Why Natasha Wodak Only Ran that One Marathon in 2013

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.