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Williams prepares for Foot Locker nationals

by Joey Crandall
jcrandall@recordcourier.com

Sierra Lutheran senior Nathanael Williams has experienced “failure” before.

Turns out, it just wasn’t that bad.

That’s why, heading into this weekend’s Foot Locker 33rd Annual Cross Country Championships West Regional Qualifier at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., he can’t seem to find those butterflies in his stomach.

It’s all a matter of perspective, he said.

“Worst case scenario, I have a horrible race and nothing comes out of it,” Williams said. “I’m not worried about that.

“Best case, I qualify for nationals. You can’t worry about it. I like to put God first in everything in my life. No matter what happens, wins or lose, I give God the glory.

“I like running because it directly translates to my faith. You know you are going to fail at times in your faith, but you just have to get back up. Tough times strengthen you. You take them, you pray over them and God strengthens you through them. Then, when good things happen, you remember who put you in that situation.”

Take, for example, the Nike Cross Country Nationals Southwest Regionals in Mesa, Arizona two weeks ago.

“I didn’t have any breakfast and I was dead after 800 meters,” Williams said with a laugh. “That was a tough feeling.

“We’ve been training for this meet (Foot Locker) the entire season. These types of meets, there are so many variables, you just never know. You can’t get wrapped up in a specific goal.

“My strategy is just to go out with the front pack and hang on as long as possible. If something good happens out there, then so be it.”

Of course, Williams fails to mention those failures have been relatively few and far between lately.

He blistered through the Northern 2A season, winning the regional title by more than 30 seconds and posting the second best time overall, coming just two seconds short of 4A champ Jonathan Cardenas of Galena.

The following week, he cruised to the 2A state title, leading the Falcons to a team title in the process. His time of 16:43 was just two seconds behind 4A state champ Nick Hartle from Centennial, again serving as the second-best time overall.

Williams’ times at both regionals and state were posted with no pack pushing him along.

“When no one is pushing you, I just have to run and see how it feels,” he said. “At big meets like Stanford or Foot Locker, there are 10 or 20 other guys around you in that first mile. It’s so much different.”

Williams began running during track season of his seventh-grade year at Bethlehem Lutheran School in Carson City.

While he loved it, it wasn’t exactly an immediate fit.

“I think the highest I ever finished in the mile was sixth place,” Williams said. “That was against just other seventh graders. It wasn’t very high at all.”

He took up cross country the following year, though, and experienced rapid improvement.

“My first meet, I took second place,” he said. “I started thinking maybe I could have some success with this.”

He originally swam with the Carson TigerSharks and knew early on he preferred individualized sports.

Swimming eventually gave way to running, where he saw steady improvement every year, taking fourth at state as a freshman and third as a sophomore.

After former Falcon standout Wade Meddles, a two-time Gatorade State Runner of the Year, graduated, Williams became the heir apparent to the state crown as a junior in 2010.

What he hadn’t planned on, though, was a literal late surge from Whittell’s John Robinson.

“John Robinson just had a great year,” Williams said with a smile. “I came down the last 800 meters leading, he passed me and started hammering home.”

Williams picked up his workouts with Sierra Lutheran coach Dave Marson heading into the 2011 track season, kept training right from state track through the summer and came into this fall in full stride.

“Coach Marson put me on some hard workouts to get me where I felt I should be,” Williams said. “Track season went pretty well and then I just kept going.”

Williams raced straight through an elite season to the state title.

Williams said he plans to scale back his six-day, 60-mile-per-week training schedule just slightly for the winter, “To three or four days,” he said. Then he’ll pick it back up for track and what he hopes will be a college career.

He’s narrowed his list of schools down to Abilene Christian in Texas, Colorado School of Mines and Boise State. He’s been in contact with coaches from all three schools.

The Foot Locker national qualifier is Saturday with athletes from Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. The top 10 finishers on the 5K course advance to the national championships.