The tale is as old as time; a young boot comes into the works, straight out of high school. They’re ready for it all, the rucks, the weather, the wear and tear on their body. They run, jump, lift to their squad leaders’ hearts content, and then suddenly, they’re at sick call for back pain, knee pain, and overall extreme fatigue at the ripe old age of 25.
In the military, it is extremely common to give your body to the cause until it gives out on you. The simple fix of “more rest” is a common phrase encouraged by fitness influencers, but can be quite unobtainable in the military. However, there is a great deal that can be learned from those who are a level above those who post their gym selfies on the timeline.
20 years of sub 4 minute miles
Nick Willis has been running for a long time. like, a long time. Like many athletes, Willis started early in life. He was granted an athletic scholarship for track and field in his college years, where he would also participate in the 2000 olympic games. a
At the games, Willis would win both the 800 m, and 1500 m- which would later become his race to run.
In 2005, Willis broke the French record for fastest 1500, a previous record that stood for 32 years. Willis would continue to participate in the next few Olympic games, running the 1500 and winning silver twice. Willis consistently ran sub four minute miles, doing so for the past 19 years. In his most recent attempt, Willis narrowly missed the break, running a new year’s day 1500 at 4.00.22. Though he hasn’t yet, Willis has the rest of the year to run a sub-4 mile. If he is successful, it will be the longest streak of sub four minute miles in track and field history.
So how has he done it?
Rest is important. “fitfluencers” may blow smoke up your ass, but they’re right about one thing. As odd as it may sound, some people may not know how to rest. Every run doesn’t need to be brutal. Every hike doesn’t need to be at your limit. Knowing the difference between a recovery run and a work out run may only be the difference of half a minute pace.
In the life of an Olympian, paying attention to the heart is important. Willis says that he uses it as a benchmark for his health. If his heart rate is too high, he takes it easier. With everyone in the military wearing a watch, knowing your heart rate can be quite accessible. Find out what your average is and document it. Not just at times of rest, but also when working out, and during your recovery.
If you can notice a time where it’s higher than usual to your averages, you may need to pump the brakes a bit. Thus, allowing your heart to regulate and allowing the body to rest a bit more even when putting in appropriate amounts of effort is vital to active recovery and bettering your performance.
Trying to last longer
Injuries are not completely avoidable. Even the best get bumps and bruises. With this, time off and vacation is important. It’s just like recovery. Even if you feel as though you need to work out after a day’s rest, if you begin tracking your efforts and workouts you will realize that one day may not be enough. Forcing yourself to rest and take it easy will promote better recovery to your body overall. Especially if you’re coming away from PT injured.
Sometimes, you won’t be able to avoid the injury, and sometimes you’ll have to push through pain. It isn’t optimal but such is the discipline of the military. A threshold must be assessed within yourself. How much pain can you take when you know that a little bit of icy hot and epsom salts will heal it versus a month in the hospital? Knowing the pain and being rational about it is far more important and smart compared to pushing through until you’re retired at 25 for joint pain.
Accepting your age
As your career goes on and you get older, it is normal to feel the anxiety of change. No one likes it. it’s very scary, and doesn’t really go away. That fear of change always lingers, but it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. it’s good to change, even if that change is sometimes on the downward slope.
Biggest challenge to run fast when you're older is all the other commitments and priorities in your day. Sneaking out for a daily run isn't so bad, but doing speedwork, weights, stretching…all those easily go to the wayside.
Being in the VNTC has kept me doing those things
— Nick Willis (@nickwillis) January 8, 2022
As you get older there will always be a stronger, more agile new recruit that comes after you. How you respond to their success is up to you, either stay bitter and end up ultimately hurting your aging body trying to stay at the same caliber of younger boots, or be proud and learn from them, or even better, to teach them the ropes to prevent their own injuries.
The way Willis has performed the way he has is with this secret: running for the love of running. He really loves it. Loving your strength, speed, endurance, and stamina can help you better your performance overall.
The more you can appreciate what you do and will be able to do with nurturing your body, the more likely you will feel better and better. Who knew that loving yourself can help you last longer? *awkwardly winks with both eyes*