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Route all downhill from start

04/21/2014, 12:00am EDT
By VICTORIA DUGGER BLADE STAFF WRITER

Athletes get preview of course that starts at Hopkinton, Mass.

Route all downhill from start

From left, Rita Jeptoo, Shalane Flanagan, Yeshi Esayias, Buzunesh Deba, Mare Dibaba, and Jemima Jelagat Sumgong run shortly after the start in the women's division of the 118th Boston Marathon today in Hopkinton, Mass. ASSOCIATED PRESS

BOSTON — The day before any race brings its own set of anxieties. I’m a firm believer that preparation is the key to staving off the majority of the butterflies that can dive-bomb the stomach. To prepare for this course, we took a bus tour Sunday to trace the Hopkinton-to-Boston route.

STORIFY: Follow Victoria's journey to the finish line at the Boston Marathon

Our tour guide, 22-time Boston Marathoner Hal Gabriel, congratulated the athletes on just making it this far. “You’ve all been given a gift,” he said. “It’s a temporary gift — one you’ll have to give back. But right now, you’re at the top of your game, so just go for it.”

“It” is the 118th Boston Marathon, which kicks off today at 9:15 in the small town of Hopkinton. The bus pulled up to Athlete’s Village and the start line area, with Gabriel cautioning, “You must return to the bus in 20 minutes, or we will leave you. We don’t want to make anyone run the marathon right now.”

One of the most-photographed locations in Hopkinton is a sign declaring, “Welcome To Hopkinton. It All Starts Here.” Just beyond that is the start line, which looks like a narrow, downhill chute that launches waves of runners on their 26.2-mile journey through Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and finally, Boston. Only a mile and a half of the storied Boston Marathon is actually run in Boston.

We started to trace the route, and Gabriel noted, “This is all downhill at the start. I urge you to run within your abilities and not take off here.” I was eager and, quite frankly, a little nervous to see the famed hills of the Boston course. The most notorious section is, of course, the series of hills beginning in Lower Newton Falls around mile 17, with Heartbreak Hill coming at mile 20. The hills aren’t remarkable for their size — you aren’t running up Mount Everest — but rather where they fall in the course. By the time you’ve done all of the downhill running that Gabriel warned of, taxing your muscles, you then must ask your legs to carry you, late in the race, up and down the hills.

I noted the very steep downhill after Heartbreak Hill — it’s as if you end up thanking your quads for getting you up Heartbreak by shredding them on the downhill tilt.

After that, however, it’s (nearly) all downhill from there. Soon the huge Citgo sign comes into sight, and momentum, adrenaline, and a million cheering people should be enough to get anyone across the finish line. Today at 11 a.m., I’m ready to find out. It’s all downhill from here.

Follow Victoria Dugger’s race-day progress on Twitter @duggercountry.

Contact Victoria Dugger at: vdugger@theblade.com.

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