Meet An Elite: Alisha Williams

She logs 10- to 30-mile days, works a full-time job, and compete with the fastest runners at the ING New York City Marathon. How does this high-caliber athlete with Olympic dreams fit it all  in? Find out how Alisha Williams prepared for her next marathon here.

The sun is stretching down the east side of Pikes Peak and onto the trails of Stratton Open Space, just west of Colorado Springs. Several pairs of footsteps pat the soft dirt. It’s early on Saturday morning and leaves glow in oranges and yellows. The pace is light and the conversation is easy, but every aspect of the run is purposeful. The terrain, the distance, the effort — all are calculated with precision to produce the right result.

With eight more days until she toes the line at the ING New York City Marathon, Alisha Williams is all smiles as she enjoys an easy run under the Colorado sun.

Her husband, Scott, sets the pace, and their dog Miles energetically sprints in all directions. It’s been a year of monumental peaks for Williams, a 31-year-old Colorado native who runs for BRC/Adidas while holding down a full-time job in finance. Her running career has been much like the landscape of her home state, with mountainous performance highs and low-laying valleys of frustrating injuries.

After winning the California International Marathon in monsoon-like conditions last December with a personal record of 2:34:57, she spent the first few months of 2013 dominating races on the road and track. In March, she blitzed the field in the 5,000 meters at the Stanford Invitational track meet when she ran a US-leading 15:09, which is a World Championship-qualifying A standard. But just weeks after her breakthrough in Stanford, a sharp pain in her foot sidelined her for several months.

With a metatarsal stress fracture, she watched the World Championships from home. Despite her injury, she didn’t slow down much. “I cross trained quite a bit. For over a month, I biked, aqua jogged, or did the elliptical,” she says. Williams was determined to get back to the starting line.

“I actually committed to run [the ING New York City Marathon] the day I found out I had a stress fracture,” she says. Her comeback work was cut out for her.

“New York was on my bucket list of races, and having it on the schedule gave me motivation during all those hours of cross-training. It was far enough away that I didn’t feel pressured to come back any faster than my body would allow.”

With New York looming on her fall racing schedule, Williams took to her new activities with the same dedication she applies to running. “I think the injury hit my dog, Miles, the most. He would sit by the door every morning with a hopeful look on his face, and it broke my heart every time that I couldn’t take him,” she says. But by mid-summer, Williams could run with Miles again. She was healthy, back to her routine, and had resumed training at a high intensity.

On typical weekdays, Williams is up by 5:30 a.m. Her days include running twice to log 10 to 30 , and an 8-hour workday at Westmoreland Coal Company, where she’s a senior financial reporting analyst. “It’s pretty much the way I’ve always done it,” she says. “I’m the kind of person who enjoys being busy…I really admire the folks who focus solely on running, but it’s not my style.” Running near-marathon mileage per day may seem daunting, especially on top of the 40+ hour work weeks.

To stay healthy, Williams has learned she must do what runners call the little things.

“There are some things that no matter how busy I am, I can’t skimp on,” Williams says. “Sleep is extremely important for recovery and brain function, good nutrition is also incredibly important.” She tucks in at 9 p.m. each night, and focuses on her daily diet. The Feed Zone Cookbook, written by the creators of Skratch Labs hydration mixes, sits on her kitchen countertop with bent and well-worn pages. “I like Skratch because it’s simple, effective, and easy on my stomach,” she says. With her energy output, every little bit of nutrition counts.

Coached by Scott Simmons, Williams trains with the American Distance Project and BRC/Adidas  “We have an amazing group. I feel spoiled when it comes to training partners,” she says. She trains with some of the best  in the country, including the Wendy Thomas, Brianne Nelson, and Mattie Suver, so workouts and runs are rarely lonely.

Alisha Williams and BRC/adidas teammates

Williams (far left) and Mattie Suver (far right) with teammate Bri Nelson at the US 10k Club Team Championships in October.

To prepare for this fall’s marathon, Williams scorched tough workouts. For example: 10 reps of 1 mile “on” and 1 mile “off,” to log 20 quality miles. “The mile on is at marathon race pace [5:40], and the mile off is a bit slower at [6:30],” she says. “I’m always really proud of us all when we finish that workout.”

Other marathon training included three “comeback” races. In her first race back from injury, at the US 20k Championships in September in New Haven, CT, Williams placed 11th and finished in 1:12:35. A few weeks later, she ran 34:09 at the Cow Harbor 10k, finishing 6th.

Then, at the US Club Team 10k Championships in Boston mid-October, Williams finished with a time of 33:05, leading BRC/Adidas to a second-place team finish. Williams was back on the map, with forward momentum.

“I would like to make the US team, to go the World Championships, or the Olympics, but whatever happens, it’s been a great journey,” she says. Williams is just happy to be healthy, and running as well as she is. “Five years ago, I decided to pursue a career that would give me stability…so I put running on the back burner,” she says. But that move helped lead her back to the starting line, in better shape than ever. “I never would have imagined I’d be in the Elite field at the ING New York City Marathon,” she says, “So I’m just going to enjoy the ride a bit and see where it takes me.”

As she winds along Colorado trails with her husband and dog, she says she has a fresh pair of Adidas Adios Boost at home that she’s been saving for the streets of New York. She’s ready to take another shot at her dreams. The vibrant sun beams down on her. Alisha Williams is back.

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