Tommy Williams

Tommy Williams, left, and Hector Hernandez point to Williams’ 800 meter mark on the De Queen track and field record board. At the Meet of Champs Hernandez bettered Williams’ school record which has stood for 42 years.

 

The truism says that records are set to broken. Some take longer than others for that to happen.

The longest standing De Queen school record for a still contested individual event was broken this year after standing for decades.

Tommy Williams’ school record for the 800 meters was unmatched for an incredible 42 years.

Williams’ time of 1:57.14 was finally surpassed by Hector Hernandez when he ran 1:55.12 in winning the event at the Meet of Champs.

The two fastest two-lappers in De Queen history posed for a photograph together and talked about their event.

They came to the 800 by different routes. Williams moved up from shorter races; Hernandez moved down from longer ones.

“I ran the 400 in junior high and moved to the 800 my sophomore year,” Williams recalled. “I didn’t really want to do it.”

Mike Dykes was De Queen track coach at the time and saw Williams’ potential in the longer race. “I did what I did because of Mike Dykes. He was a very good track coach. I would never have done it if not for him,” Williams stated.

He noted that De Queen was the district champion his sophomore and junior years.

In addition to track Williams also played football, Leopard quarterback for two years, and played basketball one year. “Then I started running during basketball season,” he said.

Besides the 800 Williams also ran on the 4 X 400 relay and sometimes the 4 X 200 “My best was a 50 point,” he said of his 4 X 400 legs. 

Williams said the hardest workout he ran consisted of two repeats of 1100 (two and 3/4 laps) under three minutes, then four repeats of 600 under 1:45. “You didn’t get much rest, just walked a 220, then ran again,” he recalled.

“It was very different back then. Most of the time I ran on red dog tracks. Prescott was the first small school with an all-weather track. The first time I broke two was at Prescott. I ran under two minutes six or seven times.”

Williams said the previous school record holder for the two lap race was Mac Larseingue. Larseingue ran 1:59.9 in the 880 yards race at the 1968 state meet.

(Williams also ran 880 yards. The 1:57.14 is a converted time. The system of yards for standard track events has been replaced by meters. The 880 distance is 84 inches longer than 800 meters. Track statisticians use a standardized formula to convert yard times to meter times.)

Williams had already run faster than Larseingue’s time more than once when he ran the time that would be the record for over 40 years. “I ran it at the state meet at Russellville on an asphalt track,” Williams recalled.

His qualified for the Meet of Champs, but ran slower at that meet. “I always tried to get the first lap in about 56, 57. At the meet of champs we ran the first lap in 52. I finished in 1:59.”

This was in Williams’ junior year. “Senior year I had a pulled groin muscle and never really got over it,” he said.

Still he was recruited by Henderson State. He ran cross country his first semester then indoor track to start the second.

“I ran the 600 indoors. I missed qualifying for nationals by a tenth of a second,” Williams said. His time in the 600 was 1:15.1, running two and 3/4 laps on a banked wood track at Oklahoma City.

A knee injury and surgery wiped out the following outdoor track season. He came back after that surgery and ran cross country again and started the indoor season before another knee surgery ended his running career.

Williams was not surprised when his record was finally broken. “I met Hector when he was a sophomore. He told me he was going to do it,” he said. “I’ve kept up with him.”

The two oldest De Queen school records are now both relays, the 4 X 400 set in 1966 and the 4 X 800 set in 1977. Relay marks are different from the individual events. Breaking a relay record requires multiple talented and determined runners. Individual races take only one. 

“I can’t believe it lasted 42 years,” Williams said of his mark. “That time Hector ran, that’ll last a while too.”

When Hernandez first ran under two minutes in the 800, many observers of Leopard track were surprised.

He first stood out in the ninth grade when he set a new De Queen junior high record in the 1600 meters with 4:47.35 to better the 4:50.4 run by John “Joker” Lagunas in 2003. Even then he thought of himself as an 800 runner. “I went after that record because it was so close after I ran 4:54,” he said. He further enhanced his distance runners credentials by being De Queen’s leading cross country runner for three years.

His junior year he ran under two minutes and won the class 5A state meet in the two lap race. The 800 was his priority for his senior track season. After winning both the 1600 and 800 at the 4A state meet, he ran only the 800 at the meet of champs and took two seconds off the De Queen school record.

“I started training for track the week after the cross country all-star meet,” he said.

The trait that sets Hernandez apart from most of the long line of distance standouts at De Queen is sprinting ability. 

“He’s got foot speed. Most distance runners don’t,” said De Queen track coach Jonathan Lindsey. Hernandez usually ran three or four events in most meets with the last being a leg on the 4 X 400 relay. Even after the other races, he could run in the 51 second range on his relay leg.

Unlike Williams who did long repeats such as 1100’s and 600’s on the track, most of Hernandez’s track work was short and fast. 

Lindsey considers the continuous two runner 200 meter relay to be the most strenuous workout he assigns. In that workout, one runner starts in the middle off the homestretch, the other in the middle of the backstretch. The first one runs a 200 and slaps hands with the second runner, who then runs a 200. While he is running around the curve, the first runner is hurrying back across the field to start another 200 when the second runner arrives. The second runner then goes back across the field to where he started, then begins another 200 when the other runner arrives.

This goes on until both runners have completed a dozen 200 meter repeats. The repeats are done in 27-28 seconds.

Hernandez agreed that workout is difficult, but said the hardest for him was running four repeats of 300 meters in 44-45 seconds, starting one every two minutes. That leaves only 75-76 seconds of recovery between the repeats.

Hernandez will compete for Southern Arkansas University next year. He will run cross country and expects much stronger competition than he faced in high school.

SAU was the runner-up at the Great American Conference cross country meet. In addition, the cross country distance will be 8K (4.96 miles) as opposed to the 5K of high school.

The goal he has his eye on is the SAU 800 record. He will have to take three seconds off his best time to break it. 

“He can pass it in a couple of years if he stays healthy,” Lindsey said.

Hernandez knows it will be like starting over when he starts college and intends to have much more stamina. He said he plans to run “a lot of distance” before he reports in August. 

 

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