What’s it Like to Pace a World Record in the 1500? Jordan Williamsz Tells Us
February 21, 2019
Jordan Williamsz joined us the LetsRun.com Track Talk podcast to give us a special access look at Samuel Tefera’s indoor 1500m world record run in Birmingham. Williamsz and Bram Som were the two rabbits in the race, with Williamsz being the final rabbit, leading the field from 700 to 950 meters.
The Australian Williamsz was a star NCAA runner at Villanova and now is part of Nic Bideau‘s Melbourne Track Club. He runs professionally for Nike and has PBs of 1:46.77, 3:36.30, and 7:55.49. In 2017, he made the semis of the 1500m at the World Championships.
A transcript of our talk with Jordan is below. You can click on a blue timestamp to hear that portion of the audio. (But then will need to pause or mute the player as it will continue playing from that point). The full podcast (for a full list of what we discussed on the podcast besides Tefera’s run click here) and player with links to listen on iTunes, Stitcher, etc. is at the bottom of the page. If you’d like to listen to the full Williamsz interview, it starts at the [79:01] mark. Transcript edited for brevity and clarity.
[79:01] LetsRun.com: We’re joined by Jordy Williamsz, the pacer at the world record by Samuel Tefera. Jordy, welcome. First of all, it sounds like you’re on a travel from hell. Where are you right now?
[79:15] Jordan Williamsz: I’m at London Heathrow Airport on my way back to Melbourne, but we’ve had a bit of a delay so just sitting around the airport for a little while.
[79:23] And you’ve got 14 hours to where — till Sydney?
[79:28] Williamsz: No, we’re going to Brunei and then Brunei to Melbourne, so something different.
[79:33] Wow. People think professional track and field is glamorous. We can get to that in a minute, but first the world record, you guys did a tremendous job pacing. Bram Som took the first 700 and then you did the last 300. How’d you feel about it? It looked great to us. As a fan, the race was tremendous. And to have the upset win and a world record as a fan, it doesn’t get any better than that. But none of that happens unless the pacing is pretty good. You guys did a really good job.
[80:03] Williamsz: Yeah, it was pretty cool. I think most important thing was we stayed relatively even. If you go a little bit too quick anywhere in there, it sort of ruins it. So I think it was really good and set up really well by Bram. I think he probably deserves a lot of the credit because he was so, so even those first three laps. That made it really easy for me to be honest. I went so quick, I didn’t really have much time to think about it or soak it in just because, especially on the indoor track on that quick (laps), trying to keep an eye on the clock, it’s just all happening so fast. So it was pretty cool. When I finished being able to watch the last two laps, that was really cool. So I think I had the best seat in the house. I was at about 50 meters to go. So that was really cool.
[80:57] What were you thinking after you stepped off?
[81:01] Williamsz: I saw clock going 2:20-2:21 [at 1000m], so I was just really happy. I had done my job, but I had thought maybe to go a little bit longer, but when I realized there was two of them together, I thought [it was] best [to] just get off and let them race cause there was a pretty good chance they were going to push each other better than I was going to tow them through. So I think all in all it really went to plan perfectly. So yeah, that’s cool.
[81:31] It looked like with about maybe 950 you kind of looked back and saw them there and then you went wide and let them go at it.
[81:39] Williamsz: Yeah, I had told Yomif [Kejelcha] before the rice I would try and go 1100, but I was told [to pace] a k, further if you can, but they were fine. I had faith they could get it done.
[81:57] I was at my in-laws watching on my phone yesterday. It was a great race and I saw him coming in. I’m like, ‘oh, he’s just going to miss it.’ I thought it was so great. I was so excited watching it myself, to be a part of it, it’s pretty cool. Take a step back, how does something like this come about? When did you know you might pace this thing? Who reached out to you? These things just don’t happen on their own. You’ve been in Europe for, what? About a month now?
Williamsz: Yeah, just about four weeks so.
[82:29] You’ve been racing all over. You were in France, Sweden, Ireland, I think Germany. This one was in England. When did this opportunity come about?
[82:37] Williamsz: I knew about it for a while. I didn’t know about the world record until two days before, maybe, maybe even a day before. But for a long time I was going to pace this race because we had the two Australian guys, Stewart McSweyn and Ryan Gregson, trying to run an Australian record. I was always going to do it for them. Originally I was meant to run the race, but when the point [qualifying] system [for World Champs] sort of fell apart I didn’t need to do it. And [my agent and coach] Nic [Bideau] asked me if I would pace them and I said, yeah, sure. So for a couple of months I’ve known I was going to pace it, but the world record attempt only happened maybe even the day before. I saw Kejelcha’s name on the start list and I was like, ‘oh, that’s interesting.’ I thought he would have stayed in America and then found out a couple of days before or the day before that they needed someone to go to 2:20. And that’s pretty fast. So I was a little bit, you know, nervous going in, but I was pretty confident I could get the job done.
[83:50] Did you talk to Bram beforehand? People want to know is there a meeting where you guys meet or they just say, here’s the pace, go get it. What sort of preparations behind the scenes are there?
[84:01 ]Williamsz: My manager and coach told me there’s probably a good chance they’ll go for the world record. To be totally honest, I didn’t think that they would get it. I thought they would be close, but I didn’t think they’d get it. And I think when I got to the hotel, as soon as I got into the hotel, two days before the race we saw Kejelcha and he said 1:52 at 800 and that was as official word as we’d heard at that point. And then the next day I spoke to my coach and he said to me, he had chatted with the meet director and he had said, yeah, we’re going for 2:20 [for 1000m]. They’re going for the world record. And then I chatted to Bram Som on the day before and he was going to go anywhere between 600 and 800. I don’t think it was as official as you’d think. It was sort of a few broken conversations in the lobby and just a bit of a word from above. Spencer Barden, the meet director, just sort of said ‘this is what it’s going to be. Get it done.’
[85:04] I feel better, you didn’t really know about it cause they kept it kind of low key. Millrose was sort of hyped beforehand and at some point on Friday we were looking around and were like ‘They might break the world record. We might want to get something up on this.’ Then we heard that you guys were going to go through in 2:20. We thought like you that they might just barely miss it. And also everyone was thinking I think that Yomif was going to be the guy who would win. But Tefera is a world indoor champion and I’m sure just with that mindset he’s not in this race just to spectate. So it was a really great, cool, cool occasion.
[85:44] Williamsz: I definitely think they needed the two of them [to break the record]. When you start racing to the finish that’s faster than you could go on your own, I think. I know I would want to be in a race rather than time trialing. I think you can get quicker out of yourself definitely in that last two laps [when racing]. So yeah, I think alone neither them would have done it. So it was good that they had the really good race and I think that’s the main reason why the world record went.
[86:13] It was tremendous. I hope you got a big bonus. My claim to fame was I rabbitted Paula Radcliffe to her first world record in the marathon. It’s the most money I ever made in running.
[86:25] [Laughing] Williamsz: That’s all right. You’re going to have a claim to fame, right?
[86:27 ] Yeah. Yeah. I wasn’t nearly as good as you. So pacing women’s world records, I’ll take it. Unless you’ve got more to talk about on the world record, let’s talk about where you are, what you’re training for this season and even [what] racing in Europe [is like]. Most people on LetsRun are from America and we follow you and you were at Villanova and obviously some of the Aussies, we know well because you guys speak English and it’s just easier to follow you guys, but what you guys do is different [than American runners]. We don’t totally understand how it works. Like right now you’re, you’re on a 22-hour journey back home. It’s going to be summer there when you get there. It’s just very different.
[87:05] Williamsz: I think the craziest part is I’ve got to race an outdoor 1500m next weekend. That’s probably a bit different to what most people in America would expect.
[87:18] You guys are, the Melbourne Track Club, Nic Bideau is the coach and the manager right? Maybe giving me the real big overview?
[87:27 ] Williamsz: We’ve got people that jump in and out from all over the place. And I’d say the core group of middle to long distance runners would be five to 10 in any given year depending on injuries and performance and whatnot. But it’s pretty busy year for us. We spend a real long time away. I’d say [on] just an average year, it might be January altitude training, maybe two to three months at home racing, if we don’t go to indoors. If we go to indoors, there’s a month in there in February where we’ll be racing in Europe. And then we’re usually over in Europe [from] May until September, you know, and we might spend a bit of time, in various training camps. We go to Spain, sometimes we’ve got to Mt. Laguna [in California] on the way to Europe. We spend a month there.
[88:25] I think the real difference is it’s a very long time away from home. I usually only spend about two to three months a year at home. But I think if you can get used to that it’s pretty cool. I really enjoy it. I know the travel might be a little bit daunting, but I really enjoy it. I like moving around and you know, I really enjoy the sport so I don’t really mind it. Being on the road, doing all the races and stuff, I really enjoy it. So it’s a pretty good. It fits what I like to do really well.
[89:02] You gotta be into running, you got to love it and you got to love the travel. But I think a lot of people don’t understand, even the people, some of the people based in the States, it’s easier for them. They go to altitude in the States, but they’re still not at home, they’re still a plane ride [from home]. They’re not with their family. Probably even those people are going to be gone six months a year, maybe four. In January, you guys were in altitude where?
[89:30] Williamsz: Falls Creek in Australia, it’s about a four-hour, four-and-a-half-hour drive from Melbourne. It’s a pretty good spot. About five and a half, 6,000 feet. So it’s not super high, but it’s the best we’ve got in Australia. There’s no track or anything, but it’s pretty good running. It’s relatively flat and most, most 90% of Australian distance runners are up there. So we all train together. Usually good training and it’s early for us so you just find your feet again after the previous year and all that. So I enjoy it. It’s good to catch up with everyone in Australia and spend a bit of time with people you’re familiar with.
When are the Australian nationals?
Williamsz: They are in April.
[90:20] They’re not that far away, but why do you guys go to Europe and race [in the winter]? Is that because you make some money or it’s just a good experience? Stewart McSweyn broke the national record yesterday. Why does the whole group or some of the group go to Europe?
[90:37] Williamsz: I just don’t think you can get races anywhere else in the world like you can in Europe. I know there’s a few decent ones in America, but again, 90% of the good racing is in Europe. So that’s why you go over there. That’s why we go over there. It’s really great. And we’re based in London, so it’s pretty easy for us. They speak English, it’s very similar cultures. So it’s easy, easy to live there. And I just think that the racing is just so good. It’s great to be over there and trying to win. And you’ve got to think at the same time, it’s winter in Australia, not that our winter is too bad, but there’s just no track races. We don’t have any indoor tracks. You’d be doing road races [in Australia]. So it’s just the way it’s all structured and Nic’s set up over there, it’s great.
[91:32] You get an opportunity to get involved with lots of Diamond Leagues and World Challenge meets and lots of other little ones. And there’s awesome stuff pops up all the time. Like, the Great North Run. And I know few years ago a guy in our group, Collis Birmingham went and did the Breaking2. There’s heaps of stuff over there and it’s just a bit easier to be in Europe. Better than Australia anyway. I think the hardest thing, why you need to be over there as well, is probably, it’s so far away. It takes you a good week or so to get adjusted. You can’t just fly over race the next day and fly home. Just way too far. Just sort of need to be there to be in it really.
[92:25] Makes sense. In you indoor campaign you have 7:55 3k, 3:41 for 1500 (2nd place), 1:48 for 800 and then you got two-thirds of the way to a world record. How do you view the indoor season for you? What were your goals coming in?
[92:42] Williamsz: I didn’t really have too much expectation on myself really. The way our training group, like the way we train and work it’s just we’re about halfway to ready but you’re never too far away off being ready. So I really needed it. I think I got better every time I raced, every time I was on the track. So that’s the main thing, just you get a bit better every time and we’ll have our races coming up in Australia and hopefully be better again. And by the time we’re over in Europe [in the summer], be really ready to go.
[93:22] This year is different with Worlds later [in the year], but I assume making Worlds at 1500, is that the number one goal?
[93:29] Williamsz: Yeah, I actually haven’t run the qualifier. My pb is 3:36.3. So that’s my main goal is to get the qualifier and worry about the rest of it later. So I actually made it in 2017, I made the championships on the roll down, so I was pretty lucky to be there. But I think I definitely made the most of it. My big goal is just to get the qualifier and run [at Worlds] in Doha.
[93:56 ]What’s the qualifying standard now?
Williamsz: 3:36 flat.
[94:00] You’ll get it, you’ll get it. In Australia three guys probably won’t have the standard right? How does the qualifying work there? If you do well at nationals, can that help you?
[94:15] Williamsz: It’s pretty much if you have the standard and you win you’re in. But then there’s two other spots for discretionary [picks]. So you have to get a qualifier obviously, but they can then pick the next two. So say Gregson doesn’t decide to do nationals and gets the qualifier [later]. There’s a pretty good chance they’re going to pick him.
[94:40] You guys got some pretty good guys with Gregson and it seems Stewart McSweyn is doing the best of anyone right now. I was reading something that said Craig Mottram is sort of the standard-bearer and that’s the guy everybody’s shooting after. And Nic said Stewart is the one who can come closest to that right now. Are you far behind him in workouts? Is he inspiring to you? How do you view it? He’s little bit younger than you. Is it a good rivalry? How do you guys get along?
[95:09] Williamsz: Oh, we’re very different animals. He does stuff I couldn’t dream of in training. Myself and Gregson we line up really well in training. We work together really, really well. So I do a lot of my training with him and we’re sort of, I’d say more 1500 specialists [who] drop down to 800. It can go higher, but I don’t I’d run anything special over 5k, Grego probably be better. Definitely be better. Stewy is more like a 5k guy that drops down. So I think he’s definitely surprising a lot of the people that don’t know him very well in the 1500, but I would think he can run 3:32 this year. It depends on what he really, really wants to do because Stewy loves doing every event. So I think if he really focuses on one, he’ll do something really good, but it just depends what he wants to focus on. Like he ran 13:05 last year, so there’s no reason with the way everything’s going, he can’t run a little bit quicker. But at that level you need to need the race to go the right way.
[96:22] A lot of people American know you from your time at Villanova, how would you say the American collegiate experience was for you? Coming from Australia, it’s a little bit different. You were pretty quick before you came over here, I think you ran 3:40 (before Villanova). You ran some quick times here, never won NCAA, but how do you view the years at Villanova?
[96:43] Williamsz: It was awesome, I got a lot out of it.
[96:50] Williamsz: I had a few good races over there. Plenty of highlights. It probably helped me a lot with racing. At Villanova, I know [coach] Marcus [O’Sullivan] never really wanted to go and chase times too much, which I was happy with and I’m still happy with because you sort of learn to race and be competitive which is at the major championships that’s what matters the most. I like, I know Centro’s one of the best racers I’ve ever seen and he won the Olympics. So it obviously means something because there’s plenty of guys that probably ran faster than him in that year, but hey, he won the gold medal didn’t he?
[97:33] You don’ t have to be the fastest guy [to win the Olympics]. Just got to be the fastest guy in that race.
[97:39] Williamsz: I learned a lot while I was at Villanova racing and Marcus is a really good coach and he gets you ready for the next step definitely whatever it is, be that running or not. So I really value my time there and definitely tell all these Australian kids to get over there.
Are you familiar with how good Marcus was as a runner before you came over?
[98:01] Williamsz: Yeah, I knew he was really good. Like I knew he had a hundred sub-fours (miles). Or 101, is it? And 3:50 [for the] mile is not mucking around. I knew he ran 3:32 or 3:34 when he was old when he was about 34-35 so I knew his credentials.
It’s pretty amazing what those guys were doing back then.
[98:26] Williamsz: What blows my mind is how often they raced. I know I’ve raced a lot since I’ve been here in the last couple of weeks, but they did that for whole season. Smash out like six races a month.
[98:39] Ray Flynn was telling me a story at Millrose. They ran a 1500 outdoors in Australia on like a Wednesday, they flew to LA and raced a mile indoors on Friday. And then they flew to Dallas in Texas and ran a mile the next day on Saturday, the same five guys did this. I was like, you gotta be kidding me. And then they probably had three races the next week. It’s just crazy. And it’s not like they were running slowly. It’s nuts.
[99:09] Williamsz: We’ve all gotten a lot softer.
[99:11] Americans, we think we’re soft and you Aussies are tough. So you guys, it wasn’t like Marcus O’Sullivan, but one, two, three, four, five races for you, this indoors. That’s pretty good.
LRC note: We had a problem with our audio record and lost the last part of our conversation with Jordan. In it, he said he did not speak to Samuel Tefera before or after the world record run. Pretty amazing, the rabbit never spoke to the world record holder. And also Jordan explained the “Z” at the end of his last name. He said his family is the only one in Australia with it, and there is a group of people in America with a “Z” as well and they are his cousins. Originally his family was from Sri Lanka and he thinks that’s where the Z is from. You can listen to Weldon recount that part of the audio at the [14:12] mark of the podcast.
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Podcast Show Notes
[01:01] Tefera’s WR
[08:32] Birmingham PA Announcer Geoff Wightman on Tefera’s non-celebration, “It was a great shame and just a bit mystifying. Even the win should have been celebrated more than that.”
[14:12 ]The “Z” in Jordan Williamsz’ name
[16:30] Fam and dog go sub-4 in mile
[20:17] Should Laura Muir’s record be disallowed because of her shoes?
[26:13] 5k road world records in Monaco and did Sarah Pagano have old record?
[32:08] USA Indoors, 31 runners in women’s 2 mile, which heat will Shelby Houlihan be in?
[38:55] Why do we go to NACAC cross country?
[42:09] Can Donavan Brazier get world best in 600? Clayton Murphy AR in 1000?
[48:12 ]Random road race factoid of week
[51:08] Austin “Drug Cheat” Marathon with Mary Akor and Lance Armstrong
[54:49] They should have let doper Dwain Chambers run in Birmingham
[61:23 ]Discussion and live commentary of Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s win over Samuel Tefera in Dusseldorf, Germany
[79:00] Special Guest Jordan Williamsz, Samuel Tefera’s rabbit
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