Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Race Report: Heart of America Marathon

ORN:  26.2 miles, 4:54:29, R2/W1, 11:15/mile
Quick Summary: 
What a fascinating, fun, tough, amazing, surprising marathon!  A true small-town gem with a brutally hilly course in the middle of the American heartland.  I was thrilled with the race, felt good throughout and logged the 4th annual marathon with Darrell.
The Gory Details
This race was so fascinating, at many levels, I struggled at how to capture it.  I'll do it differently than we go.
The Race Setting
This was the 50th consecutive running of this race, making it the fourth oldest in the US.  It has been a small event throughout, run by local track and distance-running enthusiasts.  Indeed, this year's starting pack of 312 was double the annual turnout.  At the pasta dinner the night before the race, it was fun for Darrell and me to be a "fly on the wall" and watch the local folks celebrate an amazing accomplishment. 
The race was the exact opposite of a big-city marathon.  No chips, no big crowds, no bands, no amped up excitement.  No big fee either...$25 got you in to run.  Yet, it was so very, very genuine, Darrell and I both found it wonderfully enjoyable. 
We met a lot of other Maniacs, which was fun.  Darrell got more names and numbers than I did and captured them nicely in his write up. 
The Course
At the center of this race, though, was the course.  Configured like a lollipop, the "stick" heads south of the college town of Columbia along a main city thoroughfare.  From mile 3.5 to 20.5 however, it loops on some wonderful, narrow, county roads working generally down to the banks of the Missouri River.  At the river, we ran a rail trail for about a mile, watching the mighty river flow along.  Since I grew up in SE Nebraska just 7 miles from the Missouri River, it was a bit nostalgic for me.  The loop continues back towards town by farms and rural homes, both old and new, until rejoining the "stick".  The course retraces on past the start line and finishes in downtown Columbia.
And what makes the course are the hills.  No doubt about it, this is about as hilly as one can get in a non-mountainous part of the US.  There were six major climbs, four of which were after mile 12.  The last one, a long grind to the mile 24 marker, was a particularly tough one. 
It seemed appropriate to run this course with a "Maniac" shirt on.
My Race
I really didn't know what to expect about my performance.  I simply wanted to be under 5 hours and vertical at the end.  Yet, being a card-carrying engineer and all, I couldn't help but put a laminated split chart together.  Working off the course profile provided at the web site coupled with my plan to just do a 2/1 run/walk, I laid out splits for the race. 
The weather was actually helpful.  Even though we started in a heavy haze with very high humidity, the temps were about 62 at the start and never got over 70, due to heavy cloud cover.  The gun went off exactly at 6:00am and we were off.  Darrell had done so well in his training I didn't want to hold him back, so we agreed to run the first mile or so together and then he'd take off.  After we shook hands and he powered up the first major hill, I settled into the pace.  It was well before dawn when we started, so it was mile 6 before I got a good look at my watch and my chart.  I was pleased at that point to be 6 seconds ahead of pace.  We rambled towards the river and at mile 10, I was nearly 2 minutes ahead.  We did the river and the huge Easley Hill and by mile 15 I was still nearly 2 minutes ahead of my projections.  More steep hills awaited, though, with mile 20 coming midway up hill five of the six; I was leaking and only 17 seconds ahead. 
The final hill next to the Missouri football stadium was a bear...I hit mile 24 at it's top and I was 3 minutes behind.  I was not in pain but the cumulative effect of the hills on this flatlander was showing.  I smiled, was grateful to be out there and figured I could gut out the last 2 miles, deciding to simply enjoy it, "running the best race conditions allow" and so it was.
I finally made the last turn towards the finish, crested a small rise and ran well the final 700 m to the finish line.  It felt was terrific to see Darrell sitting on the curb clapping along with a lot of other Maniacs.  I hit the finish four minutes over my target and that was fine. I felt good and enjoyed myself and was indeed sub 5 and vertical. 
On the question of nutrition and hydration, the plan I've concocted over the past year seems to work.  I drank 110 oz of water during the race, refilling my bottles along the way.  I ate four packets of Gu and took four Salt Sticks.  I had no cramping or nausea at the end of the race. 
I'll blog more later with stories of people, humor and just odd things about the race.  Plus, I have some photos to post. 
Adding it all up
Darrell summarized the race best as we drove back to St. Louis afterwards.  He observed this race attracted two kinds of people; a) local runners who took pride in their own event and b) hard-core marathoners who wanted some sort of a challenge.  There were no celebrities, no trendy fashionistas, no office politicians.  Just folks who really, really liked to run and found the hills and heat and humidity a delightful challenge.  Great folks all.  And it made for a wonderful event.
Mega-thanks to my pal Darrell.  I can't say enough about how much fun we had doing this for the fourth straight year.  I'm really glad it worked out, getting him another state and giving me a chance to find a new event.  Thanks, Darrell, it was a pleasure...we'll start thinking now about where we'll be next fall.
Persevere.  Over any hill life throws at you. 


Darrell said...

HOA was a little bit quirky and yet totally enjoyable. So different from most "city" marathons. I loved it and if it weren't for the distance and 36 intervening states, I'd go back and do it again.

I agree, too, that it's never to early to start planning the next adventure.

Thanks for a great suggestion of races and a super weekend.

Unknown said...


Great race and great report. The hills are killer!


Wes said...

Agreed. Great race report, and congrats on a job well done! I lurve the fact you were pleased with a six second "cushion"! Ha!!!

Backofpack said...

Great report Joe! Sounds like so many of our marathons around here - both the size (although this was a bit bigger than some) and the hills! I'm so glad you and Darrell are able to keep your tradition going, and that you've got your race hydration/nutrition dialed in. Way to go!

David said...

Well written and summarily a good recommendation. When I get to M on my 50 state list I'll try to remember.

[Aside to self: okay, you've done F,G,I,N,O,V with C coming up].

Nevertheless, I want to run with you and Darrell some day. My next is Gasparilla, the last one, on Feb 28, 2010 in Tampa.

Sarah said...

Big city marathons have their appeal, but those small ones really are the best. Glad you had a great run!

Unknown said...

Nice write up, Joe! Sounds like a great marathon.