Vancouver’s Natasha Wodak, who is one of Canada’s top distance runners, can be excused if her running goals these days are stripped down to sound bites like, “I just want to stay healthy,” or “I just want a personal best time,” as she had suffered for 10 months, primarily during 2014, with a stubborn case of plantar fasciitis. She just wants to be fit and healthy first and perhaps then the times will take care of themselves.
She is back racing fast again as she set a new personal best time in the half-marathon distance in New York on Sunday, March 15th where she finished in sixth place with the result of 1:11:20, just 33-seconds from Lanni Marchant’s national record of 1:10:47. Wodak’s previous half-marathon best was 1:12:23 from January of this year. When asked about her goal going into the New York City Half Marathon she said, “I just wanted to run a personal best time, so under 1:12:23.”
This year will be a busy one for Canadian athletes, with Toronto hosting the 2015 Pan-American Games, Canadians will want to do well on home soil. A few weeks later Beijing will play host to the 2015 IAAF World Track and Field Championships. Before either of those two major events takes place, distance runners will have to get busy during the spring and try to qualify – if they haven’t already – for Worlds and Pan-Ams, however, this weekend there is also the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, which are taking place in Guiyang, China.
Asked about her upcoming events Wodak said, “A bit of road racing, a bit of track stuff – oh! And World cross country next week! Then I am going to race a 5,000m at the Mt. Sac Relays and then 10K at the Vancouver Sun Run. I will race the 10,000m at the Payton Jordon Invitational, where I hope to run fast to secure one of the top-two spots for the Pan-Am Games.”
At the time, Wodak felt that she had a slower 5,000m race at the 2013 Mt. Sac Relays, as she was left to lead for most of the 12-and-a-half laps and finished in the time of 16:00. In contrast her 10,000m best was run at the 2013 Payton Jordan event, where she finished in the time of 33:09.57 – a better performance. Her 10K road personal best is faster yet at 32:42, which happened at the 2013 Vancouver Sun Run. Her new half-marathon best suggests even better performances are possible.
As for World cross-country she said, “It would be great to finish in the top-20 at Worlds, but with Guiyang, China being at 4500 feet, I’m worried that the altitude will make it tricky for me. I’ve never trained or raced at altitude. I just want to go and run hard and enjoy the experience of competing at a World Championship.”
Describing the NY race Wodak said, “I went with a group of 12 girls that went out in 5:21/mile (3:20/km) pace for the first three miles through Central Park. This was a good pace for me so I tucked in behind. It was windy and hilly so being with this group really helped. Just after 5K, a group of eight girls broke away. Lanni (Marchant) and I continued to run together through Central Park. Around 8K I dropped Lanni on a downhill and then I was on my own for the rest of the race.”
Also in the race were three Kenyans including Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Sally Kipyego and Caroline Rotich and Joyce Chepkirui who won gold at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games 10,000m and owns a half-marathon best of 66:18. The winner was American Molly Huddle in the time of 68:31. Wodak finished in sixth, while Marchant was ninth.
“There is so much energy in NYC! We went through 10k in 33:42 and felt good and surprisingly relaxed. I took a Gel at mile seven then we made a left turn to the five mile straight shot down the river. We were expecting the wind at our backs….but it was in our faces. Not terrible, but the wind definitely made things more difficult. Around mile-10 I realized there were two girls up ahead and they were starting to come back to me. This really helped me push, because I thought I could catch them.”
When Wodak set the Canadian 8K record at the 2013 Pioneer 8K in Victoria BC, with her 25:28 finish time, she won the race against all other women and all but five of the men; to finish sixth overall. In a post-race interview with Athletics Illustrated, she said that when she passed through 5K relaxed, she was surprised at how fast she was running, which sounds similar to her NYC half marathon performance.
In regards to racing the NYC half, Wodak said, “With one mile to go, I caught one of the girls and could see the other one about 50 metres up ahead. I continued to push and with 400m left in the race, I could see there was only about 30m between us. I kicked it in and ended up passing her with 20m left in the race.”
With such a strong improvement since January’s half marathon and her plantar fasciitis mostly behind her, this spring bodes well for Wodak, as long as she can achieve her goals of ‘staying healthy’ and ‘remaining fit’.
“I was pretty happy with my finish! And certainly surprised when I saw my time and found out I was sixth! I didn’t expect that!”