Above: Zane Robertson on his way to a national 10,000m record at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Photo by Paul Gilham / Getty Images Sport.
Zane Robertson has endured a far from perfect past 12 months since setting a national 10,000m record in Rio last year. Yet as Steve Landells found out the Kiwi distance runner believes he can once again lower the mark when he hits the track to tackle the 25-lap distance at the forthcoming IAAF World Championships in London.
Zane Robertson will hope it is a case of déjà vu at the London World Championships. And, quite frankly, we shouldn’t doubt him.
At year’s Rio Olympics, the Kiwi distance running star, endured an injury and illness plagued build up but such was his quality and tenacious never-say-die spirit he managed to lower Dick Quax’s 39-year-old national record time to clock 27:33.67 and place 12th.
Fast forward some 12 months on and Zane is once again emerging from a period of injury gloom after being sidelined for four months with a stress fracture of the lower back. Yet mirroring his countdown to Rio the 27-year-old has good reason to feel optimistic ahead of his 25-lap test in London, where he will face two-time world and two-time Olympic 10,000m champion and home favourite Mo Farah and Kenya’s World Cross Country and World Half-Marathon champion Geoffrey Kamworor in a stellar field.
“I’ve recently completed my first track session (four sets of 1km and 2x500m for a total 8km workout) of the year, which was exactly the same session I did as my first before Rio,” explains Zane. “It gives me a good gauge as to where I am at and all the times exceeded last year’s session, which shows I am in a better place than I was before Rio.”
Coming off the back of his first Olympic experience, Zane returned to training and was progressing nicely for a planned tilt at a sub-59-minute half-marathon in November. In early October he ran a superb 10km race to destroy a top-class field and land victory in a stunning 27:28 – five seconds quicker than his 10,000m national record on the track - at the Asics Berlin 10.
Despite competing in cold and wet conditions and without the aid of pacemakers, Zane produced the joint-second quickest road 10km time in the world for 2016 and also elevated himself to number two all-time for a non-African (only American Mark Nenow has gone faster).
Feeling a slight pain in his right hip at the time he dismissed the issue and returned to training for his planned half-marathon assault with renewed vigour.
“After Berlin I was very motivated (in training) and I started to push the limits,” he says. “I probably went over the limit a little and the pain in my right hip transferred to the left side. Then one evening after one 10x600m hill session at more than 3000m altitude (in the Entoto Mountains) after I got a taxi home, I couldn’t walk.”
After ten days or so trying to pinpoint the nature of the pain in Ethiopia he flew out to Munich where he was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the sacrum.
It was a huge blow for an athlete who lives for the buzz and thrill of running each day.
“It has been the worst injury I’ve had in my life because there is so little you can do,” he says. “I couldn’t cross-train, aqua-jog, ride a bike, carry out core work or stretch. I couldn’t even swim because kicking your legs would impact on the lower back muscles. All I could do was sit or lie down each day.”
Zane – who divides his time between Ethiopia and Kenyan - returned to the latter country to be closer to his twin brother, Jake, and took some time out relaxing down by the beach in Mombasa. Taking a wisely cautious approach he returned after a four-month break from running and so began his road to full fitness.
After a ten-day period running in the forest on his own he joined in a fast 30km run with his twin sibling. He kept up with the pace at the front for 22km – a run which proved the man who originally hails from Hamilton was once again on the right track.
In May – although far from at his fittest - he enjoyed a solid 10km hit out recording 28:49 in Bangalore, India to place seventh. Despite racing in “uncomfortable conditions” of more 30c, 90 per cent humidity and at an altitude of around 1000m he was reasonably satisfied with the first competitive outing in eight months before returning to training where much of his efforts have been focused on preparing for his marathon debut later this year.
The ambitious distance runner has targeted a time of 2:05 for the 42.2km distance – a mark which would destroy Rod Dixon’s 34-year-old New Zealand record of 2:08:59 set when winning the 1983 New York Marathon.
Yet before then he has a key date in London. He is currently fine-turning his preparation in St Moritz, Switzerland, training alongside Jake, and the Swiss duo, Tadesse Abraham, the European half-marathon champion, and Julien Wanders.
The high-altitude training base has proved a perfect final stop-off point for Zane prior to past major championships and although he has marathon aspirations for later this year, Zane is committing fully to his 10,000m assault in the British capital.
“It is important to me, I don’t just want to show up at a championship unprepared and just jog around the track,” he insists. “I take it very seriously. I don’t like being beaten. I always want to better myself and I would really like to break the national record again. I don’t have a lot of time left and it is hard to gauge exactly where I’m at but I’m looking good and looking better than I did ahead of Rio. I think I’m heading in the right direction.”
London could also be his last track outing for the foreseeable future.
“I honestly don’t know when my next track race will be because next year I plan to race the marathon at the Commonwealth Games,” he says.” It could be at the 2019 World Championships in Doha. All I know is that in London, the Kenyans will take it out hard and try and drop Mo (Farah).”
It promises to be a mouthwatering prospect and one in which Zane fully hopes to make a significant impact.