Rob Watson: The Runner’s Runner Returns to Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, by Paul Gains

041_IJ_SVHM11_0832TORONTO. August 14th. Rob Watson remains one of the most popular runners on the Canadian scene as much for his willingness to race often as for his superb results. In 2013 alone he ran four marathons, eliciting “That’s Robbie!” comments from his peers.

When he lines up for the 2014 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 19th though, he will do so knowing his intention of smashing his own personal record of 2:13:29 is realistic. It will be ‘only’ his second marathon of 2014.

Last year he finished 11th at Boston (2:15:33), won the Canadian Marathon title in Ottawa a month later (2:18:34), raced to a 20th place finish at the IAAF World Championships in steamy hot Moscow in August (2:16:28) all before recording that personal best on the very same streets he tackles this October. That his body survived the punishment is still a surprise to the 31 year old.

“At the end of last year I was pretty banged up especially between the World Championship marathon and Toronto,” he admits. “I was barely hanging on. So to go out there and get a ‘PB’ in Toronto I was actually surprised I was able to do that. I wanted to allow myself to recover and relax this year because last year was pretty hard on the body.”

Together with coach Richard Lee, Watson, a native of London, Ontario who now resides in Vancouver, decided to change both training and his approach to the big races.

“We were kind of lucky we got away with that. ‘Next year we have got to focus on building upon this and being a little smarter,’” he remembers saying to Lee. “The big thing about this sport is you have to remain healthy and consistent so you don’t want a big injury and, when you run four marathons in a year, you are pushing the envelope and risking injury.”

Dylan & Rob

Dylan & Rob

Lee, who doubles as personal coach to Watson and his training partners, Dylan Wykes and Kelly Wiebe, as well as being the BC Endurance Project coach, is very much a hands-on coach. One of the first things he did with Watson’s training program is decrease the volume but increase the quality. Watson, a graduate of Colorado State University, now runs 200km in a week, much of it below six minute mile pace. Training with Wykes (2:10:47 personal best) has been beneficial, Watson confirms, though it can sometimes mean they run too hard.

“Yes it most certainly does get competitive,” says Watson, laughing. “That’s the thing when you have three pretty decent runners working together, somebody is going to be feeling pretty good one day, and they are going to want to push the pace a bit.

“But we are also mature and we understand the way things are. If we are doing a workout and Dylan is having a good day, the fact of the matter is he is a 2:10 guy and if he is feeling good he is probably going to thrash me. Sometimes I have to let him go and let him do his thing.”

Sensing the competitive nature of the training could sometimes pose a problem coach Lee often accompanies them on their long runs riding along on his bicycle.

“Kelly and I were out for a 37k run the other day and we were getting after it a little bit near the end,” Watson recounts. “We had coach Rich on his bike. He was like, ‘chill guys, chill, we are not out here to run fast, we are out here to run volume today so just relax.’ So it’s nice to have Richard there to put the brakes on us sometimes because we can get going. Dylan and I were supposed to go out for an easy 15 miler two weeks ago and we ended up hammering it. We had a legitimate workout two days later and we were both fried from it. Sometimes you have to be smarter.”

Another benefit of belonging to this training group is that they all live near one another in the Kitsilano Beach area of Vancouver. They socialise after training often sharing pizza and beer at Double DD Pizza which is right next to Forerunners, the running store where former Canadian marathon star, Peter Butler employs both Wykes and Watson, on a part time basis.

Watson laughs when he’s asked whether he has bought a car to replace the BMW he sold to finance his move to Vancouver several years ago.

“Actually Rich Lee gave me his old car,” Watson reveals. “It’s a 1997 Toyota Corolla and yesterday on the way to Seattle (to see the Toronto Blues Jays play against the Mariners) it went over 459,000 km. It’s not nearly as nice as my old BMW but it gets the job done. These things are indestructible.”

318_IJ_SVHM11_1259It’s a given that training and recovery take up most of his time these days. But he is also reading plenty to fill his spare time. Among the books he has been enjoying are Boys in the Boat” an account of the US rowing team that went to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and Golden Spruce, a history of the British Columbia logging industry. He is also a keen fan of Manchester United and has plans, once the Toronto Waterfront Marathon is in the books, to attend a match at the legendary Old Trafford stadium. He laughs when he explains he has accumulated enough frequent flyer miles through his busy racing schedule.

For now everything is focused on getting a good result in Toronto, a race he obviously admires.

“The goal for Toronto Waterfront, I want to set a pretty solid ‘PB’” he admits. “It would be great to be a 2:11 guy; 2:12 would be alright too. I want to set myself up so that when the Olympic window opens up you have a legitimate chance to chase the standard, whatever that might be. You know I would love to run 2:11 mid in Toronto. That would be pretty sweet.

“The best thing about the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is just being Canadian and running a big time marathon in Canada. There is such a positive vibe there.

“There is so much support for Canadian athletes. (Race Director) Alan Brookes and Clif and the whole Canada Running Series team, they do a really good job taking care of us. They find us good pacers. It’s a nice relaxed vibe where they take care of you and all you have to do is go out there and run.

“It’s a pretty good course. If you have a nice weather day you can run really fast on that course and hopefully we will get a nice day on October 19th. Everything else is set up for us to run fast.”

Everyone is invited to race with Rob at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront on October 19th; come out and cheer him on; maybe join him for his post-race victory reward of cookies and beer; and to definitely follow him on Twitter @robbiedxc . Race info www.stwm.ca

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