Why Natasha Wodak Only Ran that One Marathon in 2013

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

This fall, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will celebrate its 30th anniversary. In the lead up to this fall’s marathon weekend, we look back at stories of past runners of all ability levels who have had breakthroughs on the streets of Toronto. This week, one of Canada’s greatest distance runners, Natasha Wodak, on her single marathoning experience.

At the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Natasha Wodak ran one of the fastest marathon debuts by a Canadian woman, posting a 2:35. On the same day that Lanni Marchant and Krista DuChene both bested Sylvia Ruegger’s longstanding national record, it appeared that Wodak would be another contender on the Canadian marathoning scene.

Wodak, however, never ran another marathon.

“Before 2013, I hadn’t really had a big breakthrough in running. I hadn’t made any national teams or done anything to make people say, ‘Wow, that girl’s good!’” Wodak says. Still uncertain of where she’d find her focus within running, Wodak was also in need of a distraction as she navigated heavy professional personal changes: a new coach, as well as a divorce.

“I hope I don’t poop my pants,” Wodak remembers thinking with a minute to go before gun time. She and training partner Chris Napier had a plan that would bring them across the finish in 2:35, but the anxiety was rife, as it had been throughout her training.

Wodak and Lanni Marchant running the 10,000m at the 2016 Olympic Games

“There were so many difficulties in training. I was exhausted and didn’t consider the toll it was going to take,” Natasha says, also acknowledging that training wasn’t the quick fix she hoped it would be for the pain of a divorce. Instead, it was often another stressor when Natasha had quite enough of those in her life.

“There were many days when those long runs were exactly what I needed.”

As late as September, one month out from race day, Wodak expressed doubts about whether she’d race. Her coach took the pressure off and gave her reassurance that one race wasn’t do or die. If need be, Natasha’s marathon debut could be postponed.

There were, however, moments of reprieve and joy. While in Nice, France for the Francophone Games, Natasha and Chris ran 35K along the southern coast to Cannes accompanied by Olympic steeplechaser Chris Winter and accomplished marathoner Rejean Chiasson. “Rejean and Chris rented these bikes with little baskets on them and took us the whole way. We had lunch in Cannes before taking the train back to Nice. It was one of the best runs of my life,” Natasha recalls. “There were many days when those long runs were exactly what I needed.”

The marathon, consuming as it is, can’t overpower life’s other challenges. It can, however, be its own channel of discovery for a stronger, happier self. “I had never run so much in my life and you have to learn to do that grind. I never had to go on the track and feel like you were hit by a truck,” Natasha says. Training forced her to get tough and learn to move through adversities that weren’t going to go away easily.

The self-proclaimed fierce and passionate runner was honest with herself following the marathon. “I missed being on the track. I love racing and you don’t get to do that much when your focus is on the marathon,” Natasha admits. She left the marathon behind, but took the toughness and resilience she picked up in training forward with her. “I love racing and you don’t get to do that much when you’re focusing on the marathon,” Natasha adds.

With all the lore and prestige of the marathon and the pressure that must have come with an impressive debut, Natasha did something that many might have found impossible and stayed true to herself.

Was the experience worth it? “100 per cent!” Natasha exclaims. “I remember crying at the finish line out or relief that I managed to get through that build,” Natasha recalls. She executed the game plan and even posted the fastest final kilometre among the women’s field. “You have to do the things that scare you. When you’re done, you’re just like, ‘Wow!’”

Since that one and only marathon, Wodak has made multiple national teams, including the Olympics, and set the current national record at the 10,000m. With one marathon, Natasha took all that she needed from the experience to become an even better runner.

Cam Levins Has 3 Big Goals for the 2019 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

Cameron Levins is sitting at the head of the table, relaxed.

The Canadian marathon record holder is jointed by a small group of journalists for an informal luncheon in downtown Toronto after running the Lululemon Toronto 10k a couple days earlier. Everyone at the table introduces themselves, and Levins takes the final turn. He hesitates and then says, “Well, I’m Cameron Levins, and… you’re here because of me.” Everyone laughs, and not because they feel they are supposed to, but because no one expected Levins to be so forthright, and, quite frankly, funny. He gets right down to business after his awkward-turned-charming self-introduction. His real reason for being at the front of the table: that he will be returning to Toronto this fall for the marathon, and that he has a bold goal in mind.

The 30-year-old has come a long way in what has already been a career filled with perhaps the most extreme highs, and lows, of any Canadian distance runner in history. In 2012, the unheralded kid from Black Creek, B.C. single-handedly put Southern Utah University on the NCAA map, winning a pair of track championships, and doing legendarily massive mileage in the process. Levins became a folk hero to running nerds by crushing 300+ km weeks, and then legitimized his talent by making the Canadian Olympic team, doubling in the 5,000m and 10,000m in London. He finished a promising 11th overall in the longer event. It seemed like Levins was destined for greatness on the track.

Levins with Canada Running Series head Alan Brookes

He was then invited to join Nike’s Oregon Project, considered perhaps the most prestigious training group in the world, training along side Galen Rupp and Mo Farah. After a few rocky years in Portland, Levins didn’t qualify for the 2016 Olympics, and was left with a destroyed foot, needing significant surgery to repair the damage. “I didn’t know if I would ever run again in a meaningful way,” Levins now admits. Nike moved on from him, yet he decided to remain in Oregon, and return to his university coach, doing periodic training camps at altitude in Utah. Many in the room wouldn’t admit it, but they probably had Cam Levins written off after his fall from greatness. The same worshippers of Levins legendary triple days (he still does them) and marathons-in-training, now turned to the LetsRun.com message boards to declare Levins washed up, before ever getting the chance to try his fitness out in a real marathon.

Levins digs into a burger. He ordered it with fries and not the optional house salad, as he’s about to embark on another extremely high-volume season of marathon training. Two days prior, he competed in the Lululemon 10K, which features a chunk of the marathon course. He refers to the 10K as a “rust buster” and seems un-phased that he placed fifth against competition he should be able to easily beat (Levins once held the 10,000m national record), and that it “didn’t feel easy.” But this is a different Cameron Levins. He is the marathon record holder, and, perhaps more importantly, he has found his way back to running on his terms.

Levins being interviewed by journalist Ben Kaplan

Levins’ fall from what could have been the apex of his career began in 2015, with a disappointing Pan Am Games performance, coincidentally, also in Toronto. From there, he began to have serious foot issues, that he at first ignored. Finally, after failing to make the Rio team, having a surgery that left a screw in his foot, and then getting dropped by Nike, he was forced to face himself in a manner he now admits helped him become a better runner, and possibly a better person. “I’d put everything in my entire life into becoming what I was, and I then had to accept that my identity might be taken away from me.” At home in Portland, and without a clear future in the only thing he ever wanted to do, Levins had to rebuild himself, and start thinking about what life could be like beyond running. At first, a terrifying prospect, and then a freeing one.

Levins says that search and self-discovery—and not the comeback or the jaw-dropping marathon debut (2:09:25 and a definitive new national record)—is what has redefined him and his new-found ability to run with freedom and confidence, regardless of the particular outcome of one race. There is both a grace and a calm to Levins today, as he chats with a journalist about buying a new home in Portland with his wife, and settling in for another season of that legendary training (he still likes to triple, and still piles on massive weeks, now with lots of marathon pace effort). That comfort was on display last October, when Levins first followed a pacer, then took control of his race solo in the latter stages, patiently dolling out increased levels of intensity as he ran down Jerome Drayton’s 43-year-old record.

When asked about his plans for his second marathon, this fall on the streets of Toronto, he pauses and muses for a moment. Yes, he acknowledges that he plans on using the fact that it’s a key qualifying race for Tokyo in order to get back to the Olympics, this time as a marathoner. And he also feels he can lower his own national record. But there is something else. “I’m feeling way better than I was a year ago going into marathon training,” he laughs. “This time in Toronto, I’d like to be right there towards the end of the race, in a position to go for the overall win. I want to see if I can win Toronto. That would be special.”

A bold new vision for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

This year, we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. A part of why the race has not only endured but thrived is because it has grown and changed with the running community.

We are going to make this year’s marathon something truly special, and that begins with a bold new look.

We’re proud to unveil the new Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon identity. We’ve created a new logo, tagline and standalone social media accounts, which will focus on telling your stories as you prepare for this year’s race weekend. You can find them all right here in the coming days, weeks and months leading up to Oct. 20.

“There is no other sport where the first timer stands amongst the world’s best. They stand as equals on a level playing field.”

We’ve teamed with Origin, the Whistler/Montreal-based agency that specializes in outdoor sports to create a representation of both the marathon’s identity and what it means to bring together thousands of runners to celebrate what we do in Toronto each October.

First of all, we were super excited about this project,” says Isabelle Philippe, the lead designer on the project. “There is no other sport where the first timer stands amongst the world’s best. They stand as equals on a level playing field. We’re going to draw on the essence of the race, the inner fire it sparks in its participants, and the significance it has to Toronto.”

“We resonated with this idea that for those running, this is our city, but it’s the moment that belongs to each and every participant.”

Philippe, along with Origin teammate Lenka Prochazka, focused on a refresh that would be fun, avoid the cliches of many running logos and stand out as representative of the event, the running community and the city.

Celebrating a diverse city and running community

“When you look at it, you see the flow of the “T.O.” lettering,” says race director and founder Alan Brookes. “It represents the flow of how and why people run, of collective movement—how the running community has grown by embracing many different types of people.” Brookes points out that when they moved the course to encompass much of the waterfront in 2000 (and thus taking on its namesake), they knew that the city would evolve down to the lakeshore.

In 2018, the marathon drew runners from 76 countries, and was livestreamed in 146 countries. “I’m not sure if there’s another event in the city that puts Toronto on the world stage to that extent,” says Brookes.

The running community has changed immensely over the past 30 years. The race consciously worked to stay relevant, both to the shifts in what the race experience can be, but also to the community. Our new tagline, “Our Place, Your Moment” and its corresponding hashtag #ItsYourMoment reflects this. “We resonated with this idea that for those running, this is our city, but it’s the moment that belongs to each and every participant,” says the Origin team. “A moment months in the making. A moment shared with 25,000 others on the same path of self-discovery.”

“We are runners which is why this was such a good fit for us at Origin,” says Philippe. “Two of us ran a half-marathon together last fall in Montreal and experienced the joy of training together, running together as colleagues and sharing in the highs and lows of those moments. We also felt really connected to our city in that race. We saw parts of it that we’d only ever driven through, we saw the power of the cheer stations to keep us going when the muscles hurt, we felt the importance of the branding as a pride factor in wearing the T-shirt post race.”

A new social identity for the Marathon

For the first time, the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon will have its very own standalone Twitter, Facebook and Instagram presence as well.

Be sure to follow @TOWaterfront42K as we tell your story in the lead up to race weekend this October: