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HEARTBREAK HILL

There was plenty of support to top it off

As the midday sun poured it on for the first summerlike weather here in seven months, the focus of yesterday's 108th Boston Marathon became the intersection of Hammond Street and Commonwealth Avenue, the top of the infamous Heartbreak Hill at Mile 21.

From the full and well-staffed medical tent at the crest of the hill to the huge crowd becoming more boisterous as news of another Red Sox win over the Yankees spread like a grassfire, the hilltop became a focal point.

"We usually stock about 10 pounds of ice," said Meg Maloy, an emergency medical technician who serves as director of volunteer forces in the medical tent. "Today we have 90 -- 90 pounds in all 20 stations."

Maloy has been in that position since 1976, when the temperature on Marathon Day also soared into the mid-80s. She knew what to expect.

"There'll be overheating," she said, "but there can also be hypothermia on days like this. If people don't sweat enough, that can be dangerous."

The culprit, at least for those who live and train for this race in New England, is the combination of sub-40-degree weather and the sudden hot spell. One of the first of dozens of victims was Lynn Johnson, a physical therapist from North Attleborough, who lay on a cot where she was treated with fluids and ice.

"It was really hot out there and I wasn't sweating," said Johnson. "So I got this real bad headache and decided to stop."

It was Johnson's fourth time running Boston. Obviously disappointed to be out of the race with about 20 percent of the course left to run, Johnson was not sure about next year.

"I'm going to wait and see what the temperature is going to be," she said.

Carl Kenney thought he was home free when he heard the commotion at the top of the hill, where the crowd was chanting, "You're at the top." Then he collapsed.

"At first I thought I just tripped on something," he said, "but when I got up I was really woozy. Everything was spinning around."

The elite runners had relatively few problems, especially those from Africa, where the conditions can be similar to yesterday's. Though the top two men were spaced 100 yards apart, women's winner Catherine Ndereba hit the top of the hill with the competition breathing down her neck.

"I think it's great. It's inspiring," said Marge McCurdy, a firefighter from West Hartford who traveled to Boston with friend Kay Cickles. The two were among the loudest voices at the top, shouting out the good news that runners and wheelchair competitors had made it to the top of the hill.

"We just came here for the race," said McCurdy. "I don't have anybody running in it and this is my first time. I was just told what a great race this is to see, and so we wanted to be here. It's just great."

Cickles, a physical therapist, said she was inspired by the spectacle, maybe not to train for marathon distances but, "This is an incentive to stay in shape."

Meghan Crocker was in town from Ann Arbor, Mich., to watch her boyfriend, Matt Frame, run the course. They were wearing matching Day-Glo orange T-shirts in hopes of spotting each other. Crocker had two reasons for choosing Heartbreak Hill as a vantage point.

"I figure if he makes it this far, he'll be able to finish the race," she said. "And by the time they get to the top of the hill, he'll be running so slow it'll be easier for me to spot him in the crowd."

Indeed, about 2 hours 50 minutes into the race, Frame gave the thumbs-up from a sea of runners.

"The Boston Marathon is just the race you hear about the minute you get the least bit of exposure to running," said Crocker, who ran cross-country in high school and has plans to extend her distances. "And this is just a beautiful city and a beautiful time of year. If you don't have to run in it, this heat is pretty nice after the winter we've had."

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