Professional distance runner Shalane Flanagan calls her weekend miles the church of the long run.
I think Barry and Kristina Hein call it marriage.
If you run in Sioux Falls, you’ve probably seen the Heins. They’re tall. Thin. Blond. Trailing four kids behind them who look just like them, willowy and kind. You’ve seen Kristina pushing kids in a jogger. Or seen Barry running from their house in central Sioux Falls to his job at Sanford Health. Or all the kids at the pool or church or anywhere wholesome families hang out.
They’re also fast and funny and two of the kindest people I’ve ever met. So when I thought about how this post would fall on Feb. 14, I thought about the Heins. What’s it like to run with the person you love?
To find out, I spent a lunch hour with them at the hospital, where Barry, 42, works. Kristina, 41, came with takeout sandwiches for the department and two of the most well-behaved kids I’ve seen in tow. We sat in an empty patient room and they told me about how they got started.
Kristina, who is from Gothenburg, Sweden, grew up cross-country skiing. As part of that training, she had to run. So she did. Barry, who grew up in Sioux Falls, was a swimmer.
“I ran once with her in college,” Barry said.
“He would start out sprinting and then after a quarter mile he was done,” Kristina said.
(Here’s something you’ll discover: Their dialogue is the best part of talking with them. I just want to hang out and listen to them talk to each other.)
This is how Barry got started: He began biking to work. Then he signed up for a sprint triathlon in Chamberlain, with a goal to not walk the 5K. At the time, he was barely running. It was 2006.
“Let’s put it this way,” Kristina said. “He had a hard time keeping up when I had two kids in a double stroller I was pushing.”
Barry persevered. He signed up for a half-Ironman, trained a bit, liked it.
“Then I decided I was going to do an Ironman and realized I would have to train for that,” Barry said.
To get ready, he signed up for the Mickelson Trail marathon. He thought if he could complete that, he would be able to do the Ironman. Through it all, he mostly ran alone. “I don’t know that I ever did a 20-mile run,” Barry said.
And this sums up why I love the Heins:
“My first marathon I ran a 3:29 and thought I was going to die,” Barry says. “I bought running shoes, and I thought I didn’t want a lot of weight, so I sized down, just like every runner should do. My foot hurt so bad, I’m sure I had some kind of tendonitis, my knee hurt … .” He trails off, laughing, about the rookie mistake.
Kristina grew up running, cross-country skiing and sailing. When she and Barry lived in Rochester, Minn., she helped coach a cross-country ski team, and one of the other coaches worked with high school runners. So she helped with that, and then she began to meet more runners.
“The first marathon I trained for was Grandma’s,” Kristina says. “I was just coming off this 56-mile ski race, so I figured I could do it.”
The Friday before the race, she found out she was pregnant, but her doctor gave her the go-ahead to run anyway. She did.
By this time, the Heins realized they may actually be turning into runners. Barry looked around and found the Sioux Falls Area Running Club online and saw the Saturday morning runs from Lincoln High School. That isn’t far from where they live, so he went down one morning to give it a try. He loved it.
“Then he told me, and thought I should go,” Kristina said.
So this is what you’ll see on a Saturday morning: Barry runs in the dark toward Lincoln. He’s sinewy, gentle, always smiles. Kristina comes next, with her blonde, blonde hair and accent and always just a few minutes late. But you never mind, because when she gets there, it was worth the wait. And when they start talking to you, you’re just happy to be there, because they’re genuine, and they care, and they want to know about your upcoming race or your kids or your family or the sweet deal you got on some new winter mittens. They’re unassuming and easygoing.
But they aren’t saccharine.
“When Barry was training for his first triathlon, then we got to the point where it’s hard to run together with him,” Kristina says. “Just a few weeks ago, I was thinking one of the things I dislike the most about my husband is that he always makes me feel like I am out of shape.”
“It’s a little payback for the Grand Canyon (where they did a rim-to-rim-to-rim run a few years ago),” Barry says. “Everybody wanted to push her off a cliff because everyone was miserable except her. She’s all happy at mile 40-whatever, and I was like, get away from me.”
“Barry just told them it was OK to tell me to shut up,” Kristina says.
“Because of how well she felt,” he laughs.
“It would be nice to marry someone who isn’t so athletic,” Kristina says. “I get my payback when I cross-country ski.”
They joke about the times they have run together and argued over slowing down to stay together. Talk about how when they travel to Norway, where the run is half actual running and half hiking, they stick together more, enjoy the time. Beyond that, they just both show up to the group runs and then go their separate ways.
But the trick isn’t to do it together. It’s to make room for each of them to do something they love.
“The biggest thing for us is that both of us are happy to let the other person run,” Kristina says. “I think that’s where a lot of people run into trouble – where you don’t have someone who understands what it is.”
It helps that they do most of their runs before the sun comes up, then come home to a house that’s still asleep. They make time not only for their miles but also their family – ready to dedicate themselves to the business of raising children and going to work and helping at church and all the daily things you do. All the things that are easier to do once you’ve cleared your head step by step through town with friends, on dirt trails and bike paths.
Next up is the possibility of a 100-miler in the Black Hills this spring. Kristina won the 50-miler last year, and Barry worries what the competition would be if she were in the 100-mile race with him. For most of us, that would look like a bunch of insecurity and panic.
Not for the Heins. For them, it looks like what it always does: A glorious bit of dialogue that makes you just want to live their lives with them.
Barry: I would be worried she would beat me.
Kristina: My only chance would be if I came on at the end.
Barry: And that’s likely. Very likely.
Kristina: He doesn’t like the fact that I’m so happy.
Barry: And just beating me. I wouldn’t like that either. While you’re happy.
Here’s the thing; They both have the raw talent. The drive. The easy, loping way of running that makes it all seem so effortless. And despite Barry’s teasing, they both also have the right attitude. Work hard. Train. Look around you and admire the people and places you see. Make room for what you love and who you love and what they love.
And then the rest of it sort of works itself out.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at email@example.com. Story ideas are encouraged
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