The plan had been to pace his friend to the 18-mile mark of the ING New York City Marathon and drop out at a spot from which he could easily jog back to his hotel.
“But I was chafing too badly, so I jumped into a cab,” said Nick Willis, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist at 1500 meters, in a telephone interview today. “I told the driver, ‘I have 10 dollars; can you get me back to the Hilton?’ He said, ‘No worries.’”
It was a weekend of “no worries” for the New Zealander, who the day before the marathon won the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K in 13:46 in front of his wife, Sierra; his four-month-old son, Lachlan; and a group of friends from Spoleto, Italy.
On Sunday, Willis paced one of those friends, 43-year-old Piergiorgio Conti, to a 2:33:17 finish.
Willis met Conti, who leads a large running club, several years ago when he was in town and looking for a place to train. With Conti hoping to run under 2:30 in NYC and Willis there for the 5K, the two paired up—with a few other guys latching on for the ride. A photo of Willis leading a pack of runners into the wind over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge with a security helicopter hovering in the near background made page 1 of last Monday’s New York Times.
“I probably ran a little too fast at first,” said Willis, still amped up from the 5K victory. “I was guilty of maybe pushing it a bit.” Willis took Conti through 5K in 17:19, which equates to a finishing time of about 2:26.
They went through 18 miles in about 1:41:20, Willis tweeted, adding: “So much fun pumping the crowd up to cheer on the pack I was helping out.”
If Conti fell off the pace a bit in the late going, it might be in part because he ran the TCS Amsterdam Marathon on October 19 in 2:35:37. It was meant as a training run, as he accompanied some runners from his Spoleto group, but the time was only 2:20 slower than his finish in NYC.
Next up for Willis, who also won the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile Presented by Nissan in September, is the prestigious and hugely popular Chiba Ekiden in Japan on November 23, where he will lead the New Zealand squad. He is scheduled to run a 5K leg of the 26.2-mile relay.
Beyond that, he said, after NYC he can see himself attempting a full marathon after the 2016 Olympics.
“Oh, most definitely it gave me a glimmer of wanting to do a proper one,” Willis said.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg