Robin Jones: Don’t underestimate the value of running partners

Robin Jones completed the Hokie Half Marathon in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021.

Robin Jones has spent her entire career supporting college students and helping connect them to the resources they need to get started and eventually to flourish.

When she’s not working, there’s a good chance she’s either running … or thinking about running. 

In addition to improving her own fitness, Robin has always strived to broaden the running community. While living in California, she coached middle school cross country and track for three years.

“It was so fun and inspiring to watch kids become athletes and accomplish goals and learn new things about the sport and themselves.”

The training included Wednesday classroom workshops for the team.

“We studied/watched videos from the history of competitive running — great moments in running history and social justice — Jesse Owens, Kathrine Switzer, olympic firsts, paralympics —  running and field event form, relay handoffs, drills and such,” said Robin. “We’d watch the form workouts and then go practice what we learned. It was super fun! Plus my daughter was on the team so it was a bonus to watch her develop too.”

She offers these tips to new runners — or anyone who is just thinking about starting.

  • Don’t worry about pace. Just start. It will be hard at the beginning but if you keep going, it does get easier. The first time you get the running high, you will be hooked! 
  • If an experienced runner offers to run with you, say yes. They wouldn’t make the offer if they don’t want to run with you. They won’t make you feel bad for being slower or for shorter distances. They want to help build you up!” 

Robin also stresses the value of finding compatible running partners. “They can make the miles sail and they can get you through some rough runs too. Something about suffering together can really bond you!” she says. 

Her regular running partners in Blacksburg include her friends Lisa and Jay Abbott.

But being part of a military family — which can mean moving a lot —  she also knows first hand that it can be hard to find running friends after moving to a new area. That can be especially true for less experienced runners.

Organized group runs can really helpbif they are planned with that purpose in mind, she says. 

“Weekly meetups should be advertised and intentional that they will help you meet people and get to know new running routes — no matter the pace or experience level,” Robin says. “It’s hard if you show up to meet people and get connected and then end up running by yourself anyway.”

Robin Jones | Age: 47

Family: Married to Tombo, Daughters Caroline (19) and Audrey Kate (14)

Hometown: Born in Cleveland Ohio, grew up in Marietta, Georgia. After college, we were an active duty family — we lived all over the country — until Tombo retired from the military in 2016. That’s when we moved to Blacksburg.

What brought you to the NRV? I took a job at Virginia Tech. Though we always tried to work together on all of our military moves, we ultimately had to go where the military sent us, following Tombo’s career. We had agreed from the beginning that once he decided to retire, we would let my career take priority and we would move where I found a job — that was Virginia Tech.

Occupation: I’ve worked in higher education for my whole career as an academic and student affairs/student services professional. Right now, I am the Assistant Vice President Student Services for Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus.

When/how did you start running? I sort of ran off and on my whole life but nothing serious. I was actually a competitive figure skater and swam in summer leagues and on my high school team. As an adult, I ran a 5K here and there but I would say I didn’t really become consistent until 2011 when I decided to run my first half. I had just finished my doctorate degree and felt like I needed to fill all the new found free time with something productive, fulfilling and challenging. Also, it seemed like I had been sitting too much with all the writing and I wanted to do something active!

Why do you run now? For the same reasons as above, plus it gives me time to clear my head and connect with others. It’s the thing that’s just for me. I’m not particularly fast but I put in the miles.

Most satisfying running accomplishment? In terms of racing, I was so proud of the first time I raced a sub-two-hour half marathon. And in terms of supporting the running community, it was when I coached middle school XC and track in California.

Proudest race moment? So, I love the training and the prep way better than I like any race. I love putting in the work, making a schedule, experimenting with nutrition, trying new workouts and planning routes. So when I am fit, prepared, and feeling ready, I am most proud when race day performance aligns. It doesn’t always happen so I try not to hang my hat on THE day only. I usually try to reflect on the journey to get to race day as to what I should be most proud!

Favorite places to run?  With good running partners, any place is a good place to run. Around the NRV, the Huck is a great go-to. Lately, I’ve started doing a little trail running. It’s so different from the road so it’s been fun to figure that out and there are so many places to explore in the Jefferson National Forest. 

Hobbies beyond running? I love live music! I will travel to see my favorites and the great!

Any running superstitions or rituals? My shoes have to be tied exactly the same — one cannot be tighter or looser than the other!

Favorite gear? I mostly run in Oiselle clothing these days. I like the fit and also supporting a woman-founded, woman-owned and women’s-only product company. I’ve really started paying attention to how sponsors treat their athletes, particularly women, and direct my purchasing power accordingly. 

Favorite pre-run fuel? For long runs — usually something like avocado on a wheat english muffin and a banana and/or sometimes a Skratch bar, depending on how long.

Favorite post-run recovery/reward meal? Some sort of rice bowl with veggies and a protein- with Sriracha sauce!

Fact many people don’t know about you? The competitive figure skater thing mentioned above.

Running goals for the next few years? Stay healthy and injury free. Get out on the trail more.

Robin Jones takes a break at the top of Sinking Creek Mountain on the Appalachian Trail.

You might also enjoy these NRV Runs stories:

Running fast and up front at age 57. Meet Trish Richardson

105 racers started the Looking Glass 50 miler. Just 63 finished. Emily Hutchins was 1 of them.

Former top marathoner Michelle Lowry still running strong in Blacksburg

Jordan Chang shares his passion for running and community.

A thank you to James Demarco and Runabout Sports

Lessons learned from leading a college track and cross country program at age 24 

Jenn Fleming’s comeback story continues with win at Holiday Lake 50K

Blacksburg running legend Peter Dorrell helps build community

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