June 7, 2010
Lex Williams has to be crazy, especially when an "easy day" of training consists of running only eight miles.
It's just part of the training regimen for Williams, a fifth-year senior on the University of Michigan men's track and field team, as he prepares for the 10,000-meter run (or 6.25-mile race) on Thursday (June 10) at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore.
Training for the 10,000-meter run, or 10k, is a different animal altogether, which begins in early August prior to the cross country season. The race takes about 30 minutes to run, or 25 laps on a quarter-mile outdoor track. For a normal week of training, Williams will run between 80 and 90 miles. That means Williams could run from Ann Arbor to Jackson and back, though certainly not all at once. Jackson is about 40 miles west of Ann Arbor.
"A 10k is a grueling race," said associate head coach Ron Warhurst said. "It's like a toothache. The pain and the grind is always there. You try to do something else, but your mind is always brought back to that feeling. When you run a 10k, you have to deal with a long and grinding race."
Williams is still relatively new at the 10k, having participated in the race only once prior to the start of this season. He admits he is still intimidated by the race, but his competitive side comes out once he hits the track.
So what's the best thing to do when you reach the halfway point of the 10k?
"Try not to look at the lap counter," Williams jokes.
His best performance came at the Stanford Invitational on March 26, crossing the finish line in 28:34.28, in what was just the second collegiate 10k of his career. That time stood as the nation's best for nearly six weeks, until Sam Chelanga of Liberty broke it with a 27:08.29 at the Stanford-Jordan Invitational on May 1. The runner with the next-best time is New Mexico's Chris Barnicle, who ran the race in 28:10.59. Williams enters the NCAA Championships ranked fifth in the nation.
Chelanga will be in the field on Thursday, and Warhurst believes it is going to be extremely difficult for Williams or any other runner in the field to catch him.
"Most everybody in the field, in their minds, are running for second," Warhurst explained. "If someone tried to break with Chelanga with four miles to go, they wouldn't last. He can run 28:20 and win at nationals. I think people are going to let him go, but anything can happen."
Williams qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships by finishing ninth in the 10k on May 27 at the NCAA East Region Preliminaries in Greensboro, N.C. It was 84 degrees on the night of his race with humidity at extremely high levels. Sixteen competitors, roughly a third of the field, could not finish the race.
Williams did but barely. He went "rubber-legged" according to Warhurst, literally falling across the finish line.
"I was beat after that one," Williams recalls. "Some very talented runners couldn't cross the finish line and I did. It was probably the happiest I've ever been for ninth place."
"He's tenacious out on the track," Warhurst added. "He's got that rough-and-tumble mentality. If he's on, he's on and won't back down from anybody. That's the attitude you need to have when you get into these longer races."
Williams gets his competitiveness from being active in a number of sports prior to cross country as a youth. He played soccer until eighth grade when he found out he was "way better" at running and continued to play ice hockey until junior year of high school (at Dexter H.S. in Ann Arbor).
Warhurst, meanwhile, has been coaching distance runners at Michigan for close to 40 years. He's mentored champions on every level -- Big Ten, NCAA and Olympic -- and Williams is second to only U-M men's track and field Hall of Famer Bill Donakowski for the fastest time in the 10,000-meter run. Donakowski ran 28:26.04 in 1978, meaning Williams' time at the Stanford-Jordan Invitational was just six seconds shy of the program record.
Ron Warhurst (left) and Lex Williams.
If Williams believes in karma, good things will happen on Thursday. Twenty years ago at the 1989 NCAA Outdoor Championships, another U-M Hall of Famer, John Scherer, won the second of his back-to-back national titles in the 10,000-meter run. He beat Don Johnson (Eastern Michigan) by a mere six inches.
The location of that meet? Eugene, Ore., the site of the 2010 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Scherer was the first (and only) Michigan track athlete to win a national title in the 10k, though the Wolverines have had eight All-Americans in the event, most recently coming in 2002 with Mike Wisniewski, who finished in 10th.
Williams thinks that All-America status is a reasonable goal.
"I just want to get in there and compete, hopefully get that All-American plaque," he said. "Track is one of the best sports to look at when you look at competition. You want to come out first. That's how you know you are doing the best. Who knows, you know? Crazier things have happened in these races."
Thursday's race will also be Williams' last on the collegiate level, though he's trying not to think about it.
"It's weird to think about that," Williams said. "Michigan has done so much for me. I'm just trying to look at it like a normal race and competing like I always have. I'm going to keep running long after I leave here."
Contact: Brad Rudner (734) 763-4423