Almost Bronze, Baby!

I’ve been trying for three years now to beat my younger sister in sprint-distance triathlons. Our first-ever event was the Delaware Diamondman in September 2009. My overall time that year was 2:32:28, I was so slow on the bike that organizers were literally picking up cones behind me, and it was the first of six races to come in which Michelle would cross the finish line before me. I have been the slow-moving butt of family jokes ever since.

Oh, how sweet revenge finally is!

Yesterday was the 2011 Delaware Diamondman, and, more important, the day that I finally beat her. I did so well, in fact, that I placed fourth in my entire division (Athenas, or women who weigh more than 140 pounds). My overall time was 2:14:57, a huge improvement compared with my first try at this race. And, oh yes, nearly three full minutes faster than Michelle.

Now, I’m not saying it was pretty. In fact, I crossed the line limping and having come so close to giving myself a stroke that my fingers went numb for a little while.

Here is the story, in all its ugly grandeur:

The day started with a 0.6-mile swim. Michelle has always been a rock star in the water, and yesterday was no different. She was out of the pond nearly four full minutes before I was. It took me more than 37 minutes to complete that swim, which is actually pretty slow for me. I was near the back of the pack of all women competitors, with three lifeguards in kayaks circling me like hawks.

Now, the end of the swim is usually the moment when the root of my demise is firmly planted. I’m always trailing Michelle when we come out of the water, sometimes by even more minutes, and I’ve never before been able to catch back up. Yesterday, for the first time ever, our race came down to the bike and the run.

Michelle was already gone from the transition area and off on the bicycle course by the time I arrived and put on my helmet and shoes. I took off as fast as I could, and I pedaled at an average of 14.7 mph, according to my odometer. That’s one of my fastest races ever, especially over a long sprint-course distance of 16 miles. I kept looking for her and looking for her, hoping I’d at least be able to see her ahead of me, but for the first 50 minutes or so of the bike course, I was so far behind her that I feared all was lost.

Then I came to the final turn, which is where competitors head back to the transition area with about four miles of bicycling to go. As I approached that turn, she was just coming out of it. She was barely a half-mile ahead of me.

It’s the closest I’ve ever been to her on the bike course, so I pedaled as hard as I could to try to make up that difference. My thighs felt like someone was frying them in a cast-iron skillet, they were burning so hot. It’s absolutely the wrong way to compete in a triathlon. You need endurance throughout all three events. You don’t want to go into the run half-crippled by a sore knee from pedaling too hard on your bike, which is precisely what I did to myself yesterday in my crazed attempt to finally win.

By the time I reached transition again, Michelle had already racked her bike, changed into her sneakers, and was starting her run. As I started to rack my bike next to hers, I saw her leaving the transition area. I’d made up two of the four minutes of her lead during the bike portion of the course. She was literally in my sights.

I transitioned into my sneakers in just a minute and a half, a full 30 seconds faster than she had, and I took off giving chase. I was now just a minute and a half behind her on the course. My right knee was definitely making its presence felt, but I tried to put the soreness out of my mind. This race was going to come down to the 2-mile run. I had to run those two miles at a pace that was at least a minute and a half faster than hers.

Now, Michelle and I are both seriously slow runners. I don’t even know that what we do qualifies as real jogging. On a good day, we can run 12-minute miles. Speed-walking senior citizens often pass us. But in my mind, this was the race of a lifetime, and I was moving at rocket speed. Sure, my legs were no longer functioning properly because I’d pedaled my bike like a circus freak, and yes, I was breathing so heavily that oxygen deprivation made my fingers go numb for a few minutes, but I wasn’t letting her stay out in front. I thought I could catch her, and I wanted as big a lead as possible at the finish line, lest anyone forget the 2010 race in which I nearly caught up, only to watch her sprint at the last minute and beat me by 19 Stinking Seconds.

About a quarter-mile into the run, I caught up to Michelle. She was tired, too, but still had a great attitude. She turned when she heard my footsteps bearing down on her from behind. She smiled and said, “Way to go, Kim! Do you want to run together for a while?”

I was breathing so hard that I couldn’t speak. Hyperventilating is not too strong a word. I raised my hand to high-five her, gritted my teeth, and ran with every ounce of strength that I had left. (The way she tells the post-mortem, I grunted at her like an uncaged wildebeest.)

The run portion of this triathlon is a circle, which means that when you turn at the one-mile mark, you pass the runners who are still making their way behind you. I was about a quarter-mile ahead of Michelle when I made that turn, still breathing so hard that I couldn’t do anything but keep moving in silence. She was still smiling as I passed her and raised my hand to give her another high five.

“You know,” she said with a snicker, “if I sprint, I could still catch you from this distance. And I can breathe right now.”

The panic that ran down my spine was like a shock to the rest of my body. I was more spent than America’s economy, but I knew there was only one thing I could do.

I started running faster.

Well, more like limping and gasping for air at a more frenetic march towards death with a purple face as all the other competitors passed me. But definitely moving even faster than Michelle, who was the only other competitor I cared about on the course.

When I made the final turn and saw the finish line, and I couldn’t see her behind me at all, I knew the day was mine. Finally, blissfully, mine. And it felt so good to stand off to the side and cheer for her when she finished, too. I’ve never before been able to do that.

I’m officially now one-for-seven in the Kavin Family Endurance-Sport Saga. But you wouldn’t know it to hear me talk. I might as well have just won the Super Bowl.

Yesterday’s race, by the numbers:

  • My overall time: 2:14:57
  • My overall finish: 166 of 176 competitors
  • My finish in the Athena division: 4 among 7 competitors (all of us winners for going out there in Spandex surrounded by skinny people)
  • Time it took me to do the 0.6-mile swim: 37:39
  • Time it took the first-place half-iron competitor to complete a swim twice that long: 29:29 (amazing!)
  • Number of male competitors who passed me on their bike while riding in nothing but a Captain America Speedo: 1
  • Number of ice-cream stands I passed on my bike that made me think I should call it a day and get some Rocky Road: 1
  • Time it took me to run 2 miles after the swim and bike portions were finished: 26:11. A whoppingly slow 13-minute-mile pace
  • Number of Advil I have ingested since yesterday afternoon: 9
  • Number of minutes it took me to get my aching haunches out of bed this morning: 75
  • Number of days I get to brag about my victory: 362. Next year’s Delaware Diamondman is on Sept. 9. I’m signing Michelle and myself up this week!

5 comments

  1. WAY TO GO, kim!! you showed your little sister this year, good for you!! you rock, my friend and as always, i LOVE reading your articles. 🙂

  2. Hi, Kim. Your true life anecdote conjures up one of mine….During the 2007? Miami ING Half Marathon, a wheelchair racer passed me by like I was standing still, as we both forged UP the MacArhur Causeway. Keep on truckin, girl. Best, Lisa

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