Masters runner Rod Waterlow admits that it doesn’t get easier as he gets older, but he has no plans to quit a sport he loves. At the age of 77, the Vancouver runner has completed 32 marathons, 80 or more half-marathons plus shorter races to become recognized as one of Canada’s leading senior long-distance runners.
“I would be afraid to stop,” he says. “I have met so many wonderful people through running. I don’t know what I would do as an alternative.”
In B.C., Waterlow swept the Lower Mainland Road Racing Series and Timex BC Road Racing Series in 2013 in his age group. Of the 32 marathons run, he has placed first, second or third in his age division 19 times. “I never really won anything until I was in my mid-60s,” he says of his medals and trophies.
The Association of Road Racing Statisticians collects information of runners internationally and ranks them according to five-year-age increments. Canadian phenomena Ed Whitlock holds the world record for the fastest marathon time for a person in the 75-79 age group with a time of 3:04:53. Waterlow is ranked as the second fastest Canadian in that age group with a time of 3:57 and internationally he is seeded 52nd. In the 8K distance in 2013, he is posted as the third-fastest Canadian in that age group at 39:58 and was ranked 20th in the world.
Waterlow started running late in life. A year after he decided to run a Vancouver marathon, he clocked in at 3:17:55 in 1985. “I was happy with that,” he says, adding the times continued to drop into 1986 (when he posted many personal bests) and 1987.
For the next couple of decades he continued running at the downtown YMCA, YWCA and later with the Pacific Road Runners. At the downtown YMCA, he met Vancouver long-distance runner Peter Butler, owner of Forerunners. Waterlow today serves as a pace-group leader at the run shop.
“Rod is a great runner — a real ageless wonder — confident and committed to his sport. If all Canadians could age and live the way Rod has, the country would be a much healthier place,” says Butler.
Waterlow has run just about every major marathon in North America including Boston, Chicago, Vancouver, Portland, Victoria, New York, San Francisco, and Sacramento. It is that connection to runners and the world-class events that keep him in the sport, despite torn muscles, a smashed toe, and bouts of bronchitis.
Waterlow qualified to run the Boston Marathon in 2014, a year after the bombing. He was seeded fifth in his age group based on qualifying time. He started the run feeling good, but by 10-kilometres, his energy zapped away. “It felt like I was running on a mattress,” he says.
It was only the exuberance of the crowd reaffirming “Boston Strong” and his will to finish that kept him going. Near the end, officials were monitoring him. “They would come up to me ask if I was alright?” he says. His 5:58:31 finish was two hours off his normal mark and previous Boston finishing time of 3:42:37. Returning home he found he had bronchitis.
“It knocked me out for three months,” he says.
Waterlow is now eyeing 100-year-old Fauja Singh’s running feats. “I’ve looked at some of his times,” says Waterlow, “and I’m convinced I can better them. All I have to do is stay alive and keep running.”
Rod Waterlow’s Best Run Times
Distance – Time – Year
- 5K – 18:53 – 1986
- 7K – 27:16 – 1986
- 8K – 31:36 – 1986
- 10K – 38:32 – 1986
- 15K – 1:04:56 – 1985
- 10 Miles – 1:04:46 – 1986
- 20K – 1:22:18 – 1987
- 21.1K – 1:27:12 – 1986
- 30K – 2:10:00 – 1987
- 42.2K – 3:10:14 – 1987