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

Joe Schroeder Interview


By Joe Marks
(In 1984 at the time of the 25th Anniversary race)

      Twenty-five years ago, Joe Schroeder ran the first heart of America Marathon - 26.2 miles - in spikes! It was 80 degrees at the start; upper 90s at the finish. Joe won in a time of 3 hours and 57 minutes ("less than two hours off the world record!"), finishing five miles ahead of Morris "Red Eye" Patterson. Joe and "Red Eye" were the only two finishers that 1960 Labor Day on a hilly course that ran from Columbia to Fulton, Mo.
      Joe Schroeder had never run more than six miles prior to his first marathon. Furthermore, he operated under the assumption that runners shouldn't take in fluids during a run. About half way through his race, though, he threw that training rule aside in favor of survival.
      Schroeder "blames" the first Heart Of America on Bill Clark. "Clark started talking in early summer about having a marathon. We didn't think he was serious at first, then we started realizing he was," Schroeder recalled.
      "I didn't know anything about marathon training those days, so I pretty much kept on doing what I had been - running about three miles a day on the A.L. Gustin Golf Course at the University of Missouri. On my 'long' days, I'd run from hole to hole - about six miles."
      When Labor Day arrived, there were four young men standing with Schroeder at the starting line on Stadium Road, just north of the Biscayne Mall.
      "I'd say three of us were serious runners. There was 'Red Eye' Patterson, a fellow named Darrell Palmer and me. The others were a weightlifter and a 16-year-old Hickman High runner Clark had talked into running as part of their fitness program," Schroeder said.
      "I was in pretty good shape. This was between my junior and senior year at Mizzou and I was third or fourth man on the University's cross country team. Then I was 6' 4" and weighed between 165 and 172.
      "That was about 100 pounds ago."
      The race started at 8:00 a.m. with Schroeder, Patterson and Palmer clipping off the first five to six miles at what proved to be a torrid pace (somewhere between 6:00 and 6:30 a mile). The other two had started slower - and faded fast.
      "They got out of town (Columbia), and that's about all," said Schroeder."
      Palmer fared a little better. He lasted about 12 miles.
      So the battle was between Schroeder, "Red Eye" Patterson, and the sun.
      Schroeder had worn his cross country shoes and had put tape over the spikes to cushion his feet against city concrete. Once out of town and on the asphalt, he removed the tape. "Red Eye" had worn training shoes, but neither his shoes nor Schroeder's had the cushion or heel lift that help modern-day marathoners survive 26.2 miles.
      "I got a blister at 8 miles and had to stop to tape it," Schroeder said.
      "By this time, 'Red Eye' and I had an agreement that if one of us had to stop or slow down, the other would keep on going. He did, but at a slower pace.
      "As I got back running, the race had become a tactical one. Both of us were already doing some walking, and I just kept him in sight, gaining a little at a time. I finally caught him at Millersburg (about 15 miles into the race).
      "We battled back and forth a couple miles, with the heat really taking its toll. Somewhere between 16 and 18 miles, I broke away a bit. From then on, I just tried to keep some distance between us."
      Meanwhile, Bill Clark had been driving back and forth between runners, giving them water he had obtained from farmhouses on the way.
      "I guess the sun was taking more of a toll on 'Red Eye' than me. At 20 miles, Clark told me 'Red Eye' was in pretty bad shape. He was already cramping," Schroeder said.
      "By this time, both of us were walking more than running. And all I cared about was finishing.
      "When I hit the city limits of Fulton, a surge of adrenalin hit and I was able to run the last half mile to the finish. I staggered off the street onto the grass, and both legs totally cramped. There I was on the Courthouse lawn, completely wiped out."
      Schroeder was so sore he couldn't run for the next 10 days. Fortunately, he worked in turf maintenance at the A.L. Gustin Golf Course, so a sympathetic boss let him just mow the grass.
      "Walking behind a power mower helped loosen my legs. So did the University's whirlpool where I spent most of the rest of my time," Schroeder said.
      Like many marathoners, Schroeder's painful first try only convinced him he could do better next time. So a year later, he ran the Heart again - in just 3: 44. But this time he finished fifth of five finishers.
      Schroeder has not run another marathon. In fact, he hasn't run at all competitively since college. Some, including this author, have suggested that the 25th Heart would be a great place for a comeback.
      "I've thought about it, but I know that if I once start, I'll want to finish. And that's what got me into trouble the first time."
      And there's always the matter of the added 25 years and the 100 pounds.

JOE MARKS first ran the Heart of America Marathon in 1975. He participated every year since then as a runner or as a volunteer until his untimely death in January, 1999. Joe completed the Heart eight times with a personal best of 2:48:32 in 1979 and holds the 43, 45 and 46 age records.