Running the Bix is an Iowa Tradition

Q. What do jazz lovers and world-class runners have in common?

A. They all love the Bix.

Davenport, Iowa native Bix Beiderbecke was born in 1903 to a coal merchant and a riverboat captain’s daughter. Bix was obsessed with music from early childhood, and his tastes were shaped by riverboat performers from New Orleans. Beiderbecke’s smooth jazz sound became famous in the 1920s, but he died in 1931 at age 28. His memory lived on in the hearts of jazz lovers, and in 1972 the first Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival took place in Davenport.

The early ‘70s saw the explosion of running as a popular pastime. In 1975, a group of Davenport runners wanted to share their exciting new sport with their hometown. They started a seven-mile road race through downtown Davenport and, coordinating with the jazz festival, named it the Bix 7 Road Race. The first race was almost shut down by a police chief who didn’t want to close the streets, until the organizers promised he could fire a 12-gauge shotgun at the starting line. The force of the blast jolted the runners off the starting line.

Eighty-four people ran the first race, and the field grew bigger every year. The tipping point came in 1980, when the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics. Unable to go to Moscow, top distance runner Bill Rodgers chose to run the Bix instead. Other world-class runners followed. Marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit joined the field in 1983, adding to the prestige of the nation’s only seven-mile road race. Benoit has run the race 30 times, including 1987, when she was six months pregnant.

Iowa native Gary Fischer has run every Bix 7 Road Race, one of only four runners to do so. His daughter Becky shared a few memories with me.

“I remember my dad coming home after the first one and being wiped out. He had been a Big-10 Champion runner for Iowa in college, but hadn’t run a lot since. He had a friend who told him about the Bix, so he decided to run it (7 miles!) without much training. The first race started late in the morning, so it was HOT. They didn’t have water stands. He came home, and he was wiped out. He decided to train the next year. That first year, runners didn’t even get t-shirts, so it really was just people who wanted to go out and run. Dad definitely decided to train the next year. His best time over the years was 42:08. 

The Fisc her family at the 2014 Bix

“The Bix has been a family affair. My immediate family has all run or walked it, joined by husbands and kids, an uncle and cousins, too. As we run the course together, my dad will retell little stories about spots we pass and different people who ran the race over the years.  He likes to tell about the time his friend Will took a picture of my dad early in the race, and the first woman finisher was behind him. After the turnaround, Will took another picture and the woman was in front of my dad. Will asked, “What happened here???” It’s really a fun run down memory lane.

“One of my favorite things about the Bix is that it’s an out-and-back course.  As we slowly run toward mile 2, the world-class leaders are returning on the opposite side of the boulevard.  It’s really exciting to see them flying up the hill. Another favorite thing is the spectators.  People stand out in the heat and rain to cheer on sweaty runners.  They are truly wonderful!  Some homeowners along the route set up hoses to spray people off, or hand out bags of ice.  Very generous! Finally, Whitey’s popsicles are the perfect treat after running 7 miles. My favorite flavor is root beer. My dad likes the cherry.

The 2017 Bix will take place on July 29th. The Fischer family will be there, along with 15,000+ other runners. Will you?2014 Bix 7 Road Race participant medal

Photo of Bix Beiderbecke taken by unknown photographer, courtesy of Wikipedia. Photos of 2014 Bix 7 Road Race courtesy of the Fischer family.

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