When Kristina Aubert, 27, battled through the last miles of her first marathon last summer, she relied on her fiancé and biggest fan, Damon King, to motivate her. Meanwhile, King, 29, was drawing just as much inspiration from Aubert.
About 20 minutes before Aubert crossed the 2018 Grandma’s Marathon finish line in an 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials-qualifying time of 2:43:35, King finished the race in a personal best of 2:22:07, missing the men’s Trials qualifying time by just three minutes. As he watched Aubert summon every last ounce of energy to slip under the Trials ‘B’ standard (sub-2:45), King was amazed—but not surprised.
“I saw the daily grind and all the work. I saw her cross the finish line in that time and thought, ‘Of course she did,’” King told Runner’s World. “She did everything that she needed to do to accomplish that. It’s good to see that and translate it to myself and know that I can do that as well and break that barrier myself.”
The Chicago natives met almost three years ago and have since become integral members of each other’s marathon training team—motivating each other through every mile, setback, and triumph as they chase their individual marathon goals.
While Aubert, a registered nurse, and King, a data and analytics specialist, have both developed into marathoners today, they each took different running routes to get there.
Becoming a Marathoner by Surprise
Aubert started her running career as a teenager at Crystal Lake-South High School where she became a state champion in the 3200 meters as a freshman. Through her prep career, she earned accolades on the track and in cross country, but felt the weight of expectations and pressure from early victories.
Aubert told Runner’s World that having success as a young runner is “the biggest curse that could ever happen to you, because everyone expects you to keep on winning.”
After graduating high school in 2010, she committed to run and study nursing at Arkansas State University. Though she wasn’t sure at first if she wanted to compete in college, she liked that the sport provided a familiar routine. “I needed something that was normal to me because everything else was so foreign: living on my own, going to a new school, meeting new people,” Aubert said. “Running was always there.”
While running for the Red Wolves, she became the first athlete in school history to compete at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and collected nine Sun Belt Conference titles. After graduating in 2013 with a full year of eligibility left, she transferred to the University of Arizona for her fifth year in 2014. In that final track season, she clocked a 10,000-meter personal best of 33:47 and qualified for the NCAA West Preliminary Round.
After she graduated in the spring of 2015, Aubert knew she wanted to continue running but didn’t feel ready to make the jump to the marathon. Instead, she began preparing for the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon using a Hansons Running Shop training plan. She spent the summer of 2015 traveling and training throughout Europe, crashing with friends she visited throughout the continent.
On November 7, 2015, she ran 1:14:57 in Indianapolis, which qualified her for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles. And once that opportunity to compete at the Trials presented itself, she couldn’t turn it down. “I had no choice but to become a marathoner,” Aubert said.
Unfortunately, she suffered a stress fracture in her tibia during her marathon buildup, which forced her to withdraw from Trials. Though she was bummed to miss out, the experience only fueled her fire to chase the standard again in 2020. To do that, though, she needed a training partner.
Finding Strength with a Running and Life Partner
Luckily, King came into her life at just the right time. In the fall of 2016, Aubert was introduced to King by a mutual friend at a Halloween party, which also happened to fall on King’s birthday.
“I always like to play around and say that my birthday gift that year was meeting her,” he said.
At the time, King had already finished a few marathons, while Aubert was only starting to train for her first. The new couple instantly bonded when they began running together. He’d put in several miles of his long run before picking her up for the last few, then the pair would grab postrun brunch together.
“Runners have such weird lifestyles. We’re up early and running, then we’re eating everything in sight afterwards,” King said. “Then we go to bed and repeat it. It was cool to find someone who wouldn’t just put up with the lifestyle, but be there on the day to day.”
A lacrosse player growing up, King started running as a sophomore on the club team at Michigan State University. He moved to Chicago in 2014, and in 2016, he made his debut at the Chicago Marathon, finishing in 2:36:19. Today, he has completed four marathons, and he is aiming to OTQ (sub-2:19) in Indianapolis this fall. He’s reminded of this goal every day when he looks at the plaque in their bedroom, which holds the Trials race bib Aubert earned in 2016.
“It’s a good reminder to get the work in,” he said.
Prioritizing Sleep and Recovery Paved the Way to a PR
Both Aubert and King train with the DW Running group coached by Dan Walters, which meets for medium-long runs on Mondays, workouts on Wednesdays, and long runs on Saturdays. On easy days, the couple run-commutes together to work. In their down time, they make sure to get nine to 10 hours of sleep every night plus plenty of rest after hard efforts.
“We feed off each other,” Aubert said. “He’s very good about being disciplined on the weekends, making sure that we don’t make plans on Friday night when we know we have to wake up at 5 a.m. to go run for 25 miles.”
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During the challenging parts of marathon training, the pair especially leans on each other. For example, in the two weeks leading up to the 2018 Grandma’s Marathon, both Aubert and King suffered from unexpected injuries. She got bursitis in her heel; he was experiencing pain in his hip flexor. Both athletes didn’t run for 10 days leading up to the race but made sure to encourage each other through the stressful period.
“He’s so supportive, even through the injuries, which aren’t always pretty,” Aubert said.
“We’re both good at being each other’s coach while we both individually freak out,” King said. When he was getting anxious, Aubert reminded him that their hard training was done, and the time off running would serve them well as a taper.
Working together has continued to pay off this year. At the 2019 Grandma’s Marathon in June, Aubert set a new personal best of 2:40:58.
Along with preparing for Trials next year, the marathoning couple has another big event to plan for. Last November, King proposed to Aubert while on vacation in Patagonia, and the couple is currently planning a destination wedding in Athens, Greece, on July 3, 2020. The location was, of course, chosen in part because of its historical roots to the marathon. Two days before the ceremony, the couple is planning to run the famed 25-mile route from Marathon, Greece, to Athens with friends and family.
For Aubert and King, the marathon is more than just a distance to cover. It’s a commitment that has brought both individuals joy in their lives and with each other.
“It’s been the point where we bonded and we clicked and we knew that what we have is special,” King said. “I think we both fell into the distance and into our best selves.”
Taylor Dutch is a freelance writer living in Chicago.