by Paul Gains

With eight weeks of high altitude training under his belt Rob Watson lines up in Sunday’s Toronto Ten Miler road race intent on discovering precisely how fit he is. The 29 year old is preparing for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (October 14th).

“The only time I ran a ten miler was in the Hamilton Boxing day race one year,” he recalls. “I ran well there. I ran 48 ‘mid’ and it’s a fairly challenging course. I am hoping I can go 48 low or 47 high in Toronto. I think that’s where I am going to be fitness wise.”

It’s an ambitious target. The course record, it so happens, is 48:00.4, set by Kenya’s Hosea Kibet three years ago and even Olympic marathoner Reid Coolsaet, who won this race the past two years, has fallen short with 48:24.2.

None of this seems to bother the carefree Watson who represented Canada at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in the 3,000m steeplechase. Just last week the nomadic runner moved to Vancouver because he likes the beaches, mountains and running trails there.

Originally from London, Ontario Watson posted an advertisement on Craigslist looking for a room and quickly found a two bedroom apartment in the Kitsilano Beach area. The environment he believes will be more conducive to running those 150 mile weeks that have got him into racing shape.

“Training is going well,” he reveals while enjoying time sitting on Kits Beach. “I just finished up a really good eight weeks up in Flagstaff, Arizona. I got my base going pretty good now. I am trying to add some pretty specific marathon training. I think I am pretty strong right now.”

“I didn’t qualify for the Olympic marathon but that was a long time ago. I have had time to move on and re-focus and get past that. This ten miler will be nine weeks out from the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon so it will be a good (fitness) indicator.  Obviously I would love to be in London but it doesn’t always work out. You have to take it as it comes.”

Watson improved his best marathon time to 2:13:37 in Rotterdam last spring and wants to knock two minutes off that mark in Toronto and earn a place on Canada’s 2013 world championship team. But the prospects of running fast on the flat Toronto ten mile course, which starts and finishes in the Distillery district and winds through scenic Tommy Thompson Park, has him excited.

“There’s going to be a good field in Toronto,” he believes. “Alan (Brookes) always puts on a good show with the Canada Running Series. It’s always fun to get back to Ontario So I am looking forward to it. Matt Loiselle is going to be there and Josephat (Ongari) all my buddies. I am looking forward to getting out there and running hard.”

Ongari was the 2008 winner (48:48.2) and he and Loiselle will ensure the pace will be quick from the start. Asked what he is looking for on Sunday, Loiselle doesn’t mince words.

“Maybe to win it,” he declares. “More or less I am training through the race. I am not going to be overly concerned about time. I definitely want to run faster than last year and run a smarter race than last year. The main thing is to win it.

“I went out in 24 minutes flat (for the first 5 miles) last year and tried to put some surges on Coolsaet and Gillis and paid pretty well the last five miles or so.”

A few weeks ago Loiselle went out to St. John’s to run the 85th annual Tely Ten Miler winning the largely downhill race in 48:09.

The Toronto 10 Miler women’s course record was set a year ago by Dayna Pidhoresky (56:31.8) who is recovering from a stress fracture. In her absence the 2010 champion, Leslie Sexton (58:24.8) looks like a good bet to capture the women’s overall title and the accompanying $1,000 first place prize.

The 24 year old London, Ontario native won the 5000m at the 2011 Canadian track and field championships. More recently she finished 2nd at the 2012 Banque Scotia Montreal 21km. She will face a strong women’s field led by Lisa Avery and Lucy Njeri.

Both Sexton and Avery, like Watson, are using this race as a fitness indicator in their buildup to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

Runners can still register in person at Toronto’s Running Room in Commerce Court both Friday and Saturday.