“Just talking to him, you would never get the sense that he is one of the best runners in the United States or even the world,” senior middle distance runner Russell Dinkins said. “He’s just a nice and laid-back guy; he’s not arrogant, and I never get the sense that he puts himself on a pedestal. He’s just a regular guy … that happens to be very fast.”
Starting to come into his own in high school, Andrews set national high school indoor records at both 800 meters and 1,000 meters. Competing at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada, Andrews won a bronze medal in the 800m. At the University of Virginia, under current Princeton distance coach Jason Vigilante, Andrews won two NCAA titles in the 800m, as well as two Penn Relays 4-by-800m championships. At the Olympic Trials this summer, Andrews came in fifth in the 1500m.
After Vigilante, or “Vig” as he is commonly called, left UVA, Andrews decided to turn professional during his junior year. This past summer, when Vigilante came to Princeton, Andrews, a Manalapan, New Jersey resident, followed Vigilante back home.
“I couldn’t believe it when Vig said that he got the Princeton job,” Andrews said. “I only live about 30 to 40 minutes from there. It ended up being an easy decision for me — as long as [men’s head coach Fred] Samara wanted me around, I would have no problem coming and being a volunteer coach.”
“I couldn’t wait to get out of there, to get home and to start working with the Princeton guys,” Andrews said. “Princeton’s had such a successful past couple of years, and I was very excited to work with all the athletes we have here. Vig’s training has worked so well for me, and it’s always good to share it with other hard-working athletes.”
Before Andrews left Charlottesville, he finished the fall semester at UVA. When he came to meet the Princeton team this winter, he wasn’t sure what to expect. He certainly wasn’t expecting the team to mimic his quirky dressing habit of wearing tank tops under his uniform on his first day.
“That lightheartedness took a lot of pressure off me. They were very welcoming and very inviting into their team and the family that they have here,” Andrews said. “They ended up calling me ‘Coach Bob,’ or ‘CB’ for short. It’s funny because my dad’s name is Bob, and I’ve been calling him ‘Coach Bob’ since I was 10 years old.”
Since Andrews has come to Princeton, he has not only become more comfortable as a coach, but he has also quickly become close with the Tigers. From leading workouts and long runs with them to catching meals outside of practice, Andrews is like another teammate for many of the men.
“He’s an awesome dude,” junior distance runner Michael Williams said. “I was expecting him to be a little more cocky, just from interviews and what people have said about him. He’s hard-working, nice and a great guy though, and I think he’s added a lot to the team.”
According to Samara, so far Andrews has indeed been a valuable asset to the Tigers.
“It’s an important dynamic. When you get someone that’s as accomplished as Robby and at a world-class level, just having him around the guys is important,” Samara said. “It’s inspiring to see what he’s done, and it’s inspiring for the guys to know that it can be done.”
For Andrews, training in Princeton under Vigilante has been an ideal situation. Coming from the last three years in hilly Charlottesville, Andrews enjoys the training grounds around Princeton — from the flat and long towpath by the Delaware and Raritan canal, to the expansive Finney Field turf by Weaver Stadium, to Jadwin Gymnasium’s indoor track.
“The transition has been very smooth. There are so many athletes on the team that there’s a little bit of everything. You have the distance guys that you can do long runs with, or you have the shorter distance, faster guys that you can do speed days with,” Andrews said. “It’s really been a nice mix of people to run with, and Vig has taken full advantage of the great facilities Princeton has to offer.”
The advantages of training together are two-fold for Andrews and for the Tigers. For many of Princeton’s top runners, having Andrews as a training partner provides confidence and motivation.
“He’s obviously a great inspiration to us,” Williams said. “The other day he was doing 300s with some guys, and they just absolutely killed it. I think a big part of it was that he was right there. The guys are like, ‘Hey, I’m working out with this guy; I want to try to work out at his level.’”
At 21 years old, Andrews isn’t that much older than many of the men, but he does have important experience racing in high-pressure, big-meet situations. To the guys on the team, he can be a source of advice. What’s worked for Andrews — and what he tells the Princetonians — is simply to have faith in their training and not to let outside influences or bad days faze them.
“What’s worked best for me is just listening to Vig, honestly. Without a doubt, he knows what he’s doing. What he told me my freshman year was just to show up to practice and not to think about anything else,” Andrews said. “It’s sort of a simplistic mindset, but it works. If they take that mentality, I think they’ll do very well. There are so many talented guys on the team; they just have so much potential.”
While Andrews enjoys working with the Tigers and watching them succeed, at the end of the day, his main job is working for Adidas as a professional runner and ensuring that his personal training needs are met. This season, Andrews has proved that training in Princeton has put him in tremendous shape so far.
On Feb. 1 at the New York Armory Collegiate Invitational, Andrews barely missed breaking the American record at 1,000m. On pace through 800m, Andrews kicked hard over the last lap, covering the final 200m in just over 27 seconds. Stopping the clock at two minutes, 17.90 seconds, Andrews’ time was .04 seconds slower than the record time of 2:17.86 set by David Krummenacker in 2002.
“I was just giving it everything I had at that point. I knew that I was on pace and that if I ran a spectacular last lap, I would dip under the record,” Andrews said. “Unfortunately, it was just not quite as fast as I needed it to be. But still, I gained so much confidence coming into the rest of my season.”
The rest of Andrews’ season includes the prestigious Wannamaker Mile at the Millrose Games this weekend at the New York Armory. Featuring Donn Cabral ’12, Olympic 1500m fourth-place finisher Matt Centrowitz and several other top competitors, the pace is anticipated to challenge the American indoor record of 3:33. While Andrews is accomplished at both the 800m and 1500m, he has never officially broken 4:00 for the mile. Nevertheless, his plan for the race is the same as always: Just stay relaxed and have fun.
“If I’m in the race, I’m going to run a good time, so I just need to worry about racing. If I can just mix it up with these guys, there’s so much I can learn from racing them,” Andrews said. “I’m just going to try to be as competitive as I can and show them that I’m there to mean business, and I’m not afraid to put my nose in it.”
As Andrews continues to train and work with the Princeton program, the success of the men on the team and the support they both give and receive from Andrews in workouts helps push and motivate Andrews even further. In turn, as Andrews continues to compete well and post fast times, he inspires others around him.
“It’s a good chemistry,” Samara said. “Guys aspire to be like him and run at that level. I think the most important thing that he adds right now is inspiration. He’s got a great personality; he’s very hard-working, easygoing and wants to help out in any way that he can. He raises the level of our program.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2013/02/12/32939/