Olympic Trial Athlete’s Day Job: Accountant

Elite runner Alisha Williams maintains a demanding day job, too.

Alisha Williams competing in running event
Alisha Williams competing in running event

Unlike many of her fellow Olympic trial competitors, Alisha Williams has another full-time job, too: She’s a certified public accountant, working for a mining company near her Colorado Springs home. Williams, 30, competed in the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter running trials in Eugene, Ore., last month, as well as the marathon trials in Houston in January. She didn’t make the Olympic team, but her accounting work is still there for her.

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“My number one priority is my job,” she says, and she’s also glad that having a full-time position means she doesn’t have to rely on running earnings, which come largely from sponsorships and race prize money, to pay for basic living expenses. “I can go into a race just focusing on enjoying the experience,” she adds.

Like many Americans who juggle multiple jobs, Williams finds a way to fit each into her day. She wakes up early to run before work, then heads to the office and runs again in the evenings. She saves her long 18-mile run for Sundays, when she also swims.

It wasn’t always easy to combine the two, and in fact, Williams says her training suffered when she was putting in 60-plus hour weeks as she built her accounting career. As she was studying for her CPA license and working in public accounting during tax season, she says, “I would run when I could, but I was working over 60 hours a week.”

Williams tried for the 2008 Olympic trials, but she was still working 50 or more hours a week. Soon after, she got a new coach and starting training seriously. She joined the American Distance Project, a nonprofit dedicated to developing distance runners. That led her to the 2012 Olympic trials; she plans to try again in four years. U.S. News spoke with Williams about how she manages both her running and accounting careers. Excerpts:

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What’s your typical day like?

I generally get up between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m., drink some tea, have something to eat, and get out the door. My husband and dog run with me. Generally on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, we run about 10 miles in the morning and do drills. Then I work for the whole day, and run after work. In the evenings, it’s a shorter run, usually three to five miles.

How do you keep your energy up? Do you have certain eating habits?

Eating is really important. I don’t have a crazy diet, but I try to eat well-rounded and healthy. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and I eat a good breakfast, it really does help. I also eat chocolate after runs, that’s my recovery food. I also try to eat pretty simple and not a lot of processed foods, which usually don’t feel great.

My husband and I make smoothies in the mornings after our run. We put spinach, a protein mix, Greek yogurt, and everything healthy we can find. It tastes good.

Do your coworkers know about your running?

[My company] encourages people to have other things going on outside of work. They see it as something that’s healthy for work-life balance. Running is a healthy activity and they want a healthy workforce.

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Do the two ever conflict; what if you had a race and also an important meeting?

It happens. I just try to plan ahead and get as much done as possible. Usually I know a few weeks out when races are, and if I know I have a deadline, I try not to procrastinate. I don’t really have the luxury of waiting until the last minute.

Does your running give you a sense of financial security, or do you mainly think of your accounting job as your financial security?

It really depends on the year. It does give some sense of financial security, but I also do it because I love it. If I had to rely on it instead of my income, that would be hard. I don’t feel the added pressure that people who only run probably feel, that they need to do well to pay the rent, so that’s a little bit of relief. (Williams is sponsored by Boulder Running Company, Adidas and PowerBar.)

Will you continue doing both?

Yes. I love running, even when I’m not competing. I will try to get out the door every day and go for a run.

Updated on 7/19/2012: This story has been updated to reflect that PowerBar is an additional sponsor of Alisha Williams.