Jake Robertson has made an exciting return to competition this year after several challenging years. He talks to Steve Landells about his return to the competitive arena and his plans for the rest of 2017.
To say the past few years of Jake Robertson's career had been frustrating would be an understatement.
Flawed by an injury which took months to be diagnosed properly and unable to run internationally during the entirety of 2015 and 2016 life was tough for one half of the spectacular Robertson twins - the other is Olympic 10,000m finalist Zane.
But Jake - just like his sibling - is one tough cookie. Fuelled by an insatiable desire to fulfil his running talent, the man from Hamilton who left these shores for a new life in East Africa ten years ago is back on track and running better than ever.
This year he boasts a 100 per cent record from his two competitive outings. Opening with an eye-catching win in a stunning 60:01 to take victory in the IAAF Gold Label Lisbon Half-Marathon in March, the 27-year-old Kiwi followed this up with a slick 27:55 to finish top of the podium over 10km in New Orleans.
"Yes, I'm pretty pleased," explains Jake of his competitive return to the sport after a little over two years away. "The times could have been better, but, given the situation, I'm happy."
Jake's struggles with what for a long time proved a mysterious injury can be traced back to 2014 when he started to encounter issues with his calf. Frustratingly, he would go through the same cycle of running for a period without problems only for the calf problem to resurface.
He competed twice during the New Zealand domestic season in 2015 but the injury persisted, ruling him out of a crack at both the 2015 World Championships and 2016 Rio Olympics. It was only last year when the problem was finally diagnosed by an English-based doctor working for the SUB2 team.
The UK-based project's revolutionary approach to running a sub-two-hour marathon were keen to involved the Robertson twins. The brothers agreed, and last year in the lead up the Rio Games they proved Jake's medical saviour.
"The problem was diagnosed properly by the SUB2 team as a nervous system problem in my back," he explains. "The sciatic nerve, which run down the knee into the top of my calf was creating the sensation that my calf was tearing, even though it wasn't. It was actually a huge sense of relief to hear the doctor talking through the symptoms. I thought, if he can recognise the problem then he must know what to do to fix the problem. It was an amazing feeling."
Under the recommendation of Dr Nick Webborn he underwent a strict treatment plan which included a whole series of daily exercises to help loosen the back. He soon felt the benefit and thanks to Jake's diligent work he has, so far, had no reoccurrence of the problem.
"It is always touch and go with this injury and it will always be there," says Jake, who has also benefited from working with SUB2 physio Harvey Maguire, who has carefully assisted with his rehab programme out of his Kenyan base in Iten. "It is like an everyday grind, but I just have to keep on top of it."
The net result of the solution is Jake has been able to once more train consistently. With a greater focus on "quality over quantity" in his weekly regimen he finally made his eagerly awaited return in March in Lisbon - in what was his first competitive appearance since winning the New Zealand 5000m title in Wellington some 24 months earlier.
And what a return.
Racing against a high calibre field - five runners along with the pacemaker covered the opening 10km in 27:45 before Robertson hit the front at 16km and ran the legs off the opposition to stop the clock in 1:01:01 - 14 seconds slower than his twin brother's Oceania record - but still an outstanding performance. (note, the Robertson brothers are now the fastest twins in history for the half-marathon distance).
"I was expecting the time to be way better but considering the way we went out, and at one stage we were below the schedule for the world record, once I had the opportunity to win I decided to focus on that. It was an amazing (half-marathon) debut."
Next up he competed at the Crescent City Classic 10km in New Orleans. He targeted the course record of 27:10 and although he fell short, recording a time of 27:55, it was another confidence boosting win as he targets greater goals for the season ahead.
"I was the favourite for that race and I went for it from the start," he explains. "It was very humid and windy that day and in the last 3km I lost quite a bit of time. To win a race is to win a race, but when you try to get a record and it doesn't go your way, you feel something was missing."
After a highly encouraging start to the year Jake's focus now switches to the track and World Championship 10,000m qualification. Although his last track 10,000m outing took place at the 2014 Commonwealth Games (when he placed seventh) he is clearly a much stronger athlete today and he has a simple theory why.
"Distance running is not a young person's sport," he explains. "The older you get the better you get. There are top Kenyan marathoners aged in their 40s. I have trained hard in Africa for ten years. Nothing that I have done is going to be lost. My progress has been down to constant hard work over the past ten years and maturity in the body."
In terms of his next 10,000m, he must surely be capable of challenging brother Zane's national record of 27:33.67 set at the Rio Olympics last year.
"I'll be looking to run something very fast," he says expectantly.
Beyond the track season the tantalising prospect remains of Jake - and also twin brother Zane - making their marathon debuts later this year. Jake is undecided where he will make his debut. However, should either compete over the 42.2km then surely Rod Dixon's 34-year-old national record of 2:08:59 is due for some revision.
Yet before his thoughts drift to the marathon he dreams about a 10,000m appearance at the London World Championships, where he hopes to slug it out against Great Britain's iconic four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah.
"One reason I want to target the 10,000m is to race Mo Farah who has been undefeated for a long time (the last time he was beaten over 10,000m was in 2011)," he adds. "I really want to have one last crack at him before he retires on the track. If my brother and I are shape we at least can make him hurt for it (the win)."