In just the second marathon of her career, Natasha Wodak ran the second-fastest marathon in Canadian history, posting a 2:26:19 at The Marathon Project on Sunday in Arizona. Her result is well below the Olympic standard of 2:29:30, and she has given herself a great shot at being named to the Canadian team for the Tokyo Games next summer, which would be her second time competing at the Olympics. Wodak has already proven herself on the track and at the half-marathon, and her run in Arizona added another line to her already extensive list of accomplishments in the sport.
A strange but successful year
Despite the lack of racing opportunities in 2020, Wodak has had a wildly successful year. She kicked the season off in style when she became the first Canadian woman to run a sub-1:10 half-marathon with her 1:09:41 result in Houston in January – a Canadian record at the time (though since eclipsed by Andrea Seccafien). A long break from official racing followed, although she ran some virtual events, including the Canadian 10K Championships, which she won in 32:41.
In November, Wodak ran another half-marathon, falling short of Seccafien’s record of 1:09:38, but still banging out a 1:10:02 for the third-fastest run in national history. Finally, she made it to The Marathon Project, where she ran what was basically a second debut over 42.2K, as her first marathon came seven years ago at STWM in 2013. She ran 2:35:16 back then, and lowered that time significantly on Sunday.
A second debut
So far, only Dayna Pidhoresky has guaranteed her spot on the Canadian team for Tokyo, but national record holder Malindi Elmore and Rachel Cliff have also run Olympic standard, with 2:24:50 and 2:26:56 results in the past two years. (Lyndsay Tessier also ran the equivalent of standard by finishing in the top 10 at the World Championships in Doha in late 2019.) Wodak knew she would have to beat these times to give herself a real chance at being named to the Olympic team by Athletics Canada, so she set her sights on a 2:26 finish.
There were two pacers running for a 2:26 finish, and Wodak ended up being the only athlete to link up with them. Right from the start, they ran together as a small group of three, as other women either ran faster (like Sara Hall, who ran to the win with a 2:20:32 finish, one minute off the American record set by Deena Kastor in 2006) or slower, like the many runners chasing Olympic standard. “I didn’t mind being part of such a small group,” Wodak says. “I was happy with two pacers all to myself.”
Wodak says her pacers “were like metronomes,” and mile after mile, they continued to clock 5:32 to 5:38 splits, right around her goal pace of 5:34 per mile. “We went through 21K in 1:13:10,” she says. “Going into the race, I wanted a 1:13 half, so that was pretty great.” From there, they picked up the pace for the third 10K, and Wodak says she continued to feel good. It wasn’t until 35K that things started to get tough.
“That was when it got really hard and I really had to dig deep,” she says. “I was scared that I wasn’t going be able to hold it together, and I knew I didn’t have a bunch of wiggle room [to beat Cliff’s 2:26:56].” She ultimately held on, and while the final 7K were a struggle, Wodak didn’t slow too much, and she ended up running nearly identical splits, with a second half-marathon of 1:13:09.
Moving into 2021
Wodak has a really good chance to head to Tokyo next summer, and she says she is thrilled with her result, but adds that simply getting to race was exciting enough. “It was so awesome to get the opportunity to race in a year with zero races,” she says. “That changed the dynamic of the race for people. I didn’t feel so much pressure, just gratitude for the chance to race again.”
Moving forward, Wodak doesn’t’ have any concrete plans for 2021. She says she would like to run a fast 10,000m on the track at some point in the spring, but she isn’t sure when or where that might happen. “I’m hoping the opportunity will come and then we’ll go from there,” she says. (There is no possibility for any woman to double in both the 10,000m and the marathon, since they are scheduled for the same day, with the track events in Tokyo and the marathon in Sapporo, 800 km away.) For now, Wodak has done all that she can to bolster her chances of joining Pidhoresky and another Canadian woman at the Olympic marathon in Japan next summer. Nothing is guaranteed yet, but her run at The Marathon Project is an all-time great performance, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if she makes it to her second Olympic Games.