Clyde Behunin required assistance as he was guided to a seat near the finish line Sunday at the third Modesto Marathon.
A medical assistant held one arm and his wife Mik'l clutched the other. Behunin, a veteran marathoner, took personal inventory.
Head? Spinning. Stomach? Doing jumping jacks. Legs? Twitching.
"I was dying," he admitted.
By the way, he won. And set a course record.
It didn't matter that Behunin, talented enough to place 97th at the Boston Marathon five years ago, looked far worse at race's end than the guys chasing him. The stay-at-home father — OK, he sneaks out for 80 to 100 miles a week — traveled home to St. George, Utah, with the top prize.
Behunin was timed in 2 hours, 32 minutes and 46 seconds and barely beat fast-finishing Modestan Jon Olsen (2:33.01). The math teacher at Prescott Junior High fell about a stride shy of his third straight Modesto Marathon title.
"A bittersweet day," assessed Olsen, one of the nation's leading ultra-marathoners, who weighed the pros and cons of a six-minute personal-best over first place. "He (Behunin) really went for it early and held on. He was suffering and was able to hold it. I've been there and I know what it feels like. I was just proud to make it a race."
Twenty minutes after his victory, Behunin begged for comfort as he cocooned on all fours atop a cot. He paid painful dues for crashing into the marathon world's proverbial "wall," yet somehow didn't leave a yard sale strewn all over city streets.
"He'll be fine," assured Mik'l, who runs the family's property management company back home. She was right.
"I got stomach cramps the last four miles. I thought I was going to barf," he said. "It was just survival mode the last mile."
Behunin didn't even realize Olsen was there, closing ground on M Street like a Ferrari vs. a Fiat Punto. But in fact, the Utah man won the race much earlier.
Olsen figured he trailed Behunin by six or seven minutes with only 10 miles left. Behunin had clicked one 5:35 to 5:40 mile after the next and built a huge lead.
Besides, Olsen is training for the upcoming North Coast 24-Hour in Cleveland, a step toward qualifying for the U.S. World Cup team. Last month in Orange County, he rattled off the 7th-fastest 100-miler ever (13:14) in the U.S. To him, a marathon is a sprint, his shortest distance in competition this year.
Only when he saw the leader starting to labor did Olsen pick up his pursuit.
"I felt real good from 18 to 21 (miles). At mile 22 my stomach knotted up," Behunin said. "I just tried to keep my head above water."
Empathy poured out from both Olsen and women's marathon champion Sonya Decker of Minneapolis. Decker (3:01.08), 12th overall, combined the race and a visit with old friend Helen Lavin of Los Gatos, the women's runner-up.
"I don't think any of that (finishing the race) is a given. It's too complicated," Decker said. "I think you do everything you can to be smart. I tried today not to cash it in too hard during the first half."
Runners wore wide smiles as they gathered in the pre-race darkness. Many were prepared for a major storm, similar to the dreadful conditions last year, yet the morning dawned ideal.
More than 3,000, including many signups over the weekend, posed for photographs and hugged family and friends before they heard the starter's horn. Bands played while roadside residents, some holding cups of coffee, ducked out for a look.
The Modesto route, fast and virtually flat, drew entries from Alaska, Canada, Florida and elsewhere. San Franciscans dominated the half-mile. Nick Grover (1:17.16), training for Boston next month, outlasted Cal State Stanislaus junior Jaydeep Bhatia over the last two miles for the win.
"It was a coin flip if we were going to race," Grover said. "I didn't want to risk getting ill a month before (Boston). But it was the best day we've had in months."
Grace Lien of San Francisco claimed the women's half-marathon victory in 1:26.22.
The men's 5-kilometer was won easily by Atwater High senior Luis Perez (18:23), who will continue his career at Cal State East Bay. Wendy Pierpont of Eugene, Ore., took the women's race (19:20).
As for Behunin, he departed the valley with better memories this time. He and his wife spent one summer years ago selling security systems door-to-door in Modesto. Allergies virtually forced him back to Utah.
He returned victorious. Barely.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302.