This almost didn't happen.
Friday morning I had a slight sore throat that led to feeling kind of bad that evening. I felt like I was shaking it off, but as I had trouble sleeping, I had brief thoughts of a DNS.
Fast forward 13.1 miles to the middle of the Baltimore Marathon. There's no reason not to -- I fought of those stupid thoughts, started the first few miles slow (my first official split at mile 5.8 was 49:10, an 8:29 pace) and at the half way point I had picked up the pace and was at just under 1:50, an 8:23 pace. I was in the zone like never before.
But that feeling of a cold was still there and 20-30 mph winds were in the forecast. I had to push it before the weather elements hit and before my body would have no more of that running a marathon stuff.
Well, around mile 18 the wind hit. And a few miles later I suddenly needed water like never before. I wasn't thirsty, but a bit of a stopped up nose and slightly sore throat was making my mouth so dry. I'm sure the wind didn't help.
I couldn't have prepared for what I was feeling. I was able to push mile 19 out in 8:35 as I tried to fight those thoughts; slowed down to just over 10 minutes for mile 20 and then managed to do mile 21 in 9:18.
I kept doing math in my head of what I could do, but I just wasn't feeling good. My legs were actually doing great -- there was no "wall hitting" feeling -- but everything else was getting to me.
So mentally and physically, I axed my "A" goal of 3:45. I knew that if I slowed down, walked a bit every few minutes and grabbed two cups of water plus Gatorade that I would easily hit my "B" goal - a sub 4-hour marathon.
I spent the last few miles soaking in the sights and sounds (tons of cowbells in Baltimore), backing off quite a bit (miles 23 and 24 were a few seconds over 10 minutes) and doing what I could to avoid further sickness.
Then it hit.
I had the absolute worse cramp ever in my left leg. I nearly fell down. I stopped, stretched, rubbed it out, and ... nothing. I could not move. While I freaked out a bit, I had a little more than 15 minutes to spare with a mile to go to get to my "B" goal.
I took a deep breath, repeated those steps and took the shortest strides of my life for the final mile. I wasn't going to get to the huge crowd through Camden Yards and walk.
My time? 3:56:17. 762nd out of 3,207; 582nd out of 2,015 men; 104th out of 336 in my age group.
This was far and away the best running experience since finishing my first marathon 4 years ago. There's a lot more from this race and weekend that I'll eventually blog about, but for now this is a moment I want to soak in and celebrate.