In the back yard behind his childhood home, Robert Allen laces up his shoes, gets in a stretch, and takes a deep breath. A set of cones rest atop the grass in front of his feet, and another set sits 60-meters ahead. Imagining a countdown, he gets into position, takes another breath, and steadies himself. Three, two, one, go.
Allen, a sophomore sprinter on the men’s track & field team, isn’t racing against anyone, nor is he racing for anything. This weekend would have been the NCAA DIII Outdoor Track & Field Championships; if he qualified, he would have traveled five hours northwest to Rochester, New York, to compete. Instead, he’s training; timing himself, and making due with what he has at his home roughly 30 minutes from campus.
“Right now, I’m just trying to focus on next season,” he said. “Honestly, having this spring off gave my body a chance to relax a bit. I want to make sure I’m in good enough shape to compete at the top of my game next year.”
After competing only in outdoor track in high school, Allen was well prepared for his second outdoor season with the Bantams. An indoor sensation this past winter, Allen qualified for the NCAA Championship for the first time. Despite not getting a chance to compete for national recognition, Allen quickly became a well-known competitor in Division III.
“Robert’s times in the 60-meter trails and finals at the Tufts [National Qualifying] Meet were extremely impressive,” said second-year head coach John Michael Mason. “I had coaches come up to me and ask, ‘where have you been hiding this kid?’ He really caught everyone’s attention.”
Prior to the meet, Allen was on the cusp of earning a chance to compete at the NCAA Championship. After catching the flu in the middle of the season, it had been a battle to elevate his times to meet NCAA qualification. With the Tufts National Qualifier being his last chance, he had one meet to prove himself.
“I knew what time I needed to hit before the meet started, and I knew I was close to hitting it. Coach [Mason] came up to me before the meet and told me that guys would be running a little faster than their times might suggest, so I knew it was going to be tough.”
After securing the fastest group time in the preliminaries, Allen broke both his personal and school record, posting a 6.89 in the 60-meter final — enough to win and send him to nationals.
Allen and three other teammates — senior Ace McAlister, first-year Travis Martin, and women’s senior Peace Kabari — made the flight down to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The four national qualifiers even got to practice at the national championship facility before the COVID-19 virus halted all championship events for the remainder of the collegiate athletic season. Despite an incredible winter, the four packed their gear and flew back to campus.
“Everyone was heartbroken,” said Mason. “It’s tough, because there was nothing we could do. They put everything into this season and they didn’t get a chance to prove themselves at the highest stage.”
Despite not running at the NCAA Championships, Allen was proud of his second indoor season at Trinity — as he should be. After the NCAA named all qualifiers All-Americans, Allen had the reputation of one of Division III’s fastest sprinters.
“It really didn’t hit me that I was competing at nationals until I got there,” he said. “I didn’t think that when I started running that I would be at this level. There was an aura about it, it almost didn’t seem real.”
Allen didn’t start taking track & field seriously until the midway point of high school career. At Loomis Chaffee, a small private school seven miles from Trinity, Allen was a multi-sport athlete. It wasn’t until his sophomore year where he decided to give it a try.
“One of my friends suggested I try playing lacrosse,” he said. “I was already playing basketball, but after my freshman year I decided to give track a chance.”
“A lot of other athletes at my school used track to stay in shape for other sports,” he said. “It was a big team, but I fit in really well and started to like it.”
Allen’s likeness for the sport became fiercer the more he competed — he quickly realized that he was better than average.
“I was pretty driven on my results,” he said. “I wanted to get faster and faster every day.”
After graduating from Loomis Chaffee in 2018, Allen said he chose Trinity for its educational values. He wasn’t recruited to play a sport, but was relieved that coach Mason took him in during his first year.
“I could see that he had such raw potential,” Mason said. “He’s so smooth — everything that he did was impressive.”
Soon enough, Allen was making an impact for the Bantams. He saw second-place performances in his first two meets in the 60-meter, and was making great strides in the 200-meter and long jump.
“I didn’t even know that there was an indoor team until I got here,” Allen said, laughing. “We only ran outdoor in high school, so being inside was really new to me.”
“He’s a really athletic young man,” said Mason. “We had him jumping during indoor season his first year, but we quickly realized how gifted he was as a sprinter and wanted to keep him healthy and focus on those events.”
After placing at the 2019 New England Men’s DIII Indoor Championships, a seventh-place finish in the 200-meter dash wasn’t enough to qualify for nationals. Instead, he set his sights on the outdoor season.
Allen registered two first-place results in the 100-meter during his first full month of the 2019 outdoor season; he hadn’t finished outside the top six through four meets. A lower extremity injury after the Trinity Invitational, however, cut his spring season short.
“It was a shame, because you could see how hard he was working,” said Mason. “He was really climbing every week, and we were excited to see what he could do come championship season.”
Unable to compete during the outdoor championship season cast a shadow over what Allen had accomplished through his rookie campaign; his steady progress went unnoticed outside of the Trinity community during the spring. His sophomore season told a different story.
“I’ve always had the drive to get better,” Allen said. “I was so close to begin hitting the times that I wanted at the end of the [2018-19] season, and I knew that if I kept working they would fall.”
Sure enough, Allen’s work began to pay off. In his first indoor meet of the 2019-20 season, he matched his then personal-best of 7.06 in the 60-meter dash.
“Even though that time wasn’t going to get me to nationals, I was happy to start where I left off,” Allen said. Even as the flu wiped out several weeks of training, his work ethic remained the same.
“Each week I would try to shave a little bit off my time,” he said. “I knew that there was no chance I would qualify for nationals unless I was under seven seconds [in the 60-meter].”
“Sprinting is a difficult combination of technical execution and raw power,” Mason said, “but Robert is just so coachable. I knew that he’d have a chance to qualify for nationals if he kept working.”
A sub-seven second time finally fell in the Springfield Classic, and again in the DIII New England Men’s Indoor Track & Field Championship. Breaking his own personal record twice, his 6.89 final time at the Tufts Qualifier proved that his hard work had paid off — this time, by sending him to nationals.
“Having other coaches come up to me and ask who Robert was and where he came from was great,” said Mason. “He was under the radar last year, but now people are starting to recognize what we already knew... he’s the real deal.”
Although Allen’s sophomore year was cut short, he continues to train every day. After seeing the progress he’s made over his last two years, he knows how important it is to keep working.
“Having the spring off has been relaxing, but I know what I need to do,” he said. “I don’t have a lot to work with [at home], but I know that I need to keep getting faster.”
Some cones, a stopwatch, and a patch of grass is all he has right now; the thought of getting back to nationals gives him all the motivation he needs.