Barefoot Rick's Heart of America Marathon Report - September 4, 2006

The Heart of America Marathon is a conundrum, for me and a lot of the regulars who do this race every year. You would think that the combination of the usual Labor Day heat and the perpetual Ozarkian hills of central Missouri would keep most runners in their beds on this end of summer holiday. Not true! You see, there is something of a tradition running HOA. Since it's inception in 1960, it has the reputation of being one of the toughest 26.2 distances in the country. Folks earn a certain "bragging rights" having ran it just once. Then, there are others (like me) who come back and run it every year they can. For us, HOA's small field of runners (usually 100 to 150) along with the miles and miles of solitary running calls to the primal runner in those of us who heed its call.

This year's HOA was no exception, except for the heat. Temps were in the high 50s at the 6 a.m. race start. The fog and and high humidity told us, however, that if the sun did come out later that it promised to heat up quickly. I hung back with Tom Detore (Marathon Maniac #38 and a Hastings, Nebraska native recently transplanted to the Kansas City area) and a few others. The first 8 miles were pretty uneventful as we continued down and south to the Missouri River basin. Turning onto Old Plank Road, I had several runners remind me "Hey, did you know there is 3 miles of gravel coming up?" "Yeah", I told them, "I have heard that!" I guess no one told them that this was my 4th time to run HOA and that I had ran it barefoot two years ago!

Continuing onward and upward Old Plank Road the road made a bend and was now Smith Hatchery Road. This is rural Missouri at its best! Soybean fields with old mills and chicken hatcheries (hence the name, I suppose). Just as we passed one of the old mills, the asphalt gave way to gravel. Maybe I'm getting more used to running barefoot, but I remember it feeling a lot more tender on my feet 2 years ago! Could I be getting better at this barefoot running gig? Maybe nearly 7,000 barefoot miles is allowing me to steadily improve? Anyway, the gravel road was fine and I only slowed to a 10 minute pace on the two miles of road. Next, on the one mile pea-gravel section of the Katy Trail, I was able to crank it up a little to a 9 minute pace.

Stopped and took a couple of pics along the Smith Hatchery Road.
Could have sworn I heard someone picking out the "Deliverance" tune on a banjo during my brief respite.

After my gravel sojourn was the blip on the map small town of Easley Missouri. Easley has a notorious hill called "Easley Hill" which is at the juncture of the gravel and goes right up highway N very close to the half way mark. (Note: Whenever a race has a hill, such as Easley Hill in their literature and touts it as the "Pikes Peak of the Ozarks" -- mind what they say!). The four times I have ran this hill, I have never walked it but have always ran up it. As far as that goes, I have never walked a bit of the HOA course all four times I have ran this marathon. I come from the old school I guess "I do marathons the old-fashioned way -- I RUN THEM!". Anyway, I digress. So, heading up Easley Hill I started passing those who had earlier passed me on the gravel who were now walking up the hill. Truth is, no one passed me the remaining 13 miles once I got to the top of the hill. I just put it on cruise-control and took off since the rest of the course was asphalt. I guess at that time I was averaging about an 8:45 pace.

I kept picking off folks, encouraging them to kick it in and not let the barefoot guy (me) pass them. They would usually laugh and not try but I had a couple of guys that told me later that it helped them cause they kept trying to catch me.

The sun broke through at about 9 a.m. and I had about 4 miles to go. No big deal, even if it was going to start warming up. I was just cruising, knowing that I was going do quite a bit better than my prediction of 4 hours for this marathon. Coming up Broadway, I saw the finish line and Joe Duncan, Race Director, called out my name as I crossed the finish like at 3:48:02. I was very pleased with my time knowing that this is one HILLY course and is a challenge for any runner!

Finish Time - 3:48:02
Pace - 8:42
Age Group Finish (50-54) - 7th Place
38th Place Overall
39th Marathon Completed
21st BAREFOOT Marathon Completed
7th Marathon of 2006 Completed
39th Marathon Overall Completed
Beat my 2004 HOA Barefoot Time by nearly 10 minutes! (04' - 3:57:41)
Ran the entire distance!!

(Left) Me and Ronnie Wilson. Ronnie is one of the die-hards that makes a point to be in Columbia Missouri every year for HOA.

Marathoner bares his soles
Roeber runs HOA race sans shoes.

So, if you're ever in Missouri around Labor Day and you have a hankering to run a marathon, use the following criteria to decide whether HOA is right for you:

1. You must like hills
2. It can be hot!
3. You must like running solitary for miles and miles.

If this sounds like fun or a challenge to you, then I might see you at the Heart of America Marathon on an upcoming Labor Day!

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