Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Learning Some Running History

Over the weekend, Darcy and I went to Des Moines for the IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway. Having never been to Des Moines, I was really impressed with the city and we did a few fun things.

Before I go any further, let me give high recommendations to Zombie Burger and Fong's Pizza. Two crazy-good restaurants that I guarantee you will not disappoint.

On the way home we swung through Davenport, Iowa, where I was born and lived for several years, and where one side of my family still calls home. I'm a little partial to the Quad Cities since I was born there -- obviously -- but also because my family has a rich history there dating back to the mid-to-late 1800s. In 1949 my uncle, Ken Buckles, was an all-state basketball player and starter on the first Davenport team to win an Iowa state basketball championship, and he later won one as an assistant coach with Davenport West, which is pretty cool.

Outside of the Quad Cities, one of the things the area is known for is the Bix 7 road race. I ran the Bix 10 years ago and chronicled my day in a post back in January. This weekend the race celebrates its 40th anniversary, as the first Bix was run in 1975 as 84 runners toed the starting line. This weekend, more than 20,000 runners and walkers will be participating.

The Bix is a super-tough, 7-mile race that starts and ends in downtown Davenport. In between are several hills, including a trip up (and back down) Brady Street, where the elevation changes close to 100 feet in the first mile!

The cool thing about the race is that it is a huge community event that draws runners -- including elite runners -- from all over the world, and piques the interest of even non-runners as the race is shown live on TV and gets extensive media coverage.

So while I know a lot about the Bix 7, until Sunday I didn't really know about the Bix 7. I knew about its history, but I now know that I didn't totally get it.

That changed after I went to visit the Bix Plaza, which sits and the corner of East 4th Street and River Drive, in front of the Quad City Times building. The race "came to life" so to speak, when I stopped and looked at the statue of Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson, two people who in the 1970s and 80s took on -- and more often than not, beat -- the best runners in the world. Rodgers winning the race in 1980 gave the event some legitimacy and brought even more runners to the event, while Samuelson won three times in four years (1983, 1985-86) while becoming one of the people who raised the profile of women in the sport.

The two of them still come back and run the race. Last year, Rodgers finished in 56:15 while Benoit, still a beast on the roads at age 58, ran 43:41. They are both so inspiring!

Behind the statues are brick pavers that lead to the QC Times parking lot. Many of the pavers are there to honor people who have run the race several times, or some who were running veterans but have since passed away. Along each side of the memorial bricks were bricks that commemorated the race winners, the year they won and their winning times.

The pavers are an interesting mix of Olympic medalists, local runners and people in between. The amazing thing is that to my knowledge the course has never changed, and while today's runners are smashing course records all over the world, the men's and women's course records have stood since 1998 and 2004, respectively. Just goes to show how tough it is to run the race, and how tough it is to win it.

Here are photos of the pavers dedicated to Rodgers, Samuelson and Meb Keflezighi, who has won the race twice. I had driven by the statues so many times, but Sunday was the first time I had stopped, and I'm glad I did. While we focus on the great marathons in this country -- as well as all over the world -- there are local races that started small and turned into big deals, like the Bix, the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta, the Falmouth race in Massachusetts, or Bay to Breakers in San Francisco.

There is probably a race where you live that has been around for a while, one that has a rich history and tells a story about our sport. Take like time to find out a little more about one of those races, and maybe even run it once to see what it's all about. Like me, I guarantee you won't regret it.

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