Last October, University dental student Joel Kaines and his wife Kirsten were running around an area lake and crossed paths with a friend.
That friend, whom the Kaines’ jokingly refer to as a “non-runner”, told the couple he was training for the upcoming Twin Cities Marathon.
For Joel and Kirsten, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1993 after meeting as undergraduate track athletes, the idea that someone without a competitive running background could tackle a marathon was food for thought.
“We figured if he could do it, so could we,” Kirsten said.
Saturday, the couple plans to run with 7,314 other official entrants in the 20th annual Grandma’s Marathon, which begins in Two Harbors, Minn., and ends in Duluth.
Joel, a 27-year-old native of Fenton, Mich., and 25-year-old Kirsten, from La Crosse, Wisc., have been seriously training for the 26.2-mile event since late last year.
“We had always wanted to (run a marathon),” said Kirsten, who competed in the 800- and 1500-meter events for Wisconsin’s track team. “As a runner, I would feel like I was missing out on something if I didn’t run at least one.”
Joel has little missing from his running resume. He competed in both cross-country and track for the Badgers and finished second in the Big Ten in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 1992 and 1993. As a senior in 1993, Joel earned All-America honors with a ninth-place finish in the steeplechase at the NCAA Championships.
After earning his undergraduate degree in zoology, Joel continued to run for recreation, averaging about 45 miles a week. He stayed in good enough shape that he figured he could run a marathon unprepared, but didn’t want to subject his body to such rigors.
“I could’ve done it any time in the last 10 years with no training,” Joel said. “It would’ve been stupid; I probably would’ve gotten injured, but I could have done it.”
For Joel, running is just a part of life. And the desire to run a marathon came very naturally.
“I was just blessed — or cursed maybe,” he said. “Running just comes easy to me. The distance just isn’t a big deal.”
Joel will challenge himself Saturday by trying to finish in less than 2189> hours, just 10 minutes slower than the time needed to qualify for the Olympics. That’s a pace less than six minutes a mile.
For the average person, such a feat is almost incomprehensible. But Joel takes it in stride as part of his jam-packed schedule.
He spends nearly nine hours a day in school, runs between seven and 20 miles a day, works part time and volunteers at a mission doing dental work for people that otherwise can’t afford it.
Joel said running gives him a break from the hectic pace of his life.
“I recoup and gear up by running. For me it’s a big mental break,” Joel said.
Between school, work and running, it’s difficult for the Joel to find time for much else. Still, he and Kirsten are able to see each other during training runs and while working at the same restaurant in St. Paul.
On Saturday the two will try to run side by side for the entire marathon. And the distance is the only obstacle remaining.
“Our friends think we’re weird,” Joel said about running long distances. “Honestly I don’t know why I do it; it really is a weird sport.”