By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
June 16, 2016
BOSTON — For Nick Willis and Ajee’ Wilson, Friday’s adidas Boost Boston Games will represent two unique opportunities. Willis, an experienced veteran with a 2008 Olympic silver medal to his name, will use tomorrow night’s 1500m as a simulation for what the Olympic final will be like later this summer in Rio de Janeiro. Wilson, on the other hand, is using the 800m as a pure sharpener, hoping to round into better form ahead of next month’s U.S. Olympic Trials.
No matter the strategy, Willis and Wilson want to take the next step towards Olympic glory later this summer. Put succinctly, Wilson said it best: “It’s just about getting ready.”
Having raced at three Olympic Games and now preparing for his fourth, Willis is well aware what he needs to do leading into an Olympiad. Working with longtime coach Ron Warhurst, the 33-year-old has tailored his schedule this year to focus on multiple peaks: he has raced frequently over the last two months (pacing some fellow New Zealanders to PB’s and Olympic standards) all the while maintaining a steady dose of hard training. It all is part of the master plan.
“Using some pace making races, using some early season races has allowed me to still keep my feet in the game, going through the process of callrooms, hearing the gun go off, warm-ups and cool-downs, all of that process to get your mental game in it but not really sacrificing a lot of the training which is most important,” Willis told Race Results Weekly, speaking inside Boston Marathon adidas RunBase. “I think as I’ve been in the sport longer and longer and longer, you become more trusting in your ability and fitness… I’m less reliant on racing as much now.”
Training recently at home in Ann Arbor, Mich., Willis says he has run 90-plus minutes nearly every day for the last week or so, “hammering 5:30 to 5:45 pace” day after day. He has purposely not tapered for tomorrow evening’s 1500m in nearby Somerville.
Toeing the line, Willis knows he will feel his legs ache even before the starter’s pistol fires, and that’s the goal: he’s trying to mimic the burn that comes after multiple rounds of the 1500m at a global championships. He wants to teach his brain to tune out the fatigue and survive while closing strong on tired legs.
“It’s to get over the mindset of being expected to have your legs perfect as you normally do when you’re getting ready for a Grand Prix race,” he said. “How I run is least important [time-wise]. It’s more of a mentality when you’re not used to your legs ever being tired and when you get to the Olympic final and when you’re feeling tired before, that’s when you have an opportunity for doubts to start creeping in and you’re not as confident in how it’s going to go.”
Willis was adamant that he is here to compete, even if tired. Among those he’s up against are Robby Andrews, Ben True, Lee Emanuel, and his sometime training partner Will Leer. He is the favorite with a 3:29.66 1500m lifetime best.
While Willis is using the meet as a study session, the younger Wilson is looking at it as a rust buster. Having run an outdoor season’s best of 2:00.81 thus far, the 22-year-old is eager to get back to the form of 2014 and 2015, when she routinely clocked times in the 1:58 range.
“Right now I think I’m in really great shape,” she said. “I’m excited to see what I can do, hoping to get my legs back tomorrow.”
Wilson told reporters that she started her season later this year than last, knowing there would be an extended build-up and peak if she was to qualify for her first Olympic Games. Wilson knows far too well, though, that anything and everything can happen on the track, and isn’t one to count her chickens before they hatch. In 2015 at the USA Indoor Championships 600m, Wilson got tripped and wound up a last. Then at last year’s USA Outdoor Championships she barely qualified for the World Championships after losing a shoe mid-race.
Sticking to what has worked, Wilson is confident that faster times will come very soon. Training under longtime coach Derek Thompson, she has faith in the work put in. Wilson is not concerned that nine American woman have run faster than her so far this year.
“I wouldn’t say it bothers me, if anything it’s more of a confidence booster that we’re all around the same pace. Even though I had a rough couple of first starting off races, I’m still in the mix and it will take whoever is the most ready that day,” she said. “If anything, I just want to do this for my coach, my family, my friends. It’s a really big deal to make an Olympic team, so I’m excited and hopefully come July 4 I can say that I did do that.”
When asked if she’s concerned at all about the global status of the 800m — including the pure dominance Caster Semenya has displayed thus far– Wilson confirmed that the only thing she’s worried about is finishing in the top three at the U.S. 800m final.
“They are running really fast. My coach always tells me that the only thing we can do is train as fast as they are running and that’s what I have to train to run. That’s all that we are doing,” she said. “Focusing on running fast and focusing on that 1:56,1:57 range because that’s what it’s going to take to medal.
“I don’t really worry about a lot of what’s going on, obviously you can’t ignore stuff that’s happening right now, but at the end of the day I have to get there first. First and foremost my goal is to make the U.S. team, so it doesn’t make sense to focus on something right now that I may not be able to have if I don’t make this team.”
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In other news from today’s adidas Boost Boston Games press conference, two-time Olympic gold medalist Meseret Defar said she is dealing with a calf injury, though is still hoping to run at least 15:24.00 over 5000m. Seeking an Olympic qualifying time, the 32-year-old mother has her eyes set on Rio de Janeiro.
“Boston is my best place to run because I have run too many times here indoors,” she said with a smile. Defar has a strong history of competing in Boston, having achieved success indoors at the Reggie Lewis Center. This will be her first outdoor competition in the Bay State.
“For tomorrow, I don’t know my shape right now because I have an injury in my calf muscles and I don’t have enough time to train very well, but I do not know what will happen tomorrow,” she said. “I will try my best.”
The adidas Boost Boston Games will be a two-day meet, with distance events taking center stage tomorrow in Somerville. Race Results Weekly will provide exclusive coverage from the event.