59th Annual Heart of America Marathon
By Kathy Lee, with play by play action by Joe Duncan

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue! The old wedding adage applies pretty well to the 59th running of HOA!

Let’s start with something repeated though, and that was Hayden Legg, 27, Columbia, winning the 2018 HOA! Having taken the top spot on the podium for the men in 2016, then skipping 2017, Legg was back to claim the top spot again crossing the finish line in 3:07:19. Colin Cronin, 34, Osage Beach, MO, took 2nd place in 3:16:50, with CTC’s Andy Emerson, 49, Columbia, taking 3rd place overall men in 3:22:05. Emerson also continues the longest active streak at HOA by completing this, his 15th in row, at HOA. Legg’s winning time of 3:07:19 was the slowest time ever for a front runner since Bill Silverburg’s 3:09:36 in 1962, the third annual HOA on the Columbia to Fulton course.

The top women’s performer was Stephanie King, 29, Centralia, crossing in 3:58:08, followed by Marci Gray in 4:05:13 with Ioana Florescu earning her place on the podium with 4:07:04 for a 3rd place overall women’s finish.

Back to the adage -

Something old: Who are you calling “old”?! HOA?? 59 years isn’t that old until you consider we are the fourth oldest continuously running marathon in the country - then it seems old, but at HOA, we prefer to use the term “historic”, thank you very much.

Traditions were kept alive this year with the heat, hills, and humidity. At the 59th Annual, we delivered on all 3 counts with the temperature ranging from 74 degrees at the 6:00 a.m. start to 82 by 11:00. The humidity went from 95% at 6:00 down to only 81% by 11:00. This was the fourth worst HOA, considering weather conditions, in HOA history. Consider also the median time of 4:45:116 (the average time was 4:48: 48), the slowest ever for HOA.

Speaking of old, there’s always the tradition of Easely Hill, but this time not only was the climb tough, but runners had to contend with dinosaurs when they got to the top aid station! First Presbyterian Church’s aid station took us literally when we told them that the Heart of America Marathon was a throwback to an earlier time in distance running. Thankfully, instead of chasing runners for a bit of a snack, the dinos high-fived and posed for photo ops.

Dinosaurs weren’t chasing, but there was some chasing happening on the course, . . . in the men’s race, Legg was on the lead from the start followed closely by Zachary Christensen, 18, Wildwood, MO. At the six-mile check point Legg was up by ten seconds, 38:40 to 38:50 for Christensen. Then, almost five minutes later, came Emerson, 43:28, followed by the tandem of Chris Boyle, 39, Osage Beach, and Joe Company, 44, Bloomington, IL, at 46:18; Cronin, close behind those two, was 46:20 at mile 6.

We mentioned preferring the term “historic” to “old” when discussing HOA. Another important part of this race is the many dedicated people who have kept the heart and soul of this race going for fifty-nine continuous years! For example: Many people know Joe Duncan. Joe was race director from 1970 to 2015, and even though he lives in another city now, Joe still helps, long distance, including doing the play by play for this report, as he has done for years. Additionally, one of Joe’s running buddies, Barney Sword, was out on the course early race day morning before runners arrived, placing caution signs for motorists to help keep our runners safe. It’s truly amazing all the work, both visible and behind the scenes, that as gone into this race since 1960 with some of our volunteers being involved for 50 years!

Back on the course, over the next stretch of nearly 12 miles to Pierpont, Legg, at 2:02:02, stretched the gap to 6:46 over Christensen, 2:08:48, with Emerson still third at 2:13:38, Cronin now 4th with 2:14:58, Company, a ways back at 2:19:06 just 10 seconds ahead of Boyle.

Some five miles later, at the Green Tennis Center, a little over 23 miles, Legg was 13:00 ahead of Cronin, who had moved into second at 2:56:00, leaving Christensen 2:04 in arrears at 2:58:04 a scant five seconds in front of Emerson, now 4th. Boyle, 3:02:53, had easily gone by Company, 3:05:23, now 6th.

Over the final three miles or so, the remaining question was who was going to run away with third, and what about 4th and 5th? The speedy Emerson answered the first question, quickly reeling in Christensen to move into third, covering the three miles in 23:54, faster than Legg’s 24:19. However, the most exciting tussle was that between Christensen and Boyle for 4th and 5th, Company having dropped back to 6th. Boyle came up to Christensen with a blazing run cutting a 4:49 deficit to only one second at the finish. Boyle stormed across the last three miles in a scintillating 21:49 to Christensen’s 25:44.

HOA is about everyone on the field the top finishers, the middle of the pack and those that cross the line toward the end. At “Heart”, we enjoy getting to know the runners who have come out. Here are a few more of them:

“The experience was great, everybody involved was so nice, helpful, and friendly, and I am glad to say I was a part of the race” Kevin Daniels

Interesting to note that Kevin trained with his brother who lives in another state! Kevin’s brother trained for the Richmond, VA marathon while Kevin trained for HOA. They followed the same training plan and held each other accountable for their long runs. We think Kevin had more hills!

Another mention goes to John Korte for not only finishing a tough race, but also representing Medals4Meddle at our pavilion area, AND helping to provide HOA with helpful volunteers.

Another time-honored tradition is the Schulte Award. This year’s award for most improved performance went to Michael Sager of Denver, CO. Michael improved his time this year 12.01% over his last year’s time.

Speaking of last year, it’s worthy of note that Columbia Track Club’s president, Tom May, improved his time over last year by 7.12%. A veteran HOA runner, Tom and his son Matthew gave us a poignant moment last year when Matthew met his father at the finish and they walked across the finish line together, arm in arm showing their family’s perseverance as Matthew battled leukemia. This year, Tom finished strong, and Matthew May was once again at the finish line this time with the microphone in his hand announcing! Oh, what a difference a year can make!

There’s the men’s race with some historic lore and the weather thrown in. Now, to continue with the adage before we begin with the women’s race.

Something new: This year we accented the words “Heart” and “America” in our name, and the first thing we did was to put the ART in HeART! We were fortunate enough to have Cindy Scott of TooRooster Artistry do a live event painting of HOA. She set up her easel at the start, along the route, and at the finish to capture the flavor of the marathon. At the awards ceremony we held a drawing for one lucky HOA finisher to take home this amazing painting. Congratulations to Chris Otrok who not only had a great finish in 3:49:12, but also won the drawing!

That wasn’t all that was new. Shortly before the start, Addy Lockett, a Rock Bridge High School student, sang a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem, while Darrin Young, representing Team RWB, held the flag. Team RWB also manned two of our aid stations! A few more announcements followed the Anthem, the gun sounded, and the field was off and running!

Let’s check in with the women. Although she was three seconds behind the front runners at the six-mile split, the 2018 HOA women’s race belonged to Stephanie King. Jennifer Hickey,47, Washington, DC and Ioana Florescu, were together at that checkpoint at 48:51. King was following just ahead of Marci Gray, at 49:41. Fifth was CTC’s Mary Ellen Bradshaw, 46, at about 50 minutes, running her 14th consecutive HOA, followed by Chelsea Bessey, 34, 51:48.

At the 14.3-mile split, King was well ahead with 2:01:02. The line then went Gray 2:05:12, Florescu 2:06:05, Bessey 2:07:59, Hickey 2:11:29 and Bradshaw 2:12:17. Those six went by Pierpont in the same order: King 2:23:07, Gray 2:28:21, Florescu 2:41:52, Bessey, 2:42:48, except for Bradshaw, 2:46:10, having replaced Hickey in 5th.

King flew by the Green Tennis Center, just past 23 miles, recording a time of 3:28:03, then racing to the finish in 30:04 to post her winning finish time of 3:58:07. Gray (3:34:42 at 23) and Florescu (3:38:07 at 23) kept the 2nd and 3rd places they had held throughout the race. Florescu picked up a couple of minutes on Gray in the run to the finish to post a 4:07:04 to Gray’s 4:05:13. On that final stretch Bessey went from 4th back to 6th and Hickey flew by both her and Bradshaw to grab 4th place at 4:08:48. Bradshaw, 5th at 4:13:44 had her sixth best time of the 14 HOA’s she has now run. At 30:44 she was almost as fast as the leaders on that final run-in. However, Hickey out did her, all of the women and most of the men, blazing through to the finish in a remarkable 24:45 to finish at 4:08:38, picking up some six minutes on the leaders in three miles.

As with the men, it’s not just about the top finishers at HOA. We’re tough, but we have that personal touch too.

Cassie Acton is recognized as being one of our most enthusiastic supporters. We all know how important it is to have runners who are excited about a race, and Cassie embodies the spirit of HOA and a positive attitude. It’s great knowing we have such a wonderful community of runners!

Haley Schwarz ran HOA this year with an emphasis on having fun. She’s been busy this season having done 50 miles in Leadville in July. Haley also runs 100-mile ultras.

So went the races on the field and what a field we had!

Keeping with the “new” theme, there were some new things to keep runners cool this year at the finish, runners received icy-soaked HOA cooling towels. Just before mile 20 runners were treated to some cold, wet sponges handed out by local Boy Scout Troop 433.

The next stop for runners was to head to the Celebration and Recovery Pavilion to enjoy some post-race refreshment, cooling fans, stretching and massage areas, plus live music. Columbia Councilman Ian Thomas was on hand to present the awards. Overall awards once again were sponsored by Tryathletics and were awarded to 1st and 2nd Place overall male/female and 1st Place Masters male/female. Age Group awards this year were special hand painted river rock, individually crafted by residents at The Bluffs Assisted Living and touched up by CTC volunteers. Each rock came with a little scroll which, when unwound, explained the significance of the victor’s rock in ancient times.

Having our post-race celebration and awards near the finish was new this year and became quite popular. One HOA veteran said, “ . . . the post-race festivities were relaxing and it was nice to hang out with friends over pizza in shade.” It looks like this idea is a keeper. We were thrilled to have the community come celebrate with us and learn more about running and health and fitness in general.

Continuing with our adage: Something borrowed!

Something(s) borrowed: Generators! MU Fire and Rescue Training Institute loaned us two generators enabling us to power three large industrial fans to help keep the pavilion area more comfortable! Golf cart! Columbia Parks & Recreation loaned us a golf cart. We used this golf cart to help monitor the last trail section of the race.

We’ve done something old, something new, something borrowed so what about something blue?

Something blue: How about those spiffy blue directional arrows with the cute little hearts underneath to help you know where to turn? We’re thinking that might become a type of trademark. When you see the blue arrow with the red heart underneath it then you know which way to go. Oh, if only it was always so clear in life!

One thing is clear however, and that is the spirit of HOA continues even in changing times. In the Columbia Track Club, we are fortunate to have a solid team with many, many years of experience with HOA dating back to 1970 and earlier. There will always be changes, but the spirit of HOA, the striving, the competition, the community, and the love of the marathon continues.

On to 2019 and “Heart’s” 60th Anniversary!