Nick Willis knows only too well his body doesn't always do what his mind wants it to but it responded well last night when winning the mile at the Cooks Classic in Wanganui.

Willis stopped the clock at three minutes 58.09 seconds, making it the 59th sub-four minute mile since Peter Snell made history on the same track 51 years ago.

Wanganui's Lucy Van Dalen, competing in her first race in New Zealand since last year's Olympics, didn't disappoint the big local crowd in the women's mile. She hit the lead from the gun and ran away from the field to win by more than seven seconds.

Willis stuck to the heels of national 800m champion and world junior representative Brad Mathas, who set a cracking pace before dropping out at the 800m mark. Willis then took the lead for the final two laps and left his rivals in his wake. Australian Matthew Coloe followed Willis for as long as he could, before drifting off the pace and finishing second in 4:07.43 and Jono Jackson chased down tiring English athlete Sam Petty for third to finish in 4:14.17.


Willis said he was happy with his time leading into the 3000m event at the Capital Classic in Wellington on Friday.

"That was a good run at this time of the season for me,'' the Beijing silver medallist said. "I'm not normally this sharp at this time of the year, so I had to trick my body into thinking it was track-season time.

"After the Capital Classic, I've got qualifying for the world champs in August in Sydney on March 9, so this was a good hit-out.

"It was a perfect venue [at Cooks Gardens] and an ideal night for running. The crowd was great, too.''

Van Dalen was elated after clocking 4:36.07 on her home track. She took command of her race from the outset, gradually distancing her rivals and, by the bell, she had half the home straight between her and the rest of the field.

Van Dalen, who was hoping to go under four minutes 40 seconds, finished ahead of a fast-finishing Camille Buscomb from Hamilton (4:43.86) and Cantabrian Rosa Flanagan (4:44.55).

"I'm stoked with my time,'' Van Dalen said as she prepares for the New Zealand championships in a few weeks. "It didn't particularly bother me taking a big lead. I'm used to being out in front, so I felt quite comfortable and with no wind it was a perfect night to race.''