British Columbia

Boston Marathon's oldest qualified runner completes virtual race in Vancouver

The Boston Marathon was cancelled because of the pandemic. Then wildfire smoke delayed the virtual event. But 83-year-old Rod Waterlow would not be deterred.

First came the pandemic. Then came the wildfire smoke. But Rod Waterlow would not be deterred.

Rod Waterlow, 83, was the oldest qualified runner to complete the Boston Marathon this year. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The oldest runner to qualify for the Boston Marathon this year finally managed to complete the virtual race Sunday morning. 

Vancouverite Rod Waterlow, 83, was welcomed by dozens of supporters cheering him on as he crossed the virtual finish line at Second Beach shortly before noon. It was his 35th marathon, and he completed the 42-kilometre race in just under five hours. 

"I'm feeling great," Waterlow said shortly after he finished. "This was a really, really good run and a good way to end 2020. Because it's been a rotten year for so many people." 

Waterlow was supposed to run the marathon in Boston last April, but like most events at that time it was postponed because of COVID-19. The race was moved to September, then that was cancelled as well.

Finally, organizers told participants they could run a virtual event anytime between Sept. 7 and 14 — just as smoke from wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington blanketed the West Coast. 

Waterlow, who has mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), felt it was best not to risk his health for a medal.

"I was thinking I was never going to run this thing," he said. 

Waterlow (in the green T-shirt) said the weather was perfect as he ran along Vancouver's seawall to complete the virtual Boston Marathon. (Melissa Lee)

But when Waterlow emailed the organizers to say he wouldn't be running, they told him they had extended the dates of the virtual race for all participants on the West Coast. So he mentally prepared himself once more.

On Saturday night, Waterlow was feeling nervous about the race. Besides the smoke curtailing his training runs, he had been limited by a bad knee in the two weeks leading up to the event.

"I'm committed to doing it," Waterlow told CBC News the night before the race. "I have a lot of friends who are expecting me to do this so I can't let them down."

Cheered on by friends and family

Despite his fears, he made it to his self-determined start line at Alma Street and 10th Avenue, near his home, at 7 a.m. PT. Sunday.

Friends and family cheered him on and he made his way down to the seawall and lapped Stanley Park a couple of times, ending in Ceperley Field at Second Beach.

This was Waterlow's 35th marathon. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Waterlow smiled as he crossed the finish line. He was barely out of breath. 

"I'm just thrilled, thrilled to have finished. I encourage everybody to get out there and stay active as long as they can," he said. "I think we're capable of doing more than we know."

When asked if this would be his last marathon, Waterlow said he hopes to run the London Marathon next year to honour the city where he was born. 

"That would be a thrill, to sort of wind up my running career running in my hometown," he said. 

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