Interview with Tiffany McWilliams
By Alison Wade

Tiffany McWilliams leads the mile final at the 2003 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships.
(Both Photos by Alison Wade/NYRR)
McWilliams qualified for the 2002 NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships in the 1,500m as a freshman but did not advance to the final.

Mississippi State sophomore Tiffany McWilliams seemed to come out of nowhere when she won her first mile race of 2003 in 4:39.73, breaking the MSU school record by more than 10 seconds. By the end of the indoor season, she had won her first SEC title in a PR 4:35.21 and finished second to NAU's Johanna Nilsson at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

McWilliams has kept her momentum going in the still-young outdoor season. She won her first two races by huge margins, setting two more school records: 4:18.52 in the 1,500m and 2:05.78 in the 800m. McWilliams was an all-around athlete in high school, participating in track, cross country, basketball, tennis, softball and cheerleading at Red Bay (Alabama) High School. She won state titles in cross country, track and basketball. She was named the Alabama State Basketball Player of the Year her senior season and led her team to a 2A State title. caught up with McWilliams, who has to be one of the most unassuming athletes in the NCAA, on April 8th. You jumped right into the outdoor season, did you take any sort of break after Indoor Nationals?
Tiffany McWilliams: No, we had a home meet the weekend after Nationals and [Coach Al Schmidt] wanted me to go ahead and get a regional qualifying time.

FW: What was the logic behind that?
TM: ...I guess by just getting a good time in the 1,500 and the 800, I could just kind of take it easy and run the mile and the DMR and help the DMR run a good qualifying time.

FW: Now that you have the regional qualifying times out of the way, what will your individual focus be for the rest of the season?
TM: Just to try to get my 800 time down and just do some quality training.

FW: Do you have a specific time goal?
TM: Hmm. I don't know. I think my outdoor goal was supposed to be 2:04, but I ran 2:05 the other weekend so maybe 2:03?

FW: But you plan on running the 1,500 at nationals?
TM: Hopefully.

FW: What do you think about the new regional qualifying system?
TM: I'm not sure, I don't really know much about it.

FW: Is it harder for you not to know if you're qualified for nationals in advance of the regional meet?
TM: ...All I know about it is that the top five finishers at regionals advance to Nationals. We have a really competitive region so it's going to be hard.

FW: Do you view the indoor and outdoor track seasons as two separate seasons where you peak twice or do you view it as one big season?
TM: ...My freshman year... I really didn't know what to think. It was my first time to ever run indoors, I never ran it in high school. This year I kind of just pictured it as two different seasons. I focused on trying to hit certain times indoors and now... I'm just making new goals to try and accomplish.

FW: Would you say you accomplished all of your goals indoors?
TM: (Hesitating) Yes, but it would have been nice to win Nationals. But I'm still happy with the way I ran. I think my goal for indoors was 4:34 and I ran the equivalent of 4:34 on a flat track (her 4:35 at the SEC Championships).

FW: Back to the NCAA Championships... How do you think the race went, did you feel like you could have won it on a different day?
TM: No... I don't know. Going into it, I was thinking I need to watch out for Arkansas, but I didn't know anything about Johanna Nilsson, I'd never even heard of her. She ran a really strong race, she ran a really strong last 400 and I guess I'm more of a pick-it-up-with-800-meters-to-go [type]. She had a really good kick.

FW: But you have to be satisfied with the improvement you've made over the last year.
Oh, yes, I am. I'm not disappointed at all. I'm really happy with my indoor season.

FW: Aside from maybe a 2:03 in the 800, what are your other goals for the outdoor season?
Just to stay injury free and run strong, be a competitive runner.

FW: Are there any big races where you're really going to go for a fast time?
Coach just told me this week that I'm going to run the 800 at TCU this next weekend. Hopefully I'll run a fast 800...

FW: Do you plan on running at the USA Nationals, or try to qualify for that?
I don't know (laughs). I haven't really thought of anything else other except just focusing on [the NCAA outdoor season], I haven't really thought of anything further than that.

FW: To an outside observer it may seem that you came out of nowhere this season. Do you see it that way or did it feel like more of a gradual improvement?
...I didn't really know what to expect coming in to college. In high school I kind of just showed up at the meets until my junior and senior years, and then I went and trained a little with the junior college nearby for about a month or a month and a half. ...I had knee surgery right before I came to college because of some basketball injuries... I think just being in college and having a work ethic and training has made a big difference. My freshman year outdoors I think I improved quite a bit from high school (she ran a PR of 4:20.13 for 1,500m). I guess it was just a gradual improvement.

FW: Regarding the knee surgery, what kind of injury was it?
I had to have my knee 'scoped'. I just pulled some stuff in it playing basketball. I played basketball since seventh grade, that was my main sport in high school. I just ran track and cross country on the side and then I usually played another sport too.

FW: How long did it take you to recover from the surgery?
I had it before school started and I came back at the very end of cross country season my freshman year. I got to run the last two meets. I guess it took most of my first semester [to recover]. I ran the first cross country meet but I didn't do very well, it didn't go over very well with my knee, I had to sit out a bit longer.

FW: Did you ever think about playing basketball in college instead of running?

FW: Even though basketball was your main sport in high school, did you just know all along that you were destined to be a runner?
Well, my tenth grade year, I was introduced to Coach (Steve) Dudley (who now coaches at Mississippi State) through friends. I would show up over at Bevill (State Community College) and run with the college runners and he got to see me run. He thought I had potential because he had seen what I could do without any training, just showing up at meets... I ran at (Mississippi State's) Bulldog Invitational my sophomore and senior years and when they asked me to come for a visit, I took a visit here and a visit to Samford in Birmingham, Alabama. I decided to come here because I really liked the coaching staff and the people were really friendly.

FW: You won individual state titles in high school, what were your best times?
5:06 in the mile, I think it was 2:18 in the 800 and I can't remember what my two-mile time was, but it wasn't very fast (laughs).

FW: What kind of training were you doing to get those times?
My junior and senior year was when I started going to Bevill and running with the guys and girls there and if I could make it, I'd usually do a workout twice a week... Usually I would just start showing up there about a month or a month and a half before state. Other than that, basketball kept me in shape.

FW: Do you know what your weekly mileage was in high school?
About 10 miles, if not even that. Except for the week I went to cross country camp my junior and senior years. While I was there I ran about 40 miles. That was the first time I ever had a feel for what it was like to run more than 10 miles.

FW: When you went to college, obviously you didn't build your mileage up over the summer because you were having surgery, but how did you transition from doing 10 miles a week to whatever you're doing now?
Gradually. Still, right now, I don't really do that much mileage. I think I do anywhere from 25 to 30 miles a week.

FW: That's all?
I have to look at my weekly running log (pauses)... That's about right, 25 to 30 miles a week. But I haven't been running for very long.

FW: Is a good portion of that speedwork?
Usually I have one long run of eight miles, and then I usually have two workouts a week. This week I have an easy week because I haven't really taken a break since Nationals. At Texas (Relays, the previous weekend) I felt kind of tired, so [my coach] gave me an easy week. I don't have an eight-mile run and I just have one workout. On Saturday, we have a meet here and I'm going to do the 5,000 just to see where I'm at. (Laughs) It's going to be pretty interesting.

FW: Have you run the 5,000 on the track in college?
Never. That's why it's going to be pretty interesting.

FW: But you've run a good 3,000 in college, right?
Actually, I ran the 3,000 indoors this year for the first time (she ran a school record 9:26.89)... I did it once my freshman year indoors but that's it. [Coach] kind of just threw me in it to see how I'd do.

FW: Do you think those are events you'd ever want to focus on or are you pretty satisfied with the shorter events?
I'm pretty satisfied with the shorter events, but I don't mind going longer, running the 3,000 -- I like it. I like cross country too... I think one of the reasons I ran pretty well indoors is that I actually had a base. I didn't really run much of cross country [freshman year] but I had indoors and outdoors and then I ran during the summer. I had last year's cross country and then I trained during Christmas. That's actually the first time I've done so much running.

FW: Do you run higher mileage during the cross country season?
I think we may do a little bit more mileage. I've never had to run over eight miles. I usually just have one eight-mile run. I guess during cross country season I may have a few more five-mile runs than what I'm doing right now. Other than that, it's pretty much just my workouts that change. Instead of quarters or 200s, we have more mile repeats and 1,200s.

FW: Do you usually run every day of the week or do you take days off?
We have Sunday as our rest day, but other than that I run every day.

FW: Do you do any supplemental training like crosstraining or weight lifting?
Yeah, we started lifting weights again after Nationals and we lift twice a week.

FW: Do you find that having the discipline to be a good runner is something that comes naturally to you or do you really have to make a concentrated effort to do things like getting enough sleep, not staying out late partying, and other small things like that?
It doesn't come easy to get in the morning and run, I have to make myself get up but I enjoy the morning runs. But not staying out late or partying, that's not hard at all because I don't go out (laughs). Every once in a blue moon I might, but I guess I'm pretty content just running and going to school because those are my two main priorities... My friends are always trying to get me out, but I just don't really like clubs, they just don't do anything for me.

FW: Do you mostly hang out with other runners or do you have a lot of non-runner friends?
I have some non-runner friends but mostly I hang out with just runners. I have three roommates and they're all members of the track team. But this fall I'm going to have an apartment of my own. I just got it today, so I'm excited.

FW: Are you the kind of person who looks forward to racing or do you get pretty nervous?
Yeah, I get nervous... I don't dread [competition, but] at Nationals I was very nervous, I almost made myself sick. But I enjoy racing.

FW: Has it been hard to start considering yourself as a contender in every race that you run, even at the National level?
Yeah, like I said, I'm always nervous. I know that there's always somebody who may have a great race, just like at Nationals. But I just go into it and try to be a competitive runner and run the best I can. I'm not terribly upset if I don't win or do very well, as long as I know that I gave it my best.

FW: Have you thought about trying to run professionally after college or is that something that's not even on your radar screen right now?
I haven't thought about it much, but people have asked me that... I haven't really wanted to think about it yet.

FW: What are you majoring in?
Elementary education.

FW: Is that a career you'd like to pursue?
Yes, I really enjoy children so I think it's something I'd like to do. I also would like to coach, I think I would really enjoy coaching track.

FW: What do you like to do when you're not running or studying?
I guess just relax, because I don't really get much time to relax. Most of the time if I'm not at practice or in class, I'm studying. Like in all sports, we're on the road quite a bit so I have catching up to do when I get back... I've gone to a couple movies recently... And I like to read.

FW: It's probably a challenge to find time for leisure reading.
Usually when I go to meets, I bring homework. But [on the Texas Relays trip], I was like 'Okay, I'm not going to do any homework, I'm not going to have time, I'm not going to get around to it,' so I just brought a book and read it.

(Interview conducted April 8, 2003, Posted April 10, 2003)

Nothing contained herein may be reproduced online in any form without the express written permission of the New York Road Runners Club, Inc.