Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Helping Roberta Rock

The first time I ran with Roberta Vilneff was last spring. I was planning a fairly hard tempo run and it was a warm day. Roberta showed up along with a couple of familiar faces. She looked to be in good shape but seemed to be a lot older than the others in the group. I told everyone about my plans and wondered whether Roberta would be able to keep up. I later found out that she was 60 years old.

In fact, Roberta held her own that day. After that, I started looking her up in race results. She was easily winning her age group, and even getting overall wins for women. This fall, she put up times in the low 22's for a 5K. It wasn't long ago that I couldn't do that myself. Now I'm quite a bit faster than that, but I've been actively training and doing speed work for the past several years. Roberta tells me that she's done practically no speed work.

After one particularly good showing, Richard Hefner told Roberta on Facebook that she was extremely close to the North Carolina record for her age group. Her PR (on a net-downhill course) is 21:38, and the state record is 21:22. All this with no speed work!

So I suggested that I could help her reach her goal. We'd do speed work together once a week, then pick a couple flat, certified courses to try for the record this spring. Since a 21:22 is a fairly easy 5K pace for me, I can run a nice steady record-breaking pace, and all Roberta will have to do is keep up.

So far we've met three times for track work, and Roberta has improved each time. She's not only fast for a 60-year-old, she's fast for *any* age. This week we're going to do a dry run attempt at the record at the Cupid's Cup 5K, which has a reputation for being a fast, fair course. Unfortunately it's not a certified course, so if she breaks the record there it won't count.

Yesterday we did a mini-taper workout, just 2*800, 2*400, and 2*200, but Roberta was flying on each of the intervals, hitting the 800s at a 6:48 mile pace, the 400s at a 6:19 pace, and the 200s at a blistering 5:45 pace. All she needs to break the record is a 6:52 pace, so I think she can do it.

Just to give you a sense of the level at which she is competing, she easily rates as an All-American in her age group for the 5000 meter distance. All that is necessary is a 26:00 time, and she has run a 21:38 on a non-certified course and in the low 22s on certified courses. Compare that to my best 5K: 18:03, still over a minute short of the 16:45 I'd need to be an All-American in my age group. Roberta's best times actually qualify for All-American status in the 50-54 age group!

I'm really looking forward to Saturday's race with Roberta. If she's close to the record, we'll have to find a certified course so she can go for it for real.

Details of my own workout this morning are below.

Today I did an 8*800 set of intervals. I wasn't feeling great so I wasn't sure if I'd make my target pace of 6:00 per mile, 3:00 or better per interval. Even after the first three intervals, I really didn't feel like I was going to make it. Somehow I kept it under 3:00 for each rep: 2:57, 2:57, 2:55, 2:56, 2:54, 2:57, 2:57, 2:57. Maybe I still have a shot at a 1:25 in Myrtle Beach. At any rate, this may have given me the confidence to at least try for it. Below is the Garmin record of the workout.


  1. Yay for Roberta! I've been excited about her running since I met her a couple years ago and she's steadily improved since then. I definitely think there are some state records in her future and maybe even bigger things than that! Both she and I are going down to run the 15k USATF National Championship next month at the Gate River Run in Jacksonville, Florida, and I believe she's got an excellent chance of winning her age group there, which would be a major accomplishment. Thanks for working with her Dave!

  2. That race in Jacksonville sounds great!

    It's a pleasure helping Roberta out; I'm glad to do it. Let me know if you think of a good, fast 5K for her to try out later this spring.