By Michelle Clarke
Up early on Saturday for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games Men’s Marathon, I headed to the hills at High Park, looking forward to seeing one of my favourite distance runners, Rob Watson. Having run Centre Road many times, I had compassion for what runners were up against combined with the weather which was not in their favour. Canadian Kip Kangogo, was quick to mention how tough this course actually was. “Those hills get the best of you, going up those hills 4 times is not fun.”
Kangogo has only been a citizen of Canada since early April of this year. He was born and raised in Kenya, and has lived in Lethbridge, Albert since 2001. Watching the first two laps of the race and seeing Kip looking so strong in 4th place, everyone in High Park (myself included) wanted him to win. He wanted, “something spectacular.”
While, fan favourite, Watson, one of the bigger guys in the field, didn’t look comfortable going into lap two the spectators erupted when he showed up. “No matter how much my legs were hurting, it was uplifting and really cool [hearing everyone cheer]. I appreciated that, they knew I wasn’t having a good day and they didn’t care. They were just there to support me,” said Watson.
The women last weekend talked about the challenging marathon course, and the men had to face those same challenges on Saturday. The fastest man in the field and the favourite to win, Raul Pacheco from Peru, led for much of the race. To everyone’s surprise, Cuban, Richer Perez kicked in the last 400M stretch and took the win in a time of 2:17:04. Perez is virtually an unknown on the international marathon circuit, but Saturday he definitely put himself on the map with his personal best performance.
Kangogo held onto the leader for most of the race, “I was with them in the front and feeling good then after 30km I started losing ground, the heat got the best of me,” he explains of his ninth place finish.
His spirits were bruised but definitely not broken. “I made a promise I wanted to run for Canada one day, and that day was today so my dream was fulfilled. I wear the Canadian flag with pride and I ran with pride, I just fell short.” Kangogo replied.
I was most impressed with both Kangogo’s and Watson’s team spirit. With his quirky humour, Watson’s humble nature is inspiring. “I knew it wasn’t my day, but there were so many people out here, they woke up early to come support me run, that I wouldn’t have dropped out.” Dud did he think about quitting on the course? “[The marathon is] an individual event but we are part of a team, part of the marathon team, part of the Athletics Canada team and just part of Team Canada,” he explained.
Up next for this team? Watson is aiming for his Olympic qualifying time in Chicago, while Kangogo takes some recovery and plans out where he needs to focus his race efforts. As always, Watson summed up the experiences well, “It was a tough day at the office but its one I will remember for a long time.”