A 1962 movie based on a short story by Alan Sillitoe pushed the phrase “The loneliness of the long distance runner” into the Western lexicon.
But even in her most solitary moments, Campbell River Christian School standout Joanna Williams feels the support of a community.
“I struggled last year when my times weren’t improving,” said Williams, 17. “It was so discouraging; I asked myself, ‘Why am I competing?’
“But my coach encouraged me to push through it, and my parents and my friend were all so supportive.”
Williams will enter her fourth and final BC Provincial Track and Field Championships beginning June 4 on a roll, having slashed seven seconds off her previous best time in the 3,000-metre run this season.
One of a number of athletes from CRCS, Carihi, Timberline and Robron who have qualified for provincials, she will try to improve on her eighth-place finished in the 3,000 and a 10th-place showing in the 1,500 steeplechase a year ago.
Williams won the Vancouver Island championships in both events this month in Victoria.
After graduation, she will go on this fall to attend Trinity University in Langley and run on the school’s cross country and track teams.
Her interest in running was fostered by her mother, who took her to a running clinic when Joanna was in Grade 5. That led to her first try at a triathlon, a sport which combines swimming, cycling and running.
“That’s when I found out my favourite part of it was the running,” said Williams. “I’ve always been really competitive, but obviously I didn’t start out by winning. The more I ran, the more I liked it, and that made me better.”
A soccer player in her younger years, Williams gave up the sport because it conflicted with her schedule, including church on Sundays when games were often scheduled.
A well-rounded student who has taken piano instruction and voice lessons, she also sings in festivals and recitals, and has served as a camp counsellor.
But it was running that filled that competitive void, and Williams found a kindred spirit in CRCS coach and fellow runner Kathy Rung when she enrolled at Campbell River Christian in Grade 9.
“My coach has always encouraged me,” she said. “She loves running, so that helps. I would not be in the place I am today without her. It’s as simple as that.”
Part mentor, part running partner, Rung last year introduced Williams to her Tuesday night adult running group with the Comox Valley Road Runners, giving her another running option to go with Williams’ solo and school workouts.
The Tuesday night club helps both motivate and challenge Williams, who also benefits from some of the runners’ experience in the sport.
“The program here at the school is really great,” she said. “But the running club helps me enjoy more time with people who understand the joy and dedication for the sport. They understand where you’re coming from. And they’re very fit.”
As much as improving her showing at provincials, Williams said she is motivated by beating Rung’s best 3,000 time, set when the coach was a schoolgirl standout in Saskatchewan.
“I’m two and a half seconds away,” Williams said with a smile.
In addition to her coach, her school teammates and the running club, Williams has the full support of her “very active” family.
Her father was a hockey player, her mom starred in basketball and her older brother is active in racquet sports including tennis and badminton.
“My mom and I used to go on runs together,” said Williams. “She has been my rock; she has always encouraged me.”
Early in her running career, Williams found that support and encouragement could come from many other sources. She remembers completing her first triathlon as an elementary student, and the coaches distributing medals to each of the first-time finishers.
“I remember being really touched,” she said. “I’d gotten medals before for soccer, but this was for something I did, something I could continue to do.”