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


By Bill Clark

      Buried somewhere in my archives is the first issue of what today is Runner's World, a magazine started by a high school distance runner from Manhattan, Kansas, named Bob Anderson. In that first issue was my story about how to start a marathon. People read it, laughed, called it a nice piece of fiction, and asked for the real story about the origin of the Heart of America Marathon. What was true 40 years ago is still true today.
            The Heart of America Marathon is unique in many ways. It offers no cash prize fund; it is the most difficult marathon course in the nation; it still caters to those who are primarily interested in defeating the Boone County hills and beating their own best times; it can claim the most unusual origin; and it can also claim to be the fourth oldest continuous certified marathon in the United States. Its history is exceeded only by the BAA in Boston, Yonkers, and the Western Hemisphere run in Culver City, California (Editors note: Pikes Peak is also older). It has almost become a folk run. Many meet the challenge once, but few return.
      The Heart of America marathon is a lot like the game of baseball. The course stays the same, just as 90 feet was the distance between the bases in 1845 and in 1999; elite runners have their day here just as Babe Ruth and Mark McGwire have theirs in baseball. But the strength of the game in both sports is not with the elite, but rather in the simplicity and the challenge for the rest of us. It remains a race for the plodder just as much as a challenge for the elite athlete. Easley Hill levels everyone; it has no conscience.

Now - the circumstances which brought the Heart of America Marathon to life:

      In late 1958, I was involved with the organization of a boxing program in Columbia which eventually became the Columbia Athletic Club, Inc. (no relation to the fitness center of the same name which is now Gold's Gym in Columbia. The original Columbia A.C. died in the early 1970s) . The boxing club found a home in the old American Legion cabin, a log house located just east of Columbia on the road to Fulton. The boxers used the country roads around the cabin to do their road work, often doing 5-8 miles a trip. The boxing program was expanded after a few months into a weightlifting club and by the following summer into track and field. The CAC was eager to accept any challenge.
      CAC members boxed and lifted in many Midwest competitions, and for years the club was a major draw on the final night of the Boone County Fair with its boxing and lifting shows. The boxers had won Golden Glove titles in Kansas City and took pride in their training regimen. The CAC had sponsored the first weight meet ever in Columbia in 1959, the Missouri State Championships, and the winner of the 123-lb. class was Art Tarwater, a senior at Hickman High School. By the summer of 1960 the club was well-established in boxing and lifting.
      The summer of 1960, too, was a time when track and field became a third major sport with the CAC. A number of members were traveling weekly to compete in the all-comers, an Olympic Developmental program run by the Amateur Athletic Union in Kansas City. Two University of Missouri runners, Joe Schroeder and Morris Patterson, were regular competitors. Both were soon-to-be seniors. Joe was from Granite City, Illinois, and remained in Columbia following graduation. Morris was a red-head from Caruthersville, Missouri, and spent the summer stocking shelves at Kroger's. Others, including myself and a number of the boxers, competed in such things as the sprints, the javelin, hammer, shot, discus, and horizontal jumps. In fact, the CAC owned the only hammer in the Midwest.
      By mid-summer, 1960, the various athletes needled each other about strengths and weaknesses. One of the big bones of contention was the boast by the boxers that they could not only whip the distance runners in the ring, but their roadwork made them better distance runners than the runners who claimed to be distance runners. Even the weightlifters became involved. Art Tarwater joined in the challenge with the boxers and thus became one of the shortest marathoners in history. His legs barely reached from the asphalt to his... butt.
      The challenge had to be met. We picked Labor Day... just before school would open. The idea had become reality. The CAC was now pregnant with the Heart of America Marathon. We ran the idea past Fred Beile, the AAU's long distance chairman who also served as the summer development director and the track coach at the University of Kansas City (now UMKC). There was no question in his mind - the race would fail!
      Just for fun, 'Ol Clark decided to try the course. On a hot, July night, I left the Legion cabin with the idea of finishing in Fulton. I ran 18 miles from the cabin to the outskirts of Fulton where I was only too happy to see the lights of my pick-up car. It had been a long, lonely trip in the dark for a 240-pound guy whose legs weren't that much longer than Tarwater's. I thought Coach Beile might have had a valid argument. One thing for sure - I decided to leave distance running to distance runners and/or the boxers.
      The course we chose ended at the northwest corner of the square in Fulton, so we measured by car odometer the distance back to Columbia. To get the classic distance of 26 miles, 385 yards, we continued on Route WW through Columbia on Broadway west to Conley Lane (now Stadium Blvd.), then north to the highway department garage, just south of what is now 1-70. At least that is the distance our odometer gave us. When we checked our odometer against the highway mile signposts on a segment of new 1-70 just west of Columbia, we were right on. That's about as accurate as most road courses were 40 years ago.
      The state mental hospital is located in Fulton about three blocks east of the city square. Most people who heard of our venture felt we were stopping three blocks short of where we should go.
      I was a sports writer at the Columbia Missourian at the time all this foolishness was taking place and often called in sports stories to the Associated Press. I sent the AP a pre-race story about this major race and assured them that I would report the results as quickly as possible on Labor Day. Since Labor Day is not a big local sports day, we had the news day to ourselves. The pre-race story was moved on the AP's regional wire. The Heart of America Marathon was now reality. We just hoped someone would show up to run.
      On race day, I called a number of the boxers who had been most vocal. None could be found. It would be 1962 before a lone boxer, Jim Matney, would actually start and finish the marathon. He was not in the original challenge.
      Thank God - the first-ever Heart of America Marathon actually had five hardy folks line up for this shot at history. There were Schroeder and Patterson, the two distance men out to defend their honor; Darrell Palmer, a former Hickman High distance runner who later became a regional race-walking champion; weightlifter Art Tarwater; and Jerry Smith, a 16-year-old runner from Hickman.
      Smith and Tarwater made it through the business district and called it a day at Highway 63 South (now Business 63 South). The three remaining souls moved off into the rising sun and a special place in the annals of marathoning.
      Patterson led for about 18 miles, but Schroeder came on to win by 19 minutes in 3:57. (No one worried about tenths or hundredths of a second 40 years ago). When Patterson finally made it to the square, I called the AP with the story about the first two runners and assured them that I would get back to them lat er. I explained that I had to get back on the course to be with the rest of the field - They were happy with my original story so we went back to see if we could find Palmer. He had suffered from cramps just before the halfway mark. Our day was done - and the Heart of America Marathon was now a part of distance running history - a legend in the making.
      Our victory celebration was a hamburger picnic in my back yard. Then the CAC turned to other things such as setting up the 1960 state weight meet.
      The Heart of America Marathon was now a fact. It was just another project for the CAC. It joined a program of weekly Saturday events which drew track and field folks from around the Midwest to Hickman Track for such things as pentathlons for running, jumping, throwing, and combinations of all the above. This concept led to the birth of the Columbia Track Club (primarily a "track" club then, not heavy on distance running), the National 100-mile walking championship, the American Centurion Club revival, and a long list of National AAU race-walking championships which drew every major walker to Columbia for years, even before Larry Young settled here.
      The Heart of America Marathon shared its name with the Heart of America Power Festival, another of the CAC's projects, for a number of years, but the marathon long ago outlived the lifting venture.
      The Heart of America Marathon was still a project of the CAC in 1961, but by 1962 the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department was a co-sponsor, primarily because I had gone to work for the department. Get your help when and where you can, right?
      Bill Silverberg, a 19-year-old from Overland Park, Kansas, and Central Missouri State, won in 1961 and repeated in 1962, the final year of the race to Fulton.
      The 1961 race was basically decided by a bowel movement. Jerry Mathis, a 19 ¬year-old from Columbia and the University of Missouri, led for 22 miles, then had to make a pit stop, and was never able to catch Silverberg again. Road races, in a car or on foot, are often decided by pit stops.
      Following the 1962 race, the decision was made to change the course. The logistics of returning the runners to the starting point had become unmanageable. Most runners had leg cramps, blistered feet, and stiffness just short of rigor mortis. The current course was chosen from a number of possibilities. Except for some fine tuning due to road construction and the opening of the Katy Trail, the course remains the same as it was marked in 1963. It still starts not far from Memorial Stadium and ends at the Daniel Boone Building at 7th and Broadway in downtown Columbia.
      Prior to 1963, medical help and safety procedures were a bit short of today's standards. For instance, in 1960 I had a single gallon jug of water and had to replenish the supply at houses along the route. The race leader, Patterson, would drink his share, leave the jug alongside the road and Schroeder would drink his share when he came by. Most runners had their own helpers or none at all. You had to be tough in 1960. Also, lawsuits were less likely 40 years ago.
      Only one person ever ran into serious trouble in those early days. Ted Moore, a runner from the University of Missouri-Rolla, had been told not to drink water during the race or he would become nauseated. Such was the thinking in those Dark Ages. The 1964 race was a hot, huumid affair and Ted was struggling badly from dehydration as he headed down Broadway toward the finish line. As he approached 10th St., he staggered and fell. Emergency vehicles took him to the University Hospital where he was in intensive care until he finally rehydrated. In fact, he spent several days there. A year later, this time with a full tank of fluids, Ted returned to finish 22nd in 4:13:24.
      The race took on an international flavor in 1963. John Rose, the king of the Pikes Peak Road Race, had won that race only a week earlier and came on in the final two miles of Heart of America to beat John Grundy of England by a minute and a half. Grundy had led the race to Memorial Stadium, but that final hill took its toll and Grundy was unable to catch the gutty Kansan. Silverberg was third, six minutes faster than his winning times in the races to Fulton. Everyone loved the new course, despite its six major hills, much better than the journey to Fulton. From the point of view of the race organizer, it was sure a lot easier to handle.
      Olympian Ron Daws gave the Heart of America race lasting credibility when he came from the Twin Cities to win in 1964 and '65 taking the course record down to 2:37:17 in 1965.
      For those who have never done the Heart of America course, you can expect a major hill at the end of the first mile,then a gentle downhill glide for the next five miles. At Smith Hatchery Road, you'll hang a left and, in the old days, you'd begin six miles of gravel, followed by a mile along the bank of the Missouri River of either dust or mud, depending on the weather. Today, the first three miles of Smith Hatchery Road are asphalt, the next three miles are still gravel, and the final mile is on the smooth surface of the Katy Trail - which brings you to the foot of Easley Hill. The gentle fall of those early miles is suddenly thrust at you in a three-quarter mile climb which you will not soon forget.
      Ol' Clark often stood at the top of Easley Hill where runners could vent their frustrations with such comments as "you fat SOB." If the gravel, which struck terror in the minds of the early marathoners, was more of a mental challenge than a physical one. In the first decade of running this course, not a single runner ever complained of a bruised foot due to the stones.
      Two major hills in the final seven miles of the race have decided the race on a number of occasions. The hill at Mile 19 and the hill at Mile 24 (Memorial Stadium) have spelled disaster for more than one front runner. At least the final two miles are flat.
      In 1964 the best ultra-marathoner in the country was Aldo Scandurra of New York City. He came to Heart of America to run the course twice in a row on the same day. Our aid stations had been alerted to stay open while he did the full 52 1/2 miles. Aldo ran the first marathon in 3:15:11 and headed to his hotel room. He wanted no part of a second trip. Easley Hill will do that to you. So, too, will those hills at Miles 19 and 24.
      Running and finishing the Heart of America became a badge of courage for the distance men and women of more than three decades ago. Many came to run it once, but few returned.
      Sure, we had the regulars like Arne Richards, Lou Fritz, Gene Somer, John Rose, and later, the two doctors from the Twin Cities - Alex Ratelle and Bill Andberg who came to set national age group records on a marathon course which had been certified almost from the beginning.
      The Heart of America set an early pace in race management. The course was well-marked, timers (under the direction for at least a decade of Joe Schroeder, the initial winner) every three miles, plenty of water stations, excellent police control within the city, and guards at every intersection from Easley Hill to the finish. In addition, as much attention was paid to last place as to first and those who came to finish truly appreciated the fact they were important, too. Not every race director in those days cared, regardless of the distance.
      In 1966 a local runner by the name of Joe Duncan came on the scene, plodding [ED: Duncan may not consider 8 of 9 HOAS under 4:00-- with a 3:26 PB, to be "plodding"] along to finish the race nine times in 12 starts. By 1970, Joe had succeeded Clark as Race Director when the latter moved into professional baseball as a regional scouting supervisor. Joe has been Race Director since then, combining running and directing in many of those races. It has been Joe's dedication to a cause which has allowed the Heart of America Marathon to remain one of the classic marathons left in the world today. It is to Joe Duncan I dedicate this Foreword.

A Postscript, by Clark, to the Foreword

      It had been 15 years since Ol' Clark had been to the Heart of America Marathon. He had joined the race staff for the 25th anniversary race in 1984, mainly beacause Hal Higdon was coming back for a second shot at Easley Hill. Hal had run here in 1968 and called the course the only true marathon course - period.
      Now it was 1999 - the 40th running of the Heart of America. There were still no boxers in the starting field. Some looked like weightlifters, but none I knew personally. Art Tarwater was missing. Darrell Palmer lives in Idaho; no one seemed to know where to find Morris Patterson nor Jerry Smith. Tarwater is in the Masters' Weightlifting Hall of Fame and is a 14-time national masters' champion. His legs are still too short and still almost fail to reach from the asphalt to his ...butt. Once was enough for Art.
      But Joe Schroeder was there - as he has been many times in the past 38 years. We had a good visit. We were the only two people who were there at the beginning and the only two people who had been involved with the race during its first decade. No one knew us. No one knew that the entire day was the fault of two fat guys they had never seen before.
      I drove the field as I always did...driving against the field so I could see the faces of the people of the Heart of America, their strain, their lean, their limp, their sweatiness or dryness. Then I'd find the last runners and/or walkers. I'd turn around and come back, slowing to talk to each runner or group of runners, making sure all were comfortable and alert. I'd remind them of their need for water, and check each one. The winner was finished before two female runners had reached Easley Hill and a walker with a heavy knee cast had come to Whoop-up, just past the top of the Hill. There would be no applause for them. The timers may have closed shop before they arrived. [ED: We had not yet closed shop - we waited even though they were over the six-hour time limit]. They may not have had applause when they finally struggled down Broadway, but these folks are the Heart of America - where money is not a factor, where beating someone is not a factor, but beating your time and finishing the course is a major accomplishment.
      The back half of every marathon is for me. Basically, that's the group which gave birth to the Heart of America so many years ago. These are the boxers who didn't show up and the short-legged weightlifters who did. . We all love to see elite athletes in action, but we also love to hear someone on a five-hour pace say to you "thanks for caring."
      I checked half the field before turning toward Memorial Stadium and the finish line. Not much had changed in the 36 years since we had done the same thing on the same course for the first time. Sure, the names and the faces were different, but the sweat, the blisters, the limp, the running form slowed to a walk - they were all the same.
      Runners on the hill at Mile 19 asked if they had reached 10,000 feet yet. They were either OK or too far gone to worry about it. No one was struggling at Memorial Stadium, but when I turned down Broadway toward the finish line, I could see Ted Moore struggling to finish, then struggling to stay alive.
      I had meant to stop and visit at the finish line, but I drove slowly past as a runner finished in 3 hours, 26 minutes, 35 seconds. Nameless to me, but the recipient of his round of applause. He had accomplished what he had set out to do. He had finished. I hoped he had beaten his target time. I hoped he had meant to beat 3:30. That meant victory.
      I turned right and left the race behind me. I, too, had experienced a good day. My race, too, had been excellent. What had started so long ago had not been, as so many had said - a mistake. It had been what it should have been - a reachable goal, a chance for personal victory. After 40 races, I, too, enjoyed sharing in that personal victory.