The Boston Marathon is supposed to end on Boylston Street.
After running 26.2 miles, you're supposed to take in the crowd, receive your finisher's medal and limp to meet your family and friends and celebrate the achievement of a liftetime.
But that's not where my Boston Marathon was ending.
Just shy of the 23rd mile marker, I pulled off to the side of the course to nurse a cramp in my right calf. I planned to stretch, stand up, and keep on moving. After all, the end was in sight.
But as I lowered myself to the ground, I began to collapse. My legs swung wildly out of control, I braced a fall with my right arm and rolled around over on my back, unable to govern the movements of my own body.
I screamed the only F-word that could do the moment justice. I rolled over again and lay prone on the black asphalt being heated by a sun that was too damn hot.
"Medic! Medic! Someone get him a medic!"
The onlookers on Beacon Street knew what was happening, as they screamed to get someone's --anyone's-- attention.
Within seconds, police officers in the area raced to my side as I lay hopeless, shrieking for help.
23 miles and I wouldn't finish. Fuck that.
After sucking down two full bottles of Poland Spring water, an officer said, "If you have to lie down any longer, we need to take you to the medical tent. It's a medical liability, I'm sorry."
There are no words to describe the embarrassment I felt in that moment.
Nearly 20 of my best friends had traveled from across the country to take in the Boston Marathon. My parents flew from San Francisco to support me and see all the hard work I put in come to fruition. And with three miles to go, that was it.
After nearly five minutes on the pavement, a fellow runner came and literally picked me up off of the ground. With cops surrounding me and the medics a short trip away, I was a lost cause. But not to Justin.
Justin grabbed my arm and said, "You've worked too hard for this! We're finishing our race, we're going to get our medal!"
And together we walked.
Step-by-step, with pain that felt like knives jutting into both of my calves, Justin gave me hope.
For more than a mile, Justin and I would walk 50 yards and jog 10. Walk 50 yards and jog 15. Maybe, just maybe, the cramps from the heat exhaustion I was suffering would pass.
Around mile 24, I let Justin go. In his words, "If there's ever a course that's going to humble me, let it be Boston."
Humbled is an understatement.
Though the cramps and the pain never subsided, my race wasn't over. It was only just beginning.
As I waddled toward the finish line, I met Frank from Toronto and Fred from Germany, both of whom had also taken spills. This time, it was my turn to be their Justin.
Holding back tears, I picked them up, shook their hands and told them we're finishing the race.
More than 40 minutes after I tumbled to the ground, I turned right onto Hereford Street and made a sharp left onto Boylston Street. Yes I was walking, but I had the opportunity to stroll along the side of the road and high-five hundreds of screaming fans, who are just as passionate about the last finisher as they are the first finisher.
The Boston Marathon is supposed to finish on Boylston Street, but you have to reach to the finish line to receive a medal.
And 100 yards short of the finish line, a fellow runner veered to the left, swung his body around a light pole and was headed for the ground.
Another runner alongside me saw this take place, and before the man collapsed, we braced his fall. We each took an arm, and together, we plodded toward the finish line.
Moments before we crossed the line, we released arms and allowed each other to soak in the final few feet on our own.
This was, without a doubt, the most rewarding moment of my life.
As I stepped across the finish line, I went to the ground yet again. This time, I was crying tears of joy.
From the moment the race started in Hopkinton to the second I got down on a knee on Boylston Street, I experienced three hours, 37 minutes and 38 seconds of intense passion, frightening pain, inspiring camaraderie, remarkable kindness and unforgettable love.
I arrived in Boston capable of running a sub three-hour marathon. I ran nearly 500 miles in preparation for this race, hit every goal time I needed to and gave myself a chance to accomplish my dream.
But as I learned on the course, the reason the Boston Marathon is what it is today is because it's about so much more than yourself, your goals and your dreams. Boston is about people, and the marathon is about spirit. And together, the combination makes for the most surreal experience in all of sport.
In the heat of the moment, it's easy to lose sight of what this races means, but as my goals slipped away, my inspiration was restored.
At mile 10, the exhaustion I suffered from the heat and the cramps I was dealing with helped me come to the realization that a sub three-hour marathon was impossible.
I had made this goal public, and though I was still running a strong pace, I knew by that point on the course that my goal time was out of the question. For 11 miles, I would not only cope with pain, I would cope with a sense of failure.
After 11 miles though, that sense of failure was shattered, because at mile 21, I greeted a group of more than 15 of the best friends I could ever ask for.
Traveling from all over the country to watch the race, they couldn't have cared less if I ran a sub three-hour marathon or if I took seven hours to finish. The raw joy on their faces when I ran past them is what I would consider one of the greatest moments of my life and the moment that will define my Boston marathon and running career forever.
In that moment, weakness became strength, pain became joy and failure became pride.
30 minutes after finishing the race, I was actually able to stand up. What a day.
My running partner and the biggest warrior I know, Megan O'Brien. She suffered far more setbacks on the course than I did, and ran through intense pain to make it to Boylston Street. She continues to inspire me.
The best group of friends anyone could ever ask for (and a ridiculously accomplished group of friends at that). This group collects degrees from Arizona State as if it's casual. In two weeks, this photo will feature two more degrees, bringing our grand total to 20. Also, six people in this photo didn't even go to ASU.
My parents, F.X. and Nancy, the two greatest supporters any child could hope to have.