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HEARTBREAK HILL

Volunteers are over the top

Summit veterans offer aid

By Tony Chamberlain, Globe Staff, 4/16/2002

   
 TOP FINISHERS

Men  |  Women  |  Wheelchairs  |

 COVERAGE

Women: Okayo KOs course in debut
Men: Rop puts Kenyans back on top
Runner-up: Ndereba is still first-rate
Ryan: Their absence didn't last long
US runners: Support not there
Beardsley: He returns for more fun
Masters: At 43, Kipkemboi in prime
Wheelchairs: VanDyk wins again
Notebook: Runners kept their cool
The start: Meeting first challenge
First-person: To end, the hard way
Heartbreak Hill: Over the top
SporTView: Coverage lagged
Faces in pack: Miles of smiles

 PHOTO GALLERIES

Memorable moments
During the race
Before the race
Sunday pasta party
Sports & Fitness Expo

NEWTON - Everyone is a hero on Marathon day, but those who realize that fact most fully camp along Commonwealth Avenue in the elegantly manicured neighborhood where Brookline, Newton, and Boston come together. For runners it is called simply Heartbreak Hill.

And for more years than she can remember - amid the boisterous crowd encouraging each runner and wheelchair racer - Meg Maloy has supervised a small medical outpost at the very top.

''We hope we see nothing and don't have to do anything today,'' said Maloy, who grew up a mile or so from here and remembers a blur of runners over the years, local heroes from Clarence DeMar to Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson, and then the high-flying running machines from Japan, Mexico, and Kenya.

''I used to come watch the race when I was a girl,'' said Maloy, looking up at a foggy overcast sky. ''The elite runners go by all right. Sometimes someone will stop to get Vaseline and keep on going. Later in the race is where you get the problems.''

The weather, she said, was great for the runners. Early forecasts called for a hot sun to burn off the moisture, which meant just one thing to Maloy and staff: cramps and dehydration.

''A lot of times they don't want to stop for water because they don't want to make pit stops, so they don't drink properly,'' she said.

And whatever the caloric sin, the weakness, the lack of training, the ill-fitting shoes, all truths are told here on Heartbreak Hill, a trail of tears.

Among her worst cases, Maloy remembers the fellow who just could not make the top of Heartbreak Hill because his feet hurt so badly.

''This gentleman wore new sneakers and he came in with blood coming through his sneakers,'' she said. ''When he took them off, the soles of his feet were gone. It's a good thing we had a doctor here that day.''

Heartbreak Hill once picked off a famous runner with considerably tougher feet, though Maloy was not working here then. In 1963, Olympic champion Abebe Bikila, the barefoot Ethiopian, had run away from the pack before slamming into the wall in the hills. He ended up walking as John Kelley the Younger, his great rival, strode past.

Though too young to remember Bikila, 30-year-old Mohammed Nasser, an Ethiopian who lives in Cambridge and runs with a team made up of countrymen from the Boston area, has heard the legends. And standing on Heartbreak Hill, watching the first Kenyans sprint past the straggling wheelchairs, Nasser was inspired.

''I will probably run it next year if my back is OK,'' he said.

And of this famous 3-mile-plus series of upgrades also known as the Newton hills, Nasser is not too impressed: ''I have run them in a 13-mile run and they're not that hard.''

Which left a kink in the eyebrow of Alemu Kifle, a 36-year-old dressed in an identical warmup suit with Ethiopia's national colors.

''Heartbreak Hill looks hard to me,'' said Kifle. ''But I may try the Marathon next year, too.''

Vestiges of a patriotic theme were scattered up and down Heartbreak Hill, including the family group of 15 from Mansfield who came out to boost David Driscoll over the hump.

Wearing red-white-and-blue hats, clothes, and face paint, the Driscoll tribe was just turning up when the first wheelchairs appeared behind the police sirens and the observer truck.

''We do this every year,'' said Mary Ellen Driscoll. ''A couple of the family even jump in beside him and run a few miles.''

Louise Neely was hoping to see her fiance, Karl Whalen, about halfway up the hill. She was sporting a patriotic windsock high on a pole, though at 2:30 p.m. it was a bit premature.

''This is so he can find me,'' she said. ''We arranged it for this spot, but I really don't think Karl will get this far. He was up late drinking beer all weekend.''

Added another family friend, ''Some people carbo load on pasta, Karl thought Bud would be just as good.''

Just beyond Heartbreak Hill for a downhill stretch of jubilation and sudden collapse, is the Haunted Mile, which has claimed scores of runners as the effects of the uphill grind catches up to them.

''I've seen it happen plenty,'' said Jim Prince from Brighton, who has been Marathon watching for many years. ''Just over the top of the hill, they hit the wall.''

Another longtime fan, Greg Bennett, who positions himself a half-mile down from the top of Heartbreak Hill, has a studied eye: ''You can see them all the way from here. They come over the top and they're so damn happy to be through Newton they just take off downhill - and kill themselves.''

Midway through yesterday's running - no problems. But they'd be coming, Bennett knew. And so did Maloy, who smoothed the cot blankets in the tent.

''From now on you get them,'' Maloy said. ''People who didn't drink enough water. Some who went to the pasta dinner and loaded up on carbos without loading in the protein first. Nutrition is important. You have to do it right. Those that didn't, we'll probably see them right here.''

This story ran on page D9 of the Boston Globe on 4/16/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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