The Super-Slo-Mo Sprint Finish

My second season of sprint-distance triathlons began yesterday morning at 7:25 a.m. and ended precisely one hour, 27 minutes, and seventeen seconds later when I crossed the DiamondGirl Pennsylvania finish line in what I can only think to describe as a slow-motion sprint photo finish.

But first, the good news: I’m getting better. When I wrote about my first-ever triathlon last September, the headline was, “I Wasn’t Dead Last!” Just finishing the race as a straggler was a victory for me, seeing as how a year ago I could barely jog two miles without being winded, let alone add a half-mile swim and 17-mile bike ride before donning my running shoes. Yesterday, I was far from a straggler, finishing No. 16 out of all 32 Athenas (the division for women who weigh more than 150 pounds). Even better than my middle-of-the-pack finish is the fact that I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out at the end. Instead, I had enough gas left in my tank to sprint the last quarter-mile or so—which turned out to be a story unto itself.

I’m not going to mislead you: It was not looking like a super-memorable finish for me until that point. While I achieved my best-ever speeds in the swim and bike legs of the race, the thermometer read close to 90 degrees and the humidity was oppressive, both of which make running a serious challenge. I can only achieve a 12-minute mile on my best days, and according to yesterday’s stats, I was moving slower than that, at 12:28 per mile. I was primarily trying to catch my breath and had no intention of sprinting the last quarter-mile until I got there and heard the, well, um … let’s call it “unintentional heckling.”

The first thing I heard was actually the other runner’s footsteps behind me. She was maybe 10 paces in tow when we ran past a man who I assume was her husband, on hand to cheer her across the finish line.

“This is your spot, honey!” he yelled. “Kick it into high gear! This is your sprint spot! You can take 233! You can beat 233!”

I was so tired that I didn’t realize, until I looked down the front of my shirt, that the number on my race bib was 233.

The sound of her footsteps grew closer. She was going into a sprint.

Her husband cheered louder.

“You can take her! You can take 233!”

At which point, something inside of me said, quite simply, “No.”

It was like the switch on an afterburner had been flicked—if an afterburner made some of the slowest runners in the race move at 12-minute miles as opposed to 13-minute miles. To me, it felt like my legs became rockets as I tried to stay ahead of this one particular woman. We approached the finish line, and the crowd went crazy. They could see us fighting for, well, a nondescript finish somewhere in the middle of the pack, but our faces must have mimicked those of Olympians in a world championship battle. I imagine we looked like a slow-motion instant reply, only we were running at what was, for us, the top possible speed. People along the sidelines screamed as though we were thoroughbreds on the home stretch.

I ended up beating her by about four paces, a small victory for me in the big picture of the day, which also included losing to my sister Michelle by a mere 2 minutes and 13 seconds. (I’m going to catch her yet!)

Here are some more stats from yesterday’s race:

Total course: 1/4-mile swim, 10-mile bike with a few major hills, 2-mile run

Overall winner’s time: 49:59 (incredible!)

Winning Athena’s time: 1:04:54

My time: 1:27:17

My overall finish: 193 of 248

My finish among Athenas: 16 of 32

Number of rescue boats that came toward me when I coughed a few times after swallowing a gulp of water: 2

Number of times Michelle swam head-first into a buoy: One (and she still was one of the fastest Athena swimmers!)

Number of tries it took me to get my clip shoes into the bike pedals while starting on an uphill climb: 4 (must practice more)

Fastest speed I achieved during the bike leg once I got going: 32.1 miles per hour

Number of women who said to me, during the bike leg, “You big girls have the advantage of gravity on the downhills”: One

Number of fellow competitors who high-fived me on the run course: at least a half-dozen

Number of strangers standing at the finish line wearing a T-shirt that read: “You are one bad-ass mother**cker, go Kim go!”: One

Number of triathlons still to come this season: Two, including the first in which my husband will compete alongside my sister and me. Stay tuned!

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