Magical marathon

The marathon is a long-distance running event with an official distance of 26.2 miles and was instituted in commemoration of the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon to Athens. The legend, although widely debated in its historical accuracy, is that Pheidippides was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon, and he ran the entire distance without stopping.

The marathon was also one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896, but the distance didn’t become standardized until 1921. More than 500 marathons are held throughout the world each year, the vast majority of competitors being recreational athletes. One such competitor in one of the more than 500 worldwide marathons was local runner Brittney Christianson, who ran the Walt Disney World Marathon this past January.

Christianson placed second among the women runners in the Walt Disney World Marathon and placed 36th overall out of more than 19,000 runners, with a time of 2:54:12. The course takes runners through all four Disney World theme parks, starting at Epcot, continuing to the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and finishing back at Epcot.

“The weather was awesome,” Christianson said as she started describing the race, but she had been nervous the heat would get to her. Luckily, though, it wasn’t an issue as she ran the race in under three hours.

“I wasn’t sure where I was at,” she added, noting her placement in the pack of the running thousands, until her fiance informed her along the course that she was in third place among the women runners. “I held that place until mile 21 and then passed the girl who was ahead of me and held the (second place) spot until the end.”

That’s not to say that the 26.2 mile run was easy, however, because Christianson said it definitely was not.

“By the end, the last six miles was solid hard work. I felt like I was slowing down and I told myself to just keep going,” she said.

On mile 13, Christianson said, she received a high-five from Mickey Mouse, and there were various Disney characters along the course of the race as well as music to pump people up.

“It’s a great race,” she said. At the finish line, Christianson said, the race officials and paramedics on hand asked her if she needed medical attention, but she replied that she just wanted a hug from Mickey Mouse. The mouse cheerfully met her request.

“I’m not a professional, I’m just a runner,” Christianson said. “It was quite the experience to come in second place.”

She added that she had worked at Disney World for five months at a previous time, and since the first marathon she ran was at Walt Disney World, it was special to run the race there again.

Currently, Christianson is not signed up for another race and is just running to enjoy running. When she was training for the Walt Disney World Marathon, though, she would run the longest distances on Saturdays and workout twice a day five times a week, doing weight training and attending fitness classes. She ran 86 miles during one of the weeks of her marathon training, although it wasn’t as many as she’d have liked because she had to contend with an injury.

“For training for this race, I was met with a challenge and adversity,” Christianson said. She had to have the assistance of physical therapy, which included cross-training.

Christianson spends her days teaching third-graders at Edison Elementary School in Minot, but she usually runs every morning before school, sometimes after.

“I try to run outside as much as possible, but I won’t run outside with a wind chill,” she added. In addition to running, Christianson lifts weights and participates in fitness classes.

“It’s a lifestyle,” she said of the amount of her time spent exercising. “I’ve been running my whole life.”

In high school, she ran on the track team, then ran on the track team for four years at Concordia College. She also ran on Concordia College’s cross-country team during her senior year. She ran her first half-marathon in August 2009 and her first full marathon at Walt Disney World in 2010. The Walt Disney World Marathon in 2014 was her seventh 26.2-mile race. Christianson also has run the Boston Marathon, the Fargo Marathon twice, the Las Vegas Rock ‘n Roll Marathon twice and Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn.

With running, Christianson said, she loves the feeling of accomplishment and the joy of running on the road, especially in the morning when it’s calm and peaceful. She also likes pushing her body to the max.

“I’m such a competitive person,” Christianson added. “I just want to be better, faster and stronger.”

For Christianson, though, it’s not just about running for the fun and love of the sport.

“I feel part of my running story is to inspire others to reach for their dreams,” she said. “I’m a product of hard work. Through years of training and hard work, anything is possible. I was just a runner in the mix, but after years of hard work and hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of miles, I accomplished a goal. If you put your mind to it and work hard, you can make your dreams come true.”

The Walt Disney World Marathon was a dream come true in every way for Christianson. “I had to work so hard, and it wasn’t easy, but crossing the finish line in second place and getting that hug from Mickey Mouse at the finish line made it all worth it.

“Walt Disney said, ‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.’ This courage and striving for my goals is what grounds my training and running everyday. Magical things can happen if you just believe.”