MANY TRACK AND FIELD observers consider the 400 meters a grueling race. It’s a combination of speed and endurance, mostly the former.
“Whenever I tell people I run the 400, they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s one of the hardest ones,’ ” said Stanford sophomore Kristyn Williams, who broke the school indoor record in the first meet of the season. “I really like that it is a long sprint. It’s not too long, so you can’t get bored watching it.”
A native of Grand Prairie, Texas, Williams has a fraternal twin sister Kaitlyn, who runs the 200 for the Cardinal. Kristyn, the oldest, has a regular pre-race routine that helps her get amped for competition.
“Before the gun goes off, I always think to myself, ‘This is going to be over in less than a minute,’ ’’ she said. “I’m immediately thinking, ‘get out, get out, get out, fast, fast!’ And before I know it, I’m halfway through the race. And then the second half is just me motivating myself to finish. Usually the last straight is pretty tough, but if I’m having a good day, I’m just powering through and I feel untouchable. If I’m struggling, I just try to breathe.”
Jody Stewart, associate head coach for sprints and hurdles, said Kristyn has a double personality.
“Off the track, she has a really quiet, sweet nature,” said Stewart. “On the track, she doesn’t back down and is not afraid to hurt.”
Kristyn proved that last year in the NCAA West Prelims when she broke her right foot 250 meters into the race.
“And she kept running,” Stewart said. “That just shows you how tough she is. She started wobbling like a flat tire.”
Kristyn learned a lot last year from Stanford All-America hurdler Kori Carter.
“She was just so determined and driven,” said Kristyn. “To see someone who wanted to be the best in such an intense field was very inspiring.
“She also taught me a lot about work ethic. Even if you are having a bad day, you can place it aside and really go after what you want on the track and run hard. She always seemed to push through. That mental strength and tenacity is something she passed down to a lot of people.”
According to Stewart, Kristyn is doing the same.
“I give her a lot of credit,” he said. “She doesn’t take a day off. She’s already a leader in her own right.”
Kristyn and Kaitlyn got involved with track and field when they were about 9, mostly because their older brother was competing for his middle school team and got to travel to AAU or USA meets in the summer.
“We knew we were kind of fast, so we just decided to go out for the team as well,” said Kristyn.
Kaitlyn said the turning point came in elementary school when they ran through the neighborhood in the annual all-school, one-mile Turkey Trot.
“I think we finished in the top five and beat all the boys,” she said. “That’s when we noticed we were fast.”
Both improved quickly and became track standouts at Mansfield Timberview High, only a few miles from where former Stanford star running back Stepfan Taylor attended Mansfield High. As a freshman, Kristyn won Texas Class 4A state titles in the 400 (53.88) and 800 (2:10.23).
While the Williams sisters are close and took many of same college recruiting trips together, each has their own personality. Both put priority on academics, but also wanted high level athletics. Stanford was the perfect fit.
“We didn’t necessarily have to go to the same school,” Kristyn said. “But we were geared toward a similar school.”
Kristyn will likely pursue a degree in human biology and hopes to attend medical school, while Kaitlyn is focusing on economics and public policy, possibly pursuing a job in government or business.
“We’re definitely independent, but we have a lot of the same values,” said Kaitlyn.
Even as youngsters, they never considered the other a rival.
“It was friendly competition,” Kaitlyn said. “It was kind of like us against the other runners.”
And no, they never beat their brother in a race.
“He was about three years older and ran cross country at New Mexico State,” said Kristyn. “He had a lot more stamina.”
She said the biggest differences from high school to college track are the training methods.
“I had to adapt and change the way I mentally go after things,” she said. “We lift three times a week, which is something I didn’t do before. Last year, it seemed like I was racing quite a bit and I never raced from January through May.”
Kristyn credits Stewart for improving her strength, conditioning, technique and times.
“He really focuses on the process and building athletes to be physically strong,” said Kristyn. “He wants us to be durable so I can last throughout the season in rounds and various races I’m going to have to run. He never places a lot of pressure on running early fast. He has a distinct training program and he knows where he wants us to be at certain spots, so the outline and constant communication has been a key to a lot of people’s success.”
As a result, running continues to be fun and not a chore. Although Kristyn has battled injuries – mostly stress fractures – she loves her sport and is constantly looking for ways to improve.
“Just the higher level of competition makes it more different and interesting,” she said. “Also, at this level, people are doing a lot of cool things and you just see it more frequently, which is pretty inspiring. Also being surrounded by the types of teammates I have. People excel in so many different areas. You just come to love not only your own event in the sport, but all the other ones as well and watching them compete.”
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Williams and her Stanford teammates will compete at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation indoor championships on Friday and Saturday at the University of Washington's Dempsey Indoor track.