When Robin Torpey goes for a run, he feels like a kid again. He feels like he can run forever.
As Torpey, age 58, notes, “It’s just putting one foot in front of the other, right?”
While this is technically true, it’s definitely not as easy as it sounds. Becoming a competitive distance runner literally and figuratively take many steps, which Torpey, an associate professor at Alfred State, has done so often that he has now qualified for the 2017 New York City Marathon and the 2018 Boston Marathon.
“The New York City Marathon is a bucket list item for me,” he said. “I love New York City and am excited by the idea of being able to run 26.2 miles through all five boroughs of the city. The Boston Marathon was never a big goal for me, but it’s like the ‘Holy Grail’ for marathoners. You’re not considered a ‘real’ marathon runner until you’ve qualified for Boston, and a lot of runners never manage to qualify, so I wanted to do it just to prove that I could.”
Torpey’s path to becoming a runner is a unique one. Though he ran track and field at Cuba High School in the mid-70s and also ran for fitness purposes while in the Air Force, he didn’t begin competitive distance running until the age of 55.
By then, he had decided that as he was getting older, he wanted to get into better shape, so he enrolled in a mixed martial arts (MMA) school.
“I soon found that I was too out of shape to do well at MMA,” he said. “The instructor told us that the best thing you could do in a bad situation, if possible, was to run away, so I decided to start running, figuring by doing so, I could get into better shape and would then be able to return to MMA school. After running for a while, I found that I enjoyed it so much that I never returned to MMA school.”
When he first started training, Torpey began by doing eight consecutive two-minute intervals, with each consisting of 15 seconds of running, and one minute, 45 seconds’ worth of walking. He gradually increased his running and decreased his walking within each interval to the point where he could begin competing in 5Ks.
“After I started running 5Ks, I learned that I really enjoyed it,” he said. “Then I learned that as a general rule I’m not very competitive, but when I’m running I’m extremely competitive. Before long, I was placing in the top three in my age group in every 5K I ran.”
In addition to a rigorous personal training regimen and running with the Olean Area Runners Group, Torpey has stayed in shape by eating foods such as salmon, lean red meat and chicken, and low-fat cottage cheese, instead of processed foods or anything made with refined grains.
As he has continued to train and eat healthy, Torpey has become able to run even greater distances for longer periods of time. He qualified for the 2018 Boston Marathon, which will be held April 16 that year, by running one in Harrisburg, PA in November 2016 in less than three hours and 40 minutes. To be eligible for the 2017 New York City Marathon, taking place Nov. 5, he needed to finish the Empire State Half Marathon in Syracuse in October 2016 in less than an hour and 36 minutes, which he did.
To date, Torpey has earned a number of honors for his achievements in running, including finisher’s medals for four marathons and six half marathons, and medals or trophies for 16 5Ks, all within the span of two years.
While Torpey has been training and running competitively for a while now, his employment at Alfred State dates much further back. Since being hired as an instructional support associate in 1991, he has held a few positions at the college, including Electrical/Electronics Department professor and chair. He is currently an associate professor in the Computer and Information Technology Department.
For anyone looking to follow Torpey’s example of becoming a distance runner, he urges them to, “Decide how badly you want it and whether you’re willing to do what it takes to get there.”
“Like most things in life, you have to do the work to get the rewards,” he said. “I don’t care how much talent a person has, if you want to be a competitive distance runner, you have to do the work, and there’s nothing wrong with deciding you just want to be a distance runner without being competitive. Don’t ever forget that it’s supposed to be fun.”
Torpey also advises runners to remember the old adage, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“You have to start slowly and easily and gradually work your way up,” he said. “Too many people go out and try to run too far, too fast, too soon, and they end up injured. It’s no fun watching everyone else run while you’re recovering from an overuse injury.”
Finally, he offers one last piece of advice: Don’t try to beat him in a race.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said.