The invisible wall came out of nowhere, right around Mile Marker 8.
I had been slowing down after a good start in the Broad Street Run. My first five miles were on schedule, just under an hour. The City Hall merry-go-round was fine, missed my high five with Ed Rendell, but the shade from the buildings was most welcoming heading through Center City as the temps climbed toward the 70s.
But darkness loomed. My oversized calves and oversized ankles and my aching feet would soon betray me. So would any connective tissue below my thighs.
The appendages were there, but I could barely feel them. No amount of effort made them move any faster. It became a battle of wits and will. I am going to finish and I am not stopping.
I ran two 15-minute miles. I didn't look around much, but people were pacing me and passing me and they were walking.
When I crossed the finish line, I raised my hands in sheer glee and exhaustion, and a few steps later almost passed out from an emotional drain that, too, came out of nowhere.
I was one of the many who had trained 10 rounds for a 12-round fight. But you don't know what's coming when you haven't been there before. Last year, I was ready, it was overcast and chilly and I nursed a hamstring across the line. But that was all consciously done. This time, it became surreal.
As you run that last gauntlet by the Navy Yard, you look forward, hoping that other runners passing you get through clean. Last year, I was Gale Sayers shifting gears and changing lanes passing people. This time, I was the Cigar Store Indian.
It wasn't even spiritual. I did not pray. I did not say I deserved the pain, and that this was purgatory.
It was different. It was climbing Mount Washington again from my youth. Every time you thought you were there, another ridge popped up as if you were climbing in place and you were Sisyphus.
The lone chuckle came near the ballparks, where they blasted Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer …
Woah, we're half way there Woah, livin' on a prayer
I thought, halfway there … I better start looking for a cab … But as it turned out, maybe I was livin' on a prayer.
Running columnist Jen Miller had told me not to worry about my time because the added heat of the day would throw it all off. So 2:09 was fine. At the end of the day, all I could think about was the test.
I looked back and saw the folks that followed me. Each had the same look as they streamed across the finish line for the next 20-30 minutes.
We all did it. We finished.
And that's all that mattered this time.