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Heart of America Marathon draws runners from across the continent

Monday, September 3, 2012 | 6:27 p.m. CDT; updated 8:08 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 3, 2012
COLUMBIA — The footsteps of hundreds of marathon runners pattered on the streets of south Columbia on a steamy Labor Day morning. Since 1960, the Columbia Track Club has hosted the Heart of America Marathon, which draws hundreds of people from all over the U.S. and Canada.

COLUMBIA — Terry Robb's time in the Heart of America marathon was outside the seven hour time limit, but he still finished.

“I knew I’d finish. I’ve never not finished,” he said.

Robb was determined to finish the Heart of America marathon for the seventh time — it was his 21st marathon. His pace began to slow 12 miles into the race. The weather was hotter than he expected, and his legs were "depleted of energy." But Robb was confident he would finish, and he also had a support system at the race.

"At one point I had eight people running with me. I’m like 'Forrest Gump' out there with all the people,” Robb said.

The Heart of America marathon, which has been held on Labor Day in Columbia since 1960, drew 210 runners. Most runners came from the U.S., and two runners traveled from Canada. The race course started outside the Hearnes Center on Stadium Boulevard and, after looping through south Columbia and back, finished on Broadway Street. The course is challenging because it includes many hills and a gravel section.

"This is a pretty good marathon to pick as your first, because you know if you can finish this one, there aren't many others that can challenge you like this," announcer Simon Rose told bystanders. 

The race drew a wide range of participants, from casual runners to veterans. These runners did not restrict themselves to simple running gear — some wore running suits, another donned a business suit. One runner didn't wear shoes.

Jim Lane ran the entire marathon barefoot and in a kilt.

"I hated running three years ago, so I wanted to learn something a little different," he said. Lane learned the different style of running through Ken Bob Saxton's method, and now says he never feels knee or ankle pain while he runs. The only part of the race that hurt his feet was when the course took him from pavement to gravel.

Aside from the bare feet, his outfit drew several cheers from the crowd and jokes from the announcer.

"My friend bought me the kilt as a joke. I tried 100 yards in it and was sold," Lane said.

For Canadian runners Don and Marion Landry, 67 and 68 respectively, this race brought them one step closer to 300 completed marathons. The couple finished the Heart of America race side by side one day after finishing a different marathon. In both races, they finished at the same time.

"We don't always run together, but we went slow. He's very patient," Marion Landry said with a laugh. She has about 43 marathons until she runs her 300th, and Don Landry has 27. 

Runners aren't alone at the marathon. Many have family members that cheer them on.

Tony Shanley's wife and two children showed up at mile 18 with a vuvuzela, water and words of encouragement to keep him going. Except for a brief and scary moment in which Shanley "almost face-planted" around mile 23, he made it to the end with no problems and finished in six hours and 30 minutes.

Whitney Dreier was the top female finisher this year. She gained the lead about 13 and a half miles into the race. The pressure was on and she had to keep up her pace to hold on to the lead. She did. After many marathons, she had her first win.

"I was happy to be done and happy to see my husband," she said.

Justin Gillette, who has been running marathons since he was 16, defended his title. This was his 104th marathon. Gillette uses articles about his previous marathons as motivation to run the next one.

"If I feel like I don't want to run today, I go look at them. It's motivation," he said.

For some runners, Monday's marathon was just one stop in a series of races.

Gary Mundhenke of Kansas City has been busy. At Monday's marathon he finished 19th — a day after he placed 20th in the 50 to 55 age group in the Hy-Vee Triathlon 5150 Championship in Des Moines, Iowa.

Vincent Ma of San Jose, Calif., completed two other races this weekend prior to finishing today's marathon in three hours and 53 minutes. One was a six-hour race in Milwaukee, in which he ran more than 35 miles, and the other was a marathon in Fenton. Ma has finished marathons in all 50 states at least twice.

Michelle Walker, a graduate of MU and a mother of six, placed first in the 40 to 44 age group in a Mississippi marathon Sunday before finishing Monday's marathon in just over four hours. 

"All of my marathons this year have been under four hours until today. This is one of the toughest courses," she said. She has participated in 18 marathons since January and came back for this one because she missed Columbia.

Lou Fritz of Verdon, Nev., leads men in the Heart of America consecutive race record at 25 races, and Dave Dobkowski of St. Louis, who finished Monday in 3:58 for 49th place, holds the overall race record at 26 races total. Mary Ellen Bradshaw holds both women's records at 8 races in a row. Fritz did not run Monday, but Bradshaw did.

 


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