Paul Gains

World-class fields have become fairly typical for the Ottawa 10k so it’s no surprise that the 2016 edition (May 28) is once again an IAAF Gold Label event.

The recent addition of Kenyans Peres Jepchirchir, the 2016 IAAF World Half Marathon Champion, former world half marathon champion Wilson Kiprop (winner of the 2014 Ottawa 10k) and defending champion Nicholas Bor to the field is the handiwork of long time elite athlete coordinator Manny Rodrigues.

The flat, fast course will also play host to the Canadian 10k championships and while international stars are expected to battle at the front, another exciting contest within the race is set to transpire with medals and over $15,000 in prize money up for grabs.

That’s not to say the Canadians occupy a second tier – not at all. A year ago Lanni Marchant finished 3rd overall with a personal best time of 31:49 while her friend and rival Natasha Wodak came in 4th, ten seconds behind. Both have beaten the 2016 Olympic qualifying standard in the 10,000m while Marchant will also run the marathon in Rio. Each has had Ottawa emblazoned on their calendars for quite some time.

“It’s a really competitive race and Manny always does a really good job getting an elite field together,” Marchant said recently from her high-altitude training base in Flagstaff, Arizona. “I like going back to Ottawa; I have always raced really well there. Last year was really a big breakthrough race for me on the roads.

“It was the first time I kind of said I was going to go with the Africans and ride on that train as long as I could. And, I am hopefully going to try and do the same this year and just build my confidence racing so when I get to Rio it’s not as scary and as big a shock to the system.”

The 32 year old London, Ontario native has run two 10k road races already this season finishing 8th at the ‘World’s Best 10k’ in Puerto Rico before winning the Vancouver Sun Run. On both occasions she ran 32:15 for the distance. In between she represented Canada at the IAAF World Half Marathon championships in Cardiff where she finished a strong 20th in 1:11:26. That was good enough to satisfy Athletics Canada’s ‘proof of fitness’ for the Olympics.

Apart from spending a week at sea level for each of the three races, she has been training at high altitude in either Kenya or Flagstaff for three months.

“Obviously the top goal is a top finish: the top Canadian,” Marchant continues. “ The field went out really fast last year and if they do the same this year then great. And, if not, much like the World Best 10k and the Vancouver Sun Run, I will be just trying to race the field and learn to race for place.

“I can ‘time trial.’  I am a marathoner we ‘time trial’ all the time.  For me it’s learning how to race the field and be able respond to the bodies around me and that’s going to help me best for Rio.”

Wodak who set a Canadian 10,000m record of 31:41.59 a year ago, is rebounding from a stress fracture in her foot but reckons she will be in good shape when she lines up for the Ottawa race. Other Canadian women vying for podium finishes include Laura Batterink, who ran 33:23 on track at the Payton Jordon Invitational and Kate Bazeley, who is rounding into form after giving birth to her second daughter.

Reid Coolsaet leads the Canadian men’s contingent despite less than ideal preparation. After spending the winter training in Kenya he encountered an inexplicable lower back problem, which causes pain in his hamstring. For several weeks he has been limited to running 16km a day while cross training in the pool and gym.

“At the beginning of the year I definitely looked at the Ottawa 10k as somewhere I would want to mix it up with some of these international guys,” he says. “Given my injury in April it now looks like I won’t be training for a 10k so much in May as getting my base back for running, which means my expectations for Ottawa are a little bit different.

“But going into a Canadian Championships I would be always looking to go for the win there. It might just be where I am not chasing that front pack of international racers this time.”

Coolsaet’s best time on the roads is 29:10 but having run 27:56.9 on the track he can obviously run faster.

“When I was in Kenya training with Nicholas Bor my goal would definitely have been 28 minutes kind of thing and now, given my injury and just coming back, I will be very happy with 29 low,” he adds.

That should be good enough for Coolsaet to take another Canadian title.  Meanwhile the other podium places could be more competitive than ever.

Alberta’s Keenan Viney who ran a personal best time of 30:27 in Ottawa a year ago returns. Kevin Friesen of Vancouver, 9th at the 2016 Vancouver Sun Run in 29:35 and the 22 year old Tristan Woodfine are also contenders.

Woodfine, a Guelph, Ontario resident, ran a very good 28:56.53 for 10,000m on the track two years ago. And if Matt Loiselle can find his form he could also be in the mix. He represented Canada at the 2009 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham but admits he is playing catch-up with his training.

Regardless of conditions the Canadian championships promise to be a first class competition and if the weather cooperates the elite athletes may well see their personal best times lowered. Along with medals and prize money that would be a fine bonus.