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

Stage Four

| Back to Wellesley, Newton | On to finish |

Heartbreak Hill
The final hill, the legendary Heartbreak, begins after the shops at Center Street and rises a half-mile to Hammond Street. In itself, the incline is merely challenging; but after 20 1/2 miles, the effort becomes the toughest stretch on the course. Once at the summit, however, the Prudential Tower comes into view, the BC band may be playing and a half-mile of downhill lies ahead to ease your breathing and punish your legs.

23 miles: Brookline
After leaving Cleveland Circle, Beacon Street brings unbroken crowds and unbroken struggle. The emotional surge of cresting Heartbreak has given way to the realization that your reserves are almost empty, your legs are deadened, and between you and the finish lies a seemingly endless succession of nasty little hills. By this point, at Washington Street, finishing has become an obsession. The end is near, but each step is an effort.

25.2 miles: Kenmore Square
With a mile left, the final drive is a hazy mix of sound, exhaustion, pain and lost coordination. The mind may try to calculate distance, pace and finishing time, but the effort is often futile. The numbers jumble together. A glance to the side, and there's the Eliot Lounge at Massachusetts Avenue. One more block and turn right on Hereford Street, where the crowd seems as large as the Fenway bleachers on a Sunday afternoon. Strain up a small rise and wheel onto Boylston Street, where nothing is left but everything is summoned.

The finish
Finally, the end. And a staggering two-block walk to the family receiving area. Sitting on the sidewalk, back to the Hancock Tower, the body slowly regains a bit of strength.

After a few hours of recovery, a few beers and a leisurely bite to eat, thoughts turn to a night of dancing at the crowded post-race party -- and how to make next year's performance even better.

| Back to Wellesley, Newton | On to the finish area |