A time that's stood the test of time

Kenn Oliver koliver@thetelegram.com
Published on July 22, 2011
Nicola Will relaxes in the garden of her home in Saint-Camille, Que. Twenty-five years ago, ran the fastest-ever time for a female runner in the Tely 10. It's a record that stands today.

Like she did almost every season throughout an eight-year road race and track career, Nicola Will set records in 1986.

Among them was the blistering 55:47 mark she established in the 59th annual Telegram 10-Mile Road Race, a record that still stands 25 years later.

"In a way, I can't really take credit," says a humble Will, 47, who that year became the first woman to crack the race's top 10, crossing the line eighth overall.

"It's physiological. I was lucky to have an athletic disposition and body. With the amount of training I did and so forth, I was pretty lucky to do so well."

Will was 23 at the time and at the top of her game, having already established herself as one of the best runners in Atlantic Canada and a star on the rise on the international road-racing scene.

She had won the Tely 10 title in 1982 and again in 1984, when she cleared Sheila Currie's mark set four years previous by over a minute, with a 56:04 showing.

Will says she wasn't thinking about setting a new record in '86, though she admits to bolting out to a quick start, her trademark.

"I always started out too fast and slowed down," she said.

"I don't remember feeling any particular pressure, though I was very competitive.

"You don't want to put too much pressure on yourself, so half the time you spend trying to relax and getting your mind off what you want to do most."

Ray Will, her father and Memorial Track Club coach at the time, says she was her usual self on race day.

"She used to always go inside herself and you couldn't tell what she was thinking. I don't think she ever thought about records."

Will's training that year consisted of low mileage runs, a fair bit of interval work on the track with the likes of Dave Whittle (first in '86), Peter Lewis (second) and Paul McCloy, who set the men's mark of 47:04 in the 58th Tely 10.

"That really helps get your fast twitch muscles going," Nicola Will says of the training method.

"On some occasions, I was even able to keep up with them."

The weather on race day was near ideal, this according to Art Meaney and her father - the third and 17th-place finishers respectively.

"I remember it was cloudy and quite still. There was no wind and it wasn't very hot," notes Ray Will.

In Joe Ryan's book, "The Tely 10," which chronicles the history of the race over the first 78 years, he notes Will ran her first mile in 5:21 and hit the halfway mark in 27:14.

"It felt very good, almost as though the wind was carrying me along," says Will, who admits to recalling little from the day.

"But maybe there wasn't a mighty wind, maybe it was all me."

Will returned to do the Tely 10 again in 1987, clocking a 1:05:30 in rain showers and a strong headwind. It was her last time she entered the race, and effectively marked the end of her competitive racing career.

Running and the intense training that accompanied it took a backseat to education and life at that time, and Will hasn't done any racing since she left the province not long after.

"It had a place in my life when I was a bit younger," she says today from Saint-Camille, Que., where she keeps active with some light jogging and yoga. "It feels good to not be so performance-oriented."

Will wasn't physically burnt out, but the mental stress of competition was beginning to take its toll.

"Once an athlete reaches a certain physical level, say national or international, the difference between a good and poor performance largely comes down to mental factors.

"I was certainly ready to take a mental break."

A handful of Will's records have fallen since her retirement, and more could follow, namely her 55:47.

Will's okay with that, even if Kate Vaughan, who came within 49 seconds last year with the third fastest female time ever, accomplishes the feat this Sunday.

"It's a record I set, it's not something I own. I'd be happy if she broke the record," Will admits. "I think they're meant to be broken."

koliver@thetelegram.com twitter@KOTelySports