- The pain of it all was written on James Carter's face.

It wasn't the physical pain of crashing into a series of 3-foot barriers. Or the psychic pain of failing to finish an event he had done a zillion times in an honors-filled track and field career that had carried him around the world.

It was the pain of coping with the realization that the 400-meter hurdles final of the 2009 USA Outdoor National Championships at Hayward Field was almost surely the last major race of his life.

His athletic lifetime had been spent trying to outrun the timing mechanisms of his sport that separate success at the highest levels from the achievements of others by the tiniest of increments.

But now - at just past 4:15 p.m. Sunday - James Carter, 31, announced that the race was over.

"This is it, I'm done," the Mervo alumnus told a small media gathering in the passageway of the tent that served as the "mixed zone" of the meet.

He had dealt with mixed zones - the places where athletes get to tell their post-race stories free of the formalities of news conferences - everywhere from Sydney to Doha to Athens to Osaka, and a whole lot more.

But this mixed zone was different.

As one athlete (Carter) tried to analyze the emotions of a farewell to spiked shoes, three other athletes, Bershawn Jackson, Johnny Dutch and Angelo Taylor, the newly minted American 400-meter hurdles team, were positioned nearby, trying to analyze their chances of success at the world championships in Berlin.

"I never wanted to finish up this way," Carter said. "I always wanted to finish up on the podium, with a medal, at some major meet, an Olympics especially, somewhere, anywhere.

"Physically, I think I can still run my event with the best in the world, but there's a lot more involved in this sport these days."

Oh, the ability to run a lap around a rubberized track, clearing 10 3-foot barriers at a speed many couldn't handle with no hurdles in the way, was always a special talent Carter possessed.

From his days at Mervo to his college campaigns at Hampton (where he had been a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion and NCAA bronze medalist) to his decade as a professional runner sponsored by Nike, the event itself never posed major difficulties.

It has been the economics of a sport that make it brutally hard to be a professional athlete just shy of household-name status. Athletes rely in part on sponsorships to help finance their training.

"My Nike contract's going to be up in September," Carter said. "I really don't think they're going to renew it. And without a contract, there's no way you can stay a professional track and field athlete, not in this day and age."

So Carter will return to his current home in North Carolina, continue to serve as a volunteer with the Tar Heels' track and field program, and take some time out before determining his future pathways.

"I've got two little ones to raise, too," he reminded, the thoughts of daughter Taleya, 5, and son Tamere, 1, now coming front and center.

As he makes all those determinations, he'll have all those memories of his career to fall back on.

"James Carter has had a magnificent career," said USA Track and Field communications coordinator Tom Surber. "He'll be recognized as one of the great 400-meter hurdlers in history. But nobody can run forever, at this level. There comes a time."