Running at Her Personal Best
Feb. 13, 2008
by Jeff Smith
Wendi Robinson did not necessarily know what to expect when Ron Helmer took over as Indiana's director of the men's and women's track and field teams this season. However, she did know that he was a distance specialist from his time at Georgetown and was bringing with him a recent college graduate who also knew a little something about distance running.
Robinson quickly learned that the training regiment of the new coaching staff was much more intense. She was running more miles at longer intervals in practice and knew she would have to continue to tweak her approach to running in order to fully buy in to the new coaching philosophy.
As a result of complying, Robinson has set a personal record time in every race she has competed and now steps to the starting line with more confidence than she has ever had.
A native of Danville, Ind., located just an hour away from Bloomington, Robinson has already provisionally qualified for NCAA competition in four events this season. She has eclipsed the qualifying times in the mile, 3,000 meters, 5,000 meters, and the distance medley relay. But what is most impressive is the manner in which she earned those provisional times.
Just last week, Robinson and the Hoosier DMR squad shattered the previous school record, which three of the fours girls including Robinson broke last year, by nearly four seconds, and it was 8.52 seconds faster than the NCAA provisional mark. Individually, she turned in a mile time of 4:46.36, which was more than a second faster than the provisional time and an impressive 7.45 seconds faster than her previous career best. In fact, her mile time was the fourth fastest time in school history.
Earlier this season, Robinson ran the 5,000 meters in 16:16.23 - a time that is still the fastest in the nation - and qualified in the 3,000 meters with a mark of 9:28.01. Not only is Robinson humbled by the her 5K time, but is also pleased with how far she has come in just a short time.
"That was only the second time I had ever run 5,000 meters indoors," said Robinson, who believes the event will be her best at IU. "Running 16:16 shaved 32 seconds off my original PR, which was 16:48 during the outdoor season my freshman year."
Asked how she feels about having the event's top time in the nation, Robinson said she is surprised it has remained first for so long.
"It's cool to have it, but right now I'm just waiting for it to get beat."
Robinson also points out that getting into the 4:40s in the mile was definitely a breakthrough in her career. She said that she and Helmer had talked about the mile event and both felt she could go much faster. Having run a half-mile in 2:20, Robinson now feels comfortable running that quick pace early on.
The Hoosier distance star admits that she now feels comfortable and confident in every race she competes in, which wasn't always the case. She credits most of her gain in confidence to the arrival of Hoosier assistant coach Rebecca Walter.
For those around the confernece thinking that name sounds familiar, you are correct. Walter is no stranger to distance success at the Big Ten and NCAA Championship level, most notably in cross country. Walter is a former Big Ten cross country champion, two-time All-American, and six-time All-Conference honoree at Michigan. She was also tabbed the conference's Freshman of the Year in 2002 and was named the Great Lakes Regional Athlete of the Year in 2005. In track, Walter claimed the 2006 Big Ten outdoor titles in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters and finished runner-up in the conference distance events on four occasions throughout her career.
Certainly the accolades have helped Walter earn the respect of both the Hoosier men and women distance runners, but what also makes her a unique coach is the fact she is still close in age to the current student-athletes and knows the pains and struggles that come with competing.
"It's nice to have someone who just finished running and knows exactly what it's like to be a college runner," Robinson said. "I view her both as a coach and a training partner, and from that aspect it's great."
Walter agrees, noting that she and Robinson equally help out one another.
"I think it is an advantage to be able to workout with (the runners) because they know I understand what they are going through," Walter said. "I think with Wendi, we are both lucky to have each other there through the tough workouts. I think she would be able to do it without a trainer partner because she is so strong, but I think it relaxes her and makes it an easy process."
The first-year Hoosier assistant points to Robinson's consistency as one of the things that has led to constant success this indoor season. She says some runners will try to "put it all out there" for a couple of weeks at a time, but notes Robinson has remained consistent since August.
"Wendi has the ability to do it day in and day out," she said.
Having grown up in a rural farm community, Robinson said that she always wanted to stay close to home for school and considered running at Butler, Indiana or Purdue. Running was not always the main sport for Robinson as she grew up playing summer softball and a little basketball, because as she puts it, "What kid in Indiana does play basketball at some point?"
But running was her specialty in high school, having captured the 2005 state title in the mile with a time of 4:54. She did so running for a smaller school and vowed to attempt to run for a bigger school in college.
"When you are running with the top people in the Big Ten, you are running with the top people in the country," she said. "I love how competitive the Big Ten is and IU has just been a good fit for me."
Not one to identify specific goals, Robinson would like to compete for an individual Big Ten championship this season - a position Walter says she is among the mix. Qualifying nationally was also on the to-do list this season and Robinson has already proven she is off to a great start in that category.
Clearly the one goal that did not take her long to meet was that of an increase in confidence. Robinson says she knows at this point right now she is in the best shape she has ever been in.
"It's an exciting feeling and I feel like I am going to PR in every race," she said.
And so far she has.