Keith Patterson broke the rules and got sick. Francis Balsamo said he'd only felt as bad once before in his life. Malcolm Mcpherson faded halfway through, and everyone else threw salami and cheese.

It was the great six-foot sub-eating contest at the Starvin Marvin restaurant in Alexandria last night, a first annual food orgy that the contestants lost. When it was over, the four eaters from Annandale and Alexandria had been defeated by a 25-pound sandwich.

The rules were these, as laid out by Starvin Marvin owner Abe Lang: "They've got 45 minutes to eat it. Anybody barfs, they lose.No throwing up. They can have an extra bottle of oil and vinegar if they think the sandwich is too dry, and they could drink whatever they want."

The eaters, Patterson, Balsamo, Mcpherson and Dan Aschenbrenner, all college kids or former college-kids from Radford Unitersity in Virginia -- have spent the summer eating a lot of submarines at Starvin Marvin. On Saturday night at Abe Lang's weekly poker game, the great six-foot sub idea was born.

"I said," said Lang, "If you guys think you can eat, then how about eating a six-foot sub? And they said 'O.k. Sure, no problem.'"

"We were drunk," yelled Balsamo halfway through the contest, "You suckered us in."

The crowd, more than 25 strong and consisting of at least one contestant's mother who said she should have worn dark glasses, was chanting "Eat, eat, eat," as the four looked sick, sick, sick. Mcpherson (5' 10", 150 pounds, last food consumer: hot dog, 1 p.m. Monday) had long since given up and Patterson (6' 170 pounds, last food consumer: 2 scoops of strawberry jamoca twist, just prior to the contest) was showing signs of strain.

Only Aschenbrenner (5' 10", 215 lbs) and Balsamo (5' 11", 155 pounds), were chewing.

"'d say he eats enough for about two people per meal," said Balsamo's sister, Christine, who was there to cheer him on.

"He is a pig," said Rhonda Harold a neighbor who has lived next to Balsamo for 14 years.

Three of the contestants arrived in denim togas and laurel wreaths. Patterson, a last-minute contestant, brought in because he says he holds an eating record at Pizza Hut, arrived in a Starvin Marvin T-shirt and blue jeans. At 8:30 p.m., the contestants took their places outside the restaurant at a small table that held the sub, a lot of Coca-Cola and one pink rose in a silver vase.

"On your mark, get set, eat!" cried Rickey Barney, the other owner of Starvin Marvin.

And they were off.

"Hey, this is stale," complained Patterson immediately.

"We need some mayo," added Aschenbrenner.

"Mayo!" yelled Lang. "Get the mayo!"

Eleven minutes into the contest, Lang brought out a tape measure and sized up what was left of the sandwich."An easy four feet to go," he said.

"Come on, munch!" yelled a voice in the crowd.

Then Patterson had to go to the bathroom. "O.k., somebody go with him to make sure he doesn't throw up," said Lang. "Hey Doug, you go. You know him pretty well."

But that didn't help. With 10 minutes left, the sub was still two feet long and the four contestants looked the color of the pickles. The sympathetic crowd took matters into their own mouths, and soon at least 10 people were attacking the salami, cheese, onions, tomato, lettuce and pickles.

And then, when it was clear that the submarine sandwich had won the contest, the food fight began. Salami flew as far as 50 feet into the parking lot and Patterson flew to the bathroom.

"I feel much better," he said afterwards.