Boston Marathon 2012: Thoughts From Heartbreak Hill

Posted: April 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

Boston Marathon 2012
The gallons of Gatorade are ready, the temp is rising, and the gun is ready to go off.  I stand in my orange and black official BAA marathon jacket at mile 20, the bottom of the famous Heartbreak Hill, waiting for the first runners to pass by.  As a runner I pinch myself at this privilege of getting to hand Gatorade to the fastest runners on the planet if they happen to stop at my table for a drink.  This year they might since the temp is nearing 90 degrees.

The wheelchairs pass by first.  I stand in awe as they speed by just imagining the adversity they faced and the reservoirs of strength they dig into to be at this moment.  I’m reminded that life isn’t fair and how these gifted athletes overcome.  Their arms do what their legs cannot.

The elite runners pass by in a blur.  The heat is slowing a few of them down but they are still running at above human paces.  I’m not much help at the Gatorade table at this point since I’m distracted with tears and photo ops.  My Gatorade spills as I think that the quickest moving person on earth just sped by.

Running doesn’t seem as cluttered as other sports with big heads and big celebrity.  Perhaps it is because I love the sport so, but I find the top runners more humble and more willing to give God the glory for their power.  Maybe it’s because running is a solitary sport and that many hours alone brings a soul to its knees.

As the day moves on more runners pass the table and take our Gatorade.  It’s an art, passing this paper cup to a moving object.  Sometimes I pass it flawlessly, not a drop spilling from the cup.  Other times we meet awkwardly and the sticky juice spills on runner and me, which makes me glad there are other tables and other volunteers to hopefully have success.

Calvary Chapel’s water-stop is at mile 20, at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill.  To me the most important stop in the race.  Heartbreak is a series of 3 hills and several times runners asked, “Where is Heartbreak?”  They don’t realize they are there – they are conquering it!  The analogy is obvious, how often are we in the midst of life’s hills and we fare a lot better if we have friends around handing us the Gatorade of encouragement.  At mile 20 runners are vulnerable, open and their “I can do this no sweat” of the early miles is long gone.  I choose my words carefully knowing the runners believe me.  I know, I have run this race before, I have worn the sneakers and have been on the other side of this table, vulnerable, almost ready to give up.  I yell, “you are strong, you are almost there, only 6 miles to go, you are looking great.”  I speak words of truth that knowing they may land in a porous, open spirit.

Record heat caused many runners to falter and have to stop.   Nine fell at our water-stop.  They were instantly surrounded with care and the emergency vehicle summoned.  Not one fallen runner was left alone.  None were criticized, all were treated with care and concern.  Oh that life’s runners would have the same support and care.   That we would help each other up when we falter.   Life is a race and woe to him who falls with no one to help him back up.  How blessed we are to have the first aid of love, concern and prayer to help us back on our feet.

As always the sport of running and the race of life have so many parallels.  The sport of running helps me in the other race for life.  We all face “Heartbreak Hill” over and over and we run it better with others cheering us on, believing in us.  Sometimes you cheer, sometimes you run – either way do it well.  Lives depend on it!

Beth McHoul

Beth at the HeartBreak Hill Water Station

Beth with her sister Charleen who ran and finished the 2012 Boston Marathon

  1. Sarah D says:

    So beautiful Beth–every word! So love your heart, your love for running, and your ability to make windows into our own lives through your writing.

  2. meganterry01 says:

    Beth, I just love this post. What a beautiful metaphor for being people’s “gatorade” on this journey.

  3. Beth, your blog brings tears to my eyes. You are such an encouragement to me!! Giving gatorade to a thirsty and needy person…oh that I’d be that gatorade to a parched soul. God is counting on you and me to do just that for Him. Your encouraging words to runners brought memories of the days when I was trying to learn the mechanics of walking with a walker. I remember the “trainer” told me “you have raised the bar high for all those coming after you.” I didn’t even know I was doing well. I thought I was only hobbling. But that encouraged me so much. And I am sure your words of encouragement gave the runners the extra push to the finish line!!
    You are the encourager for others. I love you!!

  4. Sheila says:

    The post here are so well written that all I can say is “ditto” to every one of them

    Love to you Bethy

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