Willis Returns To NYC For Double Duty

Nick Willis (far left) leading the 2013 Fifth Avenue Mile. Photo | Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly

He will race Saturday’s 5K and pace a friend in the marathon on Sunday.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

NEW YORK — Just last month, Nick Willis captured victory here on the streets of New York at the NYRR 5th Avenue Mile. Now, the New Zealand Olympian is back in the Big Apple, ready for Saturday’s NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5-K and Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon.

“It seems like not too long ago but it’s hard to imagine sprinting down the street in sub-60 second quarters right now,” Willis told Race Results Weekly. The 2008 Olympic silver medalist is part of a stellar Dash 5-K field that includes 12 Olympians and 16 men who have run sub-13:30 for 5000m. The race, held one day before the ING New York City Marathon, will take athletes from the United Nations to Central Park.

Willis is using Saturday’s race as both a test and competition. Next year, the University of Michigan alum hopes to qualify for both the Commonwealth Games 1500m and 5000m. This weekend’s contest will give him a better taste of the longer discipline.

“[The] 5-K is a bit more of a challenge for a miler like myself but it’ll be a good test to see how mentally tough I can be out there,” said Willis. “I need a couple of road 5-K’s to get my toughness up to par. It’s a very different mentality than a 1500m; the 1500m doesn’t hurt at all.”

Willis said he hopes to win, though knows it may be tough considering the field, made up of mostly longer distance specialists. Among those entered are Americans Evan Jager, Lopez Lomong, Chris Derrick, and Ben True.

“Hopefully [my training will] be enough to keep me in the mix with a half-mile to go and then it’s just a matter of grinding it out to the finish,” he said.

Willis has been a busy man this month. In addition to training, the 30-year-old competed at the 2013 World Speed Gold Championships last weekend. There he placed 13th of 25 with a score of 270.27 (calculated by combining strokes taken plus time).

“It was tough. My upper body especially, I was aching for a few days. It was a disappointment not coming through the second round as well as I would have liked,” he said. After the first round, Willis was in sixth (86 strokes). He shot a 97 on day two. “It’s something I would definitely have another go at.”

Willis also addressed what he’ll be doing on Marathon Sunday: pacing friend Piergiorgio Conti.

Four years ago, Willis traveled to Spoleto, a small town in Italy. After going to the local track for a workout, Willis met Conti and struck up a friendship with the competitive runner.

“From there we’ve become really good friends. He’s a 2:22 marathon runner from his younger days,” Willis said. On Sunday, Willis will run the first 18 to 20 miles, hoping to aid his friend to a top-3 finish in the masters category. Willis is looking forward to experiencing the marathon atmosphere more than anything.

“I’m so pumped for that,” he said. “Just to get up on the [Verrazano-Narrows] Bridge [at the start] and get up early and do that whole scene. I’ve been to watch quite a few marathons now over the years but you don’t really get to experience it.”

Though it’s far from his 1500m/mile specialty, Willis said he does hope to do a serious marathon sometime in the future.

“Whether it’s 2017 or 2015, I guess we’ll just wait and see,” he said. “Not next year for sure.”

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