Anyone following the North American road racing scene understands that Rob Watson is on the verge of an enormous breakthrough one that could launch him onto the international marathoning scene.
A year ago the 29 year old from London, Ontario ran a personal best time at the Rotterdam marathon in 2:13:37. As is his custom he went out quickly, too quickly, and paid in the latter stages of the race. More recently he placed a credible 11th in the 2013 Boston Marathon which was only his third complete marathon.
Just a month later he won the Canadian Marathon championship at the Ottawa marathon with a 2:18:33. He had originally been entered in the Ottawa 10k but switched only two days before.
Next up on his long distance running schedule is the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon on June 23 which is also the occasion of his 30th birthday.
While his long term objective is a dramatic improvement of his personal best there is one other goal he’s after. Although he is ranked seventeenth on the list of all time Canadian marathoners he’s only fifth amongst employees at ‘Forerunners’, the Vancouver running shoe store, where he works part time.
“There’s pictures on the wall of the three fastest guys,” Watson says laughing. “I want to break into at least the top three in the store. There are two 2:10 guys and a 2:11 guy. It’s pretty neat and it busts you down a peg or two.
“It’s a small independent store and I am really good friends with everyone I work with. When I was away two months I really missed them. Everyone was very positive, everyone was really supportive. It’s a good vibe there. I am really happy that I found this job. They are really flexible. I am happy to jump back in there and be with the crew.”
The owner of the store is Peter Butler, who is ranked third on the Canadian all time marathon list with his 2:10:55 from 1985. Canadian Olympian Dylan Wykes, with his 2:10:47 personal best, is ranked 2nd all time while Art Boileau is sixth (2:11:15). Carey Nelson, 12th on the all time list ranks 4th at the store with his 2:12:28. All except Wykes are retired.
“He’s got to up his game!” Butler says in jest. “We have a wall of fame, Dylan myself and Art are on that wall. Rob is going to have to run faster to get on. You have to run 2:11:15 to get on the wall. He’s more interested in that than making the Olympics because he knows if he runs that time he will make the Olympics.”
Watson, who sold all his possessions to move to Vancouver and carve out a living as a professional runner, is optimistic about the upcoming half marathon. Three mornings a week he goes to a local gym to do strength training to help prevent injury. He is coached by his brother Peter Watson who is also the cross country coach at the University of Virginia.
“My recovery (from Boston) has been better than it has been in past marathons,” he declares. “Last year after Rotterdam I kind of let it slip a little bit. I have had a few nagging injuries, I have learned to stay on a routine before the marathon and I am doing a lot of active recovery post marathon. It has been going well.
“My goal in Boston was top 10 but I just missed that. I was happy with how I ran. I ran hard. I was happy with the whole experience. I still haven’t been quite able to finish up a marathon. I am getting close to figuring it out. It was a positive experience and I learned a lot from it I want to keep building on it and keep rolling.”
Butler says the store phone rang off the hook with media trying to reach Watson after the bombs went off near the Boston finish line. Although the elite athletes’ hotel was at the finish area, and, he heard the explosions, they were never in harm. Watson praises officials for keeping everyone safe during the lock down.
As he prepares for the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon he is fully aware of the talented field he will face which includes Kip Kangogo the 2011 champion. Originally, his former teammate at Speed River Track Club, Reid Coolsaet, was entered. But the Canadian Olympian broke his collar bone in a bicycle accident recently.
“Right now my shape is decent, much better than this time last year. I want to do well in this half marathon in Vancouver,” Watson declares. “It’s on my 30th birthday, it’s in my new hometown, so I want to perform well there. I am hoping to be pretty fit by the time that race comes around.”
Having sold his car to move out west he is dependent upon public transportation and a bicycle to get around Vancouver. He’s found accommodation he shares with an old high school friend in the downtown core. His initial roommate was a young lady who has since moved to India to pursue yoga. Watson takes it all in stride.
The Colorado State University graduate has himself been described as something of a free spirit. His unusual decision run two marathons in a month is a case in point. But its possible this attitude helps him deal with being a professional athlete and not stressing about where the next pay cheque is coming from. A fall marathon is in the works but he’s not sure where.
“I haven’t decided yet,” he admits. “There are a few options there. I will be looking for something flat and fast and I will try to run a quick marathon. I don’t know where yet. Maybe Chicago, Maybe Amsterdam maybe even Toronto if we can work things out. But I haven’t decided 100%.”
Until then he will focus on the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon and test himself against one of the strongest half marathon fields of the season. Whatever the outcome the field will know its in for a tough fight with the free spirited Rob Watson.