Columbia Labor Day marathon kicks off its 59th year
COLUMBIA - The Heart of America Marathon turns 59 Monday and the race is set to start Labor Day morning.
While Labor Day usually means taking a break, the marathon runners are doing anything but.
Val Mertens, a Chicago resident and cancer survivor, is adding the Heart of America Marathon to his impressive list of 26.2 mile runs.
"I've run 54 marathons in 49 states up to this point, this is my 55th in my 50th state," said Mertens.
This Columbia tradition started on Labor Day in 1958 and has not missed a year since.
Runners come from all over the world to take part in what's been coined as the hardest, yet most beautiful marathon in the world.
Mertens said this race means more to him than just another marathon to check off his list.
"I'm running in memory of a couple people, and in celebration that I'm still here," Mertens said, "In 2008, I ended up with kidney cancer, had to take a little while off and just came back swinging a couple of months after surgery."
Mertens said it's taken him 20 years to complete a marathon in every state, his first marathon was in Alaska.
"We re-certified the course according to the USAT (USA Triathlon) standards, my partner timer... came down and rode the whole thing on a bike...got the course measured within a quarter of an inch of accuracy," Marathon Timer Tony Castelli said, "Timing is just a big challenge, kind of a puzzle."
Mertens said he took a ride on the course to prepare for the marathon and, "it's a little rougher" than he expected.
To view pictures of the past marathons click here.
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