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First comes love, then comes marriage ... then comes an Ironman triathlon?

Sheila Crisp finishes her first Ironman triathlon in Louisville, Ken., in October 2016. She will run her next Ironman triathlon in Canada later this month. Special to the Pine Journal1 / 3
Jason Crisp races in the 2012 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. Competitors in an Ironman triathlon run a full marathon (26.2 miles), bike 112 miles and swim 2.4 miles. Special to the Pine Journal2 / 3
Sheila and Jason Crisp relax for a moment before taking off on a 100-mile training bike ride. The couple live in Wrenshall and manage to work full time, have a family and train for Ironman triathlons as well. Special to the Pine Journal3 / 3

It's a long way from Kentucky to Carlton, but Jason and Sheila Crisp's journey between those two points was longer still.

Or it's shorter, depending on how you determine the distance by internet.

In 2007, South Dakota native Jason Crisp took part in an Ironman triathlon in Louisville, Ken., and as part of the event got a three-month subscription to a fitness website. On that site, he met Sheila. Five years later, the couple married in Hawaii, after Jason took part in the Ironman World Championship at Kailua-Kona. Competitors in an Ironman triathlon run a full marathon (26.2 miles), bike 112 miles and swim 2.4 miles.

Now the Crisps live in Carlton, and they're both doing Ironman and other triathlons as part of a schedule that boggles the mind just to read, never mind to actually perform.

"The life of a triathlete is swim, bike, run, repeat," Jason said with a laugh.

That's a difficult life for most people. So Jason, 37, who is a personal trainer and health and wellness coordinator for Halvor Lines, acts as his wife's trainer.

"I do what he tells me," Sheila said, with an equally happy voice. "Most of the time, anyway."

The two are raising four kids and both have full-time employment — Sheila drives a rural delivery route for the U.S. Postal Service — around training between 15 and 25 hours per week when preparing to race.

"It's a lifestyle," Jason explains. "I swim year round, bike, run and lift weights and then give my mind and body a break."

That training schedule has become part of Sheila's life too. Five years Jason's senior, she completed her first Ironman triathlon last October — also in Louisville. The two started that race together.

"We saw each other a few times on the course," Jason said. "The running course was a big loop so we gave each other a couple of high-fives, which was fun."

To do that, Sheila had to prepare in a way she hadn't done before.

"I do what's necessary (to prepare)," Sheila said, "which means I try to follow the notes Jason gives me."

That means in order to train, the couple has to make allowances.

"When I'm doing a long bike ride, he tries to do a short run so we can be around home at the same time, or work out together when we can," Sheila said. "Sometimes the laundry piles up or the dishes overflow but we find a way to do it all."

And in the end, it has all worked out. Jason has competed in four Ironman world triathlon championships in Hawaii, at the full distance — and the couple plans to take part in the Ironman Mont-Tremblant race together Aug. 20 in Quebec, Canada.

"I had a blast finishing that race in Louisville," Sheila said. "But it's hard with a family and four kids. Doing all this takes some teamwork."

For Jason, watching his wife complete her first triathlon was almost as big a thrill as finishing his own.

"It was great watching all the training pay off," he said. "She said she never really suffered that much during the race, but I suffered in every one I did!"

That's quite a word — suffer — but it's accurate when a human body is put through the rigors of a triathlon race. In legend, the Greek runner Pheidippides died after running the first marathon, so putting a body through a swim and bike race on top of one figures to be harder still.

"It takes a couple of weeks to recover from one, at least for me," Jason said. "But the more I've done and the more consistency I get in training, the less time it takes."

Sheila has compared the rigors of a triathlon to childbirth, from her point of view.

"There are similarities," she said. "You find out you're pregnant and you're excited for nine months, which is like a training length, and then you're ready for it all to be done."

The shortest recovery time Jason can recall was two days — in 2012, when he and Sheila were married in Hawaii.

"When you're there, you recover quick and getting married helped," Jason said. "A few Mai Tais helped too!"

For Sheila, the joy of the race is in the running.

"I had a lot of mixed emotions when I finished in Louisville," she said. "Because you're out there so long, you have nothing to do but think, so I'd think back to training and the texts and well wishes I got from everyone and it gets a little emotional. But when the finish line is in sight and you've trained six to eight months for that moment, it's emotional."

Sheila gives her husband credit for making her a better competitor.

"Before I met Jason I was scared of water and I wouldn't put my face in it while swimming. I'll always owe him for that, even though I'm still afraid of the water."

The Crisps have already signed up for another triathlon event in Texas next April. Jason is reluctant to take credit for Sheila's success, but hopes the example he sets will rub off on others in any event.

"I hope it inspires some people," Jason said. "It's part of my lifestyle and who I am. Personally, as long as I can enjoy the experience I will keep doing triathlons.

"When I have a little pain in a race, I just think 'I get do this and someday I won't be able to.' That helps me enjoy the moment. But I see 80-year old people racing at Kona because they can still do it. I want to be like that."

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