The 11th Brady Street Challenge kicked off the 37th Quad City Times Bix 7 weekend here in Davenport, Iowa last night. Seven races in all made their way up the 7% – 9% grade which constitutes the opening segment of the Bix 7 Road Race tomorrow morning. It’s a quarter-mile grind with champions earning $500 for the torture. Makes you appreciate the 10%+ grades the cyclists of the Tour de France must climb. But those guys use expensive geared machines. These folks have only their legs and the drive of their arms to propel them.
The Davenport air was all but liquid last evening, not in the sense of rain, but in terms of humidity. As if the brutality of the hill wasn’t enough, the weight of the heated air itself added an even greater challenge.
Best race of the night was the first one, as three-time former women’s master’s
champion Kathy Evanchyk of Davenport inched past 2008 champ Mary Toohill by just .47 seconds in 1:29.69.
University of Northern Iowa grad and former Mississippi Valley Conference 400 meter champion, Ryan Grenko, took home his fourth men’s open title in five years, dipping just under 60 seconds in 59.89. But he was challenged throughout by Moline’s DeMylehal Teague who came in with the fastest qualifying time at 65.70. Grenko had to utilize all his experience to power past the leaner Teague in the final 20 meters.
“I was in the worst shape ever for the race,” admitted Grenko. “Since I finished my running career at UNI and got a job I haven’t been training as much. But my girlfriend (women’s third-placer, Lauren Carruthers) talked me into competing again for the fifth straight year. But this is it. I’ll retire now till I’m a master.”
The Brady Street Challenge is just another of the weekend long events culminating with the 37th Bix 7 race tomorrow morning. Now in its 37th year, the race blossomed in the wake of the 1980 U.S. Olympic boycott. With no Moscow on the horizon, America’s #1 marathon hero, Bill Rodgers, chose to come to the Bix to fill out his summer schedule. With his fame at its peak, the
news of Billy’s appearance sent the entry total from 800 to 1500. Bill’s been back every year since, and welcomed the racers atop Brady Street along with Joan Samuelson, herself a four-time Bix champion and quarter-century plus participant. They’ve both been memorialized in life-sized bronze statues down along the Mississippi River for all they’ve done for the race.
The Brady Street Challenge is only one of the on-going innovations introduced by long-time race director Ed Froelich. First it was the Bix at Six training runs which helped people get ready for the Bix 7 weeks ahead of time with Tuesday evening six-mile training runs after work. Then in 1998, the first year of the Alcoa Jr. Bix kids’ race, 5000 young champions 12 and under showed up.
2001 brought the Brady Street Challenge, followed in 2004 by the “Jackpot” Challenge where a local runner is given a head start along the course appropriate to his/her guesstimated finishing time. If they beat the open champion to the finish, they win the “Jackpot”, this year $3700 which is $100 for each year of the Bix.
All in all, the Bix is a weekend long celebration of health and fitness in a four-city metropolis spanning the Mississippi River that is already in celebration mode. Not only is the town alive with the 40th Anniversary Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival, a civic nod to its 1920 jazz icon, but the legendary Ragbrai Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa will pedal into Davenport to complete its 39th edition, as well, making this weekend the largest participant sporting weekend in Iowa history.
The Bix7 is also featured every year live on KWQC-TV 6, the local NBC affiliate. I join Iowa Hall of Fame sports anchor Tom “TC” Cornelis on the call. The race gets under way at 7 a.m. central time tomorrow morning.
Silas Kipruto, winner at last weekend’s Wharf to Wharf 6 Miler in Cupertino, California is the men’s favorite, while Ethiopia’s Misiker Mekonnin, along with Kenya’s Caroline Rotich and Catherine Ndereba headline the women’s field. A full report after all is said and done.