Heart of America Marathon participants brave training and heat

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COLUMBIA — Runners from all over world traded in Labor Day relaxation for a grueling 26.2-mile trek in the Heart of America Marathon

The marathon, which is in its 57th year, is an annual Labor Day tradition in Columbia. 

Steve Stonecipher-Fisher, a long distance runner and volunteer for Heart of America, mentioned how, at one point, organizers tried pushing the marathon to the fall.

"We tried doing it in October…later, for a few years, and numbers actually dropped,” Stonecipher-Fisher said. 

Now, the race continues to take place at the tail end of Missouri's humid summers. Despite the tough course and heat, Stonecipher-Fisher said the race usually attracts about 150-170 participants. Men typically finish the race in about three hours and women finish in about 3 hours and 10 minutes. 

A six-hour limit makes training for the marathon key.

“It takes that extra discipline to become a marathoner," Stonecipher-Fisher said. "Most people really shouldn’t do it unless they’re willing to put that kind of effort into it.” He also recommended runners don't take on Heart of America as their first marathon. 

For one participant, though, Heart of America was his starter marathon, and he continues to battle other barriers to complete courses.

“I’m diabetic. I’ve had diabetes now for 30 years, since I was nine, so it’s a little tricky for me getting the glucose and stuff right,” said Columbia resident Jeff Custer.

The Heart of America Marathon was Custer's first. Since then, he's been back three consecutive years and has completed a total of seven marathons. 

Custer said drinking plenty of Gatorade during races keeps his blood sugar levels in check. He also said running several marathons a year keeps him in shape for Heart of America. 

Runners like Stoncipher-Fisher admit distance running and marathons can be hard to get through; however, he believes the pain is worth it.

“Anytime you run a really good marathon, for 15 minutes, you say, ‘never again,’ but then you don’t mean it because it was such a positive experience,” Stonecipher-Fisher said. 

The Heart of America Marathon started in 1960 and is one of America's oldest marathons. 

Participants start at Monk Drive and Stadium Boulevard and finish on Broadway.