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After a series of setbacks, Roberta Groner PRs at age 45

Roberta Groner at the 2022 New York City Marathon (Photo by Andy Kiss, @kisspix)

Roberta Groner improved the American 45–49 half marathon record by more than two minutes at the Trials of Miles Project 13.1 on March 25, running 1:11:28. But Groner was most excited that at 45, she’s still able to set lifetime PRs. After years of ups and downs, she’s back to running the times she knew she was capable of all along.

I first talked to Groner for Runner’s World in 2017, just after she burst onto the elite running scene at the California International Marathon, running 2:30:38 and finishing second to Sara Hall. Groner was a runner when she was in high school and college, but at age 21, she quit the sport for 10 years. “It wasn’t my time. I didn’t love it. I walked away from it so easily. It only came back to me when I was ready,” she told Fast Women last week. 

When Groner returned to running in her 30s, after having three children (now ages 15, 16, and 19), she made steady progress, and her times kept dropping. She ran a PR of 2:29:09 at the 2019 Rotterdam Marathon and represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Doha the same year, finishing an incredible sixth in the world in oppressive conditions.

Groner was on a roll, but that came to a halt at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, where, running on a challenging course in cold, windy conditions, she dropped out of the race. “I just went for it and I didn’t have the gas so I couldn’t finish,” she said. “And in my own head it was like, ‘Well I could go do a spring marathon somewhere else. I’m in shape.’” 

But then came the pandemic. And when racing returned, a string of unfortunate events kept her from running her best. “I think most of us runners go through these highs and lows,” she said. “The last two years was my low, and it was my first low.”

She planned to run the 2021 Chicago Marathon, but then she fell and suffered a bone contusion while hiking, which set her training back. She decided to focus on that year’s New York City Marathon, but then her boyfriend’s house, where she lives half the time, flooded during Hurricane Ida. She focused on helping him rebuild instead.

Groner ran the 2022 Houston Marathon, her first big marathon since the Olympic Trials. She had lost some of her racing confidence in the interim and didn’t really know where she was fitness-wise. “I couldn’t get gels or fuel in, so everything kind of imploded at mile 18,” she said. The silver lining was that Groner still managed to finish fourth in 2:32:02, which qualified her for the 2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. 

But shortly after, she had another setback. The elbow pain that she had been dealing with had become too serious to ignore, so she underwent surgery in February 2022, which required six weeks off from running.

Groner hoped to take a shot at Deena Kastor’s American 40–44 age-group record of 2:27:47 at the 2022 Chicago Marathon, but the summer leading into the race, she got Covid while traveling. She decided to run New York City instead, to help out her Central Park Track Club (CPTC) team. In hot conditions she went out hard, hoping to run 2:30. That backfired. “At mile 17 my quads tightened up and I basically had to jog it in,” she said. She finished in 2:43:06.

Groner still had hope. She did some of the best training of her life heading into her last two marathons. And in 2023, things are starting to click again. Groner turned 45 on January 4, and in February, she broke the American 45–49 10-mile record, running 55:13. Next up, she’ll run the Copenhagen Marathon on May 14. She’s aware of Colleen De Reuck’s American 45–49 record of 2:30:51 (also run in Copenhagen), but her main goal is to run a PR and break 2:29.

Groner, who lives in Ledgewood, New Jersey, works full-time as a nurse in a primary care office. That, raising three sons, and high-level running kept her plenty busy. But just over a year ago, she was given the opportunity to help coach the CPTC. She had always wanted to give back to the sport, so two days a week after work, and on select weekends, she braves the traffic and joins the team for their workouts in New York City. 

She works alongside head coach Devon Martin, and during each workout, Groner coaches 50–100 athletes, whose ages might range from 20 to 70. Until last year, Groner was coached remotely by Steve Magness. In joining the CPTC, it made sense for Groner to try something new. Now she’s coached by Martin, and she does some of her training with the club. Groner draws extra motivation from having in-person coaching and being surrounded by a team of people who are also working hard to get better. “They’re like my second family, they’re my running family,” Groner said. “They’re out there supporting me, I’m supporting them as a coach, too.”

At her peak, Groner’s weekly mileage is in the 90s to low 100s. The biggest change she has made as she has gotten older is adding strength training two days per week. She also prioritizes sleep, doing her best to get eight hours per night. During her past two training cycles, she has gone without alcohol, and she feels like it’s helping her sleep and recover better.

The CPTC is supported by Tracksmith, but Groner doesn’t have any personal sponsors, and she’s learned that she doesn’t need them to run at a high level. And without them, there’s less pressure to post on social media, which she barely has time for anyway.

Groner believes the 10-year break she took from the sport has helped extend her career. “My message every day, even to my kids, is just show up consistently and if you have a passion and you love something, it doesn’t mean it’s over when you’re 25,” she said.

She knows a day will come when she can’t run PRs anymore. She’s taking nothing for granted. “I want to make sure I’m living in the moment and enjoying it,” she said. “My goal is to go to the Trials fit. And I’m going to finish. I’m going to crawl to the finish line this time, no matter what.”