tom lowe photo
fine art • fine art portraits
tom lowe photo
fine art • fine art portraits
The Bix is a world famous 7-mile race that incorporates some intense hills and brings out some of the world’s top athletes to compete. This year the Kenyan’s were not invited to run but there were some elite runners none-the-less. As my nerves continued to be unsettled, Brian kept whooping, “Here we go Tom!” I had to ask myself if he felt my apprehension, using encouragement to wake me out of it, but realized it was just his infectious kid like enthusiasm. Smiling and saying, “Yeah, baby!” I tried to look calm.
Each participant of the race is issued a color-coded number. Orange for those who run fast, yellow for those who run kind of fast and blue for those who run walk and motor through the course slowly. When I signed up for the race I put in the time I thought I’d run it in (approx 11 minute miles) and so when I received my number it had a blue tag on it. Beth saw this at the registration and convinced me that I wanted to run with the yellows – where everyone I wanted to run with was running. A quick trip to the official’s table and I was allowed to stand with Brian, Beth, Erin and Collin.
We lined up with all of our comrades (yellow tagged runners) and waited for the local TV celebrity to sing the Star Spangled Banner and shortly after that we were moving up Brady Street with the crowd. I’ve only run a few races and this was definitely the largest I’ve ever been involved. The mass of 18+ thousand people moving in unison toward a singular goal is an impressive site. Being back in the crowd we got a great view of Brady Street as the throng of humanity rose toward the crest of the hill.
Before the start of the race, I’d gotten a few odd looks from people – mostly looking at my black toes in their Vibram slippers but one or two would also scan up to see my silver hair and I could see the thought run across their faces, “He’s old enough to be smarter than that…” But here I was, running barefoot in the race I’d been training for. Brian stayed just behind me and off my right shoulder as we moved up the hill. I thought, okay, this is his strategy, run right behind the whole way and push at the last minute. It’s a classic move and works. What do I do? I asked myself. “Just relax,” the voice in my head bounced back. “It’s early, you can take him on the hills later in the race.”
As we moved past the starting line and up Brady Hill (about ½ mile steep incline) a guy behind me said, “Are those, those barefoot things I’ve seen on the Internet?” I replied, “Yes,” and he made a grunting sound as he passed me in his Nikes. I looked around and didn’t see Brian, Erin, Beth or Collin. I didn’t think I was running that fast but maybe I’d already pulled ahead? No way!
I’ve run mile after mile with my headphones blazing in my ears. Today though I’d left them behind so I could hear the crowd and listen to the various bands and other entertainment along the route. It’s one of the biggest events of the year in the Quad Cities and the people role out their welcome mattes. I wanted to soak it all in as we pounded the pavement. At the crest of Brady Hill a Gospel Choral group met us with a rendition of Heard it Through the Grapevine. Just past them was a local radio station. They’d rented a cherry picker crane and had two DJ’s in it waving at the crowd as we ran underneath. Past them was what I thought was a Wedding Singer or something similar. All of these people were cheering us on with waves of encouragement as we passed.
Brian appeared from nowhere and we ran side-by-side past our ‘fans.’ Mom, Dad and the rest of the family stood on the corner with cowbells blasting and loud cheers of encouragement. We waved as we passed them and I realized from here the race was just beginning – six or so miles and it’d be all over. My feet felt good, no aches and a clear head.
At this point in the race the road is divided by a boulevard and moves down a gradual hill to the 3-mile marker where it turns to a very short but intense hill then drops dramatically to the turn-around at 3.5 miles. The elite runners were coming up the other side of the boulevard as we went down. We ran past the various and diverse bands, loud boomboxes or cheers from the many beer induced parties lining the course while Brian and I increased our pace. I had a slight pain developing in my right foot. Nothing to worry about I told myself but maybe some grass running would be a good idea. I hopped up on the boulevard and ran a couple of blocks on the soft earth. It really helped!
At mile 2.5 the water station was a welcome sight. I grabbed a cup and tried to drink as I ran. Not an easy task I came to discover as water splashed down the front of my shirt and on my feet. I dislike running with wet feet but the station was awash in water and kind of unavoidable. Big puddles, people throwing half drunk glasses and people like me learning how to drink on the run. I left the station with less than dry feet – damn! I hate that…
By now, Brian and I had left Beth, Erin and Collin behind us. We were approaching the little big hill. A guy on his porch with ridiculously large speakers singing a version of Black Magic Woman cheering us on as we made our way to the incline. At the corner there was a punk band of three guys blaring something I couldn’t recognize and spectators cheering all the way. I’d driven the course with Beth the night before and thought if I could turn it on here I might have a chance to beat Brian. The hill is foreboding but no bigger than the one I run at least three times a week at home. For some reason, in my head I could hear Luke Skywalker as he was attacking the Death Star, “Just like shooting Wamp Rats back home” (am I that big of a nerd?). This hill was nothing… Up we ran, and Brian was right behind me off my right shoulder all the way.
After cresting the hill we ran down a pretty dramatic slope to the turnaround. As we approached, two guys wearing diapers and nothing else but their shoes passed us. This race also hosts a pretty impressive costume contest. At the turnaround there was another water station and this time a slowed to a walk so I could get some water inside my body instead of all down the front of me. Again, I tried to avoid the big puddles but it was kind of a hopeless charge. Slightly soggy feet would have to carry me the rest of the way.
Brian and I crossed the electronic sensor together and started the long slog up the hill to the top of Brady Street. We increased our pace slightly again to keep up with the diaper boys. As we did a woman or man (still not sure) passed us wearing a cheer leading outfit with silver tinsel in her/his hair. I pointed and said to Brian, “Look at that.” He replied, “Doing better than we are…” There it was! If I could keep pace with that person, I could win this race – at least it made sense on that hill.
As we rose to mile five the fans brought ice cubes in plastic bags to all the racers. It was wonderful. I grabbed a bag and gave a few pieces to Brian. Who knew such a simple thing could make your mouth and body dance! As we passed a group of Bongo players the ice cooled our tongues and we pushed each other harder.
Brian had started timing us the moment we passed the starting line. At each mile marker he’d call out the time and follow it with, “That’s pretty good, Tom.” I was surprised by our pace but thought I could go even harder and as we approached the little big hill’s back side I pushed over the top. On the downhill side Brian called out from several people behind, “9 minute mile…”
From here the course is a gradual uphill affair. I alternated from running on the grassy boulevard to the pavement. My right foot wasn’t in love with the asphalt that morning but it wasn’t slowing me down. The grass provided a brief relief. As we passed mile 6 the diaper boys were still just ahead of us. I caught glimpses of the tinsel haired person but he/she was about a half block ahead. I was pushing hard now I knew if I was going to cross the finish line in front of Brian this is where it’d happen. As I approached the corner where my family was cheering us on, my brother was looking down the street for Brian and me. I was running directly at my brother but he didn’t see me so I began the yell, “Steve! Steve!” He still didn’t see me. I was basically on top of him when he finally recognized me. As I passed the family I nearly ran over a female participant. It was kind of funny but looking back on it maybe I should’ve just focused on the road and not the fans.
I had convinced myself that my pace up the hill had left Brian behind. I rounded the corner and headed toward Brady hill knowing I’d done it! As I approached the hill I began scanning the crowd and about three or four people ahead of me I saw Brian. How’d he get there?? We were on the downhill side and he was moving slowly. I thought, “This is funny. I could lay back and wait ‘til we’re almost at the finish line and then sprint past him.” In the months since I started this adventure, I’ve read a lot of athlete’s advice about running downhill and all of them suggest that you let it go. It’s where you can gain a lot of ground on an opponent. I weighed the options. Diaper boys were on his right and tinsel hair was nowhere in sight. Damn the torpedos – just do it! So, with a little energy left in my tank, I let it go and blew past him. As I went by he said, “Go for it Tom!”
At the bottom of the hill I could see the tinsel hair bouncing in front of me. He/she was about 50 yards ahead with an 1/8th of a mile remaining. If I was going to catch that person I’d have to turn on the afterburners. I put it in high gear and sprinted toward the finish line as hard as I could go. With about ten feet left to the race I passed the tinsel and crossed the finish line. As I turned around there was Brian. I’d been so focused on the tinsel that I hadn’t seen him in my peripheral vision but he said we’d crossed together. I thought, cool. We proceeded to the after party that is basically a place for sponsors to give away free samples – Whitey’s popsicles were the best I’d ever tasted! – and waited for Beth, Erin and Collin. Brian said we’d run the race in 1 hour 9 minutes – about 9 minute miles. We’d pushed each other and it was definitely the best time I’d ever turned in.
We lost Collin for a while but found him and then it was off to Beth’s house for another after party. The digital results would be posted in a few hours.
About 3pm after a few sandwiches and a beer of two the results were posted.
Brian had won by 1 second.
I was shocked but congratulated him on a great race. I was so convinced I’d crossed the line before him. Funny how little things like running on the grass, wet feet and struggling with water intake creep into my head. What would I do next year to assure this doesn’t happen. I had a blast running this race and wouldn’t trade the experience. Family events are always great fun. Brian is a good motivator and supporter and I appreciate the push he gave me during the race. He’s graciously said to many of our family that we crossed the finish line together but I know the competitor in him likes that 1-second edge just as much as I dislike it. Next year, I’ll run a much different race.