Heart of America was my first marathon so it has become a tradition to run it every year. It is also a plus that it is local and reasonably priced at only $45. This year was my 11th consecutive year running the race. Last year I ran the Leadville 100 miler, 2 weeks before the race. This year I ran the Mohican 100 miler in June so was hoping I would have some time to actually marathon train. Training was kind of blah but managed around 50-something per week since Mohican. I ran hill repeats and got plenty of long runs. However, my enthusiasm for long distance training has been waning and I didn't do any tempo runs. I have been doing track workouts but geared for shorter distance and I have been enjoying those. Like last year and most years post the Long Run Lunatics group, my training was far from ideal, but I was still hoping for a decent race. My weight was up about 7 - 8 lbs this year so that was probably not ideal.
The weather forecast changed dramatically in the 10 days before the race. At first predictions were lows in the 70s to highs in the 90s. Then as we got closer to the race, predicting temps in the 70s - 80s with a very high chance of severe thunderstorms. The day before the race, it did not look good. I wasn't worried about the rain but I was more worried about lightning canceling the race. I was actually looking forward to rain keeping us cool.
I woke up just before 5 am and it was pouring rain with a little thunder but not much. I figured the race was going to happen and we left about 5:40 am to get to the start line which is just a little over 2 miles from where I live. It didn't seem like a lot of people were there but I think most were hiding out in their cars. At 6 am, we received notice there would be a 30 minute delay and they would come around to our cars if that changed. I was about to get out of the car at 6:25 and we received notice we would be starting at 7 am. At this point, I needed to use the bathroom again. Hugh drove Allan (who was hanging out with us) and I to the Hearnes Center but they had already locked it so we went to Hugh's workplace. We posted a message to the Heart of America FB page about the delay since we are administrators, used the bathroom, and headed back over about 6:45. The rain had let up and had nearly stopped by 7 am. I was surprised since the forecast when I woke up called for 100% chance of thunderstorms until 10 am. The race director had consulted with a TV station meteorologist and they thought we would be fine starting at 7 am. I expected to get wet at some point but just stayed cloudy and never rained.
The rain had cooled the temp down from earlier so we started with 66F and 100% humidity. There were 179 runners which was down about 50 from last year. I wasn't feeling great as my throat felt a little sore and head hurt but figured it was allergies. We were off and I was in about 12th place running with the 2 guys that finished just ahead of me last year. When we turned to go south we were in for a big surprise. We had a really strong headwind to deal with. I was glad I left my hat behind since I would have likely lost it. I heard later people were losing hats and earbuds due to the strong wind. I figured it would calm down once we got out of town and into the tree cover but it probably took a little more out of me than I had to give for those first few miles. I had to deal with the wind for about 4 miles and just a little at one point around 8 miles.
I couldn't seem to get in a groove to run as fast as I wanted (sub-7s). The 2 guys I started with went way ahead to the point I eventually lost site of both of them. I passed a couple people back and forth but overall this was a solo race most of the way. I couldn't keep my pace below 7 minutes. Only mile 1 and 6 were under 7. My average pace at the halfway point was 7:17 and my split was 1:36:07. I thought it might be neat to finish my 11th marathon in 3:11:11 but doubted I could pull it off since I figured I would slow down. I was in 10th place at this point. I had 4 gels with me that I took every 5 miles but not sure I needed them.
I wasn't feeling great but was able to maintain my pace pretty well the rest of the way and was hoping for a sub 3:15 and to hold onto my 10th place. I didn't see anyone behind me. This is a hilly course and considered one of the toughest marathons in the US. It scares some people away but it really isn't that bad and the organization and great volunteers makes it worth running. It was a long lonely road to 22 miles when I could see a runner ahead for the first time in 13 miles. I was slowly gaining on him and as I got closer I could see he was taking walk breaks. He took one too many breaks on the hill at mile 23 so I passed him at about 23.5 miles going up a hill. My legs were feeling heavy and I just felt achy all over. I managed a 7:36 miles for both 24 and 25. When I turned the corner before 25, I could see someone ahead of me but figured I would never catch him this close to the end. It was my friend Tom and he was taking walk breaks. He took enough breaks to allow me to pass him and I felt strong to the end. Just knowing the end was near gave me a boost. I ran mile 26 in 7:23 pace and the last 0.5 in 6:01 pace. Finishing time was 3:13:44 and 8th overall. My second half was 1:37:37 so 1.5 minutes slower than the first half. I ended up being 1 minute ahead of Tom so my lucky day since we are back in the same age group this year and it isn't easy for me to keep up with him in any race. He said he was having blood sugar issues and that is why he was walking. Both of us were about 9 - 10 minutes faster last year. Some people were breaking their course PRs this year but not all of us.
I think the delay was a good call overall. The weather turned out nicer than normal for this race with the clud cover keeping the temp down for the runners until the last half hour. It was humid as usual. 11 HOAs completed and this one was my 8th fastest time. Placed 8 of 179 and first in the the 45 - 49 age group. The closest finisher ahead of me was 3:07. The winner ran a 2:45! I was also the first place Master's runner thanks to Tom taking some walk breaks so get a pair of shoes from Tryathletics. The fact that he or someone else didn't show up to run faster is probably a miracle. Last year there were more people, I placed 9th and ran faster and the first place Master's ran a 2:49 so it is only luck and not a good performance that I won the first place Masters this year.
At the finish, they had Hot Box cookies, fruit, Gatorade G2 and soda. I managed to eat a couple cookies and had some caffeine and felt better. We watched quite a few runners come in and then headed over to the the pizza party and awards ceremony at Shakespeare's Pizza around noon. It was a fun race and am looking forward to doing this marathon again next year.