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2 x Olympian Nick Willis on What it Takes to Run a Sub-4 Mile for 19 Years Straight

Unlike many other sports, running can be enjoyed over the course of a lifetime. Two-time Olympic medalist Nick Willis exemplifies the longevity that comes with a balanced mental and physical outlook.

Longevity in any sport requires persistence, a healthy balance between training hard and recovery, and a little luck. Knowing when to push and when to back off can be something of an art form for runners, but figuring out that delicate equilibrium is the key to a long and productive running career.

This week’s guest on the podcast exemplifies longevity not only in the competitive world of elite running, but even more so in an event that typically favors young, powerful runners.

Nick Willis is the 2008 Olympic silver medalist and the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in the 1500m. Nick’s PR of 3:29 established him as one of the fastest 1500m runners in history.

In addition to his Olympic medals, Nick holds a unique record of being the most consistent miler in history. For the past 19 consecutive years, he has run a sub-4 minute mile. On December 31st, he’ll be attempting his 20th year of sub-4 miles at the Armory in New York City. TrackSmith is hosting this gala event which will combine racing and traditional New Years’ Eve celebrations, along with plenty of champagne.

Nick Willis and Longevity in the Sport

Although Nick has struggled with more than his share of injuries over the years, his outlook has stayed positive and his hunger to make progress and regain fitness has never waned. Taking breaks due to injury is less than ideal, but in Nick’s case, it may have had the unexpected benefit of preventing burnout and contributing to his longevity in the sport.

Nick maintains a healthy sense of humor and perspective on running. He credits his training group with keeping him grounded and encouraging him to push hard. Along with conventional training, games of pickup basketball are a highlight of the week and allow him to balance serious workouts with a fun outlet.

In the podcast, we discuss many of the factors that have contributed to Nick’s success, including:

  • The importance of who you surround yourself with 
  • Putting in the focused work when it counts
  • Using less conventional cross-training as an outlet
  • Learning to respect your body and know what it can and cannot do, especially as you get older
  • A willingness to be patient and show up when it matters
  • Using strength as a primary resource when it comes to healing

Enjoy my discussion with Nick, and get ready to cheer him on New Year’s Eve!

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