"I am better for having him," says Kristiansen. "My body's changed, but I'm also thinking more of Gaute and less of myself. You get more flexible, maybe, more able to make adjustments in training and not worry about them."
Kristiansen points out that there are other reasons, besides her child, for her improvement. For one, she was impelled to rebuild her competitive psyche by a traumatic experience, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic marathon. Kristiansen by then had surpassed Waitz's best time with 2:24:26, a mark second only to Benoit's record 2:22:43.
The race began under morning fog. Just before three miles, Benoit surged away, forcing a decision upon the contenders. Should they go with her? Kristiansen looked to Waitz. "I have a lot of respect for the distance," Waitz said. "Maybe too much. When Joan left so early, I was convinced she would come back." Waitz let Benoit go.
It wasn't the distance that Kristiansen had too much respect for. It was Waitz. "I didn't use my head then," she says now. "If I had followed Joanie, maybe three or four other girls would have come too. It might have been a different race. But I waited for Grete. She stayed in the pack. So I stayed in the pack." She falls into regretful silence for a while, then says brightly, "If I could run just one race differently, it would be that one."
L.A.'s coastal fog lingered for a protective hour. Benoit built up an insurmountable lead. Waitz, running with back spasms, finished second and was glad to get it. Kristiansen was fourth, behind Portugal's Rosa Mota, and returned home painfully aware that she was not yet the complete marathoner. The body was able, but she was victim of her own reflexive habits of mind.
"I went to a psychologist named Willy Railo," she says. "Most of his work is with business people, musicians and actors. I had to agree with him when he said I had a Grete Waitz complex and a Joan Benoit complex." Railo explained that, not unnaturally, she had been programmed for 10 years to accept her role as No. 2.
To rise out of it, she began listening to tapes made by Railo that reassured her about her self-worth and made her imagine specific situations, specific responses. "There is a tape with two races," she says. "One is a marathon with Joanie, Grete and Rosa. And of course I win. Then there is a track race with Budd and Slaney. They are the runners I respect the most because they lead, they don't wait behind you to outsprint you. In the tape I have many troubles with them." She says the idea is not to imagine oneself eternally victorious but eternally tough, always reacting positively no matter how intimidating the challenge. "The key is you must control the race," she says. "Not let the race control you."
In 1985 she bent the London Marathon to her will. Running with cheerful abandon, she took 1:37 from Benoit Samuelson's world-best time with her 2:21:06. And six months later, last October, in the Chicago marathon, the two women raced for the first time since the Olympics. "Before the race," says Kristiansen, "I said to myself, 'Don't think of Joanie. This is your race.' But she took the lead. She was the boss."
The pace was fast. "In the first miles, I said, 'It's O.K., fast is better for me than for Joanie, because my 10,000 time is much faster than hers.' " For an hour and a half they ran together, each relishing the tension of shoulder-to-shoulder competition. "At 15 miles, I offered her a drink from my bottle," says Kristiansen. "She said no."
Later, Benoit Samuelson would reveal that she was feeling terrible at that point. "If Ingrid had kicked away then," she said, "I'd have settled for second." But Kristiansen was unaware of her rival's weakness, and Benoit Samuelson regrouped and launched her own attack at 18 miles. She won by 1:44, in 2:21:21, the second fastest ever.