In the weeks leading up to the ING New York City Marathon on November 4, NYRR News Service will be taking a closer look at the stories of eight pro athletes who are preparing for the race. Today, Beyond the Stats visits Alisha Williams, who will be making her New York debut.
Alisha Williams is all over the map—with both the locations and the distances of her races. Her schedule this year has included a 6K cross country race in Edinburgh, Scotland; a marathon in Houston; a road mile in Minneapolis; and 5000 and 10,000 meters on the track in Eugene, OR.
“Running is something that is fun, that I’m passionate about,” says the Colorado Springs resident. “I want to continue to get better, but it’s also important to keep it fun and do things I want to do and not let it [get stale]. Just keeping it kind of light.”
There’s another way that Williams, 30, an intriguing prospect who will run her second 26.2-miler at the ING New York City Marathon on November 4, keeps it light. She works full-time—as an accountant for Westmoreland Coal, an energy company. The job salary removes any worry about running finances.
“When I go to a race, it’s not like, ‘I have to make this much money,’” she says. “I don’t feel that pressure. I feel pressure to run well from other things, but it’s more because I want to. I have a great support team and want to do well for them.
“For me it works out well with the balance of not being stressed out at how we’re going to pay our mortgage. And I don’t know what else I’d be doing during the day.”
Even for Williams, it’s not easy juggling a 40 hours of work and 100 to 110 miles of running each week. She and her husband, Scott Nagelkerke, and their dog, Miles, are typically up at 5:30 a.m. and pounding the pavement shortly thereafter. Usually there’s a second run during lunch or when she returns home in the evenings, and she’s in bed by 9:00 p.m. Once a week she tries to squeeze in a physical therapy session or a massage during her lunch break.
Sure, there are some days when it would be nice to take a nap between workouts. “Some days are stressful, when I have to get something done or a project out,” says Williams, after praising Westmoreland Coal for its flexibility and support of her running. “But that’s exciting to me, too. I enjoy accounting. I like learning new things and growing professionally. All those things are important to me.”
It’s ironic that Williams is now running marathons. She was a 1500-meter runner at Western Colorado, where she won three NCAA Division II titles in the event and had a personal best of 4:16.42. “The reality of running 26.2 miles has always intimidated me,” she says. “It’s basically 26 times the distance I was running.”
Williams thought she was through with competitive running in 2007, two years after graduation. She plunged into completing her CPA and was content to be a recreational runner. But she found herself “sucked back into” the sport.
“Running is something I love doing,” she says. “I love competing. I’m kind of a competitive person. It’s good to have that outlet. You don’t necessarily want to be competitive in all areas of life.”
For the past year, Williams has been training under Scott Simpson, a former college coach who put his savings into starting the American Distance Project. He thinks “the sky is the limit” for Williams, both on the track, where she finished fifth in the 10,000 meters and ninth in the 5000 meters at this year’s Olympic Trials, and in the marathon, after her 2:35:09 debut at the Trials race in Houston this past January earned her a 14th-place finish.
The short-term plan is for Williams to continue a track career while also running one marathon a year, after being encouraged by her performances at the track Trials in Eugene.
“It definitely gave me more confidence that I can be up there with some of the best runners in the U.S.,” she says. “It definitely shows I’m strong and can recover quickly. I think it’s good to be able to go back to the track and move up and down in distances. A lot of people have shown that’s a good way to be successful in running.”
When asked to forecast a time for Williams in New York, both coach and runner avoided specifics. After all, the build-up is just beginning.
“Her 32:03 [for 10K] predicts faster than what I’m going to comment on because I don’t want her to think about those times,” Simmons says. “There’s no reason why a woman who can run 32 flat for 10K can’t run well under 2:30 or even faster than that.”
Williams has incentive to improve on that time in New York. Scott, who’s training seriously for a winter marathon, has the family record of 2:33. “We’ll see if I can get that,” Williams says.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg