Alisha Williams was one of the 40,000 or so runners who was scheduled to run the New York City Marathon last fall before the race was canceled at the last moment due to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Williams made the most out the situation, however, extending her training by another month and winning the Cal International Marathon with a personal-best time of 2:34:57.
The 31-year-old lives and trains in Colorado Springs, where she runs with several runners in the American Distance Project and works full-time as senior financial reporting analyst for a large energy company. After a few years of modest success in the elite ranks, the three-time NCAA Division II champion from Western State College (Colo.) was ready to give up her running "hobby" before running her first marathon in 2012.
Under the guidance of coach Scott Simmons -- who borrows from internationally renowned marathon coach Renato Canova -- Williams has improved several of her personal bests in recent years, including her half marathon mark of 1:12:50 at Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans in February. Most recently, she placed sixth at the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women on Oct. 14 in a near-PR of 33:05.
After a short break due to a stress fracture in her right foot in May, Williams is once again preparing to make her New York City Marathon debut. She discussed her training for the Nov. 3 race with Competitor.com.
Brian Metzler: You didn't run the New York City Marathon last year, but it worked out well for you in the end.
Alisha Williams: The hardest thing to figure out was deciding what I wanted to do. I didn't know if I should run a marathon or maybe just scrap it and focus on a half marathon in the spring. Once I committed to it and continued my training plan, I felt a lot better about running another marathon, and in the end it went very well for me.
It was really fun to run the Cal International Marathon, partially because I didn't have really high expectations. I knew I was still in shape and was going to try to win it, but I knew it could go either way. But sometimes I actually run better in those circumstances.
BM: You're both an elite runner and you work a full-time job. How do you balance each of those?
AW: I think the two naturally balance each other out. I think running makes me better at my job and vice versa. I like to approach things pretty systematically in running and in my job. For me, it's nice to have a distraction from running. I'm very analytical. I think I would overanalyze my training if I had more time to think about it.
Also, if there is something at work that I just can't figure out or can't come up with a great solution yet, sometimes I'll go for a run and think it over and before I know it, I'll have it all figured out. Sometimes I'll do some of my best work in my head when I'm running. It's kind of freeing when you're out there and you have much clearer thoughts when you're running.
BM: How do you manage running twice most days and working 9 to 5?
AW: It takes a lot of planning. I get up early to run in the morning, usually out the door by about 6 a.m. Plus, my husband, Scott Nagelkerke [also a former collegiate runner at Western State], is really supportive. There are days that I'm so busy that he's the one making dinner and taking care of the dog. It would be really, really difficult to do it without him. He knows what I need to hear if I have a bad race or a bad workout.
BM: You had a great spring -- including a huge PR and briefly a world-leading time in the 5,000 on the track (15:09) -- but then you got hurt. How did that affect your New York City Marathon training?
AW: I think the day I found out I had a stress fracture was the day was I committed to run the New York City Marathon. That was kind of stressful. I ran on it for about two weeks until I took time off, because I thought it would go away. The biggest thing was that it canceled my plans for a summer track season.
Instead, we just focused on the marathon without any speed work that you need for racing on the track. When I came back on June 10, New York was still a long way away, so that gave me enough time so I didn't have to rush to come back and risk getting injured again. Plus, it also gave me a lot of motivation for cross-training and staying in shape.
BM: What recent workout have you done lately to know you have good fitness for the marathon?
AW: After the U.S. 20K championship race [on Sept. 2 in New Haven, Conn., where Williams placed 11th in 1 hour, 12 minutes, 35 seconds], we did a really hard workout in the afternoon. Doing two workouts in the same day is all about learning how to run when you're tired and also training your body to run a certain distance. With the marathon, you can't train by running 26.2 miles, so we do two workouts in a day and that helps train you for the longer distance and the fatigue that comes with it.
After the 20K race in the morning, we did a workout in the afternoon where we ran 3x10 minutes at a hard effort with a couple of minutes rest in between, then 8x1-minute after that. That was a really hard effort, especially after racing hard that morning.
BM: You've run two marathons and both were solid efforts (Williams also placed 14th at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 2 hours, 35 minutes, 9 seconds). What's your outlook for New York?
AW: I'm not going to be making bold predictions for New York. Running a marathon still intimidates me considering I've only run two of them. For me, the marathon is the ultimate challenge. It's a beast. It's all about that one day and getting to starting line of the marathon healthy and feeling good. If you have a cold or aren't feeling great, that's what it is.
That's what's really hard about the marathon, but that's also what's really exciting about the marathon, too, because you're putting all of your eggs in one basket. You could have a great 22-mile race, but that doesn't mean you'll have a great 26.2-mile race. I'm ready for New York, but I'll feel so much better when I'm actually in the race.