In the final installment of the Sean Williams feature we dig deep into his mental strategies and training methods as a professional track and field athlete. This is an interview you are not going to want to miss....
Walk me through your training process, how do you prepare for an event and what do you eat?
During the off-season I usually lift three days a week and run five to six days a week, sometimes five, you have to listen to your body. During the season, Mondays I’ll hit it hard on speed. Tuesday I’ll do speed and endurance. Wednesday I’ll do active recovery and get my body worked on. Thursday I’ll do something tough but short, Friday rest and Saturdays are race days.
How important is strength training to professional runners?
Super beneficial. Strength training is a huge focus for me this upcoming season. For a sprinter you’re slamming your foot into the ground to push up from that same spot. Speed is distance over time. So if you can strengthen your stride and strengthen your push more frequently you are going to be a lot faster.
What kind of strength training workouts do you do?
Olympic lifts, hang cleans, power cleans, snatches, jerks, squats, lunges, step ups, I do a ton of core. When I was running my best I would do 1000 core reps a day, which took like 30 minutes. My abs were like a WALL. It felt amazing. When you’re tired at the end of a race, your core is what keeps your body in position. If you can stay tall and strong it’s amazing what it can do for you.
What’s your diet like?
I don’t eat anything crazy. Marathon runners need to carb load but not sprinters. I just eat healthy and clean. Protein, veggies and complex carbs. I make sure I hydrate, especially two days before my race. It’s also important to get good nights sleep two nights before the race. On the night before a big race I don’t sleep well, sometimes the adrenaline wakes me up and I can’t fall back asleep. I’m usually ok though because I get so much sleep leading up to the event. Its hard to stay on a schedule when you are traveling. I have run a personal best off of 4 hours of sleep.
On an episode of the Tim Ferris Podcast, Malcom Gladwell described Elite running as follows: “Elite running is all about restraint. You can’t be obsessive or a perfectionist and succeed as a runner. You will get injured. Running is all about good enough. You are walking a fine line between adequately preparing yourself and OVER TRAINING.” Can you relate to this statement?
Ya, when I get into my season I see that obsessiveness. It’s a positive and a negative. That obsessiveness is why we are as good as we are at what we do. It’s negative because sometimes it’s hard to stop, to know when you’ve done good enough at practice, and to start thinking about the next day. I have a hard time turning my brain off. I go home and think I can do another 500 abs. In track it’s you against the entire world. Like in basketball, if LeBron doesn’t show up to play, but Irving is draining threes, the Cavs can still win. In track if you’re having an off day you’ll get your ass beat. .01 or .02 seconds is the difference between making an Olympic team and not. You’re always thinking about how you can beat the competition. It kind of makes you go crazy.
Do you ever worry about OVER-TRAINING?
Ya, I am the type of person that just wants to GO on my last rep. My coach has to step in and say “NO that’s not what we’re doing today.” So I’ve accepted that somedays I need to stay at the pace that I set, because if I go too hard I’m no longer training that designated system. Your body can only handle so much lactic acid each day. You actually won’t get any faster if you sprint every day, you’ll just burn yourself out. It’s a balance. It’s just like when I am training my clients. I train them hard but healthy, never over training them and keeping things consistent.
What type of mental strategies do you use while running to get to the finish line?
I do a lot of visualizing. I lay in my bed and visualize my training and practice… I see myself running. Before I ran my top 10 world time in the 400 meter hurdles, I literally visualized that race 100 times in my head. In the moment, I think a lot about executing what I have practiced. Getting my step, pushing into my step pattern. I don’t think so much about technique because you think about it so much in practice that it becomes muscle memory. I just think aggressive and crank it out.
Thanks for opening up to us about your career and training methods, any advice for the out Burn 60 clients there?
Everything in life is about balance. It’s not great to do all cardio or all strength training. Running in general is one of the best things you can do for your heart and lungs. But running is the direct output of strength. You’ll become that much stronger of a runner when you increase your strength. Do you need to look stronger? No. You can keep the same body type, be stronger and faster and feel better.