Jake Robertson on his way to winning the Houston Half Marathon (© Victah Sailer / organisers)
After setting a national record on his long-awaited marathon debut earlier this year, New Zealand’s Jake Robertson will turn his attention to overcoming a world-class field – including defending champion Philemon Rono – at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on 21 October.
“I would like to win the race, first and foremost,” says the 28-year-old, who ran 2:08:26 to finish third at the Lake Biwa Marathon in March. “If the pacemaking is set up to run a 2:05, then I would like to run 2:05. If it’s 2:06 pace, then 2:06. I would like to break the course record (2:06:52). I am not putting any limits on time and I’ll just see what happens.”
For Robertson, his focus has been building for the marathon with some excellent half marathons. Earlier this year he won the Houston Half Marathon in an outstanding 1:00:01, matching the PB he achieved in Lisbon 10 months earlier.
“I have been training for the marathon for the past four years with the prediction that I was going to be running a marathon sooner or later,” he explains. “I had already been training for the marathon without really focusing on it. Maybe that’s why I was confident about the marathon. My training kind of suggested I would be a better marathoner than any other event.”
Robertson has been on a tear throughout 2018. He set a national record of 27:30.90 to finish fifth in the 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games and scored a pair of 10km victories, clocking a national record of 27:28 at Crescent City and 27:37 at last weekend’s Beach to Beacon.
But Robertson feels there’s room for improvement on his marathon time.
“Honestly, I wasn’t pleased with it,” Robertson says of his marathon debut. “I believed I was in about 2:05 shape. I was thinking about the course record (Wilson Kipsang’s 2:06:13) and that didn’t happen, and I didn’t win the race. I kind of had many emotions and I decided to enjoy that I had finished on the podium and then started thinking about the next one.”
This appetite for success has become characteristic of Robertson ever since he and his twin brother Zane packed up their possessions and moved to Iten, Kenya, almost 12 years ago. They were barely out of high school.
“Obviously Kenya has the dominance in long-distance running and the way they train together in large groups obviously attracted us,” he says. “Also, the altitude – yeah, basically those three things. We decided if we want to be the best then we have got something to learn and go and live with the best and train with them.”
With little money or food, the pair struggled in the beginning but support came from an unlikely source: steeplechase world record-holder and local resident Saif Saaeed Shaheen, who helped cover their rent and food. More than a decade later, Robertson continues to live and train in Kenya.
“I live with my fiancé Magdalene Masai and we are getting married – it has taken time to get legal documents,” Robertson says. “We built a house on a half-acre of land in the last year, so it’s very comfortable. We have running water through our taps, hot water. It’s like almost anywhere else.
“We are planning on building a guest house for the community and for foreign athletes coming out. As for living here long-term, probably not. If we have kids in the future, I would like for my kids to have full opportunity to anything they want to do. It’s not available here. We will have to put the kids first.”
Robertson’s marriage proposal, which came at the finish of the 2017 Great North Run, made news around the world. “I didn’t expect it to go as viral as it did,” he recalls. “But I was happy to capture the moment.”
Most of his training is done early in the morning before traffic builds along the dirt roads and kicks up too much dust. There is also the danger of being hit by vehicles. He sometimes trains with a group but prefers to run alone on his easy days, and he doesn’t train with his twin brother.
Robertson hopes that his preparations once again go right.
“Jake is an outstanding addition to this year’s race,” says Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront race director Alan Brookes. “His remarkable story of triumph over adversity in life and determination to attain the highest levels of success in athletics against seemingly insurmountable odds have shown what he’s made of.
“His results over the past couple of years, including his marathon debut at Lake Biwa, fill us with huge anticipation for what is to come.”
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF