Lance Armstrong meets goal in marathon debut
NEW YORK -- His face twisted in pain, Lance Armstrong virtually walked the last couple of steps. He slowed to a halt immediately after the finish line and bent to the ground, his green shirt soaked with sweat.
No one's more familiar with how painful achieving goals can be.
Still, not even he saw this coming.
Armstrong barely met his lofty goal of breaking 3 hours in his first marathon, but it came at a price. No Alpine climb on his bicycle had ever been as tough as Sunday's New York City Marathon, he said.
"For the level of condition that I have now, that was without a doubt the hardest physical thing I have ever done," said Armstrong, who finished 856th. "I never felt a point where I hit the wall, it was really a gradual progression of fatigue and soreness."
Armstrong's time was 2 hours, 59 minutes and 36 seconds. Afterward, he shuffled into a post-race news conference, his right shin heavily taped.
"I think I bit off more than I could chew, I thought the marathon would be easier," he said. "(My shins) started to hurt in the second half, especially the right one. I could barely walk up here, because the calves are completely knotted up."
Armstrong's build presented a stark contrast to the elite men's runners who preceded him on the course. The cycling champion's heavily muscled legs and powerful chest set him apart from the slender Kenyans who traditionally dominate the race. Even Armstrong compared the leaders' legs to pencils.
And while there was little joy among the leaders during the race, Armstrong smiled and chatted amiably during the first half of the race. He wore a shirt saying LANCE and displaying the numbers 10/2 -- the date 10 years ago on which he was diagnosed with cancer, before he began his amazing Tour de France streak.
He was paced for most of the race by former marathon champions Alberto Salazar and Joan Benoit Samuelson and middle-distance running great Hicham El Guerrouj, and said he got a lot of support from fans packed along the course.
But his body seemed to tighten and showed signs of pain and fatigue in the final few miles. He started to fall off the pace required to break 3 hours before a final push allowed him to meet his personal goal.
"Before the race that was my goal, I wanted to break 3 hours. But if you told me with 3 miles to go, `You're going to do 3:05,' I wouldn't have cared," he said. "Honestly, at the end I was so tired, I couldn't care. Now I'm glad I did."
About an hour after the men's and women's champions had crossed the finish line, the Central Park crowd really started to buzz as Armstrong approached. Fans seemed much more enthused at seeing Armstrong than watching a Brazilian man and a Latvian woman win titles earlier on a crisp autumn afternoon.
"Lance added a lot," said race director Mary Wittenberg. "He was a delight throughout. Everybody is so excited about him. He beat a lot of odds and impressed a lot of people."
So will he be back?
"Now's not the time to ask that question. The answer now is no, I'll never be back. But I reserve the right to change my mind," he said. "I don't know how these guys do it."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index