Todd Williams, running his debut marathon, Chicago, 1997, photo by PhotoRun.net.
On a cold November day in 1991, at the U.S. Cross Country Championships, in Franklin Park in Boston, I remember watching this young kid from Tennessee, all in adidas green, Todd Williams, with his baseball cap on backwards, stick with Pat Porter as they traversed the park, lap after lap. Porter was the best cross country runner in the U.S, having surpassed Don Lash’s seven US cross championships and Shorter’s five (remember, Lynn Jennings had nine xc titles). This day, however, the Volunteer grad was sticking Pat Porter pretty hard, pushing the pace, until it came down to Porter and Williams. It was a theme that Todd Williams would have with most of his racing: going out hard, sticking it to the other guy, and finding out who had something left at the very end.
If the term, ” No quarter asked, none given”, could be used to describe an athlete, Todd Williams was such an athlete. Todd ran hard, raced hard, laughed hard and did it with a regularity, for nearly fifteen years, before he decided it was time to pursue other interests.
A frequent TV announcer, now working full time for adidas America, Todd Williams, answered our fifteen questions with an honesty and humor that one would only expect……
One more comment. It was because of the likes of Todd Williams, Bob Kennedy, Mark Croghan and a few others, who trained hard, raced hard, when many U.S. distance runners wallowed in mediocrity, that the roots of our renaissance in U.S. distance running is beginning…
RBR, 1: In 1991, at the US Cross Country Champs in Boston, you defeated Pat Porter, that was one of your first big professional wins, what do you remember from that event? You also had great runs in the NCAA that year, finishing 2nd in the 10, and 3rd in the 5,000, how did it feel for the hard work to pay off?
Todd Williams: The biggest thing about the 1991 Championships was no one thought I had a chance and I pulled it off! Plus, winning a National Title for the first time only validated that all the hard work and sacrifice was well worth it! Beating everyone in Unites States including a legend like Pat Porter in Boston’s Franklin Park was a feeling that I’ll never forget!
RBR, 2: . You won the Olympic Trials over 10,000 meters in 92 and 96, how do you see those wins now?
Todd Williams: At the 1992 Trials, no one thought I had a chance to win or make the team besides my coaches(Doug Brown and George Watts) and myself. They could see how focused and how much time I put in to make it to the next level! It was one of those races where I KNEW I had it within the first 4 laps. To win by a big margin and to be able to enjoy the victory ranks right up there as one of the best races of my career.
1996 wasn’t as enjoyable because I suffered big time with a side stitch in the prelim and it absolutely killed me in the final. The last 15 laps felt like a knife was jabbing me in the gut! I threw in a huge surge early to get away because I wanted to get the pack to run for 2nd. Luckily, my plan worked, because if the guys in the field knew how much pain I was in, they could’ve hammered me that day!
RBR, 3: You ran the Worlds in 1993, 95, in the 10,000 meters, when they had heats and then the final, how did you recover from those events?
Todd Williams: That was tough back in the day to have pre-lims of the 10,000m because you had to hammer the pre-lims to get in and then to only have 48 hours to get ready for the final was very difficult! My only plan was to treat the pre-lim like a final and make it to the final. After making it both times I would just hit the ice bath,light jog,massage,drink plenty of fluids and rest! My legs were dead after those suckers but it was worth it! I finished in the top ten in the world twice so I recovered fairly well compared to most!
RBR, 4: You race the World cross country several times, tell us about the feeling at a world xc?
Todd Williams: PAIN PAIN PAIN!!!!!! The whole race hurts because there is no pacing. It’s all out from the gun and you’re racing the best in the world from all distances. For example, in 1995 when I finished 9th, I went out close to the lead and we passed the 1k in 2:35 and I was like “shit we still have a 11k to go!”. I finished(TOP AMERICAN) in the top twenty all three senior runs and top 15 both junior runs so the pain was good! LOL!
RBR, 5: What would you tell young coaches now about developing young American distance runners? Any to dos? Any do NOTs?
Todd Williams: I really don’t have advice because I was one of those guys that just hammered everything and most of the time I ran decent so I’m a bad guy to take advice from…I would probably tell anyone “run harder” and “push through the pain!”. I guess one piece of advice would be to know your athletes and what makes them click! Running is not an exact science. What works for some doesn’t mean it will work for everyone!
RBR, 6: What was the biggest mistake you made in training? in racing?
Todd Williams: Training – wouldn’t change anything…I loved to hammer and push myself hard!
Racing – I would’ve never dropped out in the Olympic semi 10,000m in 1996. I was stinking it up that day and I just threw in the towel…. bad choice! Some days just don’t go your way and you need to push through it!
RBR, 7: What was the biggest lesson you learnt about training? racing?
Todd Williams: Good days and bad days but you need to stay focused, disciplined and dedicated through it all if you want to improve!
RBR, 8: You moved up the marathon in 1997, running 2:11:14 in your debut, tell us about that race? I remember you looking pretty good after that race?
Todd Williams: If I looked good it was because I was 5 beers in celebrating my first marathon finish….because in reality I was in major PAIN! The marathon was a race I truly hated! I was too impatient and hyper to understand pacing. I liked races that you could get after it and not worry about THE WALL! 2:11 was as good as it was going to get for me! I applaud everyone that gets out and tries to complete the distance, though. Now that I work on television here and there, I enjoy talking about the marathon rather than running one!
RBR, 9:Difference between the 10k and marathon?
Todd Williams: The 10k you can be aggressive and make moves and not hit a major wall! The marathon 9 times out of 10 if you hammer from the gun it’s going to be ugly the last 4 miles…unless you’re like my good buddy Steve Jones!
RBR, 10: What do you think of some of the young Americans running so well now? Any advice?
Todd Williams: Keep doing what you’re doing and enjoy the ride! SAVE YOUR MONEY AND INVEST IT WISELY!!!
RBR, 11:You put on camps each summer, why do you do that? what are you goals?
Todd Williams: No camps anymore! I am 100% dedicated to growing adidas at the running specialty level! I currently manage the Florida/Georgia territory so if any of my accounts want to utilize my grass roots experience to help build their business then I’m all ears! I ran for adidas for 13 years now I’m selling shoes and apparel for them. One thing is for sure my competitiveness will never go away so sales is right up my alley and I’m with a brand that I really believe in!
RBR,12:Will we ever see you coaching?
Todd Williams: Only a few dream job scenarios but to be honest I don’t think I have the patience for coaching! I would be a little too intense! I never felt like I was a runner when I was running so I ALWAYS tried to outwork everyone! If I had athletes that half-assed it I would probably have a very small team. I love having fun off the job but when it’s time to work you have to figure out a way to maximize your talents to get it done and I think ALOT of kids bitch and complain too much instead of looking in the mirror!
RBR, 13: The running business is changing, any trends you seeing in your new territory for adidas? The emergence of women?
Todd Williams: I haven’t been in the industry long to really discuss trends but in my opinion I feel adidas is a brand that is really going to make a big push to bring new customers to the retailer! If that’s with new better product, better service and most importantly(in my opinion) dedicating themselves to the youth movement(grass roots). I for one know that I’m in position to help, and will use my resources to help as many people as I can to get into our sport and wear adidas while doing it!
RBR, 14: Are there too many races?
Todd Williams: No I think if our sport wants to continue to grow the more events the better! It gives more people the opportunity to go out and either challenge themselves for the first time or raise money for a good cause! Whatever the reason races help our sport!
RBR, 15: Finally, any funny stories, that are printable?
Todd Williams: I can only say I love to have a good time and I think you’ve been with me during some of those nights. The running community is full of personalities that are all out! If you put them on a job they WILL get it done but when work is over they also like to unwind! You could say over the years I’ve done my share of unwinding. LOL!!
Special thanks to Todd Williams for his time, his sense of humor and his love of our sport!
Special thanks to Scott Schilter for finding a nice photo of Todd. Photos courtesy of our friend, Victah Sailer, PhotoRun.net, who had a busy weekend in Frankfurt!
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