Kyle Heffner has been running all his life. And he credits older brother John for his interest in the sport.
“He initially inspired me to run,” Kyle Heffner said, “when I was a little fella. I was just copying what my older brother was doing.”
So Kyle ran, and ran and ran. He was on the 1980 U.S. Olympic marathon team. And he’s still running.
In fact, he’s running in this Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, a 26-2-mile grueler that will have around 45,000 people efforting to cross the finish line.
In Kyle’s case, he’s got a particular benchmark.
Heffner is currently ranked third in the world in terms of time span between first sub-three-hour marathon and his last, in other words, time between running his first marathon in under three hour and the last time he did so.
It’s a feat he began when he was 17 years old as a high school junior in Richardson, back in 1972. If he can run Chicago in less than three hours, he’ll move up to number one in that ranking.
The News Herald caught up with Heffner – not an easy task in itself – on Tuesday morning, as he was headed to Plano for a photo shoot with the Dallas Morning News. Heffner explained his goals, and how for him, it’s a labor of love.
“I knew the Chicago was a good course, flat and fast,” he said. “I came across the statistic that I was ranked (third) in the longest time span, number three in under three hours. …When I won my age group in Boston in 2012, I was 57. I thought, if I break another three-hour (marathon), I would move the record from 41 years and 100 some-odd days to 46 years.
“So far, nobody has done that. To me, it’s pretty cool to be able to do something no one has done. I’ve never held a world record before. This might be my opportunity to do that.”
The Chicago Marathon is one of the six World Marathon Majors, along with Boston, New York, Tokyo, London and Berlin. This year’s Chicago Marathon is the 41st anniversary – the first one was held in 1977, and had 4,200 runners. The 45,000 mark for this year is the limit, and the marathon only officially times those who finish in under 6 ½ hours.
Heffner unfortunately didn’t get to compete in the Olympics in 1980. That was the year the U.S. boycotted the games in Moscow due to U.S.-Soviet relations.
But he did run track and cross-country at Texas A&M University. He’s been ranked in the top 10 in the United States and as high as 17th in the world along the way, and even a topic of features in Runner’s World magazine. Now 64, Heffner’s hobby is a huge a part of his daily life. “I’m a wellness guy,” Heffner explained, with a laugh.
He’s a clinical exercise physiologist at a cardiology clinic, and also does corporate wellness: he helps develop exercise plans for companies and their employees.
“I live in McKinney,” the former Kilgore native said. “The clinic is there, and I coach after hours, and run. I have a few runners that want me to help them train. Most of them are recreational runners. I’ve had a couple recently that are trying to get qualifying times.”
He also helped train Jordan Snyder last year. Snyder won the BMW Dallas Marathon in December, 2016. Snyder is a Dallas native who now works in finance in New York, and began running competitively in marathons in 2014.
In short, while Heffner does prepare himself mentally and physically for the marathon, he already lives a healthy lifestyle conducive to running competitively.
“Well, you have to think in terms of long-term development,” he noted. “I started trying to condition myself (for Chicago) about a year ago. I had some minor orthopedic injuries on and off – as a runner, it’s pretty easy to get injured. I had to gradually, slowly, incrementally increase my mileage. I peaked out at about 70 miles per week, and started tapering it off. It’s a slow process.”
As far as a diet change? Not really, Heffner explained. “I pretty much focus on a healthy and organic, balanced diet as much as possible anyway. I’m always doing research on figuring out different ways to present things on healthy living (as a part of the job). I’m always aware of what I’m eating – I try to avoid processed food, junk food, fast food, if possible.”
Heffner will be more than ready to go when the marathon starts on Sunday morning, at 7:30 a.m. Central time – it can be seen on NBC Sports Gold, and also online at nbcchicago.com. His wife, Mary, isn’t making the trip to Chicago, and the family specifically ordered NBC Sports Gold so she could watch coverage of the marathon.
Heffner’s daughter will be in attendance with friends, he said, and brother John – still a teacher at Kilgore High School, where he was once a wildly successful track coach – will be on the plane with him.
“He’s helping me take care of all the things surrounding the trip, to allow me to focus on what I’m doing,” Heffner said. “I am grateful to him for that, and of course, glad he’s going.”
Heffner hasn’t ran a marathon since the Boston in 2012. He did run a half-marathon, the Tour Des Fleurs, in Dallas a couple of weeks ago.
“I was second in the Masters – the second male runner older than 40 (to finish),” he said. “I was trying to get under (one hour, 26 minutes) and I ran it in an hour, 24 minutes, 41 seconds. I didn’t feel good during the race. It was just so muggy that morning that I didn’t feel great. I stopped momentarily along the way, and then I thought, no, I’ve got to finish this thing.”
He’ll not have that luxury Sunday in Chicago, and he knows it.
“I’ll have to average about (six minutes, 50 seconds) a mile to do this,” Heffner explained. “It’s a pretty daunting task. You can’t waste time. The marathon is such a distance, that it becomes a bit of an energy dilemma. It’s long enough that it goes beyond the energy the body can store (on carbohydrates).
“But I’ll have some gels, and they have water and Gatorade on the course. Hopefully, that will help me keep my energy up so I won’t have any issues. The last six miles are the most challenging. If I can hold off, not crash, I should be under the wire at three hours. That’s my goal. If I do anything better than that, I’ll be really happy.”
Heffner’s bib number is 466. Anyone can track Heffner, or any marathon-runner, by downloading the marathon’s mobile (cell) app. The marathon’s website is simply chicagomarathon.com.