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As miles mount, thinking of Oak Street

One in a series of columns about how we live our lives.

My goal was to make it to the end of Oak Street and back home.

The Foxborough street is perfect for runners -- exactly 2 miles long, so there's no need to measure distance, with gradual rolling hills and a wide bike lane that lets you stay off the bumpy sidewalk and out of the way of street traffic.

But when I took up running out of the blue two years ago, Oak Street quickly became my own Heartbreak Hill.

Out of shape and with no distance-running experience, I found myself regularly surrendering to the hill leading up to the town water station, or the one just before the Interstate 95 overpass, or sometimes -- on really slow days -- the hill less than a half-mile from the start of the street, at the farm where only the caramel-colored cattle could see me slow to a walk.

On those days of frustration, when making the 4-mile loop out and back without stopping seemed as probable as winning a track and field medal at the next Olympics, I could never have imagined the running successes in my future -- the 10K races and half-marathons that would eventually persuade me to attempt this year's Boston Marathon.

In the last four months of intensive marathon training with a South Boston running club, I have run in sub-zero temperatures, blinding snow, and face-chapping wind. I've done 18-mile treks up and down the infamous Quincy Hospital hills and along the Blue Hills Reservation trails in Milton and Canton.

Those runs got my legs ready, but psychologically and emotionally, nothing has prepared me for the Marathon better than my neighborhood jogs on Oak Street. For more than a year, I worked to tackle its challenges and relished the small joys of being able to run one house farther, to make it up a hill without losing my breath, to run the length of the street in a half-hour, then 25 minutes, then 20.

I see other runners in my neighborhood now and can tell from their Climax weather-control gear and Brooks sneakers that they, too, likely are training for the Marathon. When we pass and exchange smiles, I wonder if they have run it before and if, like me, their hometown back roads helped get them there.

I have a new goal now: Instead of the blinking light where Oak and Mechanic streets meet, it's the yellow and blue finish line in Copley Square. The company has changed too -- when I hit the start of Heartbreak Hill at mile 17 on Patriots Day, I know there will be thousands of people, not just a few cattle, watching my ascent.

So for at least a few seconds, I will close my eyes and think about Oak Street, not Commonwealth Avenue. I will tell myself that I can make it, that the hills are my friends, that I've been there before. And as I now do on a jog around the block, I'll succeed.

Joanna Massey of the Globe staff lives in Foxborough and is running in the Boston Marathon tomorrow.

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