Jodie Robertson was a Division III All-American runner at SUNY-Potsdam and a two-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier with a marathon PR of 2:34, who took up triathlon at 30 years of age in 2015. After yet another in a long line of single sport running injuries, she switched to triathlon permanently in 2016 and has been ferociously making up for lost time. A year ago, she finished second to Julia Gajer at the Ironman North American Championship. And this year, under the guidance of coach Jesse Kropelnicki, she came from 13:39 back on the swim to win at The Woodlands with a time of 8:56:32.
She has managed all this while teaching elementary music to kindergarten, first and third graders full time at Herrick’s Union Free School District in New Hyde Park, New York. She also coaches girls in the Dream Big running program in her home town.
Slowtwitch: What were you thinking when Lauren Brandon left you nearly 14 minutes behind after the swim? And 4 minutes behind after the bike? And led you until Mile 10 of the run? Did you lose faith that you could overcome those deficits?
Jodie Robertson I really just focused on executing each part of the day according to my race plan. We all head to the start line wanting a solid outcome, but when it comes to racing it has been important for me to stay in the moment and remain engaged in my process. I did not worry about trying to overcome a time deficit, but instead I just did the best job I could with my race.
ST: Your rivals on the day - Michaela Herlbauer, Maja Stage-Nielsen, Alicia Kaye and Tine Deckers - have strong results and major race experience. How did you regard them as the race developed?
Jodie: Especially in an Ironman anything can happen! You can never count someone out and I have a huge amount of respect for all of the women in the pro field and what they are capable of on the course. I am sure in a championship race like IMTX we all were out there racing tough and ready to play all of our cards. As the race developed I was prepared for any one of these women to put up a solid challenge.
ST: You had a lot of success as a runner and that seems to be a key of your success as a triathlete. What led you to multisport?
Jodie: My transition from running to triathlon was completely a result of consistently being injured as a runner. During a running injury in the summer of 2014 I decided that in order to get the most out of my running I needed to incorporate cross-training so that I could stay healthy. I figured the best way for me to force myself to do that was to sign up for a triathlon, so I signed up for IM Lake Placid in 2015. At this point I still had a huge focus on running, but started biking a bit and had to begin to learn how to swim. My primary focus was still on the marathon and I raced a marathon in the fall of 2014 and the spring of 2015, qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials. I then raced [and won her age group] my first 2 triathlons ever in June of 2015 at Quassy Half and Syracuse 70.3. I was still planning on racing IM Lake Placid in July of 2015 but 2 weeks out from that race I got hit by a car while riding my bike. My clavicle was broken in 3 pieces and I had to get some plates and screws to fix that up. During this time that I realized I loved swim/bike/run more than just running and I finally decided I wanted to focus 100% on triathlon to see what I was capable of achieving.
ST: Who is your triathlon coach? And if you are not simply self coached, how has your coach influenced your triathlon career so far?
Jodie: Throughout my time running I had great support from several coaches throughout high school, college and post collegiately. After getting injured my senior year in college I spent 3 years really focusing on my teaching career and getting my body healthy again. I learned a lot from all of my experiences, which was essential for me to realize what I needed in order to be successful as an athlete. I researched a ton and knew that since I was heading into triathlon pretty late at the age of 30 I wanted a coach that I would really be able to grow and develop with over the long term. I ended up with one person at the top of my list, Jesse Kropelnicki. In July of 2015 while I sat on my couch with a broken clavicle I sent Jesse an email telling him how I ran marathons, had competed in 2 triathlons, was still an age-grouper, but wanted to get my pro card and I wanted him to coach me. I am pretty sure he thought I was nuts. After getting to know one another over the following month Jesse agreed to take a chance on coaching me. Jesse has made sure every aspect of my program is dialed in with focus on improving my limiters and developing my strengths in my physical and mental approach to triathlon. Through communication and trust I am able to not only grow as an athlete, but personally in all aspects of my life.
ST: What did you learn about yourself and Ironman racing chasing Julia Gajer last year at Ironman North American Championships?
Jodie: Last year this was my first attempt at an Ironman and I feel I raced a bit tentatively especially on the bike. This year my goal was to focus on myself and not get caught up in what everyone else was doing on the race course like I did last year. I am definitely stronger on land than in the water, but improvements can be made across the board for sure. It is really a matter of knowing what limiter to focus on and when. We have lots of opportunities to make improvements, but it takes time as you can’t effectively change 15 things all at once. A huge focus will always be my swim. Last year at Texas I swam a 1:07 and this year a 1:02. That right there will set you up for 2 very different races.
ST: While appreciating your running ability, I see you have adapted pretty well to your new sport as your 4:43 bike split [albeit on a shorter than standard course] was much more key to your victory than your 3:03 marathon, which was topped by Herlbauer and Kelly Williamson. How did you develop such a strong bike?
Jodie: We have definitely put a large focus on building strength all around and this has translated well to my bike. I love riding and there are still a lot more things we need to dial in for sure.
ST: What might you do about that 1:02 swim split? Do you accept that one weakness?
Jodie: Yes, I have to acknowledge that this is a weakness for sure, but I also acknowledge that this weakness is really a huge opportunity for growth. I only began swimming in August of 2014 and didn’t really focus on improving my swim until the fall of 2015 so we will definitely continue to chip away here.
ST: Even with a 3 minute lead, it looked like you wanted to sprint to the finish. What was behind that sprint?
Jodie: Ha! In running we never ‘took our time’ on the way to the finish line. I have watched lots of people lose races at the line so I guess I just have ingrained in my head that you better finish strong. I think I will stick to that approach...
ST: Congrats on a strong sub-9 race. Do you have any feelings about the reported short bike course and somewhat short run? Or do such numbers not make any difference to you?
Jodie: Every course is different and every race on the same course is different. There are lots of factors that contribute to the results on any given day from the weather to your competitors. The numbers are a point of reference but they will never tell the whole story.
ST: What did this victory mean to you?
Jodie: This victory was extra special in that my husband, parents, sister, aunt and uncle all flew in from New York and Michigan to be a part of the journey. I have also been fortunate to develop a community of friends who have welcomed me into their homes in Huntsville and The Woodlands over the past year. Being able to share the victory with everyone was the most rewarding part of the day. I will not complain about an automatic qualification spot for Kona either!
ST: How important to your success has your marriage to Aaron Robertson been? How has his sharing of love for music and making teaching music a profession affected your life? How has his matching running ability been a blessing as a training partner?
Jodie: Without Aaron’s support none of this would be possible. Aaron is there for the ups and downs and he is always helping me out before doing anything for himself. Although we have tons in common (Aaron is a 4th grade band teacher and a competitive runner with a 14:29 5k PR and a 2:30 marathon PR) our approach to life and sport is pretty different. We actually never train together as we learned pretty early on that if we wanted to stay married we also needed to respect our differences when it comes to training. We ran one time together at the [USA 50k National Championships where they finished together in 3:20:12] and sharing that entire race with him will always be the highlight of my running career. I am constantly learning from him and can only hope to demonstrate some of his calmness, kindness, determination and generosity in my own life and racing.
ST: With your Kona qualification taken care of, how much better do you anticipate doing that your 20th place finish last year? As a point of reference, Natascha Badmann and Lori Bowden did quite well with a one hour swim. And your 2:34 marathon PR marks you among the women with greatest potential in the Kona field on the run. And your 4:43 – short course or not – marks you capable of staying near the leaders on the bike.
Jodie: Out in Kona the focus again will be 100% on executing my racing and staying in the moment.
ST: What makes you happiest?
Jodie: I am beyond fortunate to be teaching music at Herricks UFSD. The community, staff, administration and students have been incredibly supportive and I am humbled at the opportunity to share my dreams and goals with them. I never imagined that I would find myself in an environment where I could grow professionally as a teacher and athlete. The people you encounter and interactions you have are the best part of both of these professions. I am continually inspired to overcome challenges along the way through the encouragement I receive and I can only hope that I will help my students and fellow triathletes establish a set of values built on a foundation of dedication and hard work.