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Even elite athletes go through rough patches.  

When it comes to the 10,000m, Natasha Wodak reigns. The Vancouver runner holds the Canadian record in both that distance and the 8K, she has represented the country at the most recent Olympics and will forever be able to say that she was among the cream-of-the-crop athletes who were on the track when the women’s 10,000m world record was shattered. She has been on the Canadian scene for some time now and as such, is one of the country’s most recognizable household names in the sport. To hear a person at this level talk about heart-break, well, that serves as a reminder that it happens to even the best. 

“It was really tough. I thought about retiring from competitive running.”

To say Wodak has had her battles with injury does not come nearly close enough to describing her 2017. After spending much of her 2014 on the sidelines, she made a wicked comeback in 2015. Then, in 2016, with Rio on the horizon, she dealt with a nagging stress fracture in her right foot and plantar fasciitis. She was able to complete in Rio running a 31:53 10,000m in mid-August. Later that month, she says, “Everything in my body was screaming. I knew something was not right.” 

As she puts it, she has been dealing with arthritis in her toe joint for the past few years. After the Olympics, Wodak was was in so much pain that her running started to suffer and she didn’t have a clear picture as to what was going on. By the fall, she found out that she also had a fractured piece of bone fragment in her big toe. She booked surgery for December. Following that, of course, was a period allotted to recovery. As Wodak explains, it was an emotional roller coaster. “It was really tough. I thought about retiring from competitive running,” she says. “I thought: ‘I’ve done it all, I’m tired.'” 

As anyone who has dealt with a sports injury knows, the recovery period can be a trial. One workout you’re back, the next, you’re sitting out again. That’s exactly how Wodak’s winter went this year. “I really had to be so careful and cautious too. I have to say, my motivation was pretty low,” she says.

“It has been harder than I thought. It has definitely been a struggle this year.”

During that time, she focused on cross-training in the gym where she got to attempt workouts that normally she wouldn’t have done in the middle of a heavy running block. (One reason to follow this star athlete on Instagram: her training videos are absolutely phenomenal and will inspire runners to actually add this type of work to their routines.) For the past four years, the runner has worked with trainers at Innovative Fitness and as such, she has sort of become an expert at strength exercises. “I really enjoy getting to the gym. I feel great. I train with two trainers and we always try to do something cool and new,” says Wodak. 

By March, Wodak says, she was able to actually run for a solid 45 minutes again. “The pain is gone. It took a while to have that fade,” she explains. “Then really it was having the rest of my body remember how to run. It has been harder than I thought. It has definitely been a struggle this year.” 

If there’s one silver lining to an injury that takes a passionate runner like Wodak off the roads, it’s the perspective that often comes from the disappointment. Wodak wasn’t happy with her run at the 10K championships in Ottawa. She placed second to Rachel Cliff running 33:54 and says that it was an emotional, tearful experience on the course.

In the end though, she was reminded that she had made her return to running after a difficult start to the year. Since then, she has been able to bring that attitude forth. “I’m having fun,” she says. “I don’t have pressure and stress.”

Oh, and for runners going through a similar experience, here’s an extra dose of inspiration:

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