Blog #115; Tales of rabbithood

Well, that was a fun little weekend in Berlin. My last blog post was about my desire to find more fun in my running endeavors. I can safely safe mission accomplished. This weekend was definitely one of the most enjoyable experiences of my running career.

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from brother Pete, he had been talking to Shalane Flanagan’s husband Steve and her agent Tom. The Flanagan camp was in search of some capable pacers to help Shalane at the Berlin Marathon. She would be attempting to break the American record and she was looking for some escorts to help her along the way. My name came up and Pete contacted me to see if I was interested. I pretty much accepted immediately.

I am a decent runner, but more than anything I am just a huge fan of this sport. So when the opportunity came about to be a personal pacer for one of my favourite runners, at one of the biggest marathons in the world, there was really no other choice than to pack my bags, dust off my 10th grade German skills and get on the plane.

It was a quick little trip, but man was it ever rad. I arrived in Berlin late Thursday after a long and arduous travel day. I love going to all sorts of different places, but good god, the process of getting there grinds my gears. It may be a pretty big 1st world problem, and I’m sure Louie CK would disapprove but man the travel process may be my least favourite thing in the world. Elon Musk has gotta get going on that Hyper Loop thing.

After the combination of delayed flights, a missed connection and some other snafu’s I arrived at my hotel at 10pm Berlin time. A nice little 18hr travel shit show.  I was kinda wired so I snuck in a quick 45min jog to try to shake the travel. I ran through the Tiergarten, around the Brandenburg gate and down the barren Berlin streets. By the time I was done my jog I was happy, refreshed and excited to partake in this adventure.

Early Friday morning I met up with the other pacer, Ryan Vail and Coach Jerry Schumacher. We ran the last 12km of the course. It was immediately obvious as to why this course has had so many world records set on it. Sucker is flat as a pancake, the roads are smooth and the turns are gentle. It is a marathon runners dream.

The energy and atmosphere around the meet hotel was pretty electric. Berlin in one of the 6 World Marathon Majors, and it has a tendency to produce some special races. I was feeling super excited to get going, but I was also feeling a bit of pressure. There was a lot of media buzzing around, and the internet was quite active with pre-race thoughts and analysis. This race was clearly a big deal and I didn’t wanna be the knob that screws things up! It was super comforting knowing that I would have Ryan Vail right there helping as well.  Dude is a stud marathoner in his own right with a 2:10:57 PB.

On Saturday I met again with Ryan and Jerry as we covered the first 10km of the course. Again, flat, fast and awesome.  As the race drew closer the nerves began to increase. I knew I was fit enough to get the job done, but at the same time there was a very small tinge of doubt. To break the American record of 2:19:36 we would have to average 3:18/km, and I was committed to a minimum of 35km at that pace. As I was thinking about the numbers behind this effort I got kinda scared, holy hell this was going to be a pisser of a long run!

Sunday morning arrived and we were presented with a perfect day to do some marathon running. This was the most nervous I had been before a race in a long while. I have missed that pre-race emotion and anxiety. Man, I was fired up. Ryan and I warmed up together, reconfirmed the strategies and laced up our boots, we were ready to take our girl on a little tour of Berlin.

I have met Shalane several times before this race, and each time I have been so impressed with how down to earth and genuine she is. She is literally the sweetheart of American distance running. She has an Olympic medal, several American records and an endless list of other accolades. And now here she is on the start line of the Berlin Marathon, she has a ridiculous amount of expectation and external pressure on her, yet as the starter announces one minute to start time, she turns to Ryan and myself and expresses her sincere thanks to us for rabbiting for her. It was quite humbling.

pitter patter let's get at'er! photo; Sean-Wallace Jones


The gun goes and it’s on.

Ryan and I immediately went to the front and established the pace. We were also joined by a Belgian runner whom was there to pace the Japanese runner. What I was not expecting was the hordes of other dudes whom decided to latch on to our pack. Fair enough, sub 2:20 is a pretty big milestone, so ya can’t fault them for getting in the pack. Still, they were kinda annoying at times. All those dudes owe Ryan and myself a beer at very least.

After the chaos and confusion of the 1st few km dissipated we were able to settle in and get to work, 33:00 at 10km, 66:00 at 20km, 69:38 for the half. The Belgian was long gone, the pack had settled, and the record attempt was on, Shalane was looking great and rolling strong.

Keeping a careful eye on the boss. photo: Photo-run

But like it has happened to thousands of other runners, in thousands of other marathons, at around 32km the pace began taking its toll. We backed off briefly in attempts to regroup. Just as that was happening a train of Ethiopian women came streaming by. For a lot of runners this would be pretty demoralizing- Shalane was already in her own little world of hurt, then these ladies just show up and float on by. This is when Shalane showed just why she is one of the best in the world. She kept completely calm and focused, she didn’t flinch. She waited, regrouped and then she dug the hell down! she began to fight back! (I have no idea where this strength came from, when this happens to me I usually start whimpering and drooling on myself.)

Over the course of the next few km’s we caught the girl in 3rd  (Bekele), then at around 38km we caught the girl in 2nd  (Tadese). It was awesome man, Shalane was suffering, but she was competing so damn hard, she was even attacking. I couldn’t help but get excited, my fandom started to emerge. I was running and cheering at the same time. I have to apologize to Shalane for anything I said here, I was getting a little worked up.

Shalane and Tadese locked on to each other and for a good 2km these girls fought each other tooth and nail.  Finally the toll of the early pace caught up and Shalane was bankrupt. Shalane ended up finishing 3rd overall in 2:21:14. A big PB and 2nd fastest American woman ever. It was an amazing effort. When you come into a race like this looking to do something so special it can be easy to become demoralized and give in when it starts to unravel. Shalane ran until she physically broke, but at no point did she ever mentally waver. It really was an amazing thing to see.

Ryan and I ended up taking Shalane 41km (we were strictly instructed to step off there). It was great having Ryan there, because that was a friggen hard effort. It got quite difficult at times, hell I even doubted my ability to keep going at points. At 32km I was really cursing my decision to not taper just a little for the race. Shit man, that really stung. It was so damn good to have another guy there to help monitor the pace and keep things steady.

The physical exertion was hard. but the most difficult part for myself was the mental side of the effort. Usually during long runs and long races it is nice to just shut off the brain and run. The less thinking the better. We didn’t have that luxury on Sunday, we had to be aware and alert the whole time. It was kind of exhausting, but I that was my job, so no complaints there and in the end that was a really cool experience.

Gotta give a huge thanks to Shalane, Steve, Tom and Jerry for inviting me to this event. I was honored to be given such responsibility. They are an awesome group of people, The Bowerman Track Club really has a special thing going there in Portland.

with the boss post race. What a friggen champ.

Also huge thanks to the Berlin marathon for being such great hosts.

Kudos to Ryan Vail for being a cool dude and great co-worker, best of luck to him at the NYC Marathon, hope he kills it!

Also shout out to Shalane’s Dad, Steve Flanagan and the rest of her support squad, such nice people.

Finally big ups to the fine folks at the Boston Marathon (Mary Kate), London Marathon (Dave Bedford) and Mr. Tim Hutchings for the delicious post run Pilsners. Always great to hang out with these people. One of the highlights of this trip was a heated, 4pint deep debate on the prospects of the 2hr marathon.

With Emmanuel Mutai, dude ran 2:03:13! He was drinking apple juice, I was on my 5th pint, hmm....

Okay, so that whole endeavour was awesome.

I have heard a bit of criticism, and it is apparent that a few folks had their reservations as to whether it was a good idea for me to do this 3weeks out from my own marathon in Toronto. Fair enough, but the run itself was not an issue, sure it was quite a hard effort, but got in a great long effort out there, I would have been doing something very similar back in Vancouver anyways. It also allowed for perfect practice for race day planning; I did my exact pre-race routine, experienced race day emotions (I was friggen nervous man) and was able to get to practice race fueling and get a taste of that atmosphere.

I was able to roll a couple steady runs on Monday. No worse for wear there. It was the travel that beat me up a bit. But to be honest I’ll take 3 or 4 days of heavy legs and slight fatigue in exchange for the HUGE mental and emotional shift that has occurred as a result of this weekend. I needed that and now I can’t friggen wait to line up and give it a go of my own in Toronto. Onward to STWM my friends.



Oct 2014


COMMENTS 48 Comments

48 Responses to “Blog #115; Tales of rabbithood”

  1. Marilynn says:

    Well done, Rob. Always interesting to get the “inside” story !!! Thanks !

  2. Kyle Desormeaux says:

    Nice job, I think with all of this good karma you have going on, you’ll kill it in Toronto.

  3. Morgan says:

    Good decision. Regret is a much heavier load. Run.

  4. Michelle says:

    BTW loved this blog entry! and I noticed in one of your pics you wear your watch inside your wrist. I tried it out today. So much better! You have saved me from future injuries that could be caused by constantly turning my shoulder over! thanks! looking for to watching you race this october!
    Good luck with the rest of your training.
    Give Dylan a big kiss for me!

    • rob says:

      I’m here to help! Good stuff. Thanks for the support. I’ll make sure to lay a big sloppy one on DW next time I see him.

  5. Miguel says:

    Thank you so much for providing us your perspective, Rob! What a thrill it must have been (and sounds like it was). I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Shalane over the summer in Chicago (RnR Half), and she truly did seem so down to earth and her love for the sport was clear. I myself have only been running for about a year and a half – after losing over 200lbs on my own, and seeing such greatness from folks like you, is just mesmerizing and encouraging. Thank you!

    • rob says:

      Right on Miguel, 200lbs! Amazing dude, congrats. This sport is full of so many awesome people with so many awesome stories. Your story of personal triumph is pretty damn inspirational. Keep rolling!

  6. Fran says:

    I love this post, thank for sharing! And good luck for Toronto!!!

  7. Brandon Mentzer says:

    Great post Rob! I have my first marathon on 11/9/14 in Harrisburg, PA. Reading about elites like you, Ryan, and Shalane is quite the inspiration! Keep up the hard work and best wishes.


    • rob says:

      Hey Brandon, thanks for stopping by the blog. I appreciate the kind words.
      Best of luck in Harrisburg. Cherish that day, your first marathon is a life changing event!

  8. Dave says:

    Wow! What a totally cool opportunity and so neat to hear how it was for you.
    Best of luck at Scotiabank!

  9. Adam says:

    (Pleasantly) surprised to see a major Nike athlete paced by an NB dude and a Brooks guy. Very good read.

    • rob says:

      Yeah, I was a little surprised to be honest. But the nike brass just want their girl to run as fast as possible and the rabbits were a mere footnote to the big story here.

  10. mimi says:

    thanks for all this

  11. dean says:

    Man oh man, you are back into the groove. This blog post just reeks of happy man and I think that will lead to good things for you. Keep up the focus on enjoying life and training, in that order, and success will follow.

    Guelph misses your personality and dedication. I would love to have been there for the post race beverages. The smiles must have been the best.

    I missed your posts when you went on sabbatical dude, keep it up.

    Really great to share your happiness.


    • rob says:

      Hey Dean,
      Thanks so much for the kind words. I miss the Guelph running folk, such a positive, vibrant scene there. Hope all is well dude.


  12. dave says:

    great post rob. And so great of you guys to do this. It is somehow humbling to see the photo of Ryan Vail, who has posted the second or third fastest time of any American this year, can stick with Galen Rupp in a 10k in the off-season, and they spell his name wrong on his bib. Ryan who? Clearly you guys aren’t in it solelyfor the glory, unless a couple free Pilsners counts for glory. Love of the sport as you say at the outset. I may be an hour slower, but I and a zillion others can relate. So thanks for sharing the inside view of a cool race and your passion for the sport, It helps to motivate the rest of us. Good luck in Toronto. Go out hard and hang on.

    • rob says:

      Right on Dave. That’s the beauty of running, no matter the pace or place, we can all experience the same things during a race. It is a wonderful sport with a wonderful community.
      Thanks stopping by the blog. Happy training.


    • Buck says:

      I secrehad a bunch of sites and this was the best.

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  13. Patrick says:

    Great post thanks for sharing Rob.

    I also ran a marathon that day and am also doing Toronto Waterfront. Just curious, how do you get ready for Another marathon so soon after a hard run in Berlin? Do you still keep the mileage up in between and have some tough workouts left or do you really ramp back?

    Good luck in Toronto!

    • rob says:

      Hey Patrick,
      1st and foremost recovery from Berlin was key. After a few down days we got back after some intense work. The overall volume was lower, but we still hit it. Taper really starts 2weeks out. Good luck in Toronto!

  14. […] is a great post by Rob Watson recapping his pacing duties for Shalane Flanagan in Berlin last […]

  15. Casper says:

    Hi Rob,

    Have you been to Kenya? If you haven’t yet, I really hope you do go. I know Reid and (I think Eric) have gone. I can’t remember if that’s what I read, or not.

    Have you watched this? I know Rudisha is an 800m-guy, but I really enjoyed this video documentary on his buildup from age 16 to the gold in London:

    Rudisha seems like such a sweet guy. When his coach sets the bar high (sometimes seemly impossibly high), he finds a way to reach up and touch it (figuratively speaking, not just because he’s 6’4″). I think, what an inspiring story of a Maasai warrior!

    Looking forward to more great things to come from you!

    • rob says:

      Hey Casper,
      I have yet to venture to Kenya. I would certainly love to one day though.
      That Rudisha video is pretty gnarly eh? that guy is awesome.
      Thanks for stopping by the blog and for the kind words.
      Happy training!

  16. Dylan says:

    Glad you are back blogging and doing it how you do it Rob. Good Luck at STWM.

  17. Héctor says:

    It´s so interesting reading about what are runners thinking during competition, congratulations for your effort and for this great post.

    Good luck in Toronto, we send you karma points all the way from Mexico!

  18. Mike says:

    Hi Rob,

    I love that you are a professional runner yet your obvious love for running overpowers the traditional racing and training conventions. One marathon a year? Bah… I can do that for a weekend long run. I love it! Wash a race down with Muscle Milk? What?…that’s what beer is for. Your one of us dude. But way faster of course.

    • rob says:

      haha, thanks Dude. What’s the point of doing it if you can’t have fun right? The best part of running is the community aspect of it all, so many great people to meet and experiences to be had. Cheers Mike.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Hi Rob,

    That was an awesome read!!!!! Absolutely enjoyed every bit of it. Good luck in Toronto Rob, go for it!

    David in Michigan

  20. Tony Scott says:

    Hi Rob,

    That was an awesome account of the race! Always great to read what is going on in the mind of a super fast marathoner and pacer. Congrats to you too for being chosen and doing a superb job (with Ryan). It was such an awesome effort from Shalane and her day will come as she continues to chip away at the AR.

    All the best to you in the Toronto marathon… kill it!! Any plans to run NYC in the next year or two? Keep up the hard training, Rob!


  21. KWO says:

    That was an awesome read – Nice to see you blogging once again Rob – I am a recreational runner who enjoys seeing how the best in the sport are performing. This has to be my favorite running read in 2014.

    Good luck at the Scotia – Start with Eric – battle hard and finish strong.

    A great run is in you Rob – just trust your ability and you never know.


  22. Van townsend says:

    As a friend of Pete’s and Tommy’s, I was excited to hear about your pace work. Fantastic personal insight into not only Shalane’s race but your own physical and psychological reactions to Berlin. One of my HS runners,Brandon Lord, now in college has dual citizenship so has run World University Games in Russia and has Olympic aspirations. Pete has been extremely helpful in planting some Canadian connections . I will tell Brandon about your blog. Good luck this weekend! Oh, and Lanni Marchant is a friend here in Chattanooga. When Tommy and Godfrey Kiprotich were here s few years ago, they set up Lanni’s first trip to Kenya and Tommy got Lanni into Rotterdsm where she had her stunning breakthrough.

  23. Dave says:

    Very cool that you got the pacing duty Rob, thanks for the inside info. Don’t let the doubters affect what you believe you should do and want to do, you get 1 shot and sounds like you’re making the most of it.

    I’m running the half in TO, looking forward to watching our Cdn elite crew crush the marathon.

  24. Terry says:

    You sound down to earth and well spoken yourself! I will keep reading your blog and cheer for you; best of luck.

  25. Liz says:

    I stumbled across this while doing a little research on Berlin as I’m racing it this fall. Fun read and insight into rabbiting. You did a great job. Shalane’s a badass!

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