When junior Heather Heisse needs some inspiration to keep running when she feels weak, she thinks about the gold-colored medal in her purse. Heisse, of the Webster University women’s cross-country team, earned a medal for finishing the Minnesota Half Marathon in August.
“I never take it out of my purse,” she said.
Heisse completed the race in 1 hour, 40 minutes and 23 second to place 128th out of 916 runners.
This year, Heisse recorded the best times for Webster at each of the women’s team’s first five races which puts her name at the top of the times for the Gorloks thus far.
“It’s a good feeling,” Heisse said. “I know all that work that I’ve put in is paying off, and I can see that in my results. And I still want to get better. I still want to get faster times. Even if I break the school record, I want to keep improving.”
Heisse came close to breaking Webster records in the WashU Early Bird Meet at Washington University on Sept. 1. She clinched the second-fastest time in school history with a 16:42 mark and finished 49th out of 109 runners.
Her time of 20:29 at the Walt Crawford Open on Sept. 7 was the Gorloks’ fifth fastest in a 5K race. The top times kept piling up for Heisse as she set her personal best for a 6K race at the Brissman-Lundeen Invitational on Sept. 21. She continued the pace, finishing first for Webster at the Sean Earl Invitational on Sept. 29 with a time of 20:10.
Most recently at the Jackling
Jocks Invitational in Rolla,
Mo., on Saturday, Oct. 6, Heisse broke the Webster record for a 5K race with a time of 19:10.
Heisse credited her success this year to the half-marathon she ran this summer, the one where she earned the medal for finishing.
Coach Kelly Parsley said Heisse’s speed stands out to him.
“She’s as fast as some of my men,” Parsley said. “I wasn’t expecting her to be at that level. She’s definitely improved. She’s almost a minute faster than she’s ever been. She’s a minute faster than she was last year. So, that just shows how much her hard work has paid off, and we’re really lucky.”
Heisse started her athletic career in middle school when she tried out for the track and field team. She transitioned to cross-country in her freshman year at Troy Buchanan High School in Silex, Mo. One specific race from her senior year stays with her and fuels her when running.
“It was in a district race, and I finished in the top 30,” Heisse said. “I was able to move on to sectionals. I was three places away from going to state my senior year at sectionals, so that definitely stuck in my mind. That’s one of the factors that keep me going. I didn’t make it to state, and I just want to keep moving forward.”
Heisse was a member of last year’s St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship team — the first ever in Webster history. She finished sixth overall out of 48 women runners in the 6K race with a time of 24:35.
Parsley said he’d like to see Heisse have her highest finish in conference history, but he also thinks Heisse can go beyond the SLIAC championship this year.
“I feel like she could be all-region,” Parsley said. “Top in the region is top 35. That would be amazing. Our region is one of the most competitive in Division III by far in the country. If she can be all-region in our region, that’s a really huge accomplishment.
“I think it’s an outside goal for her, but if she keeps improving, and she runs like she does at practice and has confidence in herself to do it, I really think she can. I honestly think she has the potential to be a girl who could qualify for the NCAA Division III national championship. But she has to do the work and continue doing the work. So far, it’s really paying off.”
Webster’s top women’s cross-country runner balances work, athletics and school like many other students. Heisse said she sometimes doesn’t know how she balances her course work with cross-country meets and her job at Cabela’s, but even with her full schedule she strives to help the squad repeat as conference champions.
“It’s really hard, and it’s exhausting, but I’m in my third year (at Webster) now, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Heisse said. “So, that makes me want to work even harder. And with the team, I know how we did last year, and we obviously want to get that spot back. There’s a lot of motivation factors that go into it.”
As the women’s cross-country teams march through the second half of its season, Heisse said her times will play a part in what she hopes will be the team’s second SLIAC championship.
“We did it last year,” Heisse said. “We know we have to work hard and have to keep that work going in order to win, but I think that we all have a really good chance of doing well.”