"This Time, the Stakes Are High": Nick Willis to Race for His First Wanamaker Mile Title in Six Attempts

"This Time, the Stakes Are High": Nick Willis to Race for His First Wanamaker Mile Title in Six Attempts

With 400 meters to go, Nick Willis had the lead in the 2016 NYRR Wanamaker Mile.

With 400 meters to go, Nick Willis had the lead in the 2016 NYRR Wanamaker Mile.

On February 3, 2018, two-time Olympic medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand will race the NYRR Wanamaker Mile, the signature event of the NYRR Millrose Games. With less than a week to go before he's at the starting line, Nick shares his thoughts on why winning this year's race is so important to him. 


Sure, I’m biased.

But the mile is one of the great races. 

It’s the perfect marriage of speed and endurance, agility and power, tactics and excitement—all packed into about four minutes. 

New York City has embraced this event like no other with the NYRR Wanamaker Mile—part of the NYRR Millrose Games—to kick off the year, and the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile to end the summer season.

As a wide-eyed 17-year-old kid from New Zealand, I not only got my first taste of running in the Big Apple, but also experienced the infamous banked boards of an indoor track. I had been invited to compete at the famous Armory track with the hopes I might break the magical four-minute barrier at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships.

The sub-four didn’t happen, but the thrill of running indoors with the crowd right on top of me got me hooked.

I wanted more.

Little did I know the next 17 years would give me exactly that.

At the ripe age of 34—the grays are getting far too numerous to count, and college kids at the track have started calling me “Sir”—I’m returning once again to the Armory for my 20th race in New York City. It’s really hard to believe that I’ve raced so many times in one city, but New York truly has become a home away from home during my running career.

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This time, the stakes are high. 

I’ve had podium finishes all five times I’ve raced in the indoor mile that matters—the prestigious NYRR Wanamaker Mile—but I did not come away with the victor’s trophy in any of them.

This could very well be my last chance. (Though, I probably said that at 32).

The 111-year-old Millrose Games epitomize indoor track, and as the finale of the program, we milers have the great privilege of bringing this event to a crescendo.

Unfortunately (for me), my role thus far has been the (oh-so-close) challenger. Bernard Lagat beat me in 2008 and 2009, and then Will Leer outgunned me in the final straight while irritatingly pulling out victory finger pistols over the finish line in 2014. Then came the two epic battles with now-Olympic-1500-meter-champion Matthew Centrowitz. In 2015, I tried to attack him on the last lap and got out-leaned by 0.11. Then in 2016, I took the lead with 400 meters to go, only to have him surprise me at the 200-meter bell, once again holding me off at the line (he ran 3.50 to my 3.51).

At the 2015 NYRR Wanamaker Mile, Willis was out-leaned by 0.11.

Matthew Centrowitz took first at the 2016 NYRR Wanamaker Mile; Willis was runner-up.

Matthew Centrowitz took first at the 2016 NYRR Wanamaker Mile; Willis was runner-up.

Indoor racing is tough—really tough. Your room for tactical errors is much slimmer on the tight 200-meter track, and because it is the start of the season, you have no idea what sort of racing shape you’re really in. It’s very hard to go into the race with a solid plan.

As usual, I don’t really know how I’m going to go next weekend. I’ve got a great background behind me, but there are a slew of hungry and talented young milers ready to establish themselves as the new king of the boards.

But I want to get crowned, too.

It’s finally my time.


For the past 15 months, Nick and his wife, Sierra, have been running six-week online boot camps, training over 550 runners of all abilities and experience levels to run their best mile. Draw upon their vast knowledge and experience by registering for a boot camp at milermethod.com.

The NYRR Millrose Games will be broadcast live nationally on NBC from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET as part of the USATF Championship Series. Fans can also catch the excitement on the live webcast from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET on USATF.tv.

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