Though he led the Blue Ridge Marathon for most of the race Saturday, Tim Sykes never felt comfortable.
And not because of the hard hills or brutal weather that forced race organizers to eventually call the race with about 100 runners still on the course.
For 23 miles, Sykes had a shadow.
"I noticed that he was always about 30 seconds behind me," Sykes, the defending champion, said of Mike Dixon. "He was stalking me."
Dixon, a 28-year-old from Fanwood, N.J., pounced with about three miles to go in the 26.2-mile race, using the speed he honed as a college track runner and the endurance he's building as a budding marathoner to win relatively comfortably.
"Today it was all about place," said Dixon, whose time of 2:41:27 was about 14 minutes slower than his previous marathon best.
Sykes, who lives in Lexington, ran a 2:42:17. Despite the course being more difficult this year, the time was just 39 seconds slower than his winning time last year.
Blacksburg's George Probst, runner-up last year, was third in 2:54:22.
Nicki Terry of Arlington won the women's race, outdueling Emily McGregor of Tucson, Ariz.
Terry, a 26-year-old who ran for the University of Utah, finished in 3:19:49, more than 10 minutes faster than last year's winning time.
McGregor, also 26 and a former collegiate runner at the University of Arizona, ran 3:25:44.
Rachel Clattenburg of Washington, D.C., was third in 3:38:05.
Terry, who was ninth overall, was beaming after crossing the line.
"It was gorgeous," she said. "I run a lot of courses and this was probably the most beautiful."
The racers didn't seem to mind the weather conditions, at least while running. The rain kept them comfortably cool.
"I wasn't cold at all," McGregor said.
But after the race she huddled under a large propane heater, her lips a shade of blue that matched the ribbon on her finisher's medal.
The weather became a more serious factor about five-and-a-half hours after the 7:30 a.m. starting gun, when lightning was spotted in the area.
Although approximately 100 runners were still on the course, race director Ronnie Angell made the decision to end the race at that point.
"When you have lightning strikes, you have to shut it down," Angell said.
Those who had passed the final aid station were allowed to finish.
When runners farther back reached aid stations they were told the race had been shut down and they were offered rides back to the finish area.
Some accepted the offer, but others plodded on even as streets were flooding as the rain turned from a steady downpour into a deluge.
"I didn't come all this way to let a little rain stop me," Mary Ritz of Wyoming said as she walked briskly toward the finish-line area near the Taubman Museum of Art.
Ritz, 56, has run marathons in 35 states and every continent, and needed to check Virginia off her list.
"I'm stubborn," she said.
Though the race was officially over, the course reopened to traffic and the timing clock removed, many runners elected to finish.
Don Kern of Grand Rapids, Mich., was completing his 213th marathon. He's run at least one marathon 98 months straight.
"People were telling us to quit," said Kern, race director for the Grand Rapids Marathon. "I don't quit."
Kern was one of the last of the 199 official finishers, finishing in 5:45:58.
The race had more than 300 entrants, though there were some no-shows.
All runners, even those who didn't get an official time, got medals.
Angell stayed in the finish area, greeting them just as he did those who had officially finished hours earlier.
Sykes said the altered course made a difference.
"I was more fit coming in to this year's race," he said. "I was confident so I pushed it a little harder."
Unlike last year, when he felt pretty good most of the race, Sykes said his hamstrings started to tighten up during the descent down Prospect Road from the Mill Mountain Star.
"Then we hit Peakwood," Sykes, a physical education professor at VMI, said.
Dixon said he was surprised that Sykes wasn't able to hang on.
"He was so strong going up the hills," said Dixon, who has been ramping up his training and marathon racing in an effort to qualify for the Olympic marathon trial race next winter. "I knew he had won last year, and he looked great."
A hilly marathon was nothing new to McGregor.
Last fall she won Arizona's Mount Lemmon Marathon, and accepted an invitation to run in Roanoke to compare the events.
Immediately after Saturday's race she wasn't ready to give a nod to either event.
"I definitely had to stop more on this one," said McGregor, who took a few short stretching breaks. "I felt like if I didn't my hamstrings were going to lock up."
She said Terry pulled away on the downhills.
"She was just so smooth," she said. "We'd get down one and I'd look at her and think, 'Dude, how did you get all the way up there?' "
Ed Dickenson, 47, of Roanoke was the top male master, finishing fourth overall in 2:57:19.
The top women's master was Beni Thompson, 40, of Roanoke. She finished in 4:02:08.
In the half marathon, which had 368 finishers, Sarah Glenn of Roanoke was the top woman. Her time of 1:32:55 was good for sixth overall.
Andrew Kirk of Spotsylvania won the men's race in 1:24:25.