Conquering Boston’s Heartbreak Hill

Every year the world of sports introduces us to new stars and heroes. Whether it is a new course record setter, an inspiring comeback, or a nearly superhuman effort to fight off an opponent, athletes across disciplines change how we look at the game. Many of these will amaze us for just a season, while the very best will leave a permanent mark on the sport they mastered. Oddly enough, in the world of marathon runners, that star of the sport who’s denied more runners the glory of a finish line than perhaps any other competitor, is a hill in the Newton community just west of Boston proper. Heartbreak Hill is as revered and respected in the racing world as any runner who’s ever laced up a pair of shoes. But, given the marathon’s rise in popularity and the ever-expanding roster of races to choose from, is Heartbreak Hill still as impressive as she once was? And, even if so, what can runners do to make sure Heartbreak is conquered challenge rather than a dashed dream?

Runner’s World compared Boston’s famous hill to inclines in several other major marathons across the country. The results? Well, Heartbreak is actually almost in last place for change in elevation—the hill only climbs 91 feet. In fact, the only major city marathon with a less impressive hill is Chicago, where there is no hill. So, is the lore surrounding heartbreak just runners’ bluster to add some anxiety to new Boston Marathoners? Not at all. While the elevation change ranks low on the list, the full 91 feet of incline occur over just .75 miles, making it the steepest climb in any of the sampled races. As if this weren’t enough, the hill also shows up after the 20-mile mark in the race. Our verdict? Heartbreak Hill is and will rightly remain a star, loathed or loved, in the marathon world for years to come.

Climbing 91 feet in just ¾ of a mile after already running 20 miles—how do you train for that? Try to simulate the experience by strategically adding hills to your training. As we noted, you’ll have completed 20 miles of running when you approach Heartbreak Hill, so include some long inclines late in your training runs. Add in interval training as well. The changes in pace and heart rate mimic the body’s experience running hills. Remember, what goes up must come down. Running down the hill that follows Heartbreak will work a different set of muscles and require control and body awareness. Make sure you include some downhill training in the later portions of your training runs.

Heartbreak Hill challenges runners of all experience and training levels. What are some other iconic course features in marathon or ultra-marathon courses? How do you prepare for these course-specific challenges when you race? Join the conversation below and sign up to stay connected.




Conquering Boston’s Heartbreak Hill: Given the marathon’s rise in popularity and the ever-expanding roster of races to choose from, is Heartbreak Hill still as impressive as she once was? Read on.

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