Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
2006 Boston Marathon
  The course: Fun, then sweat, then heartbreak hell

Stage Three

| Back to Natick | On to Heartbreak Hill, Brookline, Boston |

12.4 miles: Through Wellesley College
This is the emotional high of the half- marathon. The women of Wellesley College form a narrow passage through which the runners receive pass while being greeted with the loudest ovation -- no, it's more of an uninterrupted scream -- they will hear on the course. A steep downhill and a pitched incline later, my parents, siblings, wife and daughter greet me at the halfway mark. Now, the work begins.

15.4 miles: Wellesley Hills
Until this point, the race has been an exercise in caution, an attempt to conserve the body's fuel for the gritty finish. But the time has arrived to make a full commitment, to match one's energy to the distance to be covered, and to make sure nothing is in reserve after reaching the finish line. Here, after crossing Route 9, is the steepest descent of the race, and a half-mile of quadricep-pounding braking begins to Newton Lower Falls.

16.6 miles: Route 128
After letting gravity do its work into Lower Falls, one of the most deceptive stretches of the Marathon lies before the runner. It's a tough, unshaded climb of three-quarters of a mile that spans Route 128 and crests at Beacon Street in Newton. The inclination to push the pace here is strong, especially after the swift drop from Wellesley. But, thanks to running buddies Len Femino and Dan Peterson of Beverly, who suggested we jog the hill in reverse one day, I have a new perspective on how dangerous this grade can be.

17.5 to 21 miles: The Newton Hills
A slightly downhill mile from Newton-Wellesley Hospital brings the runners to the fire station at Commonwealth Avenue, where a right turn puts the marathoner face to face with the race's legendary ogre -- the four hills of Newton.

The first hill is a steep, sweeping, 1,200-yard turn past the Brae Burn Country Club. The crowds have become larger and more collegiate. Expect to be offered a beer, or several, along the road from here to Boston College. It is wise to refuse the gift.

The second hill is a quarter-mile knoll, after which follows a flat recovery mile leading to the third hill -- a sharp, wrenching 800 yards -- just past Newton City Hall. For me, the crowd noise tends to become less noticeable here as I focus more and more on the inner struggle.

| Back to Natick | On to Heartbreak Hill, Brookline, Boston |