BOSTON (14-Apr) -- A chilly wind blew through Back Bay here this morning, but did little to deter Nick Willis and Brenda Martinez from winning their first B.A.A. Invitational Miles with powerful kick finishes. Their times were modest, 4:03.3 and 4:51.4, respectively, but their raw speed into a headwind on the short homestretch on Boylston Street showed that both possess very good early-season fitness.
"What can you do?" lamented second place Ross Murray of Great Britain who could not stop Willis from blowing by him in the third of three laps.
Murray stayed tucked behind first-lap leader Ben Bruce, before putting a three-second gap on the field by the end of the second 500-meter circuit. He knew that he needed to put a solid cushion between him and Willis before the final sprint.
"I was thinking, this isn't over," Murray recalled after the second lap. "He's going to come back at me and, boom, off he goes."
Willis, the Olympic 1500m silver medalist from 2008, had checked out the course the day before and knew that the final sprint would begin on Exeter Street before the athletes turn left on Boylston Street and where they can actually see the finish line.
"I scanned the course before the race happened," Willis told reporters. "So, I've got to go with 300 to go, and that was around somewhere on Newbury Street and that worked out perfectly. He beamed: "It's huge for my confidence. I mean, I ran 3:34 five weeks ago so, obviously, I knew my body was in good shape."
Murray, who represented Britain in the London Olympics, finished a distant second in 4:07.8, and South African Peter Van Der Westhuizen finished third in 4:10-flat. Early leader Bruce finished sixth.
Martinez, who won last September's Fifth Avenue Mile in New York City, refused to lead, and stayed tucked in the pack of six women through the first two laps. Gabe Anderson, the fourth place finisher from last summer's USA Olympic Trials at 1500m, later thought that she should have pushed the pace.
"I should have just taken it," Anderson lamented. "It's so hard. It's so hard to know, especially with the wind."
Like Willis, Martinez waited for the final circuit to make on big and decisive move. She, Anderson and reigning USA road mile champion Heather Kampf were close together on Exeter Street, but Martinez's final surge put her over the finish line with a clear one-second gap. She ran 4:51.4 to Anderson's 4:52.7. Kampf got third in 4:53.5.
"I think it was the perfect set-up," Martinez said of both the three-lap course and how the race played out. "I've been working a lot more strength, more than I can handle. I was really pushed this season. I'm really grateful for coach (Joe) Vigil."
Both winners collected $3000 in prize money, with $2000 going to second place and $1000 to third.
Results were lopsided in the invitational high school miles where entry is limited to athletes who live in the eight towns through which the Boston Marathon passes. The girls race came down to a frantic final sprint between Melissa Lodge of Hopkinton and Sarah Lagan of Natick. Lodge just edged Lagan at the tape, but both girls were given the same time: 5:23.5.
"I never thought I would be in a race that came down to a lean at the end," marveled Lagan.
In the boy's contest, Gabe Montague of Newton was the nominal leader after the first lap, then widened that lead to about three meters after the second. Montague got a credible challenge from Tim Bolick in the final 100 meters, but held off his rival from Hopkinton to win in 4:34.1 to Bolick's 4:34.4.
"It was a great race and I had a lot of fun running it," a breathless Montague told reporters.
PHOTO: Nick Willis wins the 2013 B.A.A. Invitational Mile in 4:03.3 (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)