NAPLES, FLORIDA (15-Jan) -- Last summer Lex Williams went on his own road odyssey to focus on the mile. Beginning on 13 July, he competed in six one-mile races in four states --five on the road and one on the track-- winning two, making the podium in four, and breaking four minutes for the first time (3:59.40). It was a satisfying season.
"I love the mile," Williams told Race Results Weekly yesterday in a telephone interview from nearby Bonita Springs where he was meeting friends for dinner. "I think it's the perfect distance. So much of it has to do with tactics and positioning. It's just a lot of fun."
So why is Williams, 28, from Ann Arbor, Mich., going to run the Naples Daily News Half-Marathon here tomorrow, a race that is five kilometers longer than any he's done before? Is he trying to get a last minute qualifier for the USA Olympic Marathon Trials next month before the window closes on Sunday?
"The reason I got down here is I wanted to break up my winter in Michigan and get out of the snow a bit," he explained. "I got a really good deal on a flight down here for this week. I had a pretty good fall and a pretty good winter of training and I've been thinking about a half for a few years now. I'm just jumping in to get in the mix."
Tomorrow is the last day American athletes can qualify for the Trials. A man who runs at least 65 minutes tomorrow (75 minutes for women) earns a "B" qualifier for the Trials. Athletes are lining up at half-marathons in Houston, Tempe, Carlsbad and Naples to try to qualify. There's a handful of athletes hoping to do that here, including Al Escalera, Ethan Clary, Kurt Roeser, and Thomas Porter. Williams thought it was a great opportunity join them, even though his main near-term goal is to compete in the USA Indoor Championships at 3000m in March.
"I know it breaks down to 4:57's, and that puts you right at 65-flat," he said. "I've just been hitting strength, cross country workouts since the beginning of November. This is a little bit further than I would normally go. It's just a good test at this point. I still plan to have an indoor season; this is the last long thing I'll do before transitioning to the track."
Williams's longest race to date was really just a long tempo run. After a summer of good base training before returning to the University of Michigan where he ran under Ron Warhurst (still his coach), Williams jumped in to the Crim Festival of Races 10 Mile in Flint, Mich. He surprised himself by running 49:43 and finishing 13th. That's almost exactly the same pace he'll need to hold tomorrow to get the 65-minute time.
"I ran Crim, the 10 mile, in college, just off of no workouts and mileage," Williams explained. "I ran just under 50 minutes. That was like 2009. I ran a pretty good 10-K in college (28:34.28, 2010). Kind of had spotty results at longer distances since. But I think I do have a talent to step up."
As of yesterday, the USA Olympic Marathon Trials had 435 qualifiers, according to event director Tracey Russell: 200 men and 235 women. It's a huge point of pride for American athletes to qualify for and compete in the Trials, an event which is held only once every four years and selects the USA Olympic Marathon teams for men and women based solely on the order of finish. Why not run the Trials if he qualified?
"I don't really think so," Williams said after a brief pause. "I want to have an indoor season. The marathon, I haven't even thought about running the marathon."
To support American athletes in the Olympic year, the Naples organizers have dedicated their entire prize money purse to American citizens. They also offered an athlete support system, including a housing and meal allowance, for American athletes who either wanted to tune-up for the 13 February Trials or try to qualify. About 20 elite athletes will join the field of about 2000 runners.
Asked if he got any special advice on how to tackle the half-marathon distance, Williams said he turned to Michigan's Nick Stanko, a 2:19 marathoner who now owns a running store, the Ann Arbor Running Company.
"I asked him and he's like, it's just like a long 10-K," Williams recounted. He added: "I'm really trying not to over-think it."
PHOTO: Lex Williams competing in the 1500m at the American Milers Club meeting in Indianapolis last June (photo courtesy of Lex Williams)