2018 BMO Vancouver Marathon: A Rob Watson Story

Scroll down

How one local running figure executed his perfect marathon performance

A warm and humid May morning on Canada's west coast greets more than 17,000 runners toeing the line for the 2018 BMO Vancouver Marathon. Among them is coach, local favourite, and Canadian running scene legend, Rob Watson. The 2 x Canadian 3000m Steeplechase champion and 10 x sub-2:20 marathoner is jumping into the ring for the first time since the 2016 London Marathon —his last serious marathon attempt.

For two years Rob has focused on coaching other athletes with Canadian Olympian, and Mile2Marathon co-founder Dylan Wykes. In the process, Rob claims he "accidentally got into shape", and switched his spring training into a higher gear for today's race.

The days of chasing international qualifying times are behind Rob, and today is about "enjoying the ability to push myself through the marathon" in his adopted hometown. Rob has sub 2:20 aspirations, but with the hotter than expected morning, he really just wants the chance to let his competitive nature take over and to race.

And race he does.

2018 bmo 4816 web
2018 bmo 4830 web
2018 bmo 4858 web

Before the gun goes off however, Rob warms up amongst the other runners. Providing last minute instructions, hugs, high-fives, and encouragement to his athletes milling about the start area.

"I want to make sure they are ready to perform their best", Rob responds when asked if it puts him off prior to the race.

"I don't need to get too much into my box before the race. I'm a veteran. I've done enough of these".

2018 bmo 4919 web
2018 bmo 4929 web

A four person lead-pack strings out early through the streets of Vancouver neighbourhoods towards the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus. A two person race between Rob and Haron Kiptoo Sirma emerges before the nearly 100 M climb at the 9 KM mark known as BMO's Big Climb on Strava. A hill Rob trains on regularly as he lives only 6 KMs away.

2018 bmo 5104 web

"I wanted to have a gap on the uphills...and more than happy with Haron closing the gap on the downhills".

Rob Watson

When Rob pulls away to a 35 second lead, he forces Kiptoo Sirma to hammer the downhills out of UBC to catch him into Jericho Beach, where more climbing awaits the two.

"I think him not knowing the course, that's what killed him".

Rob knows Haron is a strong runner and he has a game plan when he is told Haron is coming fast.

"He was trying to drop me, so I settled in. I didn't want him to get that mental advantage. That was some of the hardest I had to focus on the day. I knew he was trying to recover from his move, so I was trying to throw a counter on him". It works.

By the time Rob emerges from the shadows on the crest of the ironclad Burrard Street Bridge, he knows he accomplished his task of hurting Haron.

"I'm looking for Gen [Rob's fiancé] because she said she was going to be on that corner. I was feeling great at this point actually. I think, I know I'm going to win. It was a very positive point".

2018 bmo 5031 full
2018 bmo 5068 full
2018 bmo 5136 full

At the start of the Stanley Park Seawall near Second Beach, Rob receives confirmation from Dylan that his move works and he dropped Haron, who pulled off course. "This is when I started to feel it...I wanted to know if I have to keep pushing or if I can relax".

All that's left is a lonely 10KM run around the seawall. A route Rob — and every Vancouver runner —has run thousands of time. "I know this section too well" he admits.

2018 bmo 5556 full

"I'm miserable at this point. I know I am going to win the race...but at this point I didn't care. I hated it. I was exhausted"

Rob Watson

2018 bmo 5525 full
2018 bmo 5385 full
2018 bmo 5593 full

As Rob crosses the finish line, he half heartedly manages to lift a fist in the air before collapsing with the tape wrapped up in his legs. There aren't immediate thoughts of joy and celebration in Rob's head across the line. He remembers thinking "Yes, fuck, it's done...relief feeling that water poured on my head"

2018 bmo 5668 full
2018 bmo 5679 full

Rob is immediately the focus of Genevieve as he sits down, helped by race support crew. The chaos of the finish line engulfs them, but they are connected. In constant contact. In this moment, the energy around us doesn't feel like it exists. It's just Rob and Gen. They earned this together. They fight it as long as they can, but race officials are eager to get Rob standing for interviews, and the energy of the situation rushes back in as Rob is whisked off.

2018 bmo 5698 full
2018 bmo 5716 full
2018 bmo 5734 full

To Rob's credit, within 6 minutes and 30 seconds from crossing the line he is walking about the finish area, accepting congratulations from everyone around, and sipping on a cold beer. Almost immediately, it's back to coach mode when Rob see's Tony Tomsich - fellow Mile2Marathon coach and training partner - walking toward him.

"I ran a 66" Tony exclaims with a smile you could see from a satellite. It's a huge PB in the half-marathon for Tony. "It caught me by surprise, and I was so happy...it brought me back into the whole 'now we can celebrate' mindset" says Rob.

2018 bmo 5776 full
2018 bmo 5784 full

Ice cream, beer, shopping, beer, lunch, beer, and more debriefs with PB'ing athletes comprises the rest of Rob's afternoon. Much like the pre-race warm up, Rob can't move 20 feet without running into his athletes and supporters. It's a literal celebration every step.

Despite all the international experience Rob has racked up over his career, this is Rob's first marathon victory. It's special to watch him celebrate with the entire Vancouver running community.

2018 bmo 5830 full
2018 bmo 6148 full
2018 bmo 6363 full

By the time the sun sets on the 2018 BMO Vancouver Marathon, Rob is laying down on a beach blanket in the shadow of the very bridge that sealed his victory—surrounded by close friends.

2018 bmo 6525 full
It was a big day for the author and photographer of this piece, Jody Bailey (right)
2018 bmo 6593 full
2018 bmo 6681 full

"It was kind of the perfect day. To be able to finish it on the beach, drinking beer, and hanging out with friends like I would be anyway. I was just part of the group. I love being a figure in the running scene, but it feels nice to just be Rob 'the guy' at this point"

Rob Watson, 2018 BMO Vancouver Marathon winner

Editor's Note: Thanks to Jody Bailey for putting together this amazing piece. Check out more of Jody's work here and here.

Back to top
Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 9.31.08 am
casimir-loxsom-600-meter-record h
gab cole
SAMPLES-4
Allie Kiefer
53c6bc75-351c-4bf3-bc44-474c46e0abc6
FB-Shirin-2
decastella
h 14826342 rs-4a4aa46b-a5dc-4418-aa55-2a1135d662d8
kraftrunners tsp flight

Culture

Team Strava does The Speed Project

A great recap of The Speed Project from the all women's team competing for Strava. The piece is well shot and captures the essence of the event.

Performance

Cas Loxsom opens up about depression

In this interview with Flotrack Caz Loxsom openly discusses his struggles with depression while trying to be one of the best 800m runners in the world. It's incredibly honest and worth sharing with your loved ones.

Performance

Meet Gab Cole

Great profile from Vice about artist and Olympian Gab Cole.

Performance

Boundaries: Jordan Hasay

Jordan Hasay talks about her earliest running memories and running with her mom, Teresa, who passed away in 2016. A beautifully shot 7 minute clip.

Performance

My weight has nothing to do with how good a runner I am

Allie Kieffer came out of nowhere to place 5th at the 2017 New York Marathon. In this piece Kieffer discusses body image and why she doesn't buy in to outside noise.

Performance

Raevyn Rogers is fierce

The University of Oregon star and winner of the 2017 Bowerman Award shares her thoughts on what being a strong female athlete means for her.

Performance

How one woman sparked a sporting revolution in Iran

An inspirational story about Shirin Gerami's determination to represent Iran in triathlon.

Culture

The Race that Saves Lives

Former Australian Marathon World Champion Rob De Castella discusses the important work he's doing with indigenous Austalians, training a group for the New York City Marathon each year. As you'll find out, it's about a lot more than a running race.

Performance

Inside the fascinating mind of Olympic runner Alexi Pappas

Alexi Pappas is a Greek-American filmmaker, writer, and poet. She's also an Olympian.

Culture

The Speed Project 3.0

The guys from KRAFT Runners in Berlin take their partying more seriously than most. They're also pretty handy at running.

Subscribe to stay up to date

Subscribe for the latest news and exclusive offers. Join the Tempo community today.