Missouri

So Fargo had ended and the leg hurt in June.

Now it was August and I was not sure if it was time for me to run again but it was like an old runner’s adage – when it doubt run through it! And if it doesn’t exist you can credit to me today. Runners are a freak creature. Everyone and their dog will tell them to quit through injuries, pain and whatever fresh hell we choose to find but only after serious consequence do we stop and then there are no guarantees that will last for long. I was in a bad place with my left leg. Fargo had been nothing but pain and I had quit for three months.

The funny part? The leg didn’t feel better, heck half a year later it still doesn’t feel much better. So I had enough of waiting around and needed a marathon. I picked Mississippi. It was a ways away but in Tupelo where Elvis hailed from and I could find someone to go with me, right? Full up. So I chose Missouri. It was close and about the same topography as Iowa so it was going to be flat, right? And close to home so I could find someone to go with me, right? Wrong on both accounts.

I will never forget all week leading up to that marathon I was sure someone would volunteer to go with me to Missouri. I had never done one of these trips alone and though it was just one night, like I wanted to do it alone? Well I was alone and it was Friday night before I left. I was starting to doubt myself and decided to go check out the course. What? The marathon in Columbia, Missouri prided itself on its toughness? Sure enough, it claimed to have seven major hills and not for the weak. I almost didn’t even go based on that information! But I had already put in my $35 plus the hotel room so I decided to make the trek and not give up before I even tried – Alone. Cue the Heart guitars.

I arrived into the Howard Johnson – another first for me never stayed at one of those before! And went to the expo which was just in a hotel lobby of sorts, picked up my shirt and left. This was not going to be a large affair – it was obvious in every way.

A little history on the Heart of America Marathon located in Columbia, Missouri. It is the oldest marathon this side of the Mississippi and really did start out as a bet between two friends that neither could complete the feat that included a run up a hill that seemed to go straight up. Like every endurance test, eventually others joined in and then it became an annual tradition. It is known as one of the toughest marathons around and that hill of Easly is one of the tougher climbs in the Midwest at least. Only around 200 runners signed up in 2011 and it is a race where you may run by yourself for long periods of time – not that many people pass you when you start to lag. There aren’t even that many to begin with.

I showed up the next morning nervous about parking my car in a hotel parking lot for 4 hours with the keys in the car and not knowing another person at the race. I saw a guy in a Marathon Maniacs shirt and introduced myself telling him I was interested in the club. His name was Scott and when I saw he wore headphones I told him I wanted to but forgot my hat unfortunately. He told me he had an extra hat and gave me a hat from inside the car. He was a great guy and a big reason why I joined the Maniacs – just great people. He even found me on Facebook and we are friends to this day. I only wish we would have planned a race since as it is always great to see friends met along the way.

The race began and what did I think of the tough course? Pretty easy actually and then when we hit the first hill – this was not going to be that bad at all! Then the next hill? Pathetic even. Then the next hill – does this thing ever end and then the realization that the second hill was not one of the seven killer hills? But it was just some hill! Another hill before Easley Hill? This one was fine but just irritating and I could walk it but then what about this major hill coming up? And I could now hear people catching me and I was dying and at the halfway point that hill was coming and SLAM! There it was and I started to climb it just as two guys started to nip at my heels. I was pretty much as frantic as the writing suggests.

I saw a biker in front of me get off his bike and start to walk. I heard the guys behind me stop and start to walk. I kept climbing not stopping to walk – this was the only chance I had to keep ahead – to never give up. I made it up that horrible hill that did seem to go straight up without ever stopping to walk. The other two guys did pass me a mile and a half later but it was worth it. I kept going and when the other three hills came along the way, I did not stop on any of them either. I just kept going. I was getting slower much slower and my left leg was killing me but I just kept moving without stopping to walk. The final hill was killer and I was passed by three other runners as I moved along. It was almost exactly the same hill as the first I had encountered that morning and now it was pure pain and one of the worst hills I had ever encountered. Funny how much changes in 20 plus miles!

I remember a car behind me waiting for me to get up the hill so they could get in the turning lane. I felt sorry for it. I watched as car after car whizzed by and realized why you should not wear headphones on this run. It was not the most secure thing. I was a bit scared of running by myself with those headphones on. Of course I didn’t take them off as I ran the last couple miles through the city streets of Columbia and towards the downtown area. I crossed the finish line in just over three and a half hours. It was not a great time but considering the difficulty of the course – it was the best time I ever had.

The race was over and there was a bus back to the hotel but I did not feel like waiting for it and instead walked across the fantastic University of Missouri campus and was impressed with how beautiful it was. I wish I spent more time visiting these places rather than just running them.and this one was hard – only met Scott and too late to actually hit the town. I put his hat above the front tire on the passenger side, saw my car with the keys still in it, and went back to the hotel and got out before check out. The drive home was awful but that due to a tire going down – nothing to do with the run.

When runners talk about favorite marathons and least favorite – they forget all the ones inbetween. This really was one of my most important marathons – the first one I ran the distance and the first one I just said forget the pain and just ran through it tired of the aching reminder that never left me anyway. On top of that? Heart of America gives a runner street cred – it is tough, hilly as all get out and not exactly one you travel to. They keep it cheap and do not pull out all the stops. Even the medal I got was pretty cheap.

But there are few medals I am prouder of and in the end, I will always stick by that runner’s creed – “Just run through it.” There are runs that will forever define who we are as runners – and this is it for me – remember we are all in this together, times do not always matter, and never give up even when everyone else is telling you to.

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