By Paul Burton

NEWTON (CBS) – As the countdown to Marathon Monday draws near, charity runners are amping up and testing the course and their strength in Saturday’s Hop 21 event.

Natalie Dorset drove up from New York. “These long runs are critical to see the famous Newton hills,” she said. “Nothing like the Newton hills.”

Runners tested the course for the 2019 Boston Marathon on Saturday, March 23. (WBZ-TV)

This weekend was the Boston Athletic Association’s last official long training run. It’s become a popular and important marathon tradition. Thousands of runners – some dressed in costume – take one last stab at trekking anywhere from 17 to 21 miles; from Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill.

“Once you have the 21 miles down, the confidence level goes up. You feel really good,” said Leslie Whiteharvey, a runner with Team Framingham.

“They are the most important part,” said Colleen Farrell. “You can do interval training, but if you don’t get your Saturday run in, it’s pretty bad.”

Support for the practice run is impressive, too. People cheer from sidewalks and windows, while volunteers help carry the runners through, with snacks and drinks.

Volunteers and fans turned out to support runners of the 2019 Boston Marathon as they practiced on Saturday, March 23. (WBZ-TV)

“We are volunteering to support the runners,” said one volunteer. “We want our runners to have everything they need.”

And of course, the Newton Fire Station before Heartbreak Hill is a popular stop along the route, and runners often stop at the water station there.

WBZ-TV is the exclusive local broadcaster of the Boston Marathon. Pre-race coverage begins at 7 a.m. on Monday, April 15, followed by race coverage at 9 a.m.

Paul Burton

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