th version of the race this year.
Writing race reviews is an interesting practice. I have raced all over the U.S. in different types of events and in different sizes of road races. I have run races like the Houston Marathon and Lilac Bloomsday run with tens of thousands of finishers, and I have run races with 30 people standing around at the starting line.
In my experience I can generally break races up into 4 categories.
Large: Over 10,000 runners
Medium: 1,000 – 10,000 runners
Small: Less than 1,000 runners
Very small: usually a few hundred runners at most.
Of course this is more of a continuum than direct categorization, for example the Bix 7 (10,000 runners) experience is nothing like the Boston Marathon (35,000 runners.) However, the point is that it is not necessarily fair to compare races directly. A race like the Bryce Canyon Half Marathon (about 1,200 runners) is going to be graded with different criteria in mind than the Bix 7.
For example, one of the primary grading criteria for any race is the expo/packet pickup. In many small races you walk into the local running store pickup your packet, browse a little, and walk out. Medium size races usually have some kind of hotel or conference room reserved because of the needed space. At any large race you can expect a full-blown expo. However, the concept of the size of a race being on a continuum comes into play in the quality of the race expo.
The Bix 7 had a full blown expo, however, it was nothing compared to the Houston Marathon, and Half-Marathon. This is understandable though considering the difference in size between the two races. The packet pickup was extremely organized and I had my packet in hand in less than 5 minutes. The only thing I noticed was a lack of “swag” in the swag bag (there wasn’t really any free stuff in the packet.) Of course, the swag bag is never the reason anyone runs a race, but it is always nice to get some free stuff.
The expo itself was somewhat unique. Because of the size of the race, many of the vendors you would see at Expos like the Boston Marathon bypass this race. The only shoe company to be found was Skechers. The local running store had a large portion of the floor space at the expo, and the rest of it was taken up by local businesses, sunglass makers, artists, running clubs, etc. The expo also featured autograph signings by Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Bill Rodgers, overall the expo was unique, but lacked energy (even adding some music would have helped.)
The Bix 7 played host to the US road 7 Mile Championships this year, which will, I imagine bring a different feel to the race than in other years. For starters, the elite field was composed, primarily, of American citizens (not exactly the standard practice for the Bix 7.) This brings an interesting dynamic not only to the elite field, but to the race as a whole. At a race with 10,000 runners there will be a lot of serious and semi-serious runners who are not elite. Having most of the professionals be American, and hosting the U.S. championships created an environment where the general participants could relate to the awards ceremony, and interact with the top finishers. It made the race at the front much more interesting to the people who weren’t actually involved in the race at the front. I think this is especially true because of the course.
The start of the race has plenty of warmup area, but, at least in the area I was in, an abundant lack of bathrooms. It is rare that a race actually has enough bathrooms, but I waited in line for about 20-25 minutes. After they bring all athletes to the starting line, there is an air-force flyover, the singing of the national anthem, and presentation of flags, along with a LOT of announcements. The patriotism was great, but when people warmup for a race, they don’t want to stand around for 5 minutes cooling down. I think the race directors could benefit from a bit more brevity. That being said, I have helped put on a race and I know what an emotional and relieving experience it is when it actually goes off, thus I have a bit of understanding for all of the announcements thanking this person and that person.
The course for the Bix 7 is an out and back. LITERALLY an out and back. There is about an extra half-mile when you cross the starting line until you hit the finish line at the end, but other than that, you follow exactly the same route back as you did out. This is another unique and fun feature of the race. I mentioned before the connection between the casual participant and the elite field. I think a big part of that connection is the fact that the casual participant has the best view of the race. They get to see the top guys go by, then they see how far back the guy like me is (I got 20th overall, not my best race.) They get to see the first woman and how that race is playing out. They literally get to watch the race at every level from elite, to emerging-elite, to local-elite, sub elite, etc. It is exciting for the participant/spectators, and it is exciting for the competitors.
The other major feature of the course is that it is one big hill. You start at the base of Brady Street hill which is just over 1/4 mile long and pretty dang steep (I think it probably looks more steep as you are standing at the base of it, staring up, about to start a 7 mile race.) I will say that I would rather have it at the beginning than the end, but it definitely makes for a somewhat technical course, because you have to decide whether to go after the hill that is right at the beginning of the race, or stay conservative. I elected to stay conservative. I am not sure it was the best choice. At the top of the hill is a half-mile of the only flat section of the course and then you hit a long gradual downhill of varying degrees for another mile and a half. The last mile on the way out and the first mile on the back is 3-5 rolling hills, some of them very steep, some gradual, none that are all that long. Then you ascend a mile and a half, and hit the flat. By the time you get back to Brady Street hill at mile 6, you are grateful for the downhill, because you are pretty well spent from all the climbing on the way back. Even still though, the last mile is a screamer. If you are on pr pace with a mile to go, you will most definitely hit it. Think of this race as a 10k, because the hill and some adrenaline will carry you the remaining 3/4 of a mile.
Finally there are 3-4 musicians and/or bands stationed throughout the course. This is always an interesting feature of a race. It can either be exciting or motivating, or aggravating if you are tired and the band is playing a song you don’t like.
I had a somewhat upsetting finish, however, I was in the first handful of people to finish. The only complaint I have about the post finish area is that the racers are guided like cattle quite a distance from the finish line, if I had to guess I would say it is between 1/4 mile and 1/2 mile. The post finish area contains your pretty standard foods, chocolate milk, fruit, peanut butter crackers, water, gatorade, etc. The finish area is a general party, but nothing out of the ordinary, in fact much of it is on black top that is continually heating up as the day goes on, however, it is complete with a massage tent, which is always a nice feature.
Some friends of mine were in the top 10 and I stuck around for the awards ceremony and took some pictures. One unique feature of the awards ceremony was that the top finishers got real trumpets mounted on a plaque, and by real, I mean playable (the top female tested it.) The city of Davenport has strong ties to Jazz music and this is a nice tie in.
One thing to remember at this race, or any other race of this size, is to remember to make arrangements with your family as to where and when you will meet after the race, and be sure to include your phone in your drop bag. Also, keep in mind that there may be added security measures since the Boston bombings.
Overall I give this race a “B.” It is a solid race and could easily get an “A” depending on the preference of the writer, but I try to be as impartial as possible. I think there are some things that could be improved. Mainly the packets, some added energy at the expo, more bathrooms at the starting area, and less time standing at the starting line. Overall, these are small details, the organization is great, and I guarantee this race would be a great experience for any runner looking for something outside of his or her norm.