For Nick Willis, it was a season marred by injury; for Jenny Simpson, it was another year on the medal stand. Both, however, walked away from their victories in the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile Presented by Nissan on Sunday sorry to see it end.
Willis, 30, of New Zealand, became a two-time winner of the Fifth Avenue Mile when he crossed the line in 3:52.1, followed by 2011 winner Bernard Lagat of the United States in 3:52.9. Willis had an easier time of it over Lagat than he did in 2008, when he edged the two-time Olympic medalist at 1500 meters by barely a step.
Finishing third was Garrett Heath of the United States in 3:53.0.
“I’m just starting to come into form right now," said Willis, whose 2013 season began with eight consecutive wins before a fall in the Diamond League meeting in Shanghai on May 15 put him on the shelf with a calf injury. “It’s a shame there aren’t more races.”
Rehabbing the injury, combined with the birth of his first child, Lachlan, in early July, meant that Willis did not race again until early August, and the 2008 Olympic silver medalist at 1500 meters did not make it out of his semifinal in the IAAF World Championships.
A personal best at 3000 meters in Zagreb earlier this month, however, brought him to New York City with high hopes.
On Sunday, crosswinds kept the early pace slow, with no one willing to take control. The pace picked up when Willis’s training partner, Will Leer, took the lead just before the 800-meter mark—winning the halfway bonus of $1,000—before Willis found himself unexpectedly in the lead when a huge gust of wind shook things up with 500 meters remaining.
“I didn’t really want to [be out front],” he said, “but it was very comfortable coming into the end.”
Lagat’s first chance for revenge will come in a different milieu, when he meets Willis in the Speedgolf World Championships in late October.
In the women’s race, Simpson was comfortable all the way, leading from before the quarter-mile mark and breaking the tape in 4:19.3 for her second Fifth Avenue Mile victory in three years. It was the fourth-fastest women’s time in race history.
Simpson, 27, of the United States, is the 2011 IAAF World Champion at 1500 meters, and she made the podium again this summer when she earned the silver medal. But in her most recent race, at the Diamond League meeting in Brussels, she got caught in a pile-up and finished a disappointing 10th.
Before the Fifth Avenue Mile, she called her coach, Mark Wetmore. “I told him I was nervous about this because Brussels didn’t go well and I haven’t really raced at 1500 for a while, and he said ‘If you’re nervous, just run as far as you can.’ So that’s what I did. Sometimes the easiest instructions are the best instructions.”
The runner-up was Morgan Uceny of the United States, in 4:23.4, followed by Susan Kuijken of the Netherlands in 4:24.2.
Although Simpson said that she felt solid the entire way, she was not without concern.
“I kept hearing my hair brush on the number on my back and I kept thinking that was somebody coming,” she said.
Saying that she has no end-of-season fatigue and feels in great shape, Simpson said that it will be hard to shut down but that a larger purpose looms during her break: helping out flood-stricken friends back in the Boulder area.
“If I can use my two weeks off to go home and help them rip up carpet, that’s the one thing that’s going to make it really easy [to end the season],” she said.
Photo Credit: PhotoRun