MARIETTA — Rob Robertson hadn’t traveled outside the continental United States. He had no plans to do so, either.
But his doctor warned him that reaching 60 years of age was not guaranteed.
So he made a New Year’s resolution for 2013: Robertson committed to walk four miles a day six days a week.
“I started walking for exercise,” Robertson said, “and changed my diet to whole foods. In the course of a year, I lost 55 pounds. I joined a support site for walkers and they recommended I try half marathons. I went up and did the one in Oklahoma City (near the memorial) and loved it.”
Fulfilling his resolution led to Robertson to seek inclusion in an exclusive club: two English ladies are — to date — the only people in the world to compete in all six Ultra Walking races.
Robertson said he’s inspired to become the first man to achieve the feat.
“I have two friends from the Netherlands that have also done four,” Robertson said. “They’re set up just like I am to do the sixth one in New Zealand. I’m not trying to be one of the only ones to do it.”
Robertson began by walking normally.
“As I did more and more half-marathons, I kept wanting to go faster,” Robertson said. “I started watching tape and reading everything I could on race walking.”
In February, 2014, he participated in the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I loved it even more,” he said, “so then I started doing marathons and half-marathons all during the year. Someone said ‘You’re fast enough, you need to try a 12-hour event. Walk for 12 hours.’ In the back of my mind was the thought that there were centurions: people that walked 100 miles in 24 hours but I thought I’ll try a 12-hour (event) at Grapevine, Texas, to see how far I could go and I walked 56 miles in it. I thought, ‘I might could do a centurion (event). I changed all my training toward that goal.”
“Then in June, 2015, I went to Minneapolis, walked the FANS race and was able to do it.”
That was the first Ultra Walking event at which he became a member.
“There were two Australians and two Dutch racers and they were like, ‘We would love to have an American come do our races,’” Robertson recalled. “My wife, Brenda, and I talked it over, and thought, ‘We’ll go to Australia.’”
Centurion events are often held at a track one mile or less in length so judges can oversee participants. Racers are required to practice a heel-and-toe walking technique so that one foot is always in contact with the ground.
In April, Robertson won the men’s race in Coburg, Victoria. Coburg is a suburb of Melbourne.
“We had so much fun, we went to England,” Robertson said. “Had so much fun there, we went to Africa and this next year, we’re going to do (the races) in the Netherlands and New Zealand. That’ll be all six.”
In August, he competed at the 105th British Centurion Qualifier in Redcar, England. His time of 22:19:00set a personal record.
“The wind blew 30 mph during the whole night and all the next day,” Robertson said. “The people over there hated that. We’re from Oklahoma. It didn’t affect me too bad.”
He is the second-ever American entrant and first one to finish the race since 1965. “They were pretty excited,” he said. He became a member — despite losing his hat twice due to the wind. He credited fans for returning his hat. He couldn’t pursue it because he’d get disqualified.
Before the race, Rob and Brenda toured Scotland.
“That was awesome,” Brenda added.
Eleven weeks later, he competed at the inaugural African Centurion Qualifier on Robben Island, South Africa, which is located almost directly north of Cape Town on the west side of the African continent. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years imprisoned there.
“The race was right along the outside of the island with the ocean on one side and a lighthouse on the other,” Robertson said. “One of the most amazing things I saw in Africa: We’re walking beside the ocean and all the rocks are covered with penguins. Who knew?” he asked rhetorically, laughing. “The whole island was colonies of penguins all in bunches. That was pretty neat.
“That night, when the sun went down, across the Atlantic was Cape Town. Right behind Cape Town is what they call Table Mountain, which makes its own weather because it’s so tall so it had clouds around it during the night. The lights of Cape Town on the sides and that race, it (the wind) blew 30 mph also. Big ol’ waves were crashing into the rocks and there were old shipwrecks, penguins, the (city) lights and every star. It was neat.”
The only American racer, he finished 11th of 19 entrants.
Eleven weeks, however, was an insufficient rest period, he said.
“I really felt bad in Africa. Sixty miles in, I realized that 11 weeks just wasn’t enough recovery time. Forty miles to go, I just gutted it out. Literally, that last 20 is all right here,” he said, using his right index finger to point at his right temple. “I didn’t want to have to reinvest the money to go back. My quest all along has been to do them all.
“You’ve just got to have a mindset,” Robertson continued, “that no matter what happens, you’re going to do it — especially if you travel. I tell my friends that not being successful’s not an option.”
Robertson said there’s 100 things that can go wrong in a 100-mile events.
“I’m amazed anybody can do them,” Robertson said. “In Africa, a friend of mine from Australia got a blister this big — the whole bottom of one foot was a solid blister, so he had to retire from the race.”
Robertson doesn’t go to these countries just to race. He and Brenda toured Australia. Brenda didn’t go to South Africa. Rob toured Table Mountain.
“We will go back to England,” Rob said. “We didn’t get to see everything we wanted to see.”
Family and business
Rob and Brenda have three adult sons who are married.
“The only person I’m cheating out of time is Brenda,” he said, laughing. “I spend 18-21 hours a week walking. I try to average about 55 miles a week.”
Robertson started a blog to provide material for those who want to study his training regimen and-or follow in his footsteps: www.walk100miles24hours.com. Included in that regimen is date-night Fridays with Brenda.
“As long as we have a date every Friday,” Rob said. Brenda agreed.
This is a busy time of year for Robertson’s Hams. Thursday afternoon, he lounged in his office: UPS picked up the final delivery a short time before I walked in at about 3:25.
“I’ve kind of taken December off,” Robertson said, a broad smile on his face. “It’s been kind of nice to kind of take a break.”
He added he’ll begin to get back into shape after Christmas.
“In fact, I ate so good and have had so much fun, I’m looking forward to getting back in the groove because I’m starting to feel kind of like I did before” I started walking, he said. “I don’t want to go back to where I was. I worked too hard to get to this point.”
He has no plans to stop soon, either.
Also the President of the club for U.S. Centurions, Robertson plans to compete again at the six events in his 60s.
In the interim, he continues his initial pursuit. He plans to compete in the New Years Double in Allen, Texas, to continue preparations for fifth Ultra Walking event scheduled to take place in June in Weert, Netherlands.-
“It’s changed my life,” Robertson said of his walking and competitions. “To see the world, this is something I never thought I would do and I never thought I would enjoy as much as I do.”