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Todd Williams: My Best Race and How I Achieved It

Williams credits consistent, extremely hard workouts for preparing him mentally and physically to place 9th at the 1995 World Cross-Country Championships.

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In the 1990s, Todd Williams and Bob Kennedy were the dominant U.S. distance runners. Williams ran the 10,000 meters in both the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games. He recorded personal track bests of 13:19.50 (5000 meters) and 27:31.34 (10,000 meters).

Williams started as a star high schooler from Monroe, Michigan, finishing second in the 1986 Kinney High School Championships (predecessor to the current Foot Locker Championships.) He was also an eight-time All American at the University of Tennessee, and a 21-time winner of U.S. championships in track, roads, and cross-country.

Although he raced infrequently on the roads, Williams was nearly unbeatable from 15K to the half marathon. He recorded a half-marathon best of 60:11 in 1993, and established his marathon PR, 2:11:17, at Chicago in 1997. He won the Gate River Run (Jacksonville, FL) 15K five times, including in 1995, when he set a still-standing American record for the distance of 42:22, which equals 4:34/mile for 9.3 miles.

Surprisingly, Williams doesn’t rate that 15K record as his best race. He always aimed to compete at the world level, and therefore gives the nod to his ninth-place effort at the 1995 World Cross-Country Championships in Durham, UK. He rates his Gate River 15K record was his second best race.

In addition to his running prowess, Williams holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Now 51, he and his family have returned to Monroe, where he owns a Jiu Jitsu studio, and conducts defensive, de-escalating clinics for the Monroe police department. He also operates an outdoor-safety company named Run Safer, and has given more than 500 presentations at stores, schools, and corporations over the last eight years.

Todd Williams Run Safer Clinic
Photo: Courtesy Todd Williams

Why the 1995 World XC was his Best Race:

“Because I was running shoulder to shoulder with runners like Paul Tergat, Haile Gebresellassie and Khalid Skah,” he says. “I also beat American great Bob Kennedy that day. It made me realize all my hard work had paid off, and I was one of the best runners in the world!”

How he trained for his Best Race:

Williams ran 13 sessions a week, averaging about 100 miles per week. He was known for his fierce, fast workouts. “I did hard tempos, plenty of hard 400m repeat hill sessions, lots of fast mile repeats, and one long hard run of about 12–13 miles,” he says.

Taper before Best Race:

Williams reduced his training mileage by about 30 percent starting 10 days before his best races. During his taper, he ran one session of fast 400-meter repeats, and one fast “down ladder” workout consisting of a 1600/1200/800/400 with three minutes of recovery between each rep. “Before World Cross Country in 1995, I ran these distances at very close to 4:00-3:00-2:00-1:00,” he remembers. “This built my confidence and taught me how to deal with running fast in extreme pain.”

Pre-race goal:

 Williams always told himself never to waste a race-day effort, because he might not get the chance to run fast again. In his mind, he raced every race as if it were his last. “This helped me push as hard as I could,” he says. “I wanted to go for it in every race. After all, I trained really hard with the aim of racing fast.”

Key race moment:

At the halfway point of the World XC race, around 6K, Williams looked around and saw that he was holding his own with Olympic champions and world-record holders — basically the best runners in the world. “I was hurting bigtime,” he says. “But I told myself, ‘Damn, all the hard training has really paid off.’”

How he responded:

“Honestly I was hurting so bad I could only keep looking straight ahead, and keep pumping my arms. After halfway, I was running with blinders on, just working as hard as I could to get myself to the finish.”

Todd Williams and Bob Kennedy
Williams and Kennedy on the track in 1995 Photo: Doug Pensinger / Allsport / Getty Images

The biggest contributors to his Best Race:

Williams believes he achieved his best race only after putting in years and years of consistent and extremely hard training. He particularly focused on his mindset — the belief that all the training would eventually pay off. “My training was geared to preparing me both mentally and physically to be able to handle a major amount of pain,” he says. “My whole goal in training was to torture myself so that I could enter races prepared for a best effort every time.”

Advice for those chasing their Best Race:

“Train so hard and so smart that you know you will succeed. Outwork everyone else.”

What’s important, according to Todd Williams:

  1. Hard work
  2. Smart work
  3. Consistent work
  4. Dedication
  5. Ability to deal with setbacks
  6. Staying humble
  7. Believing in yourself and your training
  8. Being the best you can be
  9. Surrounding yourself with good, positive people

What’s not important:

  1. Haters
  2. Yesterday