COLUMBIA — Through the early morning fog, Dan Heaviland made his way south on the Katy Trail to Easley along the Missouri River, and up and down the hills of the Heart of America Marathon course.
The mist kept the temperature down on the Saturday morning run. When he turned onto Old Plank, overhanging trees lined the gravel road on both sides, forming a tunnel. Dew dripped from the leaves like light rain every now and then, and the fog made his surroundings seem “almost prehistoric,” he said.
Heaviland was one of 10 runners who participated in the Heart of America Marathon training run. The group met at 6 a.m. to run a 17-mile loop in the course from about Mile 3.5 to Mile 20.5, but flooding detoured the runners.
“It was flooded down by the part of the course that goes through Easley,” said Andy Emerson, who organized the training run. “We got on the trail further back from Easley, which added a mile and a half detour. So it turned out to be about 18 ½ miles.”
With the detour the group spent more time running on the Katy Trail instead of the actual course, and along with the extra mileage came an extra bonus.
“The road also had a pretty steep hill that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Emerson added.
Heaviland, who has not run a marathon before, was planning on participating in the Heart of America until facing challenging conditions a week before the training run.
“I did the Hospital Hill Half Marathon in Kansas City,” he said. “It was hot and humid, and also very hilly — not much different than the Heart of America, so that concerned me.”
Heaviland said because the heat overwhelmed him, he decided to wait until later in the year when it’s cooler outside to take on his first marathon. He plans to run the Columbus Marathon on Oct. 19 in Ohio.
But even though he won’t be running in the Heart of America this Labor Day, his goal is to be able to run in the marathon’s 50th anniversary in 2009.
“After I’ve done several training runs, I’ll be much more familiar with the course, and hopefully I’ll do a better job of acclimating to the heat than I did this year (at Hospital Hill),” he said.
Before Saturday, Heaviland said he doubted his ability to even run the portion of the course that the training run covered. But after completing it, he said his overall experience was “encouraging.”
“It improved my optimism about being able to finish the Heart of America course and about being able to finish a marathon,” he said. “Anybody that does the training runs will be much more confident about their ability to run this race.”
Emerson said everyone enjoyed the run, and those who had never run it before, like Heaviland, also said it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be. The training run was the first in a series of three that are scheduled monthly this summer before the Sept. 1 marathon.
Dan Sitar of Ashland will be competing in his second Heart of America this fall, but he remembers driving the course before his first one and realizing he needed to get out there and find out for sure if he could do it.
“I knew I had to run 17 or 18 miles of it to know I could finish the race,” he said. “It’s good to know what you’re getting into when you’re planning to run a challenging marathon, and running the hills a few times is definitely a plus.”
Sitar, who helped plan the training run, ran the course three times before his first Heart of America last year. So he knows the importance of preparing and gaining self-assurance for the marathon, which fluctuates almost 250 feet in elevation.
He said he hopes others can muster up enough courage through the training runs to run the race, which he saw happen first-hand Saturday.
“It’s a confidence builder,” Sitar said. “Everybody that did the training run was filled with confidence knowing now they could run this marathon.”