By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — After taking 10 days off — his first extended break since the calendar turned to 2011 — Robby Andrews resumed training today in his hometown of Englishtown, N.J. He’s had many hours to reflect since we last saw him on the track, moments after a disappointing defeat in a nationally televised race, and UVa’s middle-distance phenom is excited about the future.
“I was really surprised with how the year turned out, after the way the fall went and even early winter,” Andrews said by phone Thursday.
“To know that I was able to get in shape that quickly is really good to know, and it just really makes me wonder what I can do if I have a healthy cross country season and a healthy indoor season and lots of consistent training for 12 months, instead of six months.”
To say the past 10 months have been a roller-coaster ride for Andrews, a rising junior, would be an understatement. Plantar fasciitis in his left foot forced him to redshirt during the cross country and indoor track seasons, and when Andrews finally returned to competition, he wasn’t sure how the long layoff would affect him.
“Sometimes you kind of forget how to race, almost,” Andrews said, “so this whole year, every race I was learning more, and more and more was coming back to me.”
Andrews, who as a freshman won the NCAA title in the indoor 800 meters, quickly regained his form. In April, he placed second in the 1500 at the ACC outdoor championships, his time of 3:40.77 only a fraction slower than the winner’s 3:40.69.
In May, Andrews anchored UVa’s 4×800 team at the storied Penn Relays in Philadelphia, leading the Wahoos to their second straight Championship of America title. Then, in early June, Andrews used his trademark kick to win the 800 in 1:44.71 at the NCAA outdoor championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
“This is probably the biggest win of my career so far,” Andrews said that night, and he was honored two days later at Davenport Field during the NCAA baseball super regional between UVa and UC Irvine.
The biggest race of his career? That was probably June 26, when Andrews ran in the 800 final at the USA outdoor championships in Eugene, Ore. The top three finishers were assured spots on Team USA at this summer’s world championships.
“I’m running in the big-boy section, with the professional athletes, Nike-sponsored and Reebok-sponsored and adidas-sponsored athletes,” Andrews said in Charlottesville before heading to Eugene. “I’ve never competed against them. I’ve only been able to watch.”
To compete on that stage might have been a dream come true for Andrews, but the race itself was a nightmare. He finished last, in 1:51.68. Nick Symmonds won his fourth straight USA Title, in 1:44.71. UC Irvine’s Charles Jock, whom Andrews had edged for the NCAA title in Des Moines, finished third in Eugene.
“Kind of everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong, as far as how my legs felt,” Andrews said Thursday.
“It was really frustrating. It was pretty tough to swallow afterwards, but it’s exciting that I was able to be part of that. My dad flew out with my high school coach and my sister, and I had a lot of support there.
“Everyone was cheering for me. Everyone was there backing me up. It just wasn’t in the cards, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be in the cards ever again.”
Jason Vigilante was in Eugene with Andrews and several other athletes from UVa. The Cavaliers’ director of track and cross country saw early in the race that Andrews was not himself.
“He just didn’t have his snap,” Vigilante said Thursday. “He looked great the first 100, and then everything was downhill after that.”
When the race ended, Vigilante recalled, he took a deep breath and thought about what to say to Andrews.
“It’s easy for us as coaches to imagine the good results,” Vigilante said. “The hardest thing to do is to be prepared for disappointment. And a lot of times when you go to a big meet like this, you have to be prepared when you’re going up against Nick Symmonds and all the guys that have kind of established themselves on the world scene.
“So immediately I went and found him. Right as he was starting to do an interview, I called him over and I said, ‘Hey, just remember this: You took four months off because of an injury. You have done an incredible job up to this point, and people are going to remember you for that.’
“I said, ‘It’s very easy to look at this as a disappointment rather than a building experience. Just make sure you keep your achievements in mind as you go forth.’ I gave him a big hug, and he went out and gave a very classy interview. I couldn’t be happier with how he’s handled things and with how he’s performed this year.”
Nearly two weeks have passed since the race, and Andrews, 20, has no trouble putting it in perspective.
“Overall, it was a very positive experience. You really can’t get that kind of experience anywhere else,” he said.
“It’s only a true loss if you don’t gain anything from the experience. So in my mind I gained a lot of information. It’s not something I’m going to easily forget. I hope I’m going to wake up every day with the feeling of getting dead last in the final. So it’s a very good motivational tool.”
To qualify for the final in Eugene, Andrews ran the 800 on June 23 and again the next day. He doesn’t believe the qualifying rounds took a toll on him.
“I think it was more the culmination of all the rounds put together from every other race, and all the traveling, just everything,” Andrews said.
“Ever since I got back to school after winter break in early January, I was so far behind everybody, I kicked myself in overdrive for the entire six months. That was great for April, May and early June, but after three months of running as much as I could every day and just putting everything I had into each race, it kind of just took its toll, I think.”
And so his 10-day break came at an ideal time for Andrews, a kinesiology major who’ll be helping out at his father’s summer running camp in New Jersey for the next two weeks. When he returns to Charlottesville next month, he’ll start training in earnest for the longer — 8k and 10k — cross country races.
“I’ll be very, very careful with him in cross country,” Vigilante said. “He’ll run a few races, not the whole season, and we’ll try to have him ready when it counts.”