He has been nicknamed the modern-day “Forrest Gump” and the “Beard to be Feared” on the Australian running scene.
And just like Tom Hanks’s iconic character Forrest in the acclaimed movie, the champion Rockhampton runner said he just felt like running from an early age.
“As a young fella I grew up on the paddocks running around after cattle just to fight off boredom,” he said.
“When I got older, 5 kilometres turned into 10km, turned into a half marathon, turned into a marathon, turned into ultra-marathons now, so I’m just running for days on end if possible.”
The 35-year-old’s longest distance covered in an ultra-marathon is 250km.
As for his beard, the chippie’s wizard-like whiskers measure 250 millimetres.
“I decided to grow a beard when I got back into the construction industry in 2015 after a bit of time off and I’ve just kept growing it,” he said.
“The wind grabs hold of it when I run. The faster runs, it sort of just parts in the middle and over the shoulders … and for the slower runs, it just sits there and bobs along and shows me which way to go.”
Williams said over the years, his beard had grown a cult following of its own.
“The ‘Beard to be Feared’ is a nickname I picked up at an ultra-marathon in Cairns … wherever I’m running along people yell out from their cars, ‘Run Forrest, run,'” he said.
“I think it’s a lot more famous than I am … people say, ‘Oh, I saw a bloke running’, and they go, ‘Did he have a beard?’ and ‘Yeah, yes, he did have a beard.'”
Running around the world
With work and family constraints, the proud father-of-one is not capable of “doing a Forrest Gump” by running around Australia, but he has virtually.
Two years ago, he completed a Run Down Under as part of the Run the World running app.
It took Williams 1,817 days to complete the epic 14,080km virtual journey across the country.
The bearded runner is currently making his way around Canada – clocking up the miles virtually – in his hometown of Rockhampton, in central Queensland.
“It’s a great motivator. Every run you do moves your little person around the map. I’m currently halfway around Canada,” he said.
Run The World founder and keen runner Travis Ireland said he launched the program in 2014 as a “hobby” and now had created more than 127,000km of maps of runs around the globe.
Mr Ireland said it provided a long-term goal to runners of all abilities like Mr Williams.
“Rhys is one of those runners that I came across just through his passion and not just passion for running but passion for community events,” Ireland said.
“I’ve seen him at marathons and got to touch the beard in real life and we’ve done a couple of events together.”
Williams said he was preparing to contest a 100km trail run in April and, as for the rest of 2024, any other running events that stroked his interest.
“And strokes the beard.