This was a great little marathon in the middle of America - Columbia, Missouri. It was my 17th marathon overall and my 14th state.
Back in May, Joe was penciling in his race schedule for the year, which has grown considerably from his first scribbles in May. He was thinking of running the Heart of America (HOA) on Labor Day. Since we'd been getting together for marathons the last 3 years I was game for another and Missouri would be a nice addition to the state collection. For my MO marathon, I had considered The Spirit of St. Louis, Lewis & Clark or the Berryman Trail Marathon. But a lot about HOA sounded intriguing. The size of the field, the challenge of the hills and the 50th running were high points
I flew into St. Louis on Saturday evening. Joe swung by, picked me up and off we went to Columbia. Columbia is a small town in the middle of MO dominated by the University of Missouri. The race expo was about 4 tables including packet pick up, a course map and elevation, the local running store selling some stuff, and close outs on previous years t-shirts. A highlight was Hal Higdon was there. He was signing any book and copies of his new novel "Marathon". It was an advance copy. They were individually numbered as he signed them. I got #73.
After that we drove the course on Joe's suggestion. I hadn't driven a course since I drove the Seafair marathon. At that particular race I was attempting to break 4 hours. Driving the Seafair course and seeing all the hills there freaked me out. In this case driving the course was a great idea. This course advertised the hills a lot, so it was good to see just how bad the hills really were. After seeing them I wasn't concerned, especially since I wasn't in 4:00 shape anyway.
We also took part in the Pasta Feed. It included a great presentation of past winners of the race. Each of them gave some perspective and thoughts on their experience. Probably the coolest was Joe Shroeder, the winner of the very first HOA in 1960. Hal Higdon gave a speech as well. He won the HOA in 1968, ran the 25th running and ran it again in 2001. The MC was Bill Cook, the founder of the Columbia Track Club and the race. The CTC obviously puts their heart and soul into this race and into the running community in Columbia. It's a great small town flavor that you don't get at many big city marathons. Of the 9 of us at our table, 5 of us were Marathon Manics, #440 (me), 1228 (Joe), 622 Bruce, 1472 (Bil), and 1473 (Cristy). That was pretty cool. We had no idea until we got to talking. The others were a race photographer, 2 spouses and a guy, Roy, who'd lost 70 lbs running (and could probably qualify as a Maniac). I think he has run 5 or 6 marathons this year.
Race morning came early. Joe was up at 4:00. I slept in to 5:00 with plenty of time to eat my ritual oatmeal and get dressed. The race start was about a quarter mile up the road from the hotel at the corner of Monk Drive and Stadium Blvd. Start time was 6:00. The race packet had included battery operated red flashing lights that clipped onto your hat or shorts. It kind of neat to see the red lights bobbing down the road ahead of us.
Joe and I had discussed race day strategy several times leading up to the race. Joe was planning a fairly conservative 2:1 run:walk ratio with plans on "finishing uprightl in anything under 5:00." Last year at St. Jude we ran over 25 miles of the race in lock step together. This year I felt like my training and recovery from injury was setting me up for a decent return to marathon and I was itching to see how well I could do, especially with the hills. I enjoy running hills. We settled on a plan where we'd run together for the first mile and then it was every man for himself. It was a race after all. After leaving Joe, I settled into my 5:1 schedule that had served me so well in the training, while Joe settled into his 2:1.
Based on my long runs I was hoping optimistically for a 4:20 finish. I wasn't sure what effect the hills were going to have on that. One huge bonus for the day was the weather. The temperature was in the mid 60's with fog to start and heavy cloud cover remaining throughout the race. HOA's reputation is hot, humid and hilly. The hills weren't going away, the humidity was there but in check and thankfully heat wasn't an issue this year.
With the hills I knew that keeping splits at every mile would be difficult to gauge progress. The HOA has a tradition of providing splits every 3 miles. Volunteers are stationed and read off the time as you pass and write down your number and corresponding time. This race is "old school" when it comes to timing. No chip time here.
Joe and I ran the first mile in 10:24 - a very nice warm up pace.
By Mile 3 I was at 29:40, nicely under my target of 10:00 per mile.
At Mile 6 my watch read 59:05, nearly a minute ahead of schedule but far to early to get excited yet.
The next split at Mile 9 had me at 1:28:45 - still pretty much on target.
Mile 12 split was 1:58:17, getting close to 2 minutes ahead.
Between Mile 12 and 15, two things happened. The first was a bio break. The second was Easley Hill. Easley Hill had looked treacherous in the car, but running it was much better than anticipated. My run:walk schedule had me running the entire thing.
Mile 15 split was 2:33:53, now nearly 4 minutes behind pace with most of that lost in the bathroom at the bottom of Easley Hill.
By Mile 18 I had closed the gap slightly at 3:02:48. Soon after this I began catching up to the folks I had been running with at the bottom of Easley Hill. One by one I overtook then and kept passing people right up to the end of the race. Around Mile 20, my right knee began to lock up. My ITBS was coming to haunt me, but it didn't stop me.
By Mile 21, and with the majority of the big hills behind me, I was at 3:31:27, inching closer to my goal time. Some how I completely missed the Mile 24 split.
I crossed the finish line in 4:23:05. Overall pace was 10:02. Nearly perfectly meeting my expectations. I was quite content with that. I jumped into the ice bath provided at the finish line and soaked for a few minutes and then took a spot on the curb to wait for Joe. Joe ended up coming in right on schedule and still upright. It was a great race for both of us.
While I was running I kept seeing Joe Shroeder (the first HOA winner) and his wife in a Suburban. I'd run up to them and they'd move ahead. At the finish line I finally figured out what was going on. Four finishers behind me was Kevin Shroeder, Joe's son. We had run the whole race within a few yards of each other. He had a cool shirt that said, "My Dad won the first Heart of America Marathon" and his kids had "My Granddad won the first Heart of America Marathon" t-shirts too.
We'd met a young guy, maybe in his 20's, at the start. This was his first marathon. He had a pretty big contingent of family and friends out routing him on. I came upon him around Mile 22 and let him know he was looking good and was going to finish. I got to see him finish a little bit after me. It was obviously an emotional experience for him. It was neat to witness and we got to chat for a few minutes afterward.
The majority of the route is on rural two lane roads. The roads aren't closed to traffic, but the few drivers that were out were mostly courteous. Running with such a small crowd you end up striking up conversations with many different folks as you tick off the miles. The crowd was pretty different from most races. It was mainly locals and a lot of hard core marathoners, like 50-Staters and Maniacs. I met several other Maniacs at the race start and along the route including, Brent #1555 and Tom #38. I leap frogged with Barefoot Rick Roeber a couple of times. There were no costumed runners, no pretty boys and no "Teams" (not that Teams are bad). It was just a bunch of folks that love to run. There were no bands, no screaming spectators. There weren't a lot of frills but it was a solid race, done well by the CTC. They'd had 50 tries to get it right and I think they've done it. The race would lose some of its appeal if it grew too large. This year with the 50th festivities the race saw the biggest number of finishers ever at 277. We'll see what next year brings.
The Heart of America Marathon is aptly named for more than one reason.