Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bix 7 Race Report

As long as I have been involved in the running community of Quincy, I have heard "you have to run the Bix!" from my fellow runners.  This year, we made it happen.

My wife and I drove to Davenport, Iowa on Friday afternoon.  Our first stop was the race expo to pick up our bibs, chips, shirts, and race-day manuals.  Our "goodie bag" was a virtual one; we received an email with links to discounts at local businesses among other things, the usual.  Walking around the expo, we saw a line of people waiting to get autographs from Joan Benoit Samuelson, Meb Keflezighi, and Bill Rodgers.  I knew (basically) who they were, but I do not get too excited about getting autographs or meeting celebrities.  So, I snapped a photo and moved on.  We did not need anything and we were hungry, so we did not linger at the expo, although it rivaled the marathon expos I have been to.  We found our way to the Clarion, checked in, and had dinner on site.  (Side note: the hotel was okay but, I cannot recommend eating in the bar--horrible service.)

As is usually the case the night before a race, I slept poorly and was up early.  I made my cup of caffeinated coffee and forced down some Pop Tarts--the hotel's breakfast buffet did not start until 7:00, about the time we would be leaving.  I just piddled around the room until it was time to leave.  I thought we would have loads of time, but there was a lot of traffic heading downtown and we had to rush a bit to make it through the porta-potty lines and get to the start early, according to our instructions.  Of course, we still had to wait a while...with over 15,000 of our closest friends.  After a very tasteful singing of the Star Spangled Banner and a flyover of four T-6 Texans, the starting gun fired and we were off!  At a very slow shuffle to the starting line about a block away. 

As I neared the actual start line, I was able to begin jogging, starting up Brady Street Hill--7-9% grade for about one third mile.  This did not thin out the crowd as much as I would have expected.  I was ready to run, but had to weave around slower runners, frequently jumping onto the sidewalk for short stretches at the rare spots where there were no spectators, dodging the occasional walkers.  This set the stage for the whole course.  

Hilly:  According to my Garmin (for what it is worth), the elevation gain for The Bix 7 was 376 feet.  For comparison, my Garmin measured the Hannibal Cannibal 5k at 333 feet, the Raider Classic 5k at 155 feet, the Hannibal Cannibal 15k at 676 feet (which should be just a little higher than the 10k), and the Raider Classic 10k at 321 feet.  Regardless, it was a hilly course.  After the first big climb, the course flattened and then, we descended for a while.  There were a few bumps on our way to the turn-around at the halfway point.  Then, we got to climb back up again, with short respites after each of the few rollers.  Of course, we got to descend the big hill where we started; I flew down this hill, passing loads of people.  At the bottom, we turned toward the finish for our final three-block sprint.

Crowded:  As I said, there were about 15,000 racers at the start.  Some only ran the two-mile event and they turned off before the top of Brady Street Hill.  10,790 of us continued on.  I did not really notice their exit.  We continued to fill the entire street--four lanes, perhaps?  At our first turn, there was a little bottle neck as we entered a divided boulevard with a grassy median.  We were able to take up both lanes of traffic initially, but then, we had to make room for the elites on their return and move out of their way.  (It was cool to see Meb and his peers doing what they do best.)  There really never was a point in the race that was not crowded.  I was weaving in and out of traffic most of the race.  I spent a lot of time on the grassy median too.  I am certainly not complaining.  It reminded me of running trails, where you have to watch where you put your foot on nearly every step.  As a result, your mind is occupied and time passes quickly.  I looked for my friends, my wife, and fellow Quincy-area runners throughout the course.  But, I only saw one person, a former trainee, I knew on the course until another Quincian tapped me on the shoulder about a half mile from the finish.

Spectators:  There were spectators throughout the entire route on both sides of the road.  It was the most festive event I have ever run, I think--more rock and roll than the Rock N' Roll San Antonio half marathon I ran.  People everywhere, a lot with signs.  Bands every quarter to half mile, there was rarely a moment when a band could not be heard either in front or behind.  Davenport really supports the event.

Fun:  In addition to the spectators with their signs and the music, there was plenty of other entertainment.  I saw lots of costumed runners: many super heroes, a group of Marilyn Monroes and a group of Elvises.  There was also a slip and slide set up on the median at one point.  I thought about it, but...  I realized early that I was not going to achieve my time goal.  So, I just continued at a comfortably hard pace and enjoyed the moment.  Toward the end of the race, there was a guy singing Baby I'm a Star by Prince, a song I have always enjoyed.  Initially, it sounded okay, but then he started screaming and sounded just like Prince; totally nailed it!  I was impressed and loved it!  I wanted to go back and listen, but I had a race to finish.  Overall, I would certainly consider going back just for the fun of it.

I felt pretty good most of the race.  Around the five-mile mark, I started to tire a little.  That was during the climb back up to the top of Brady Street Hill.  But, I soldiered on, enjoying the experience.  Despite the challenges, I still managed to finish in the top 20% overall and for master's men.  So, not a bad performance.  I was pleased.  But, for me, The Bix was all about having a good time, at least after I got started.  By the way, they also had nice tech shirts and finisher medals.  I generally am not a fan of finisher medals for shorter races, but I see this medal as a memento for a special event--something to remember the experience.

So, to my fellow runners: YOU HAVE TO RUN THE BIX!!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

2014 Raider Classic & Hannibal Cannibal 5k Race Reports

Having already run a marathon and a half marathon in 2014, I have changed my training focus to running 5k races.  I am enjoying running short and fast!  Also, as my wife and I plan our move to Scotland next year (to be near her family), I am running--no pun intended--out of opportunities to participate in local events.  So, if we are able to stick to our plan, this year may be my last chance to run two of my favorite local races, at least for the foreseeable future.

The 13th Annual Raider Classic was run on June 28 in Quincy.  It was a relatively cool morning for late June, overcast and a little breezy.  For a summer morning in Illinois, no one could complain.  The cannon sent us off promptly (as always) at 7AM.  According to my plan, I took off fast to take advantage of the mostly downhill first mile.  With 250 participants and two turns in the first quarter mile or so, it was a bit crowded initially, but the field soon thinned out.  Just after the first mile marker, the course made a u-turn and it was time to ascend for a while.  Another quarter mile took us to the 5k/10k route split, sending the 5k runners off the street.  We ran along the creek and under the stone bridge, then up a short, but steep dirt path to the South Park duck ponds.  The section from the u-turn to the main part of South Park is mostly uphill; I planned to give a little time back there.  That was easy to do.  From the duck ponds, we climbed some stairs (or took the faster, dirt path right next to the stairs) up to South Park proper and back onto pavement.  Here is where I started to increase my speed again, taking the loop around the park that is mostly downhill or flat for about a half mile.  In this case, however, what goes down must again come up.  So, we climbed the steep hill, taking us toward the park exit.  Then, down again and out of the park, crossing the street to another dirt path and some grass taking us back to the streets, where we turned back toward the start/finish line and sprinted the last block or so.

I ran the race at my limit, finishing first in my age group and 18th out of 167 5k runners, five seconds short of my course PR.  I was pleased with my performance.  As I have come to expect from Andy Edgar's Raider Classic, it is possibly the best-organized race in the area.  Specifically: the course was clean and well-marked; there were ample volunteers; the race started precisely on schedule; results and awards were prompt.  Also: the award tiles are unique; a very nice, technical t-shirt; and, they have door prizes!

The 19th Annual Hannibal Cannibal was held on July 5, 2014.  It was also a nice day for the time of year--cooler than usual, overcast with a light wind; certainly not the norm for the Cannibal.  As usual, there was a big crowd: nearly 1100 runners and walkers across the three events, 5k, 10k, and 15k.  The size of the crowd always adds to the race day excitement and indicates that the planning committee knows how to organize an event like this.  I took off fast again on the opening, flat quarter mile or so, banking a little time before the hills.  We turned onto 79 and started our first hill over the bridge still somewhat crowded, but the hill started to slow down a few people and thus, spread us out.  After a flat-ish section past the bridge, I bombed down a short decline before starting the first big climb--there are really only two on the 5k course.  I settled into my pace, slowing down a bit.  The crowd certainly thinned out as we climbed for perhaps a half mile.  The 5k runners turned around near the top of the hill as the runners going longer continued on.  Then, we were able to enjoy descending for a while before we started the second major climb of the 5k course--Lover's Leap.  I think it is about two tenths of a mile up, averaging 14% grade, peaking at around 20% at one point.  The majority of participants walk up Lover's Leap; I always refuse to.  I just shortened my stride and leaned into it, slowly passing people as I climbed.  I am sure my heart rate was maxed out at the top, but I kept going, making a u-turn at the top and trying hard to keep my feet under me as I headed back down the relative mountain.  After Lover's Leap, the route is nearly all down hill, so when I returned to 79, I just relaxed and leaned forward, flying downhill.  I made up a lot of time descending, but not as much as I lost going uphill.

Again, I was racing at my limit.  I finished eight seconds off my course PR and apparently earned second in the master's men division.  I was 39th out of over 800 racers.  It was another satisfying performance and an enjoyable Cannibal.

Over the years, I have been involved in many discussions comparing these two events.  Here are my conclusions:

1.  Both races are tough.  When you cross the line at either event, regardless of the distance raced, you cannot help put feel an enormous sense of accomplishment.  All finishers have risen to and conquered a significant challenge.  The question often discussed is: which is tougher?  I have run all distances at each event at least once.  I believe the Cannibal 5k is tougher because of the two hills.  My Garmin told me the elevation change is three times greater on the Hannibal course.  Conversely, I think the 10k course in Quincy is tougher.  It has more total elevation change (I could not find my Garmin data to quantify it) and you are always running up and down and turning.  You cannot get into a rhythm like you can on the steady climbs in the Cannibal.  The off-road sections in Quincy also add to the challenge.

2.  Both races have been around over a decade and overall, have their processes honed.  As a participant, both events seem to run quite smoothly for the most part.  I do have one complaint regarding the Cannibal though.  Last year, I ran the 15k and received a medal for third place in my age group.  I later realized that I had actually earned fourth place--no medal for me.  This year, I received a medal for third in my age group, when the official results show me at second place in the master's division.  (I am awaiting confirmation from the race director and/or the timing company.)  The awards were relatively prompt, considering the size of the event, but accuracy should be the highest priority.

3.  Both events have their unique character.  The Cannibal is big, at least for a small town race.  It has the mythic climb of Lover's Leap and the local novelty of a 15k event.  While the Raider Classic is nearly perfect in its execution and has a cross country feel to it.

Personally, I like them both for several reasons, but mostly for the significant challenge of each of them.  If I never run them again, I will cherish the memories I have from them both.

ADDENDUM:  After emails to the timing company and the race director, I received this in the mail.