Nick Willis Not Letting Flu, New Baby, ‘Old’ Age Stop His Millrose Dream, Kate Grace Says Bowerman Transition Has Been Tough

February 2, 2018

NEW YORK — It was media day in advance of Saturday’s 2018 NYRR Millrose Games (live on NBC 4-6 p.m. eastern, click here for ticketsdisclosure: Millrose was an advertising partner on We’ve got our highlights below.

The Millrose press conference featured Tori Bowie (60), Omar McLeod (60), Asafa Powell (60), Aries Merritt (hurdles), Sandi Morris (pole vault), Katerina Stefanidi (pole vault), Vashti Cunningham (high jump), Emma Coburn (3000), Kate Grace (mile), and Nick Willis (mile). Since the men’s Wanamaker mile is the final event of the meet, Robby Andrews, Josh Kerr, and Ben Blankenship were also on hand and we spoke to them. We start with the tidbits we learned on the mile.

You can read the Millrose preview here.

Men’s Wanamaker Mile

Nick Willis is aiming for Millrose title #1 & despite flu, birth of new child, said he’s never been as fast this time of year

Nick Willis has never won Millrose in five tries. He’s 34 years of age. He’s training for both the 5k and the 1500 this year. He had the flu and missed six days of training last week and his wife gave birth in the last month. Yet he’s the favorite in the Wanamaker Mile (50% of you picked him to win; Josh Kerr with 14% is the next highest pick).

How can he be the favorite? Two Olympic medals at 1500m show his pedigree, but he’s also not slowing down with age.

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Nick said this winter he did a 400m time trial (he told us off camera 50.4 was his time), and it was the fastest he’s ever run this time of year. This was despite him running more mileage than he’s ever run (100-105 miles a week on 6 days as he wants to try the 5000 at CGs). The only thing Nick attributed to his faster speed was that he doesn’t skimp on the weight room anymore. He goes in for two 40-minute sessions a week. He said when he was younger, he might skip a weight session for various reasons. Now he doesn’t skip it. Nick said he thinks a lot of the ancillary stuff outside of running is overrated, but it needs to be done consistently.

The question surrounding Nick is his race sharpness and how he’s recovered from the flu. Nick said he contemplated not racing, but did a 600m time trial and did well in it, so he decided to come and race in New York. Nick clearly wants to win Wanamaker as despite the flu and the new baby and focus on Commonwealth Games, he’s in New York.

Robby Andrews can’t explain his poor race in NY last weekend, says he’ll be happy with 3:54 this weekend

Robby Andrews didn’t break 1:50 last weekend. He, however, says his training has gone well. He did an altitude stint in Flagstaff and thought maybe it will take a race or two to bounce back. He wants to hit the World Indoor standard of 3:55.00 this weekend and with the rabbits planning on going 57, 1:56 that should be in the cards if the runners follow the pace.

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Josh Kerr is not just on a sightseeing trip to NY

The University of New Mexico’s Josh Kerr is one of four prominent 20-year-olds at Millrose (Alexa Efraimson in the mile, Noah Lyles in the 60, Vashti Cunningham in the high jump), but the NCAA champ isn’t here just to sightsee in his first trip to New York. He said it was beautiful flying over Manhattan last night (we can attest to that ourselves), but he’s got business to do on Saturday and is ready for the challenge to take to on the pros. Somehow, he wasn’t selected for the Scottish Commonwealth Games team, so his focus is on the NCAA season and then later trying to make the British team for the European Champs.

Ben Blankenship talks about his crazy mile vs Edward Cheserek

Last weekend Ben Blankenship ran the mile in New Mexico and ran a respectable 4:01.16 at altitude. Only problem was Edward Cheserek was also in the race and ran 3:54.73. Ben said he and Edward had a plan to go out in 2:02 together and race from there, but Ches went out faster and both of them were left to run alone.

Women’s Wanamaker Mile

Kate Grace is adjusting to the Bowerman Track Club and getting her butt kicked at altitude in Colorado Springs

Kate Grace made the Olympic 800m final in 2016, and made the US team at 1500m last year. But she wanted more and switched to Jerry Schumacher’s Bowerman Track Club training group this year.

She said the transition hasn’t been easy, but that’s what she wanted.

“It’s been tough. It’s been definitely a transition. It’s why I joined the team, because I wanted to push myself. They’re (the workouts) going better now, the first few months were difficult,” she said, noting she’d try to hang with Shalane Flanagan on a fartlek but not make it very far.

Grace and teammate Colleen Quigley, who also is in the Wanamaker Mile, have both been training in Colorado Springs. It was the first time the Bowerman Track Club went there for altitude training. They lived at Woodland Park (8,500 feet), did track workouts at the Air Force Academy (7,000 feet), and had access to all the rehab and cross-training facilities of the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs (6,o00 feet, 30 minutes from Woodland Park).

Grace was third in her first Wanamaker Mile, second in her second one, and is hoping for the top spot this time around. However, she said she still feels more comfortable in the 800.

“I’m more comfortable in the 800 but that’s why I love the mile and 15(00), because it’s more a challenge for me.”

Colleen Quigley is back healthy after spending a lot of time cross training

Colleen Quigley spent a lot of time in the pool at the end of 2017. After the track season, she took a break and then started running again, but had foot pain, and realized she had plantar and some bone damage to her foot. She regularly swims to cross-train (2-3 times a week), but as a result of this injury all she could do was swim. So into the pool she went. (She has a nice blog post on chronicling this.)

Quigley is healthy now and running the mile at Millrose. On first glance you might think she’s totally outmatched in a shorter distance event (she pointed out her 3000m flat PR is almost identical to her steeple PR), but Quigley was second last year at USA indoors in the mile and ran 4:24 for the mile.

Other Events

Women’s 3000m: Emma Coburn talks about her toughest workout

Coburn mainly was asked what it’s like being the world champion. It’s something she’s still getting used to, but she knows she’s not the world champion in the indoor 3000m, so she’ll be challenged on Saturday. She also was asked her toughest workout and said it’s 1000s over barriers.

Vashti Cunningham is rooting big time for the Eagles

20-year-old Vashti Cunningham already was the world indoor champion two years ago. This year she’s hoping to defend her title next month in Birmingham, England, but first she has her first Millrose on Saturday and the Super Bowl on Sunday. Her father’s (Randall Cunningham) beloved Eagles are playing against the Patriots, the team of her uncle, Sam. Both Sam and Randall are in their teams’ hall of fame, but the NFL didn’t select them to be a part of the official Super Bowl festivities. Randall said he was in Minnesota earlier in the week and will fly back for the game. Vashti wants everyone to root for the Eagles on Sunday. (For a NY Daily News article on Randall and his brother and the Super Bowl, click here).

Asafa Powell is trying to win Millrose 13 years apart, Omar McLeod says he never knew how technical the flat races are

Asafa Powell is 35 and has run sub-10 for the 100 meters 97 times in his life. No doubt a big incentive this year is to make it 100 times. But first he’ll try to win his second Millrose title. He won it 13 years ago when Millrose was still at Madison Square Garden. If he can win, he will break the 12-year record Mary Decker had between Millrose wins.

The 60 is stacked and Powell said he didn’t realize that Omar McLeod was racing it. He laughed and said when he told people Omar was going to win his race, he assumed Omar was running the hurdles, not the 60.

Omar said he never appreciated how technical the flat races are. He just sort of assumed you just started and then ran. He’s appreciating the technical aspect of the flat races as he does more of them in this off year.

Tori Bowie, the pyschologist, is working on her start and ready for more in 2018

Tori Bowie was asked what she’d be doing if she wasn’t running and she said maybe she’d be a psychologist. No doubt she’s very good at dealing with the mental pressure of the short sprints.

One of her weaknesses is her start and that’s one reason she’s running the 60: to try to improve her start.

Aries Merritt is feeling healthy

Aries Merritt is the Olympic champ (2012) and world record holder in the 110 hurdles. He also had a kidney transplant in 2015. He said he’s feeling great and ready for 2018.

Katerina Stefanidi and Sandi Morris continue their rivalry

Sandi Morris and Katerina Stefanidi have a nice rivalry but Stefanidi, who was undefeated outdoors last year, usually comes out on top. Morris said she needs to get more first-height clearances to compete with Stefanidi.

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