JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Twenty-five years ago this week, Todd Williams set the American Record and the course record at the River Run, coming across the finish line in 42:22. That record has stood for a quarter-century. And Saturday, on his 51st birthday, Williams returned to run the race for the first time in 18 years.
This time he had a different experience--instead of racing the course, Williams did what a lot of River Runners do. He and his wife Lindsey and his daughters, Brooke and Bailee ran--and enjoyed the course.
After the race, Williams called it “an amazing day.”
It was a much different day than he experienced in 1995 when he repeated as champion.
“1995, March 11. I don’t forget the date,” Williams said. “It was perfect conditions. I knew that I was really fit and I knew that I wanted to go for it and I didn’t care about anybody else in that field. I just knew that I wanted to take advantage of the weather conditions.”
He did just that, breaking the previous record set in 1984 by Gidamis Shahanga by 32 seconds. Amazingly, despite the advances in nutrition and shoe technology, the record has withstood 25 years of races.
“Now that we’re 25 years into it, it comes into my mind a lot,” Williams said. “All that hard work that I put in…at the time, I didn’t think it would last this long. I was thinking a couple of years with Meb (Keflezighi) and some of the other great runners that came through here. It’s lasted. So now, every March when it rolls around, I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve it for another year.’ I want to keep for as long as I can possibly keep it.”
Williams, who at one point, made Jacksonville his home, said he always prioritized the River Run during his 18-year competitive running career, which included participating in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
“When people ask what the highlights of my running career were, I say the Olympic Games and a close second is the Gate River Run. It was a huge thing for me to come in here and win in the first year it was offered as a national championship in 1994. I’ve been friends with Doug and Jane (Allred) ever since. I love Jacksonville, I love the Gate River Run.
Williams now runs a ju-jitsu school in his hometown of Monroe, Michigan. He and his family all made the trip to Jacksonville for Saturday’s race. They all finished together after a leisurely 2 hours 12 minutes and 35 seconds on the course.
“This (was) the first time that I was able to enjoy the race,” Williams said. “All those times that I won or finished second or third, I really never got to enjoy it. My blinders were on. It was 9.3 miles of pain. This time, I (took) a little more time on the course.