I had big plans for this year's Bix 7. I was going to smash my PR of 1:06:58 and run it in 1:03. I was pretty sure I could do it - I recently ran a 10 miler at 9:02 pace. Subtract three miles and add in crowds and hills, and it seemed challenging, but possible.
But plans change. What was going to be a tough race turned into a weekend of running with my guys.
Friday night was the Junior Bix. Jack was incredibly pumped for his race. I got him dressed in his Quad Cities Micro Marathon t-shirt, since Jack is certainly not going to run wearing the race t-shirt, a fact that the vast majority of the other kids were clearly unaware of. Amateurs! On the walk from the car to the starting line, Jack asked me at least three times if I would run the race with him. Every time, I answered, "Yes, if you want me to. Or if you want to run by yourself, that's fine too."
Jack insisted that we would run together - and we did, holding hands the whole way. Running with Jack is good for my spirit. All I need to do is see the joy on his face as he races to the finish line and the pride he feels upon finishing and I am reminded of my own love for the sport.
As for Steve, he was more nervous about the big race on Saturday. Last year, he ran the race despite not training well, and he suffered for it. Steve announced months ago that his goal was to run the Bix without feeling like he was going to die afterwards - and enlisted me as his coach. I put him through a series of long runs of gradually increasing distances, intermixed with the Gentleman's Three (a relaxed three-miler) and 5K's for fun. We also ran the Bix at Six training run a few weeks prior to the race, so I knew he could do it.
Steve was less confident and asked me if I would run the race with him. That was not my plan, and as visions of my 1:03 finish faded away, I said, "Um, do you want me to?" He nodded and said, "I'm asking you to." It was clear that he needed me, for moral support at least, so I agreed to run the Bix not as a racer, but instead as a coach.
Race morning! Steve woke up feeling more excited than nervous. He declared that his goal was to run the race at 12:00 pace - a more ambitious goal than "finish and not want to die," but one I was sure he could achieve. I made sure he had a good breakfast, both water and coffee,and a couple of Advil. Then we engaged in my favorite pre-race ritual of people watching - cute couples ready to run together, gaunt high school cross country boys, a shirtless guy in denim shorts, and spectators smoking cigarettes and squinting at us uncomprehendingly. The Bix is held at the end of July every year, and really, the end of July in the Midwest is a typically horrible time for running. But the weather was unseasonably cool, in the 70s, with delightful breezes. It was a great day to run, and I wondered if course records would be set.
The gun went off, and about ten minutes later, we crossed the starting line and began our assent of the Brady Street hill. The hill is about 1/4 mile long, with a challenging grade. We spent a lot of time weaving around people who apparently decided to walk it while standing shoulder to shoulder with five of their closest friends. We finished the first mile in just over 12:00, which is excellent given both the hill and the crowds.
Steve was relaxed and comfortable in the second mile. We saw Meb Keflezighi looking fantastic with a huge lead (he went on to win with a blazing time of 32:25). I later found out that Magdalena Lewy Boulet was also racing. It felt great to be running the very same race as such elite athletes! Equally cool, we ran mile two behind a phalanx of firefighters that included two who had been injured in the line of duty and were racing in wheelchairs. At the two mile mark, I heard another runner remark, "That was only two miles? You've got to be kidding me!" Steve still looked great.
People talk about the Brady Street hill when they talk about the Bix, probably because it's big and at the very start of the race. But to me, the hardest part of the course comes in the third and fourth miles, where there are steep rolling hills. Steve was a little quieter, but was still running strong.
At around mile five, Steve asked me to run a little slower. I was proud of him for opting to do that, rather than walking. I babbled away, hoping to distract him by making up a plot for "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" in which the gang runs a 5K. Steve told me later that it was obvious that I was trying to distract him, but that he appreciated it nevertheless. When I told him we had just a mile and a half to go, he was thrilled, not having realized we'd crossed the five mile mark.
Soon, we turned to run back down the big hill. I advised Steve to relax and let the hill do some of the work for him. Some of the runners around us were clearly suffering, but Steve was hanging in there pretty well. I reminded him that we were almost finished, just a mile, less than a mile to go. "You've got this," I told him.
At the bottom of the hill, the finish line was in sight. Steve picked up his pace, knowing that the race was almost over. We crossed the finish line holding hands with a time of 1:19:48.
Steve's 2008 time was 1:33:51. Not only did he finish the race feeling strong, not only did he beat his 12:00 pace goal, but he shaved two minutes per mile off his previous pace! I could not be more proud of him.
My weekend may not have included the PR I was planning, but instead, I got to enjoy running with the two people I love most.