Heart of America Marathon draws diverse field

Monday, September 1, 2008 | 3:43 p.m. CDT; updated 3:12 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Destiny Thomas, the first female to complete the marathon at a time of 3:38:42, keeps hydrated while talking with Dick Hessler, who guided runners after the 8 mile mark. "This is only my third marathon," Thomas said. "Not that many."

COLUMBIA - In the middle of the Heart of America Marathon on Monday, Columbia resident Destiny Thomas got rid of her hat and shorts in an attempt to ditch excess weight.

Hatless and wearing running tights, Thomas then decided to pick up some extra weight when she hit College Avenue near the end of the course. She pushed her 13-month-old daughter, Emme, in a stroller the rest of the way. Thomas was the first female finisher in the race with a time of 3 hours, 38 minutes, 42 seconds.


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"I just wanted to have a little extra motivation, I wanted my daughter to finish with me," Thomas said. "I had looked at some of the pictures from last year and saw kids running with their parents, so I thought it would be nice motivation to keep going."

The Heart of America Marathon was the third such race Thomas has completed and her first in Columbia. She has run the Spirit of St. Louis Marathon twice, one of which was since her daughter's birth. But the race policies in St. Louis did not permit her to push her daughter some of the way.

The top overall finisher was MU grad student Matthew Laye, who finished in 2:47:28. Thomas and Laye were joined by 150 other runners, many had goals other than finishing in first place.

This was the fifth year Columbia resident Andy Emerson has run the Heart of America. Each year, his time has improved, getting closer to a time of three hours. His personal best was 3:04:08. But Monday was not Emerson's day to break the mark, as he finished in 3:07:30.

"I knew this morning that it probably wouldn't be because it's 72 (degrees)," Emerson said. "That's the warmest temperature I've ever run a marathon in. Usually it's in the 50s or colder. The 50s is the ideal temperature."

Emerson said he was happy with his time, given the heat and his overall finish of seventh place.

The next runner behind Emerson was fellow Columbia resident Matt Novak, who finished in 3:20:51. At age 24, Novak was one of the youngest runners in the field. He was running in his first marathon.

"I guess I didn't really know exactly what to expect," Novak said. "But I knew it would hurt, and it did."

Novak is a second-grade teacher at Derby Ridge Elementary. His students knew he was running the marathon.

"Most of them didn't really know what a marathon was," he said. "I don't know if they really knew what to think of it at all."

Novak hadn't decided what he would tell his students when he returns to class.

"They might be pushing me around in a wheelchair for all I know," he said. "They'll take good care of me, I'm sure."

Another first-time marathoner was Ted Robertson, a 51-year-old Jefferson City resident. Robertson was a casual runner who decided to run a marathon as a personal challenge before his 52nd birthday.

"I felt strong until I got to about 21 miles, and then I got really tired," Robertson said. "The last three miles were a killer. I ran out of air, and I wasn't even sure I was going to make it. I guess it was like they said, the adrenaline kicks in the last few miles to keep on going."

Robertson skipped most of the water stations. Instead, he prepared an electrolyte beverage in advance. He had his girlfriend, Kay Stuefer, ride along the course and hand off the beverage about every three miles.

"She helped me a lot," Robertson said. "She kept me with electrolytes and words of encouragement to keep me going."

Robertson said he hadn't decided whether or not to run another marathon, but that Stuefer said she thought he would endure the event again.

"We were just talking about that," Robertson said. "She says it's like childbirth. She said, ‘A few months from now, you'll forget it ever hurt, you'll be wanting to do it again.'"

Angela Basile and Michael Rudokas came from New York City to run the event. Both are artists whose only previous experience in the state of Missouri was driving through it.

"I thought it was flat," Rudokas said. "We had no idea until we got here and we started driving the course that there were that many hills."

The course map lists six major hills.

Basile and Rudokas decided to run a marathon in the Midwest and make a 26.2-second silent film about the experience.

Basile had run three marathons in the past, running in Los Angeles twice and once in Prague, Czech Republic. For Rudokas, it was his first marathon. He finished in 4:12:16. Basile came in with a time of 4:42:24. After the race, while the other runners ate fruit and bagels and drank water, Basile decided to have a bottle of beer.

"It makes me happy," she said. "I just ran 26.2 miles, I'm OK having a beer before noon."

Basile and Rudokas had two of their friends, Kerstin and Claudia Imhof, fly in from Germany to film them in the race to get footage for their project. They filmed the pair at the start line, mile 18 and at the finish.

"I thought it was an amazing idea," Kerstin Imhof said. "And I was very excited to be there with them."

When they return to New York, Basile and Rudokas will begin putting the film together, a process they said they hope to finish by the end of September. They are in the process of finding a gallery in New York or Germany to show the film.

Columbia resident John Schulz ran his 13th Heart of America and his 32nd overall marathon. He finished in 4:30:52. He said he enjoys the feeling he gets when he finishes a marathon.

"This is why you do it," he said. "You don't feel like this doing anything else. This is the most incredible feeling in the whole world. I feel like this for about two or three day. It's like, ... ‘Man, why wouldn't everybody want to do this?'"


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