Tuesday, October 16, 2007


If you follow the Minnesota running scene closely, you may be wondering what happened to Janet Robertz. After dominating the local roads for 6 or 7 years, I heard rumors that she moved to Florida. It turns out that’s only partially the reason we haven’t seen the 48-year-old former Shorewood resident on the roads. Soon after collapsing during the 2005 Twin Cities Marathon, Janet was diagnosed with hypothyroidism or an under-active thyroid gland. Read on to learn more about that, her fabulous running career and what she misses most about Minnesota. (Photo by Alison Wade courtesy of New York Road Runners)

If I remember correctly, you started running in your late 30s or early 40s and success came very quickly for you. Would you agree with that?
I began running in my 30s. I ran for stress relief and the love of being outside and MOVING! I ran for years and years alone in a forest preserve in Illinois and then on the LRT trail from Excelsior to Carver Park. I didn’t know anything about the racing world. For me running was a way to stay in shape, enjoy nature and relieve stress. I did not start racing until my early 40s. I guess before I started racing I had accumulated a very substantial base.

Did you realize right away that you were a very talented runner or did it take awhile to sink in?
My first race was a disaster. It was in the fall of 1998. My co-worker knew how dedicated I was to running on the trail and he convinced me to try a local race in Wayzata. It was so warm and humid and the course was difficult to follow. I felt sick afterwards even though I won. I hadn’t prepared for the race and knew nothing about pacing. I went out to fast, died halfway through and fought my way to the finish line. After that I stuck to my nice leisurely pace on the trail. Racing just wasn’t for me.

It was two years before I gave it another try. By then I had learned a few things like pacing, what to eat before a race and how to prepare for a race. There was an all women’s race being held in Minneapolis and it sounded good. I was almost 41 years old and they had a Masters category, which sparked some interest. The first place Masters won a trip to Arizona. That really motivated me and I had a goal or something to shoot for. I had read about the really good runners in the area – Kelly Keeler, Staci Bennett, Bonnie Sons and Master runner Bev Docherty.

I knew that Bev would be stiff competition for me. I saw that she had run a 6:08 mile pace for a 10K. I remembered from two years earlier that I had run a similar pace. I started to pick up the pace on my daily trail runs. A few months later I felt that I was ready for the race. I will never forget that race in August of 2000. It was the Avon race and I was petrified! I didn’t know one single person and the competition looked tough! The race began and I started running at a comfortable pace. I continued to feel good and I began to pass people. Wow! After 4-5 miles I saw someone step off the course onto the grass. It looked like Bev but I wasn’t sure. I had only seen a picture of her in the newspaper. The race ended and I still felt great. I came in 3rd overall behind Kelly and Staci. I was the first Master. It was hot and humid that morning and Bev said she didn’t do well in those conditions. It was she who hopped off the course. I figured I just got lucky that day. I was excited about how well I felt during the race! It was fun and I met some nice people!

The next spring I raced at Get In Gear 10K. I didn’t have an elite number so I wasn’t allowed to start up front with the elite runners. Sonya (Anderson) Decker was up with the elites and grabbed me and hid me behind her so that the officials couldn’t see my “non-elite” bib #. She was great, telling me that I was good enough to be up with the others!! I didn’t have a super fast start but took over the lead by the halfway mark. I will never forget the second half of that race. I was out front running wondering when everyone was going to start passing me. It didn’t happen and I won the race. I was completely stunned but I figured it had to be a complete fluke. Maybe they tripped and fell or got sick and puked. I still wasn’t convinced that I was talented at this. Just lucky.

Who or what has been instrumental as you’ve improved as a runner?
There have been so many people that have helped me become a better runner. My husband Scott has been the most supportive and helpful to me. Even though he isn’t a runner, he drove me to almost every single race, cheered and checked on my time, etc. He carried the water and GU for the long runs (he biked) and helped around the house when I was racing out of town. He became very interested in the sport and read up on other runners and running tips. He was/is incredibly supportive! As far as runners who have helped me, there have been many. Pat Goodwin, Gloria Jansen, Kelly Keeler, Kim Anderson, Bonnie Sons and her husband Chris Celichowski. Barb Leininger coached me for a while and she was a tremendous help. She could give me the most detailed description of a course. I was able to run a race well without ever even seeing the course.

There was a four-year stretch from 2002 to 2005 where you consistently ran 1-2 marathons a year between 2:43 and 2:48. What do you attribute your consistency to?
I do think that I possess an almost uncanny internal GPS system. I can ease into a pace and stick to it and know almost precisely each mile mark. I can also mentally focus when the miles get tough.

In general, what is your training philosophy during those years?

My training philosophy was to work hard during the important workouts and then rest, rest, rest before a big race. The resting part was really hard for me but it really paid off. This advice (to rest and cut mileage) was given to me from Barb Leininger. She coached me early on and would drill that resting/low mileage part all the time. Boy did it help my performances. I also did not let the weather, other runners, or any external conditions bother me. I focused on the task at hand and tried my best to be unflappable.

Did you have any key workouts you liked to do prior to each marathon?
The best marathon workout for me both mentally and physically was to run out to Carver Park (3.5 miles) and begin a 2-mile hill loop repeat. I would run this loop 5-8 times at marathon pace and then run easy back home. It was a GREAT long uphill challenge that is good preparation, especially for TCM. Even if I wasn’t running TCM it was a super workout. My husband would ride his bike and stop ahead of me to hand me fluids and check my pace.

In February 2005 you ran 2:45, which is well under the Olympic Trials standard of 2:47. However, the qualifying window didn’t open until January 2006. Since that time though you haven’t run another marathon. Why not?
Actually I did run almost a full marathon at TCM in 2005. I made it just past mile 24 and collapsed. Unfortunately, a short time later I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition. I have Hypothyroidism. It really affected my metabolism and energy level. I was exhausted all the time even though I got 9+ hours sleep. It took over a year for the doctor to get my meds adjusted and even now I just don’t have the energy level that I once had. It has been really depressing. I keep hoping that I can run another marathon but realistically, it just may not be in the cards. I can run for an hour without too much trouble but anything beyond that has become a struggle. So, a few years back a 70-80 mile week was average. Today, 45-55 is average. My high mileage week is 55 miles. The longest I have run recently is 9.5 miles.

I believe it was last year that you moved from Minnesota. Where are you living now and how is the running scene there?
Actually, I moved to southern Florida in August, 2007. My husband and I live in Boca Raton, which is about 20 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale. I will be joining a running team here in Boca that is sponsored by Runner’s Edge. The running scene here isn’t nearly as strong as in Minnesota. They seem to focus more on the social events!

What do you miss most about Minnesota?
All the great people!! Family and friends. That is the number one thing I miss. I also miss running on a shaded, crushed gravel trail with HILLS. There aren’t ANY hills here except an occasional speed bump! I won’t miss icy trails and cold temps, though. It will be nice to run in shorts year round and not have to take 20 minutes dressing for the outdoors! It is really beautiful down here and so different from Minnesota. I/we really like the change and look forward to taking advantage of all there is to do here.

What do you consider your strengths?
Mental toughness and endurance. Before my thyroid problem, I could run several miles without tiring. Weaknesses? Poor end of race kick! I am not great at track workouts!

What are your PRs?

My PRs were all achieved between the ages 41-45.

5K - 16:54 (42)
8K - 27:32 (41)
10K - 34:51 (41)
15K - 53:55 (42)
10 mile - 56:32 (42)
Half marathon - 1:15:36 (43)
Marathon - 2:43:13 (41)

What is your fondest running memory?
I have many but I really enjoyed running on 2 national teams in Chiba, Japan. The Japanese host a marathon relay race called Ekiden. There are usually about 14-16 invited countries. It was a thrill to represent the USA. The two years I went (2001) I met Catherine Ndereba who had just set the world record in the marathon at Chicago and (2003) I got to meet Paula Radcliffe and her husband Gary. It was really exciting to meet and talk with these two incredible ladies. Another favorite memory was the trip to Bangkok, Thailand to run in the Avon 10K. Katherine Switzer was our leader/tour guide. There were runners from around the world including Tegla Laroupe a former world record holder. It was such an exotic place to visit and tour. My husband Scott came with me and we extended our stay and visited Phuket Island which was devastated by the tsunami two years later.

Do you have a favorite Minnesota and/or national race?
My favorite Minnesota race would be Grandma’s Marathon and/or Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon! I love running along with Lake Superior on one side and the pine trees on the other. The course is not only beautiful, it is easy on the body. I could race there and feel great the next day! AND, the entire staff at Grandma’s Marathon can’t be beat!

My favorite national race would be the Park Forest Scenic 10 miler. This race is highly competitive with a great course. The first 4 miles run through the forest preserve. As you enter the forest there is a 4-piece strings ensemble playing music. You get the music again as you run out of the preserve and onto the streets of Park Forest. The rest of the race is lined with cheerleaders, boom box music and cheering families sitting in their lawn chairs. Racing 10 miles is also my favorite distance. Not too long and not too short!

If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
My two favorite people to run with are Bonnie Sons and Kim Anderson. We trained together every week under the strict and merciless tutelage of Chris Celichowski, our coach (and Bonnie’s husband)! We would meet at Bonnie’s house and wait for Chris to come home and give us our track workout for the week. It was always grueling for me and there is NO way I would ever have the discipline to do the workouts without Bonnie and Kim! The whole jog over to the track I would be complaining about the workout to come and Kim would be making cracks about how Chris was trying to kill us. Kim always would wonder if Chris did the same workout he gave us!! He did, according to Bonnie. Chris had to do the workout later as he would come home and tend to the kids and dinner while we ran! The amazing thing was Bonnie never complained. She always just got to that track and ran like a machine. She was/is so amazing! How she has energy to run, race, raise 4 kids, work, etc. is mind-boggling. Chris and Bonnie make an amazing team!

Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
What wonderful people runners really are! AND how much fun racing is. I wish I had started racing at an earlier age! BUT, I am extremely grateful for the experiences I have had.

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