“I’m feeling great,” Willis told Race Results Weekly in a telephone interview. “I’m excited to be back at it again after sort of a troubling time for the second spring in a row.”
Willis, who had surgery after doctors discovered a cyst in his knee caused by a torn meniscus, has been working to get back to his Beijing form ever since getting the go-ahead to run. Meeting regularly with a strength and conditioning specialist, as well as a massage therapist, Willis has been working to strengthen his knee and all of the surrounding muscles–something he used to “slack” on, he said.
“It’s the first time I have been able to run over 40 minutes pain-free for the last three years,” he explained. “It’s been really exciting.”
Having only started track workouts this past Monday, Willis will use the Falmouth race to prepare for his trek toward defending his 1,500-meter title at the Commonwealth Games, which will take place in Delhi, India, in October.
“We are about a month ahead of where we would have hoped normally, based on how the workout went,” said Willis.
Describing Falmouth as sort of a “pre-season” meet, like the pre-season games going on in the National Football League right now, Willis will use the mile to bust off any rust and get back into the swing of racing.
But being healthy for the first time in three years is not the only thing Willis has to be happy about these days. Willis’ long-time coach, former University of Michigan head man Ron Warhurst, is starting up the Very Nice Track Club, a professional training group which will be based out of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The club, which got its name from a phrase coined by Warhurst and worn on the back of Michigan’s racing singlets in the past, hopes to join the ranks of America’s best training groups, like the Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, California. Joining Willis will be two-time NCAA national champion in the 1,500 meters, Lee Emmanuel of Great Britain, former University of Minnesota star Brandon Bethke, and Willis’s former Michigan teammate Nate Brannen of Canada. The group will work with new state-of-the-art facilities, complete with underwater treadmills, and will have the help of physical therapists and other medical personnel.
“It’s exciting for me,” laughed Willis. “For now I get a lot more of his attention rather than having to carry the bags for twenty college kids. A lot of athletes, when they get to my stage in their career –four or five years into their professional careers– they seem to have a question mark, wondering do they need to change coaches or change environments just so they don’t get stale, stuck around the same college stuff. But this is a great new opportunity for me: I get to stay with my coach I have worked so well with, and I don’t have to make a radical change in my living situation.”