TORONTO. July 30th. Natasha Wodak is in a joyful mood as she waits to board her flight to Nanaimo, BC where she will spend a weekend with a close friend, a sort of girl’s weekend.
Changes and challenges have weighed her down these past few months and she has been blessed with the support of family and close friends.
And in a surprise to many who have been following her racing career she has now decided to tackle the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon October 20th, an IAAF Silver Label race.
As Natasha Fraser she was Canada’s top finisher in the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships (24th place) a result that trumpeted her enormous potential as an international class distance runner.
“I am 31 years old and I have done a lot of stuff on the track,” she explains. “I feel I am ready to try something new, a new challenge. I am excited for it. I feel like when I do a longer distance I am getting better at it so I wanted to just go for it.
“Toronto seems like a good fit. (Race Director) Alan Brookes takes really good care of the Canadian athletes. It’s generally a fast course. It’s a good time of the year, there will be a lot of support for me I am going to have some pacers probably out there. And, you really get treated like an elite out there. There will be a lot of competition for me.”
The decision to run Toronto was the latest in a series of life changing moves. She is in the midst of a divorce. Two weeks ago she moved into an apartment in the Kitsilano Beach area of Vancouver. Her marriage woes were at the root of a below par spring and summer racing schedule.
In the winter she stunned the racing world with a sublime victory at the Pioneer 8km race in Saanichton, BC. Her time of 25:28.00 was unofficially a Canadian best performance and one of the fastest times on record. That eye catching race was soon followed by her performance in Bydgosczyz, Poland in the Canadian vest, a race in which she suffered from bronchitis. Another victory came at the Vancouver Sun Run 10k (32:42). All seemed to be going well. Then she came apart.
Following a poor performance at the Ottawa 10km she was reduced to tears. Her hopes of achieving the IAAF world championship qualifying 10,000m standard came to nought, though she did manage a Canadian championship 10,000m title.
Now that she is committed to running the marathon she also decided to part company with her long time coach, Brit Petersen.
“That was very, very difficult for me,” Wodak reveals quietly. “I have been with Brit for twelve years. I am very close with her and her family and her two daughters. She has been an amazing coach and I have accomplished everything that I have so far because she has been so good to me.
“She’s a university coach and she coaches mainly 800m, 1500m, 5000m runners. I just felt the right thing for me at this time was that if I was going to run a marathon I needed to be with a coach who is more a marathon coach. I think Brit was very understanding of that. We are still on good terms and the door is always open for me to go back if I decide the marathon is not what I want to do.”
Wodak has been training the past month with Richard Lee whose group includes Canadian Olympic marathoner Dylan Wykes, who ran 2:10:47 in the 2012 Rotterdam Marathon.
“Richard was absolutely an obvious choice,” she declares. “If you are going to run a marathon and you live in BC, I mean he is the best coach we have out here. He is a friend of Brit’s and I had a few conversations with him prior to the switch. I trust his training and I believe that it works. He has been really great. I have really enjoyed working with him the past four weeks.”
Wisely, the coach has been slowly increasing Wodak’s mileage about 10 kilometres a week, nothing too dramatic. She is also doing cross training – cycling and pool running twice a week. Lee is a proponent of spending time in the pool. Much of her running is done on trails to help reduce the impact on her legs as she transforms into a marathoner.
“I am five minutes from the University of British Columbia trails,” she says. “I am an eight minute jog from the Vancouver Seawall. It’s a great place to be a runner. I am feeling very inspired I am loving being out here and being part of the group I am with.”
To help make ends meet she works two nights a week as a waitress at a local restaurant and in the autumn she will renew her work conducting running clinics with a fitness company called Kintec.
It will be Lee’s job to extract the enormous potential Wodak has and instill a sense of confidence in her. Among those she beat at the world cross country were Sule Utura of Ethiopia who ran 10,000m in 30:55.50 in Ostrava and the American Kim Conley. The latter ran 32:00.94 on the track. Clearly Wodak can be a force on the international scene.
For now, there’s the buildup to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and the comfort of good friends.
For further information on Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, see www.stwm.ca