Nick Willis (front) has set an example that may never be beaten.

What can we learn from a guy who has run sub-four-minute miles for 20 years straight? A lot. Nick Willis, a five-time Olympian for New Zealand (1,500-meters) who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has set an example that may never be beaten. So what components must be present to achieve such a feat?

Discipline and Flexibility. Willis,38, who ran his 20th straight sub-4 at the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games in New York City this past January, has had remarkable drive. He’s not afraid to make adjustments in his training routine, either. In order to simplify his running and how it fits into his life, he shifted from “two-a-day” workouts to once a day, cutting out some of what he felt were “junk” miles. Additionally, he always gets around 10 hours of sleep, which is huge for recovery. Currently, his training involves a fair amount of longer runs, ranging from 12-18 miles at a brisk pace. He also throws in hill sprints and 100-meter sprints to keep his leg turnover speedy. And finally, Willis is a big believer in plyometric drills, which he says only take five minutes to do, and are well worth the effort.

Natural Speed. No one can break four minutes in the mile—let alone do it for 20 years in a row—without a good genetic dose of natural speed. The dude has a 3:29.66 PR in the 1,500, and that’s movin’. His 3:49.83 mile best isn’t too shabby either.

Train with fast partners. Interestingly, Willis trains with 18-year-old Hobbs Kessler, the young phenom who broke the national indoor high school record in the mile, running 3:57.66 last year at the third American Track League (ATL) meet in Fayetteville, AR. At the time, Kessler, then 17, attributed much of his success to Willis. Now the favor is being returned. At the Wanamaker Mile, Willis stuck right behind Kessler, all the way to the finish line, where he just ducked under the mark with a 3:59.71.

Resilience. Willis is not a superman. Like many runners, he’s had to weather his share of injuries. Since his days as a high school runner in New Zealand, Willis has had a few, including surgery on his hip as well as a number of stress fractures over the years. Still, he never lost the grit or perseverance that allowed him to run sub-4 even during years when he had to overcome injuries.

Gratitude. Willis has been very open about his love for the sport. For many elite runners, it’s all or nothing. But Willis has said that what he enjoys most is not the racing or training, but simply getting out there and running new trails with friends. More than anything else, he credits that outlook for his success.

Upcoming races: Saturday, March 26 at 8:00 a.m., the Chapa 5K at Chapa Middle School, Kyle. Sunday, March 27 at 8:00 a.m., the Head for the Cure 5K at the Domain, Austin.