Jan. 15, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
The dreams are vivid and frequent, subconscious visions that fortify resolve by relaying messages that are translatable and distinctive.
Britany Williams has come to embrace those communications from deep within. Excellence of which she has never attained is within view, with the chasm separating her current standing from her desired goals bridged by a suddenly unshakeable belief in her experience and preparation. The dreams keep reminding Williams of what she can accomplish now that she is as fit as she has ever been and as dedicated to her success and that of her teammates as at any point in her career.
When Rice women's track coach Jim Bevan elected to redshirt Williams, Becky Wade, Nicole Mericle and Allison Pye for the 2009 cross country season for various reasons, he gambled on those four veterans gaining secondary benefits from his unorthodox decision beyond the obvious advantage of later blending a quartet of experienced, talented runners with youngsters who were asked to fill the void left by their absence. Williams' emboldened confidence appears to be one such byproduct.
Williams spent last summer doggedly working toward reaching an extraordinary level of fitness in advance of her final season running cross country with the Owls. When injuries to Mericle and Pye forced Bevan to alter his lineup, he opted to sit Williams and Wade and insisted that both take leadership roles while preparing for the indoor track season. That plan came to fruition far better than Bevan could have anticipated, for Williams has sharpened her mental focus while improving her fitness to exacting standards. Her dreams of being named an All-American in the mile or at 5,000 meters came with the territory.
"Some of it comes when they finally make the realization," Bevan said. "You can say all you want to your athletes; until they fully believe (in their innate talent) it's not going to happen. Britany is very capable. She has come a long way from where she was at in high school to now.
"She has internally grasped that she is that good of a runner. If you don't believe you're that good of a runner you've got problems. She believes she's that good, so it's very, very possible that she can make the last step up and not just be a nationals-caliber runner, but be an All-American."
The Owls began the indoor track and field season at the Leonard Hilton Memorial in Yeoman Fieldhouse at the University of Houston on Friday. For Williams and Wade, who was scheduled to run unattached, the reintroduction to legit competition closed the book on a chapter of self-discovery. Both learned how to be more supportive as teammates and how to enhance their training. Their patience was tested but their minds expanded, with the time sidelined offering exposure to the unexpected.
In many ways, distance runners view the indoor season as the transitional phase between cross country and the outdoor season. Indoors certainly carries weight at Rice - the Owls have claimed three consecutive Conference USA indoor titles - but the emphasis for most is reaching top physical condition by the start of the outdoor schedule.
Indoors typically provides distance runners an opportunity to rebuild their bodies and sharpen the techniques. Williams' perspective has been altered from viewing the indoor season as a fun and fanciful diversion preceding outdoors to a vehicle where she craves results that would validate the dedication she displayed when she began training last year.
"For some reason this year I've set a lot higher expectations for myself in indoor just because I wasn't able to make any expectations for myself during cross country," Williams said. "I will be a lot more disappointed if I don't meet my goals at the end of indoor season than if I would have run cross country, would have gone to nationals, would have done well and didn't have as great an indoor season. But then maybe on the flip side if I do really well in indoor I might be even more enthusiastic just because that will be my first racing experience this season."
Not racing during cross country proved mentally challenging for Williams and Wade, for both were coming off weeks of grueling summer conditioning and were healthy enough to compete before Bevan shared his vision. But the downtime allowed Wade to reflect on the frequently disregarded blessing of prime health, a condition that escaped her for several weeks in November and December when she was plagued by leg soreness. Before Wade suffered that minor setback, she used the period away from competition to tinker with alternative training methods.
Some of what Wade and Williams discovered came through observation. Additionally, the duo focused on making better choices regarding nutrition, time management and lifestyle decisions. What Bevan called an "additive process" became paramount as Williams and Wade compiled useful tidbits on their teammates' habits and their own bodies.
"We were able to have a different perspective on the sport just watching everyone in their training and in their preparation for races," Wade said. "Looking at what they were doing, seeing how it was working for every person and comparing to what we've done in the past, I know we've had some new ideas and Jim has had some new ideas about training and different things that we could be doing. That's been a nice little bonus of not racing."
The racing, however, was sorely missed. Williams managed to pour her energies into her younger teammates during weekly training sessions, but those Saturdays when the Owls raced and she didn't were excruciating. Wade had grown accustomed to the sequence of preparing for a meet, and those days when her fix wasn't sated proved taxing.
Removing an athlete from a competitive environment leads to withdrawal, but Bevan recognized that associated side effect before making his final decision. His subsequent roll of the dice has yielded two well-conditioned distance runners champing at the bit, emotionally engaged, and fully invested in the indoor season. Their resolve is so hardened that even the wildest dreams seem on the brink of fulfillment.
"We have no excuse to not be on top of our game on the little things, whatever it may be," Williams said. "I have no excuse not to do all my morning runs now. I want to keep that mentality as I go into indoor and outdoor. There should never be an excuse as to why you can't get all the little things done if this is really going to be a priority in your life."
Said Bevan: "Whenever we've had someone that has been redshirted or injured and couldn't compete for a while, when they come back they always come back hungrier. They miss competing and they're anxious to start competing, and that tells me deep down they miss competition.
"They both are a lot better than they were a year ago at this time, and they had great years. Becky was All-American (in the 10K) last year; Britany got close to going to nationals. And they're both way better than they were last year at this time."