|Allyson Manchester is one of six Boston Marathon entrants testing Polar personal training gear and blogging about it for Boston.com|
When choosing the route for my final 10-miler, I was determined to settle a score with Commonwealth Avenue in Newton. The stretch of Comm Ave between mile 17.5 and mile 20.5 had really harshed my mellow during the charity team “test run” several weeks ago. I decided to revisit these tricky pre-Heartbreak Hill miles to get some much-needed closure.
As I trekked through Newton Lower Falls during the charity run, I experienced a deceptive burst of energy when I saw the sign for Comm Ave. I thought that I was homeward bound.Although I had never before traveled into Newton beyond the foot of Heartbreak Hill, the street still felt comforting and familiar to me. After all, I am a creature of Comm Ave. I complain incessantly about the B Line, only to rise to its defense when I hear non-Bostonians insulting it. I cheer on the BC hockey team as they face BU in the “battle for Comm Ave” every year. I beam with pride when I run past 1325 Comm Ave, the apartment where Aerosmith played their first notes. I have guzzled iced coffee at every Comm Ave. Dunkin’ Donuts between BC and Boston Common.
Rebecca Sonlit, author of the atlas Infinite City, reminds us that “[cities] have thousands of inhabitants, and each of them possesses his or her own map of the place, a world of amities, amours, transit routes, resources, and perils, radiating out from home.” On my personal map of Boston, Comm Ave. (especially in its spots of grungy, college-y charm) is the main artery—the point from which all of life takes place.
Rounding mile 17.5 of the charity run, I turned onto my beloved street and expected to see Heartbreak Hill right away. I had completed most of my hill workouts on Heartbreak Hill, so I was feeling pretty prepared for the whole situation. I waited for it… and waited for it… and waited for it. My confidence waned as I spent the next three miles wondering when Heartbreak Hill would finally appear. The uncharted region of Comm Ave in Newton began to distort my perception of time, distance, and speed.
Adding to my frustration, these three miles were packed with small, sneaky hills. I felt nervous (rather than accomplished) as I ascended each slope, knowing that Heartbreak Hill still loomed somewhere in the distance. If Heartbreak Hill is the final, cathartic break-up scene in the Boston Marathon narrative, these small inclines are all of the lies, cheating, and passive-aggressive text messages.
When I finally reached Heartbreak Hill, my mental state was absolutely spent - not to mention my quads. Still, I was so relieved to see it that I excitedly cruised to the top (important note: after having run 20 miles, my definition of “cruised” is relative). I had been focused on the challenge of Heartbreak Hill for the whole run, and no longer felt that I needed to conserve my energy. I felt unstoppable.
Contrary to the mythology that surrounds it, Heartbreak Hill is not actually that steep. It’s also not very long. Heartbreak Hill has earned its reputation because it occurs at a psychologically difficult time in the race, after several miles of smaller hills that haven’t been glamorized in the same way as Heartbreak Hill proper. Before the charity test run, I had trained on Heartbreak Hill countless times. Still, the experience of approaching it was infinitely more difficult.
Often, the biggest challenge is not the challenge itself, but the silent and uncertain road that lies before it. Throughout my training, I have watched an embarrassing amount of inspiring marathon YouTube videos. In a video from the 2012 Boston Marathon expo, the Boston Globe asks a first-time runner how she feels about race day. “I’ve done the math and I’ve run over 500 miles to prepare for this… so this is really more of the victory lap,” she says confidently. While I am definitely not authorized to refer to 26.2 miles as a casual “victory lap,” I still appreciate this runner’s outlook. With only a week to go before April 15, we should all remember that the actual race will be an enjoyable experience—the daunting approach (the true Heartbreak) is mostly over. We have endured thankless miles in the bowels of winter; we have run through the blisters to break in our marathon sneakers; we have suffered through the phantom pains of tapering. The table has been set. We can now partake in the beautiful and delicious feast.
When I made my return to the corner of Washington Street and Comm Ave. for this week’s 10-miler, I noted all of the landmarks and little hills on the perilous path to Heartbreak Hill: Newton City Hall, the hill near Oldham Road, the Johnny Kelly statue, and the hill near Walnut Street. I am back on amicable terms with Comm Ave—for now, at least. I have a much better idea of the distance and terrain in Newton, but still anticipate that this stretch will be the toughest for me during the Marathon.
No matter how Heartbreak Hill treats me on race day, I know that I am one jilted lover who refuses to wallow in self-pity and half-melted HaagenDazs. As I make my ascent next Monday around 2 pm, I fully plan on assembling a cardboard box of old varsity letter jackets and mix tapes, throwing on a pair of revenge stilettos, and belting out a fewverses of Gloria Gaynor.
- Matt Pepin, Boston.com sports editor
- Steve Silva, Boston.com senior producer, two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner.
- Ty Velde is a 15-time Boston qualifier who's completed 11 consecutive Boston Marathons and 23 marathons overall. Ty is now training for his 12th Boston run and will provide training tips for those who train solo and outside, no matter what temperature it is.
- Rich 'Shifter' Horgan is a 19-time Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team member who runs in honor of his father, who died of colon cancer. He will provide updates on local running events with a focus on the charitable organizations that provide Boston Marathon entries for their organization's fund raising purposes