LONDON - Just before the start of the women's Olympic marathon, as the runners bounced on their toes and stared straight ahead, Kara Goucher leaned over and hugged her U.S. teammate and training partner, Shalane Flanagan.
Almost 2 1/2 hours later, Flanagan crossed the finish line and sat down, exhausted. Goucher, finishing right behind her, leaned over and touched her back. After a few moments, Flanagan wrapped her right arm around the taller Goucher's shoulders, and the two stumbled off the course.
Flanagan finished 10th and Goucher 11th, numbers that don't convey how tortured both looked as they stood in the rain, trying to stay on their feet long enough to finish a sentence.
"I'm honestly just kind of like, wow," said Goucher, the Duluth native who now lives in Portland, Ore. "I definitely left it all out there. This is the most pain I've been in since childbirth, basically.
"So I know I couldn't have done any more. It's disappointing ... but, honestly, there's nothing more I could have done."
Goucher leaned on a metal railing in the interview zone. She looked at the USA public relations representative and said: "It's hard to stand right now. I'm cramping that bad. I just want you to know I'm not being dramatic. It hurts."
After their prerace hug, Goucher and Flanagan ran with the leaders for almost a quarter of the race, but a group of Ethiopians and Kenyans broke away.
Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia would win in 2 hours, 23 minutes and 7 seconds, followed by Kenya's Priscah Jeptoo and Russia's fast-closing Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova. Flanagan finished 2:44 behind the leader and 16 seconds ahead of Goucher.
"I had to talk myself through some really tough spots, and just not give in to the pain," Flanagan said. "Your body automatically wants to back off. It's like putting your hand on a stove. It's a mental battle to keep pushing.
"Those last 4 miles were the toughest. Kara thrives off those last 4 miles. She sniffs the barn, where I'm like, 'Oh, my God, that's really far.'"
Flanagan won the U.S. Olympic trials, with Goucher finishing third. In the 2008 Olympics, in Beijing, Goucher finished 10th in the 10,000 meters and ninth in the 5,000.
While training near her Portland home this spring, Goucher sounded optimistic, saying, "Something big could happen in London." Sunday morning, after running a strange, scenic course that took her past a half-dozen British landmarks and down the occasional alley, Goucher sounded disappointed with her finish but proud of her pain tolerance.
"I am so cramped right now," she said, as she struggled to stand. "The course is more difficult than I thought it would be."
Was it the occasional hairpin turns that bothered her? "I think it was everything," she said. "The turns were really breaking your rhythm. A championship race is always different because there are surges at every water station, which you usually don't get in a smaller marathon."
Goucher, still bent at the waist, hanging on the railing, apologized. "I actually can't do this right now," she said. "I'm sorry. My back is cramping."
As an assistant helped Goucher, Flanagan said, "That was so hard," and then Flanagan, too, faltered and limped away, pain etched beneath the rain running down her face.