Heartbreak Hill is one of the most famous and difficult features of the Boston Marathon route. But at just a 3.3 percent elevation grade at its steepest point and just 600 meters in length, it’s a misnomer in some ways.
Located between the 20th- and 21st-mile marks, Heartbreak Hill comes at a particularly difficult stretch on the marathon route since it’s the last of four hills in Newton. But that’s not why the hill gets its name.
The name comes from the 1936 Boston Marathon, when defending champion Johnny Kelley passed leader Tarzan Brown at the Newton hills and gave him a pat on the back. This gesture lit a fire in Brown, who roared back to win the race.
Boston Globe reporter Jerry Nason wrote that Tarzan “broke Kelley’s heart” at the hill, thus coining the name “Heartbreak Hill.”
See more as NESN.com’s Michaela Vernava explores the history of Heartbreak Hill in the video above.