Heart of America Marathon
Labor Day heart2.gif (4940 bytes) Columbia, Missouri


2017 Heart of America Marathon Report
Written by: Kathy Lee with contributions by Joe Duncan

The 58th Annual Heart of America Marathon marked a course change for the first time since 1990. The last few years have seen a marked increase in traffic in Columbia, primarily from the Providence Rd/Stadium intersection and across to College and Broadway. No shade, the increased traffic, and therefore increased hazards for runners inspired the Columbia Track Club to change the start and the finish locations. Runners toed the new start line on Champions Drive at 6:00 a.m. The gun sounded, and off they went to the sound of cowbells ringing in the dark. Runners headed down Mick Deaver Dr. and then on to Providence to begin the quest for the coveted HOA finishers medal, Shakespeare’s Pizza and Hot Box Cookies.

  People come from all over to run the Heart of America Marathon, and we’ve got great stories below to prove it, but it seemed as if people weren’t the only visitors in town just for the marathon. After enjoying nearly two weeks of relatively mild temperatures for the season, the temperature on marathon day shot up to a high of 91 degrees. By Tuesday, the day following the marathon, the high was only 76 degrees. It appeared as if the hot weather took a fast train to get here for the race and then sped right out again when the race (and Shakespeare’s Pizza) was over.

In 2016 we listed what we considered to be the top ten worst weather conditions for HOA. The very first one, 1960, got the #1 "worst" ranking. It was a sun bath from Columbia to Fulton. Now, in 2017, we could almost give '17 the top ranking. In '60 we had a temp range of 69 to 93, with 83% down to 38% relative humidity. No cloud cover and very little wind. This year the temp range was from 68 at 6:00 am to 90 at noon. Humidity was 93% down to 54. No cloud cover, but pretty good SW winds ranging from 8 to 17 MPH. It's problematic as to which was the worst, but I would give the nod to '60. Full sun all the way to Fulton, no wind. Humidity was higher this year, but the wind may have helped. The course change, no doubt, was an improvement over previous years when there was no relief from the sun over the last few miles. In short, it was hot and humid; not conducive to the best of times.

The overall winner this year was Trent Horton, 22, from Lawrence, KS crossing the new finish line in 3:02:35. Second place went to Chandler Gruener with 3:11:50. Andy Emerson was in for the 3rd place prize. More about Andy later. Brook Barker, this year’s female winner, is the 4th best age 37 with 3:39:08. Second place honors went to Jill Burch, finishing in 3:40:47 and Haley Schwarz in 3:42:12

The weather conditions probably account for the fact that the only record from this year is the Male age 55 mark set by Bill Kotaska at 3:19:28, 8 seconds better than the 3:19:33 by Ronnie Wilson in 2001, and this was only the 2nd time since 1962 that there was no sub 3 hour finisher - the first being in 2015. Phil Schaefer's 3:44:26 is second best for age 64, behind Lou Joline's 3:39:48 from 1996.

Andy Emerson was multi-tasking this year, taking the lead as the active “streaker”, by completing his 14th consecutive HOA, taking 3rd place overall, and 1st place age division 45-49 males. He did all that in 3:14:00 - 2 minutes and 27 seconds faster than his 2016 time of 3:16:27. Surprisingly, Andy said he didn’t have great expectations this year. When he arrived at the start he realized he had forgotten his GPS. Andy paced with Sankalp Shiva for first 12 miles and felt like he had a good feel for pace. Sankalp finished well in his own right coming in at 3:30:37.

There’s the overview, but what did the battle look like over those 26.2 miles? Here’s some of the play by play:

Shortly after the start Trent Horton and Chandler Gruener were quickly out in front with Horton setting the early pace and Gruener keeping him in sight most of the first few miles. By the halfway point, at the top of Easly Hiill, Horton had run to a 3:02 lead, 1:31:32 to 1:34:34.  Joe Johnston, Columbia, followed Gruener up Easley, topping the Hill 1:11 behind Gruener and 1::39 ahead of Ryan Constable. .Josh Hedges, Springfield, MO was 5th up the hill at 1:38:19 with Andy Emerson only 21 seconds behind him and Sankalp Shiva another 32 seconds back followed by Bill Kotaska at 1:40:46, William Allen, Potosi, Mo 1:40:58, Zach Boleyn Butler, MO,1:41:01, Michael Sager, Denver, CO 1:41:02,Gary Mundhenke, Kansas City, in his 9th consecutive HOA, at 1:41:08 and and Kris Murrey, Albuquerque, NM rounded out the group of 14 to the top of Easley.  Nicholas Benner, Columbia, who finished 4th overall, was in that mix of 14 at Easley, but we have no halfway split for him.  He was probably among the front runners.

By the time this group moved to the finish, Hedges and Sager had dropped back considerably and their places in the pack of 14 were taken by Caleb McMurry 13th overall (half way1:48:43), and Sean Kennelly, 14th (1:48:24).  In the meantime, Emerson had moved from 6th at halfway to 3rd place at the finish.  Kotaska went from 8th to 5th, Constable fell from 4th to 6th, Shiva stayed 7th, Murrey went from 14th to 8th, Allen 9th all the way, Boleyn 10th all the way, Johnston 3rd to 11th. 

Horton had negative splits, by 29 seconds: 1:31:32 and 1:31:03, as did Emerson 1:38:40 and 1:35:20.

The women's race was dominated by three women finishing within a window of three minutes some 13 minutes ahead of 4th place:

These three women were Brook Barker, 37, Columbia, second female last year at 3:50:43, Jill Burch, 45, St. Louis, first HOA, and Haley Schwarz, Columbia, also 37, running her fourth HOA with a stellar performance since this was her first time under 4:00, her previous PB of 4:13:07 (2013) being totally shattered.  This trio most likely ran together a time or two but in any event they all were on Mt. Easley at the same time, with Burch reaching the summit first, 1:46:18 at the halfway location, then Barker, 1:48:21, and Schwarz, 1:49:32.  They, obviously, had a stirring battle over the final half, all coming to the finish 1, 2, 3 with no men interfering with that positioning.  During that last half tussle Barker had caught Burch to win the women's title at 3:39:08 on the clock with Burch 1:39 in arrears (3:40:47) and Schwarz 1:16 later at 3:42:03 an astonishing 31:14 under her previous PB.  The time between first and third was a skinny 2:54, the tightest such finish for women in HOA history. After that rollicking hammering by the three women, it was 13 minutes, 9 seconds to fourth place, Oksana Loginova at 3:55:12, then Miriam Barquero-Molina, the only other woman under 4:00:00.  Jennifer Reisdorf, in her 6th HOA, was close at 4:02:08.

The fights to the finish in competition are normally impressive and this year was no exception, but there are also the fights to the finish with each person’s personal stories and triumphs, and anyone finishing the Heart of America Marathon celebrates a huge triumph – especially those people who do it over and over and over again! Let’s talk about streaks for a moment.

Mary Ellen Bradshaw, the only female in contention for the current active streak, is only one behind Andy Emerson. Mary Ellen finished her 13th consecutive HOA in 4:11:21. Both Andy and Mary Ellen have a way to go to beat the record set by Lou Fritz with 25 consecutive HOAs from 1964-1989.

Now, meet Dave Dobkowski. Dave is an expert at HOA. This year marked his 30th HOA - more than anyone. While Mary Ellen has the most of any female with 13, Dobkowski also has two streaks - 17 from 1988 to 2004 and 10 from 2006 to 2015. He missed 2015, but was back this year so he is, at age 59, starting a new streak.

Each step of those 26.2 miles represents a personal story, and at HOA, we are lucky enough to get to know some of them.

Nicholas Benner, 36, was the 2016 Schulte Award winner and he was back in good form for 2017 finishing 4th in 3:18:59. Nicholas was running in honor of those affected by Hurricane Harvey in Houston - especially his friend Curtis Turner. The last 3 years, Nicholas has run with Curtis who comes up from Houston. Plans were for Curtis to come run again this year, but unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey spoiled those plans. Curtis is safe, and vows to be back in 2018. We’ll look forward to seeing you, Curtis!

Speaking of the Schulte Award, the 2017 winner was Ryan Constable, from Hannibal, MO who crossed the line in 3:27:51, a whopping 23% improvement over his 2016 time. Back in 1998, Ryan, at age 20, came in 4th of 101 finishers with a 2:56:40, so at age 39 now, in 2017, Ryan really hasn’t slowed much. We spoke to him before the race, and he said he had come back for revenge and redemption from 2016 which did not go well. Ryan had his wife, son, cousins and several other family members with him to cheer him on today, and we’d say it worked! Ryan certainly did get his revenge, redemption and the Schulte Award to boot!

Val Mertens was here to run the marathon with his daughter Nicole Mertens. The story goes that Nicole can’t call him “Old Man” if he beats her in a marathon. Val and Nicole had done two previous marathons together with Val winning one and Nicole winning the other one in brutal fights to the finish. This was to be the tie breaker. They had 40 friends and family with them - all in blue shirts with Val’s son also sporting angel wings and a halo. They were a good and fun group cheering runners to the finish. We got word the Val and Nicole were nearing the finish and we all looked ahead expectantly, wondering if we were going to witness another fight to the finish. We were not disappointed. Val and Nicole came tearing down the final stretch as if everything depended on it. The crowd went wild as Val edged out Nicole finishing in 5:26:15 with Nicole crossing one second later in 5:26:16! Not only did Val take the top family honors, he also completed his 50th State marathon by putting a checkmark in the Missouri box with HOA. Val is also a 9 -year kidney cancer survivor, and a military veteran. He’s got spunk, and by all accounts it looks like the entire family does as well!

Ken Fattmann, 61, was here to complete his 300th marathon. The Heart of America was Ken’s first marathon back in 1980. He wanted to log his 300th back at the place it all started, in Columbia, MO. Ken did just that in 4:33:54.

Tom Detore, 69, a Columbia local toed the line to complete his 400th marathon. Tom says he retired in Columbia in large part because of the running community, the trails, and HOA. Tom met his goal finishing in 5:19:01

Artemus Armas, 50, from Niceville, FL has run a marathon a month since October. Although he drove here from Florida, he got his beginnings in Columbia. Artemus went to Moberly Area Community College, and then received degrees from MU in both Journalism and Nursing. He is now an RN in the Air Force at Eglin Air Force Base,working on establishing a new project for the Air Force called the Invisible Wounds Project which will help military personnel suffering from PTSD and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).

Zach Powers, 19, hails from Columbia, but he was training for Chicago. He found he was marathon ready early so he was looking for another marathon to do first. He found HOA right in his own backyard, and brought in his “practice” marathon in 4:28:07. He figures Chicago will be easy compared to this!

Somaly Moore, 41, recently moved to Columbia from Phoenix. While still in Phoenix, she and some friends had made a pact to run a marathon. They all signed up for Phoenix, but Somaly moved before the race. Her friends ran Phoenix without her, so it was said that she owed her friends a marathon. To pay up, she signed up for HOA. Shortly before the race, she broke her toe, but that wasn’t going to stop her from making up what she owed. Somaly crossed the finish line looking strong, broken toe and all!

Terzah Becker, 44, of Longmont, CO was back for a homecoming of sorts. Terzah is a Hickman High School graduate, and she was home to run the hometown marathon and to learn more about this special marathon that appeals to so many people with so many stories. Terzah made everyone hometown proud bringing it in at 4:24:46 on this hot, steamy day.

Several runners have used HOA as the site of their 100th marathon. So it is with James Penn Maxwell, of San Diego, Jim, born in St. Louis, MO, first ran HOA as a 23-year-old student at MU. He ran a 3:16:54 in 1977, and now, 40 years later, he runs HOA as his 100th marathon. Jim has run HOA 16 times with a streak of six from 1981-1986 and a best time of 2:57:23 in 1988. After graduation, Jim moved to San Diego and for a time was a zookeeper at the San Diego Zoo. While he ran several marathons, Jim now runs mostly trail and mountain marathons, like Death Valley Trail Marathon, and The Catalina Marathon. He is also a 20 year legacy runner at the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon.

The trail section of the new finish seemed to be a hit with runners as they were treated with some shade for those last couple of miles. One of the volunteers took a temperature reading on the trail and found a ten- degree difference from a reading at a similar time on the old course. It wasn’t all bliss after the trail, however. After the trail and before the finish, runners had to once again head upward. We did see a lot of smiles, thumbs up and fist pumps at the finish this year.

Many runners stated that the volunteers this year were fantastic. The race director’s torch had been passed on from Joe Duncan last year, and new Race Directors Beth Luebbering and Scott MacPherson showed that Heart was indeed in good hands. They led the way navigating through course changes, re-certifications and a myriad of other race preparations. From timers, to course monitors, finish line and intersection volunteers, medical support, shuttle service and aid station volunteers; HOA had it covered.

We talked to two volunteers in particular about their impressions. One is Dawn Zeterberg, a Columbia resident. Dawn first came out to cheer for runners in 2016 at the finish line downtown. Dawn has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. In 2016, she sat by the finish and rang that cowbell for hours, and also held down the timer’s tent as the wind was starting to blow it away. This year, the finish line was moved 4.5 miles from Dawn’s house. We were concerned about Dawn making it all the way to the new finish line - even in her power chair. Dawn was not to be deterred, however. She practiced the week before getting herself there so she’d know how much time she needed to allow so she’d be on time to see the first runners. On race morning, she was there. Opting to leave the comfort of the shady announcer’s tent, Dawn wheeled out to the finish, and sat in the sun for 4 hours bringing the runners in with her cheers and cowbell. When asked what her impressions were, Dawn said, “It’s my feeling that the runners deserve people to cheer for them at the finish! It is emotional and mental support to show we do care! “ We also talked to Robert Newman. Robert was in charge of the aid station at the top of Easley Hill, manned by members and youth from 1st Presbyterian Church. Robert is brand new to Columbia and the running community, and this was the first time this group had volunteered. He said two things, first, “Easley Hill is no joke!” and also, “Handing out water is important, but by the end of the day we all realized that the words of encouragement and cheers were almost as important and meant a lot to the runners.” Amen to that Robert!

By far, the most poignant moment of the race came when Tom May, a 7- time HOA finisher, crossed the finish line arm in arm with his son Matthew May. Matthew, a runner himself, and a freshman at Truman State University, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in February of this year. Since that time, the entire family, Tom, Robin, Madison and Matthew - all runners - have found themselves running an endurance race with hills and valleys that make Easely Hill look like the smallest pebble of gravel on the Katy Trail. Matthew joined Tom as Tom approached the last turn to the final stretch. Father and son embraced, and then began their walk together toward the finish line arch symbolizing running the race of strength, perseverance, faith and love. And, after all, isn’t that what puts the “Heart” in The Heart of America Marathon?