By: Orrin Konheim
Will Christian, a reservist Lieutenant Commander for the Navy, has been an elite runner since high school. In Fall 2000, he was named to Washington Post’s All-Met team from Great Mills High School after breaking the state record at the Maryland cross-country championships.
Eighteen years later, Christian is not only continuing to run at an elite level, but 2018 marked his best year as a marathoner to date. Last March, Christian won his first Marathon in 13 attempts at the One City Marathon in Newport News, Virginia. He followed that up with a third-place finish (2:24:23) at this past Marine Corps Marathon (the site of his debut exactly ten years ago) in Arlington, Va. and Washington, D.C.
Additionally, the MCM serves as the US Armed Forces Championships and Christian is now well-positioned to represent the U.S. Armed Forces next year at the CISM World Military Championships in China.
The Current caught up with Christian in Chesapeake, where he currently resides with his wife and son and works for the city of Virginia Beach as an engineer. The following interview has been altered for brevity and clarity.
Current: Congratulations on finishing third. What has been your history with the Marine Corps Marathon?
Christian: I ran the Marine Corp Marathon in 2008 and placed eighth overall with a time of 2:27:56. That was my first experience at the distance, and I remember crashing hard during the last three miles of that race. My former teammate, Andrew Dumm from the University of Virginia, ended up winning that year. After 2008 and before returning to the Marine Corp Marathon in 2015, I attempted to reach a US Olympic Trials (Christian finished 13 seconds away from qualification range). While training for the trials, the MCM did not fit my schedule. I have run the MCM since 2015 and placed 11th overall in that year. However, I had just returned from my honeymoon and the last month of training didn’t go as plan. I ran in 2016 (17th), but was mobilized at the time. I was fortunate my command let me return home temporarily to race the MCM. I placed seventh overall in 2017 and this year I got third.
Current: What were your goals for this race?
Christian: My first goal was to win the MCM, but I was bested that day. My second goal was to secure a spot on the team and the chances are in my favor. I’m satisfied with my place and time. 2:24 puts you near the front, and you never know how the last few miles of a marathon are going to shake out. Jeffrey Stein, who won this year, faded pretty hard last year.
Current: What was your experiences in the Navy?
Christian: My father served in the United States Navy as well. And as a result, I grew up in several different locations. I lived in Pensacola, FL and Rota, Spain to a name couple. I was commissioned through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corp (NROTC ) from the University of Virginia in 2006 (where Christian competed for the school and won the ACC championship). I served six years active duty before affiliating with the U.S. Navy Reserves. Now, I am currently serving in my third unit, Maritime Sealift Command Euraf.
Current: What keeps you going? Where have you found that drive?
Christian: There are several reasons why I continue to run. First, it is still fun. I enjoy the sport, the challenges, meeting new people, [and] visiting new places. Second, exercise is addictive. I’ve sat out of the sport to recovery from injuries or during a deployment at sea and it drove me crazy, which is one of the reasons I resigned my commission as an active duty officer. Third, I am motivated by the monetary prizes involved with top finishes. Fourth, running makes me feel good about myself. Fifth, I want to instill running, though maybe not competitive running, into my children (Christian has a two-year old son and his wife is expecting) so they can lead healthy lives.
Current: If you look at the statistics, few runners from the state of Maryland have been nationally competitive. Additionally, Great Mills High School is not a school that has a reputation as a strong distance program. How did you overcome that?
Christian: I had two awesome coaches, Ms. Lynn O’Dell and Mr. Jack Lovett, and some really good teammates. My freshman year, Great Mills dominated the conference, and the seniors on that team inspired me. Coach Lovett, [who] I still keep in touch with him today, made a lot of sacrifices to coach me. He would meet me in the morning before school to go on runs. He applied for invitationals outside our comfort zone and enlisted the help of our high school athletic director. When States came, he arranged for the team to stay in Timonium, Md. the night before so that we didn’t have to get up at 3 a.m. to make the trip. He is a huge reason for my success on and off the field. If you read this Coach Lovett, thank you!
Current: There are not a lot of African-Americans born in the US who have gravitated towards distance running. Are you cognizant of that?
Christian: (laughs) I am well aware. I have a University of Virginia Cross Country team photo on my work desk. There are about 30 guys in the picture and I stick out. Those guys were awesome and never made me feel like an outsider. Joe Gray from Colorado, a world class runner, is a friend of mine, and we’ve talked about our experiences. However, compared to other groups of people in this country, the adversity that I faced in this sport is a like a walk in the park.
Current: Who is your current running support circle? Are you affiliated with a team and do you have a coach?
Christian: My family is my running support circle. I have purchased a jogging stroller and enjoy bonding with my son on short runs. Other than running on teams in high school, college, and the Navy team, I’m usually a lone wolf. I train on my own using a mix of my old coaches’ training plans. The Navy team meets up twice a year for USATF Cross Country Nationals and for the Marine Corp Marathon.
Current: On a logistical level, what does it take to keep yourself physically fit to be able to continue to run at such an elite level?
Christian: Unfortunately, I do not run as consistently as I used to run nor do I run as many miles a week I would like. I have come to balance running, work, family, and church. And running is not the priority anymore. With that being said, I squeeze running in during the morning or my lunch break. I rely on my experience and manage to get some track workouts in from time to time. I’m at the point in my life where my competitive racings days are numbered, though not over, and I am likely to pick up coaching to try and give the same opportunities I had to younger runners.
Current: Lastly, what advice would you give to runners in their 30s or older who are trying to keep running?
Christian: We are getting older, and our bodies don’t rebound or recover as well as our younger days. Hopefully, at this point in life, runners have come to listen to their bodies more when it comes to rest. I know in my college days, I ran myself into a stress fracture injury. I ignored the pain and the signs. Now I know, a few days rest isn’t going to ruin my training.