The Story of Heartbreak Hill Is A Native American Story

The Story of Heartbreak Hill Is A Native American Story

This week we're highlighting the Native American story behind the name of our famous hill and the brand we run with.

The mural on the wall at our flagship store reads: "On this hill, Ellison "Tarzan" Brown rallied past defending champion Johnny Kelly and went on to win the 1936 Boston Marathon. Kelly's broken heart became its namesake... Heartbreak Hill"

It's unclear from the historical accounts we could find where exactly Mr. Brown broke Mr. Kelly. What is clear is that Mr. Brown took a commanding lead ahead of Mr. Kelly for much of the race but Mr. Kelly caught him in the hills of Newton giving him a little tap on the behind as he passed (a "good effort, chap, I'll take it from here" type of gesture). That touch lit a fire in the fading Mr. Brown who battled back in that last 10K to take the victory. Of the fateful moment in the hills, the tap, the pass, the ultimate "break", Boston Globe reporter Jerry Nason wrote that Brown “broke Kelley's heart” at the hill and so the name was born.

Ellison Brown was a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. He was a direct descendant of the last acknowledged tribal royal family. Known as "Deerfoot" to his people, it was this nickname that inspired the name of our Heartbreak Studio class, Deerfoot Dash. Brown set the American men's record for the marathon at the 1939 Boston Marathon (2:28:51) and at a 1940 marathon in Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts (2:27:30). He was the first person to break 2:30 on the post-1926 Boston Marathon course. An Olympian in the marathon in 1936 (Berlin), he dropped out of that race due to cramps but wouldn't let his year end like that. Following the Games, he won the Port Chester Marathon and then the next day won the New England Marathon Championship - a stunt to quiet the haters who thought he dropped out of Berlin due to some kind of weakness.

Some of the America's greatest running achievements are owed to its indigenous population. Billy Mills, Billy Mills, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe & former Marine, is the only American in history to win the 10,000m Olympic Gold medal (Tokyo, 1964). He set the Olympic record in the process and later held the American record for 10,000m and 3 miles.

Another indigenous running legend is Patti Catalano-Dillon. Patti, who is Mi'kmaq, started running trying to lose weight and became one of the fastest women in the world. She went on to set a world record in the 5 mile (25:48). She set the American record for the 10k four times, ending with a 32:08. Patti was the first American woman to go under 33 minutes in the 10k, and the first American woman to break 50 minutes in the 15k (49:42).

She set a world record in the 20k, 30k, and half marathon, and won the Newport marathon 5 times, setting a course record each time. She also won the Honolulu marathon 4 times, also setting a course record each time. Patti placed 2nd in the Boston marathon three times, and also placed 2nd in the NYC marathon. She was one of the first American women to sign a pro-contract with Nike. In 52 weeks, she ran 48 races, winning 44 of them.

The history of American distance running owes a great debt to its indigenous heroes.

Ellison Brown Wiki (some other gems here)

Patti Catalano-Dillon Website

Billy Mills Wiki