Distance learning: Robeck fitting in nicely

Ben Goessling

Teammates call him “Fatty.” Earlier this year, an opposing coach described him as a moose.

He describes himself as a “pretty big slacker,” admits he has a soft spot for Dairy Queen and doesn’t like to run anything longer than three miles, thank you very much.

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would classify Minnesota’s Martin Robeck as a prototypical distance runner.

But the strides Robeck has made for Minnesota’s men’s track and field team this year couldn’t be called anything less than ideal.

“This year Martin has just come into his own,” distance coach Steve Plasencia said. “He always had potential, but this year he’s realized it.”

The 6-foot-3, 173-pound Robeck earned All-America honors as part of the Gophers’ distance medley relay team, which finished sixth at the NCAA indoor championships in March.

Additionally, the junior provisionally qualified for the meet in the mile run.

And nobody is more surprised by Robeck’s success than he is.

“Initially, I didn’t plan on running in college,” he said. “But it’s cool to see I can run with the best.”

The youngest of 14 children, all of whom competed in track and field in high school, Robeck grew up in a house where running was just something you did.

His father, Lyle, ran track at Monticello High School and started a family tradition when his first two sons needed a way off the football team’s bench at St. Michael-Albertville High School.

“I told them to go out for track because they can’t stop you from playing,” Lyle Robeck said. “From there, all the other kids just followed them.”

At one point, Martin ran on the same track team as his nephew, who was only a year younger than him.

“I suppose it doesn’t happen too often that you have your son and grandson on the same team,” Lyle Robeck said.

Mitch Potter, a Gophers sprinter and high school teammate of Robeck’s, had plenty of his own tales about Robeck’s peculiar pedigree.

“Martin’s brother was in his 40s when he was in high school, and he used to drive the track bus,” Potter said. “We always thought that was his dad.”

Robeck, then a junior, won the Class A state championship in the mile and joined Potter in leading St. Michael-Albertville to the 1999 team title.

Upon landing on campus, however, Robeck didn’t initially find a fit.

“After my freshman year, I went home, and my workout routine was really erratic,” he said. “There would be weeks I’d run every day, and some weeks I didn’t run at all.”

Robeck stayed on campus last summer, living and training with teammates, and the self-described ice cream junkie finally turned a corner.

His new favorite snack is steamed vegetables – courtesy of teammate and roommate Josh DoBell.

Robeck’s workouts, however, might be the biggest testament to his new attitude – particularly because of what he doesn’t have.

Psychologists call it “social facilitation.” Basically, you perform better when other people are doing the same thing.

Robeck doesn’t have that luxury. While his teammates run in groups every morning and afternoon, Robeck sits in class during the day and runs alone every night.

His situation is every runner’s worst nightmare – constantly pounding the streets by himself.

But Robeck hasn’t backed down, and in the process, he has become an inspiration to his teammates.

“It’s amazing how self-motivated he is,” sophomore Ryan Ford said. “He’s obviously not cutting any corners.”

And now, the runner who was once anything but a prototype is the athlete everybody wants to emulate.