Any track and field fan who managed to catch the 5,000 and 10,000 meter runs at late June's Olympic Trials would have seen a familiar face among the nation's top distance runners. Ali Williams, an elite runner from Manitou Springs, ran 20,000 meters around the fabled Hayward Field track as she competed in the 10k finals and 5k prelims, before advancing to the 5k finals where she wrapped up her busy week of racing by ultimately notching 5th in the 10k and 9th in the 5k.
And this was the same Ali Williams who ran her debut marathon at last January's Olympic Marathon Trials, earning a 14th place finish and a stellar debut time of 2:35. Combined, she raced in more Olympic Trials events than any woman in the nation, and she does it all with a full-time job.
In her high school days, the Frederick, CO native had modest personal best times that were hardly indicative of a future 32:03 10k runner, a 15:24 5k runner, and budding Olympian, but Williams nonetheless continued her running post-high-school at Western State College in Gunnison, where she thrived and garnered multiple NCAA national titles and competed in the 2004 Olympic Trials in the 1500.
"In college I kind of always figured that I would eventually move up to compete in longer distances," Williams explained. "I don't know if I pictured the 10k or the marathon, but definitely the 5k."
Post-collegiately, she competed for a short time with the Big Sur Distance Project in California, before returning to Colorado, where she now competes as a member of the Boulder Running Company Adidas team, trains with the American Distance Project, and also has a sponsorship with Powerbar.
Within the last several months, the once somewhat-under-the-radar Williams has made a name for herself as one of the nation's top--and not to mention most versatile--runners, contesting every event from the mile up to the marathon to cross country and leaving her mark in all of them. Her lifestyle however, is not necessarily typical of a runner of her caliber and she defies the idea that to compete at the highest levels, life must center entirely around training. Williams works a full-time job as a controller for a local orthopedic group and still logs over 100 miles per week, no easy task for anyone aspiring to compete at an international level. Evidently time management is key, and a normal weekday includes meeting up with her coach and training group first thing in the morning for a workout session, heading to work afterward--which often includes a half-hour commute--adding another run on after work is done, then possibly adding a pool-running session after that.
"The good thing about running is that you can only do it so many hours per day," said Williams. "As far as training and my job, there's ample time for both. Training is very consistent so I know what to expect from the running side of things. I actually do better with having both of those things, training hard makes me more passionate about my job and makes me want to do the best that I can. I get up, I run, I go to work, I run, I go to the pool, I go home. It makes for some long days, but I love it."
To make it all work, Williams gives a great deal of credit to her husband Scott, a former Western State runner himself, who not only often paces her through her workouts but also makes much of her life as a professional runner with a career, possible for her.
"Scott takes care of a lot of things. He helps me through workouts and when I get home, he'll have dinner ready. There is absolutely no way I could do this without him.
In spite of the fact that track season has drawn to a close, Williams will now once again turn her attention to road racing and the marathon.
"Last year I was hesitant to try the marathon," said Williams, who qualified for the Marathon Trials with a half-marathon time, making the Trials her first marathon ever, "I thought, 'that's really far.' Plus I always thought that once you race the marathon you can't really go back down in distance. But really, marathon training can compliment shorter distances as long as you do it the right way and get through it without injury. Track is more intense, so it'll be great to get back on the roads and mix it up a little."
Never complacent, look for Williams to continue to move up through the ranks of the country's best runners.
"From where I was a year ago, I'm really happy. But you're never really satisfied. I'm glad to be at this point, but I want more. There is always room for improvement and I will still get better."