Rob Denault - Interview

© Copyright - 2013 - Athletics Illustrated

Rob Denault, who competes for the Villanova University Wildcats just wrapped up his 2013 indoor track season by acheiving one of his primary goals. That goal was to run a sub-four minute mile at an indoor meet. He did so by running just under the benchmark of 3:59.39 as a freshman at the Alex Wilson Invitational at Loftus Sports Center on Saturday, March 2nd.

Denault hails from Aurora, Ontario. 

Denault earned All-Mid Atlantic Region honours and helped Villanova receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships by finishing 19th overall at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional. He crossed the finish line in that race in 30:54 and was the Wildcats fifth counting runner. He also finished in the team's top five at all five scored meets during the cross-country season and placed second on the team and 53rd overall at the Pre-NCAA meet with a collegiate-best 8K time of 24:04.7. 

Personal bests:

800 Meters   -   1:52.54             
1500 Meters -   3:42.26   
Mile (indoors) - 3:59.39          
3000 Meters   -   8:15.72              
8000 Meters (XC)   -  24:04.7               
10000 Meters (XC)   -  30:54 

Christopher Kelsall: Congratulations on your indoor sub-four minute mile. What do you think this performance indicates for your outdoor personal bests of 1:52.54 and 3:42.26?

Rob Denault: Thanks! Running under four minutes is definitely a confidence booster for sure. This whole indoor season has actually given me more confidence since I've never had a complete indoor season before. In high school it was never really a focus and last year I redshirted and only ran two 3ks. Putting together a full season and being able to compete in races at Penn State, Big East and Notre Dame gives me some momentum heading into the outdoor season. Hopefully I can get into some quick races and shave some seconds off my outdoor PB's, but another goal of mine is to work on race tactics as well. Fast times are great, but I also found at some of the big meets like World Juniors that knowing how to race is really important too.

CK: Can you take us through the race?

RD: I was pretty anxious before the race and I had a talk with my coach Marcus O’Sullivan which helped calm me down. I got a decent start but after the first lap I found myself a bit further back than I would have liked, but I was still in contact with the leaders by the 800 mark. With about 400 to go I was in a pack with the top five guys and I didn’t want to get stuck having to go wide so I took the lead. With 200m left Austin Mudd from Wisconsin put a pretty strong move on the field and at that point I just put everything I had into the last 100 and lunged at the line.  After a couple of nervous seconds I saw 3:59.38 flash up on the board and was very happy and relieved.

CK: So you were going specifically for the benchmark of sub-four in that race then?

RD: Yes, I was specifically trying to go out and run under 4 minutes, as well as hopefully qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships. I’d run 4:00.04 back in January, and knew that the race at Notre Dame would be my last shot until the next indoor season. I was really hoping to get the job done because I was confident that I was in better shape than when I ran 4 flat. Thankfully it worked out!

CK: Your primary distance is 1500m?

RD: I would say right now that it is. I can see myself trying some longer distances in the future because of my cross-country background, but on the track right now I really like the 1500m.

CK: Having just now run a sub-4 minute mile as a freshman, does the social media-driven campaign to bring back the mile seem more interesting to you?

RD: I like both races so I would hate to see one sacrificed for the other. I can see how the mystique of the distance may attract more fans, but I’ve also raced and watched so many 1500s that the distance is also special for me personally. Having limited opportunities to run the mile compared to the past raises the excitement level of the event, but I still would like to see more mile races (especially in Canada), but I would not want to see it replace the 1500 entirely.

CK: I think they may want to have the mile maintained, but perhaps to a lesser extent than the 1500m, because of its historic significance as well as the fact that it is slightly more than double the popular 800m.

RD: Yes I think for the historical significance it makes sense to maintain the mile as an event more often than it is now. People outside of track often ask what I’ve run a mile in but have never asked for my 1500 PB. Personally I still really like 1500 and the fact that it starts on the backstretch is unique. I’ve run so many of them and watched even more that the distance and the history for that distance is special for me.

CK: You mentioned “learning to race”. Did that race teach you anything you didn’t already know?

RD: I don’t think I learned anything particularly new in that race, but it definitely reaffirmed the lesson of staying awake for the first part of the race. The pack up with the pacemaker in the early stages almost pulled away on the group I was in, but we were able to reel them back in within the first half of the race.

CK: Is there much of a running community in Aurora? I assume you must have played hockey and other sports growing up there, yes?

RD: Aurora overall is an active community and there is a good running population. I’ve been lucky to work part time at the Aurora Running Room when I’m back at home so I meet a lot of runners who are looking for gear or coming for clinics. My club team the Newmarket Huskies is also very active and has a wide range of ages from elementary school kids to master level runners. I've played hockey throughout my life, and played soccer in the summers, and even played a year of rugby. My older brother Alex was the first one to get into track and cross-country, and my sister Carolyn and I followed. We all started to focus on running more during high school but I still play hockey with my friends when I can.

CK: Senators or Leafs?

RD: Sorry, but actually for me it’s the Flyers. The Leafs still have a small place in my heart, but I started cheering for Philly in elementary school when my favourite player Peter Forsberg was traded there. Since then I’ve been hooked. Villanova just happens to be just outside of Philly so that’s a bonus.

CK: What position do you like to play?

RD: I played defense while I was in rep hockey which I enjoyed a lot, but now when we play road hockey at home I’ll always go in net. Having a tennis ball shot at you is a little less daunting then a rubber puck.

CK: On choosing Villanova, did Sheila Reid’s collegiate career help pave the way a little?

RD: Sheila's success at ‘Nova definitely encouraged me to look into the program. When I had a chance to meet the team and Marcus (Coach O’Sullivan) I got such a positive feeling from the environment and I knew it was a team that I would be very interested in joining. Marcus as you know is a legend in our sport so to be coached by him was probably the biggest factor for me. Academically Villanova has one of the top Business programs in the U.S. so that was ideal and in the end I was so happy when I was offered a spot on the team by Marcus. It has been a lot of work as a student athlete but the experience has turned out to be even better than I had expected. I do owe a lot to Sheila for getting me in contact with Marcus and encouraging me to look at the program.

CK: What is your degree programme?

RD: I’m studying Business and plan to major in Marketing with a minor in Finance or Entrepreneurship.

CK: What are your racing and training goals for this spring?

RD: Penn Relays is a big goal for us as a team, and winning a relay there is always a something we would like to do. Besides that I hope to put myself in a position to qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and hopefully pick up some points at the Big East Championships to try to help our entire team get a top-three spot in the conference. If I can lower my PB’s in the process that would be great as well.

Follow the message board thread on Denault's Sub-four minute mile.