Double Olympic medallist Nick Willis content as he kicks off season with victory
After nearly eight months since he last raced in anger, Nick Willis wasn't expecting the world when he stuck his toe on the start-line for the first time since the Rio Olympic 1500m final.
So, after striding to his third victory in the Boston street mile in 4min 13.2sec, the New Zealander had to admit to satisfaction, despite the modest time and it being the toughest of his hat-trick of race wins.
The two-time Olympic 1500m medallist from Wellington used his renowned kick on the last lap to just pull clear of US indoor mile runnerup Cristian Soratos (4:13.5) and American compatriot Will Leer (4:13.7) to nudge the tape first.
"It's a really good way to start the 2017 campaign," said Willis afterwards. "It's been [just under] eight months since I've raced so I was very nervous. It was just foreign going through the warmup protocol and all that.
"I didn't feel as easy as I have when I've won this before. The turnover was there, but holding the speed I was struggling a little bit the last 50. I don't have that speed endurance [yet] but I'm not too worried."
Willis, who turns 34 on April 25, said one of the longest non-competitive spells of his time in the sport had been all about the bigger picture of a career he wants to take through to the 2020 Olympics, and maybe even further.
That was why, when he returned home for his traditional summer back in New Zealand, he resisted the urge to get back on the track and blast out the cobwebs from his historic achievement in Rio when he won bronze to become the first Kiwi to win multiple medals over the blue riband distance.
Boston mile invitational 2-time Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis wins it - here's the final stretch pic.twitter.com/ATZV2z7Mze— Michele Steele (@ESPNMichele) April 15, 2017
Instead, he gave mind and body the chance to fully recover from an important 2016 campaign.
"I just really felt if I wanted to go through to Tokyo or beyond, I needed to let my mind and my body fully recharge and just not have to go through the pressures of having to diet before races and all that stuff," Willis told media on the finish-line.
"I still trained, I just didn't really want to be chasing the clock so much."
Willis admitted to some rustiness on his return, but felt it was nothing to be concerned about.
"You always want to be fitter than what you are. It didn't feel as easy as the last few times I've won. But the purpose of my break wasn't to help me now, it's more to help me in 2019 and 2020. I'm 34 in a couple of weeks so I've got to pick and choose my battles a little more wisely."
The Michigan-based athlete said it had not been difficult to switch back into competition mode after a prolonged training period.
"I just love running, going up on the trails overlooking lakes and mountains and the forest. It's what I'll be doing the rest of my life anyway. and once you are fit enough from doing that, it doesn't take much to fine-tune that into track speed."
Now it's all about stepping up preparations for the ultimate goal for 2017, August's world championships in London.
He will run the Twin Cities Mile in Minneapolis on May 11, then hit the track soon after as he looks to knock off his world champs 1500m qualifying time at one of a number of meets on the US's East Coast.
"The main thing is getting ready for London. I've still got four months, so there's plenty of time," he added.