Still, the 2:20 barrier stood unscathed. "This fall I think it will happen," says Kristiansen. "My track improvement means the pace will be easier, and my psychological training has taken care of the complexes. There is only one competitor now: the watch."
Kristiansen's friend Kvalheim, who has been running along listening to this, says, "You know, here in Norway if you make a promise like that, 20,000 people will come out to see you fail. It's a law here: You shouldn't think you are anyone special. We call it Jante Loven."
This is part of a famous assessment of the Norwegian character by Danish author and poet Aksel Sandemose. "It's quoted a lot in Norway," Kaggestad would say later. "And I think it's a problem. We live in a corner of the world. Young Norwegians going outside their own district or country are very skeptical of how they'll compete. Everyone says, 'There's no point in doing that.... Those guys there are pretty good.' "
Even Waitz has said, "I nearly fainted at the sight of the DDR on the East Germans' sweats the first time I had to face them. It was little me from little Norway." Waitz has been careful not to promise records.
Kristiansen, however, has matter-of-factly stated her capabilities, forecasting two 5,000 records and one 10,000. She hasn't missed yet. The result is that a popularity vote would give Waitz the all-Norwegian award.
That is a provincial shame because the three best female marathoners ever, Kristiansen, Waitz and Benoit Samuelson, all are models of stability, wit and integrity. The parallels are striking, and not coincidental. All are happily married. All are aware of their own compulsiveness and are able to keep it within healthy bounds. All have serious interests outside their running. (And all, as it happens, ski.) It has to be this way. Inevitably, those best at the marathon, this event that defines lasting it out, lead lives of balance. They have outlasted runners of comparable talent, who destroyed it in one way or another, through overtraining, overracing, dumb tactics or perfectionist burnout.
Kristiansen says there has never been a time when she had to discipline herself to get out and train, but career's end is not far off. "I think I will race hard through 1988," she says. "My goals are to win gold medals in the 10,000 in the world championships next year in Rome and in the Seoul Olympics." Remarkably, she will leave the marathon in those most important games to Waitz.
"Look at the drawbacks of marathoning in the summer," continues Kristiansen. " Rome and Seoul are hot and polluted, and NBC will dictate the time of the Olympic start with no thought given to the welfare of the athletes. No, marathons are best in America, in the fall."
When the weather is cool and the money green. "If I were simply out for money, I wouldn't run European track at all. I'd be on the American road-racing circuit," she says. "But the big U.S. marathons are very attractive." By winning the Boston Marathon last April, she took home $180,000. If she wins in Chicago she will earn $70,000, with bonuses of $25,000 for a course record, $50,000 for a world record and $50,000 more for a sub-2:20 performance.
Occasionally the runners have seen groups of children or couples out walking. One man was Kvalheim's physics teacher. Another, a craftsman, made a pendant for Kristiansen once. Norway is a small town. The long run concludes, having become a physical metaphor of how Kristiansen's life is arranged. Its surface has been cushiony, its vistas inviting, its hills hard but not brutal, the people along the way respectfully elated by her passage.