BOSTON – The Marathon: Wellesley to Heartbreak Hill

You could hear Wellesley long before you could see it. It was a long climb up to the campus, or at least it felt that way to me. It seemed like I’d never make it. I kept my head down and ran towards the noise. Several runners had told me that Wellesley was their favorite part of the entire race, and it wasn’t hard to see why. I felt like Odysseus being lured in by the Sirens, only I had left my ear wax in the hotel room.

Wellesley was a scream—literally. I had never seen so many young women (and men!) in one place, all screaming at the top of their lungs. I hadn’t expected all the signs I would see either. Most of the signs were small, like the size a beggar would hold at a red light, asking for money, only these signs were solicitations for something else. Kiss me, I’m Irish. Kiss me, I’m Asian. Kiss me, I’m Irish, Asian, American, all of the above. Kiss me, I’m smart. Kiss me, I should be studying. And there was my personal favorite, the one that spoke to me the most: RUN BITCH!

I saw several men run over and garner strength in the form of a kiss from one of the young coeds. As we ran further into town, one young man couldn’t stop gushing about how great that was, and how he wanted to run back and grab a few more kisses for the rest of the race! It was hard not to smile and feel a little lighter on our feet after Wellesley.

However, I was starting to wonder if I would even be able to finish the race. I wondered if I could walk the next 13 miles and still make it to the finish line before the cut-off. I imagined myself hobbling along the streets of Boston, the crowds long gone, asking directions to the finish line, only to find it dismantled and all the officials gone home. Would I still be able to get my medal? Would it be honorable to wear the jacket if I had walked the last 13 miles? There was no way I was going to drop out of the race, so it was a matter of pulling myself together to figure out a way to get through to the end.

The miles between Wellesley and the first Newton hill are a blur. I passed several medical tents and considered stopping in to see if they had an asthma inhaler to help with my breathing, but didn’t want to lose so much time. I decided instead to run the miles and walk every water stop, taking a few minutes to rest and recoup. This plan worked well, until I had a new concern: I was dehydrated. I knew this because I felt thirsty and my mouth was dry, even though I had been drinking plenty of water and Gatorade, but I wasn’t able to use the bathroom.

I stopped twice during this time, feeling the urge, but nothing happened either time. This was something I had never experienced before, and couldn’t figure out. It was alarming, and the only explanation I had was to blame it on the antihistamine I had taken the night before. I had had one other bad experience in the past when I took an antihistamine that dried me out, but had decided to take my chances for the race. I stopped every single mile the rest of the race and drank plenty, and it wasn’t enough.

Again I questioned whether I should stop in a medical tent, and if I was being smart to continue running, but I had a strong suspicion that if I was indeed severely dehydrated they would hook me up to an IV and make me drop out of the race. I was still standing, and that was enough to keep me out of the tent. I kept running. I dug deep and kept my head down, focusing on making it to Heartbreak Hill, mile 21, where Michael and Dominique would be waiting.

I never saw the sign for Newton, but I knew when we had hit the first of the four infamous Newton Hills. Of all the hills, I thought this one was by far the toughest. It wasn’t so steep, but it kept going up and up, comparable to Sperry hill times two. We ran over a freeway, and the smell of car exhaust was nauseating. I was proud that I made it to the top without walking.

There was a nice downhill, then hills numbers two and three. I don’t remember much about these hills, only keeping my gaze low and saying my hill mantra, over and over: just keep going, just keep going, just keep going. There is about a mile of downhill or flatness between each hill, so there was time to rest after each one. I was so out of it, and worried about the way I felt, I never even saw the mile 20 marker, which is usually a milestone for me. I knew that I had one more hill to conquer, and that my family was on that hill, and that they would help me make it to the end. Just keep going. Just keep going. Just keep going.

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