Sarah Haskins felt Hunter Kemper nipping at her heels.
Mere seconds separated the two competitors on the final stretch of the Life Time Fitness Triathlon. The 2012 men's and women's crowns already had been decided. No one was catching either of the two. All that remained was the overall title.
Clinging to her slim lead, Haskins gasped forward. Kemper slowly fell farther and farther behind.
"I told myself, 'Just keep those legs turning; just keep those legs turning,' " she said.
And she did. Haskins broke through the red tape as the clock struck 1 hour, 57 minutes and 50 seconds. History had been made.
The 32-year-old Clermont, Fla., resident won Life Time for the fourth consecutive year, surpassing her time last season by 9 seconds and setting a women's course record.
"I didn't even realize it until my husband told me," she said. "It's just a little more special now."
The previous record was 1:57:58. Kemper, a 36-year-old living in Colorado Springs, finished with an overall time of 1:47:25. However, spotted the traditional 10:43 gender equalizer at the beginning of the race, Haskins outpaced Kemper by a mere 18 seconds.
Those seconds gave her an extra $5,000 in addition to her prize winnings of $12,500. Kemper and Haskins shook hands shortly after crossing the finish line.
"I was trying to get there, trying to catch up, but I needed to catch her a little bit earlier," Kemper said. "She deserved it. Sarah broke a course record along the way."
Her victory was never in doubt. Haskins cushioned herself over second-place finisher Gwen Jorgensen during the 40-kilometer bike stage. As she propped herself into running shoes, her lead soared to 6 minutes, 35.1 seconds.
Her husband, Blaine native Nate Kortuem, and father, Brian Haskins, awaited her at the finish line along with family.
"I'm so proud of her," said 56-year-old Brian Haskins, who donned a white T-shirt with his daughter's name on the front and various family member signatures on the back. "She's a great ambassador for the sport."
Saturday marked the first time a different male athlete grabbed the tape since Simon Whitfield did it in 2008. The previous year's champion, Matty Reed, who grabbed the tape the past three consecutive years, withdrew midrace because of an ailing foot that reportedly was stung by a bee.
"It's always great when you win a race, that's always the goal," said Kemper, who also won the race in 2006. "It doesn't always happen, but I had a pretty solid day today."
Both Kemper and Haskins acknowledged the difficulty of finishing the last mile. They were gassed by the end but pushed themselves to the brink while battling for overall supremacy.
"There's always a point in the race where you feel you could have done better, you could have pushed a little harder. So while running, all I kept thinking about was the training I did back in January, February and March," said Haskins. "It paid off."
Added Brian Haskins: "The drive home will be easier now."