© Copyright – 2014 – Athletics Illustrated
How good was Natasha Wodak’s winning performance at the 2013 Harrier’s Pioneer 8k? She set a new Canadian record, finished sixth overall, and beat all but five of 346 men by clocking in a time of 25:28. She finished less than two minutes behind overall race winner Geoff Martinson. He finished in 23:49. Historically-speaking, little else compares to this performance at least according to the points performance measuring system that provides a rating-number beside all finishing times in the Vancouver Island Race Series; she ran a “955”. By any other measure it is an international-level performance.
The series points rating system is an algorithm that attempts to draw a curve across all distances to rate performance. Although her achievement is an all-time best, the algorithm is influenced by the current marathon world record (Paula Radcliffe’s outlier 2:15:25), which inflates the rating numbers slightly. Series race results and performance points are available dating back to 1985. Of the top-50 all-time best performances of the Island Series (49 behind Wodak) one-quarter of them or 12 athletes have competed in at least one Olympic Games each, going to a total of 25 Olympic Games, when you include multiple appearances, like Jonathan Brown’s three trips to the show.
Brown, who, until Mo Farah came along, owned the British 10,000 metre record of 27:18.14. Although Brown did not race at his best at any time during any Island Race Series events that he competed in, he does possess an impressive running curriculum vitae, having finished fourth twice in the Olympic Games marathon in Athens and Sydney. He did so by running the second half of each marathon, faster than anyone had raced either half of either event. His 5,000 metre best is a blazing 13:19.03. He also owns an impressive half-marathon best of 61:49. His 63:57 performance at the Comox Valley RV Half Marathon in 2005 amounts to a 940 point performance, but with that race, he is left ranked third all-time for the series. Number two goes to Canadian Olympian Malindi Elmore, who won the 2012 Bazan Bay 5k in the time of 15:48 giving her a performance rating of 943, which proves – at least in terms of this points rating system – the numbers may be a little skewed, again, being influenced by Radcliffe’s outlier-like performance in the marathon. Additionally, course difficulty and weather conditions are not accounted for.
In a pre-2003 Peak Performance Online article comparing women against men in time across the distances from 800 metres to the marathon they wrote: “Strangely enough, male world records at distances from 800 metres all the way up to the marathon are about 11 per cent faster than female world marks. Is that just a coincidence, or does the 11 per cent enhancement of blood oxygen in males produce the 11 per cent improvement in running speeds?”
Regardless as to physiologically why this is so, the above was written before Radcliffe ran that 2:15:25 London Marathon; it is the only outlier across the board and is almost exactly 9.7% slower than the men’s world record; 2:15:25 versus 2:03:23. In 2003, Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 was up against a slower men’s world record, Paul Tergat’s 2:04:55. Her performance stood out in an even bigger way, being less than 9.2% off the men’s best time. Although Radcliffe’s time was impressive and is indeed valid, it was likely more aided than any other top-level women’s marathon race, as she was paced by a group of men who helped break through the wind on her behalf and kept her on pace. Her 2:17:18 – the second best time in history and much closer to her female competitors – leaves her nearly 11% slower than today’s fastest men.
In terms of the course or more accurately “event” record performance at Pioneer, it broke a record that was set by Canadian Olympian Debbie Scott (Bowker) from her 1985 race, where she finished in 26:08, on a slightly faster course. Scott’s time gives her a performance rating of 931. Scott’s career spanned over 20 years. In total she won 26 Canadian titles, set Canadian records over a range of five distances. She is a three-time Olympian, competed in four Commonwealth Games, one Pan-American Games and two IAAF World Track and Field Championships. Scott was no slouch.
Wodak’s 25:28 is 11.1% slower than the men’s event record that is held by Carey Nelson from 1986, where he finished in 22:58, on the same course that Scott set her record. Nelson was also no slouch. He competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games in the marathon distance. He was competitive from 5,000 metres to the marathon and in cross-country. Nelson competed in seven IAAF World Championships, which includes four appearances in world cross-country.
As a Canadian record it is closer to Peter Butler’s record time of 22:48, which he set in 1981. Wodak’s time is 11.7% off Butler’s mark. The next best women’s Pioneer 8k time behind Scott’s is Karen Rainey’s at 26:57 from 1986.
The world fastest women’s 8k (not record) is unofficially held by Kenyan Mary Keitany. In 2011, she ran as fast as 24:30. Her other personal bests are 30:45 for 10k, 65:50 in the half-marathon and 2:18:37 for the marathon, which makes her the third fastest marathon runner of all time. The Association of Road Running Statisticians (ARRS) count Paula Radcliffe’s 1999 performance of 24:38 as the official world record. Keitany’s was run while on the way to finishing a marathon; more impressive, but likely less accurate of a distance.
Of 60 different 8k national bests, Wodak’s is faster than 43 of them and tied with one, Germany’s Claudia Lokar ran the same time in 1992. China’s fastest woman is Qing-huan Wang, who’s best is just 26:18 from 1989. Ethiopia – that East African running powerhouse owns an 8k best of 25:07 by Getenesh Wami. New Zealand’s Barbara Moore managed just 25:45 back in 1989. Based on Wodak’s finish line disposition, perhaps she could have raced faster than Ethiopia’s national record holder, if she was prepared for the outstanding performance – it surprised even her.
Wodak’s 10k best time is 33:09.57. According to the McMillan calculator, her 8k best is equivalent to a 32:06 10k performance. According to Jack Daniels’s VDot Calculator, her 8k best has a performance rating of 67, which translates to the following times at other common distances: 5k – 15:29, 10k – 32:11, 21.1k – 1:11:00 and 42.195k – 2:28:40, which would put her 40 seconds off of Lanni Marchant’s Canadian marathon record that was set in October 2013 at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. The indicated half-marathon time would eclipse Tara Quinn’s Canadian record of 1:12:08, and Dayna Pidhoresky’s 1:11:46. Pidhoresky’s race was ineligible as a record due to a rule that states that the start and finish of the half-marathon must be no farther apart, in a straight line, than half the distance of the race, the Niagara, Ontario based event was farther apart due to construction.
The Pioneer course is undulating. Most of the first kilometre is gently downhill and flat. The next one and a half kilometres is flat, to the 2.5 kilometre mark. It is fast if runners can get off to a good start and set a reliable pace and set a consistent sense of rhythm. However, there is a hill with a good grade after 2.5 kilometres that continues for approximately 700 metres. The following stretch of four kilometres starts with a long downhill and otherwise is almost entirely made up of flat and very gently rolling asphalt. The final 600 metres include a slight uphill to the finish. It is considered a fast course, but by no means, “dead-flat”. There are a total of 10, 90-degree turns.
In relation to other distances, such as 5k through to the half-marathon, Wodak’s performances across the board put her in good company nationally-speaking however, her Pioneer 8k time of 25:28 is outstanding, not just because it is a national record, but because it compares to other related distances, individual performances and international-level athletes from even the strongest distance running countries, which begs the question regarding what other performances remain for Wodak. The 2014 road racing season starts Sunday, January 12th at the Harrier’s Pioneer 8k.