Nathan Williams looked like the “bubble boy” as his legs pumped rhythmically inside a clear, plastic chamber.
He wasn’t just spinning his wheel.
The rail-thin 15-year-old focused as he pedaled his prone road bike while listening to his iPod to divert attention from grueling work in a high-altitude training chamber that simulated an elevation of 9,000 feet.
His primary focus was on training, little, if any, chit-chat and no wasted time.
Change gears. Pedal hard. Eyes ahead. Change gears. Pedal harder.
For Williams — his 6-foot, 128-pound frame barely wider than the one he straddled — life is about cycling, running, cycling, running. Coasting is not in his vocabulary.
His mid-August regimen packaged a program at a local training center with three mornings of running with his Centennial High School cross country teammates from 6 to 8.
A year ago, Williams became the first freshman in the state to win a regional cross country title. He finished second at the state meet, earned all-state honors and was selected as Review-Journal cross country athlete of the year.
Last season marked his first foray in competitive running.
“Within a few days we figured out he was for real and had a lot of ability,” said Mike McGuire, Centennial’s second-year cross country coach. “He was so far ahead of our more established runners.”
Williams returns this season to anchor a young Bulldogs team.
“He leads by example,” McGuire said. “He does the best he can in every workout, and that helps us as a team.”
Pounding the pavement, however, is not fast enough for Williams.
He started cycling competitively early in 2006 after watching the Tour de France.
“I like the speed and the challenge,” Williams said. “It’s fun to race up hills, but I like to go fast too.”
As a rider for the McGhie’s Coronado Investments team, Williams rides an ultra-lightweight Cannondale bike worth around $7,400.
The nationally ranked and reigning state cycling champion for his 15-16 age group, Williams has a goal of racing for a team based in Massachusetts within a couple of years, which could lead to riding competitively in Europe.
The simulated high-altitude training helped Williams finish third in a 53-mile ride at 10,000 feet in Brian Head, Utah, on Aug. 18.
His next bike race is the Mount Charleston Hill Climb on Saturday, a 17.5-mile ride from 3,300 feet to 8,900. It will be his last major event on two wheels before settling into the running season.
Williams has spent a few days each week over the summer training in a high-altitude chamber.
“It definitely helps,” he said. “I’ll start running more in (the chamber). Running helps cycling more than cycling helps running.”
Said McGuire: “(Cycling) doesn’t seem to have hindered his running. They seem to complement each other.”
Williams’ father, Dan, said no encouraging is needed to “make him go in there and spend an hour and half training each day. These are choices he’s made. He enjoys these sports; it’s his commitment.”
Williams has learned his cycling commitment is more dangerous than running.
He was riding a $2,700 bike in a group near Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area on June 9 when they came upon a car going about 10 mph, he said. That’s not what you want to see when you’re going about 40 mph.
As riders peeled off to avoid the car, Williams went down, and then Trenna Adams, a McGhie’s Coronado Investments teammate, ran into him.
She crashed and suffered a broken jaw, three broken ribs and a fractured vertebra. Williams sustained severe road rash, which his father said was equivalent to second-degree burns.
His bike was destroyed, as was his $200 helmet.
After a week of daily out-patient treatments at a local burn center, Williams rode about 40 miles a day during a five-day USA Cycling development camp in Flagstaff, Ariz.Preps Central