IT’S ALL ABOUT SPEED. Recordsetting prep star Will Sumner (Woodstock, Georgia) figures he will end up an 800 specialist like both his mother and father were, but he wants to sharpen up as much as he can before that day comes.
Hence his successful attacks on the national 500 and 600 standards. Both races were conscious record attempts, he confirms. After starting out his senior season in December with indoor PRs of 21.66, 47.69 and 1:52.38, he went to Virginia Beach to see if he could run 2½ laps of the banked 200 oval faster than the NR 1:01.68 set by New Yorker Strymar Livingston in ’12.
“I wanted to get out and take the pole and take control of the race and make sure I went through in like 23 and then 48 at 400, but that got thrown off,” Sumner explains. “I ended up not getting the pole and we went out harder than I wanted, so I made sure I stayed calm and relaxed.
“Once we got to 300 is when I sort of got boxed in. I told myself, ‘Alright, we’re on pace, I just need to stay calm. I need to make my move when the time is right.’ Coming up on 400, I look up at the board and I see 48. I’m like, ‘OK, perfect, but I gotta go now, otherwise I’m not getting the record.’ I just gunned it and I knew if I went full out, didn’t leave anything on the track, it was going to be the record.
“As I was crossing the line, I saw it and I just put my arms out because I knew I had it.”
His time sliced 0.43 from Livingston’s record. He had passed 300 in 35.60 and covered the last lap in 25.65. It was the first 500 race of his life and a world leader to boot.
Then came Chicago the next weekend, for an attempt on the 600 mark at the Misfits Invitational on the fast new banked facility at Gately Park.
The 3-lap distance, Sumner admits, “was really a bigger target because my dad had the 600 record back when he was in high school.” In ’89, his father Brad was the first prep to break the 1:20 barrier with his 1:19.56 HSR, before going on to an All-America career at Villanova and becoming a sub-4:00 miler.
Will knew about dad’s recordsetter status, “and thought that this was going to be a good record to attempt. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years actually, so we made sure that this would be the year I got the chance to do that.
“I knew I’d have to probably run from the front. And I knew all the training I had done and all the preparation. I knew it was there. It was just a matter of me going out and doing it. I had to trust myself and my training and just get through it.”
The race felt deceptively easy, he admits. “I thought I was going to be barely at the record… I finished the race and had my hands on my knees and I looked up.”
The number surprised him a bit: 1:15.58 — slashing an even 2 seconds off another Livingston standard — not because he didn’t think he was in that kind of shape (“I knew I could run 1:15”) but because “It did not feel like a 1:15 to me. I knew what pace I was on. I just didn’t feel like I had closed as fast as I needed to to run that fast. It felt like I closed in maybe 27–28.”
His splits revealed another story. After an opener of 24.48, he followed up with a 25.18 (49.66) and finished with a 25.92.
Will is the second child of Brad Sumner and Tosha Woodward. His mother, the NCAA runner-up in the 800 in ’95, is a writer and also assistant coach at Woodstock High, where she guides her son’s career, among others. Clarifies Will, “My dad also kind of collaborates with her.”
His older sister Brynne is now at Clemson after clocking a 2:06.86 for Villanova last year.
Because of mom and dad’s background in the sport, Will found himself dabbling in track for a few years in elementary school. “My parents ran and we thought it might be fun to try out,” he says. “I’m like, “I think I could be good at this.’”
He started back up when he got to high school. As a frosh, he ran 51.15 and 2:06.87. The next year, most of his season was canceled but he improved to 50.45 and 1:59.07. Last year, he started focusing more on speed and ran 21.55, 47.01 and 1:51.67. He won the Georgia 7A title in the 400 and placed 7th in the 200.
The Georgia signee reveals, “My favorite event is the 200, but where I’m going to end up, I definitely see myself in the 800 and probably a little bit of the 400.
“I want to keep focusing on my 2 and my 4 and really sharpen my speed. I think my 8 will come in time. I don’t think there’s any reason to rush into it. Longterm that’s where I’ll be, but me and my coaches, we really wanted to develop my speed at the moment.”
Having parents who know the sport intimately has helped, he says. “Seeing all the things they’ve done and all their success, it really inspires me. They can guide me and give me advice. Just knowing that they were middle distance runners, I can see myself following that path too. It helps me keep things in perspective and see where I am.”
With a few more indoor races still on his schedule, he decided to cancel his publicized trip to race in the 600 at Millrose. “Honestly, we weren’t expecting I would run that fast in Chicago,” he explains. “We thought it would maybe take two tries to run that quick. But we decided it would be for the best because the travel these past few weeks has been so tiring mentally and physically.”
This summer he has his sights set on the USATF Juniors. “It would be more for the experience than anything, because I know there’s going to be a lot of great competition there,” he says. “It would be tough to get through, but if I did end up making the World team, that would be great.”
Longterm plans? “I want to do it for as long as I love it. Hopefully that means maybe the Olympics or something, but as long as I keep improving and having fun and don’t get tired of it, that’s really all that I want to get out of it.”