Natasha Wodak vows not to make the same mistake that nearly cost her a Canadian cross-country title two years ago.

The 2016 Olympian was forced to battle back on the historic Fort Henry course in Kingston, Ont., after being overtaken by a surging Rachel Hannah with more than a quarter of the women's eight-kilometre race remaining. Wodak closed the gap and ran past the 2014 national champion with a kick over the final uphill stretch to the finish.

"I was lucky to win," Wodak said over the phone this week from her Vancouver home. "If you're going to make a move and take the lead, you better be damn confident you're going to win the race. It was not the smartest race plan but things ended up working out for me."

Wodak, who will try to regain her title in Kingston in the senior women's 10-kilometre race on Saturday at 1:45 p.m. ET, has learned to race smarter in the last year. She's done that by listening to her new coach, Lynn Kanuka, whenever the Canadian 10K cross-country record holder tells Wodak not to lead in a race or make a move.

Saturday's event, which will be lived streamed at starting at 8:50 a.m., serves as a qualifier for the 2018 Pan American Cross-Country Championships on Feb. 17 in El Salvador.

"Through the years, I've learned to be more confident in my racing and trust my fitness," said Wodak, who has competed in cross-country since age 10. "I don't need to be scared that I'm not going to win if I don't make a move early.

"It just takes experience in racing to get to that point."

The Canadian track record-holder in the 10,000 metres, Wodak is just happy to be running following surgery last December on the MTP joint of her arthritic big right toe. The procedure involved the removal of a bone fragment and shaving of a bone spur after the 35-year-old fractured a piece of bone in the toe from years of track and cross-country running.

While surgery was essential, Wodak understood it wouldn't be a perfect solution to her periodic pain and discomfort.

Eyeing Commonwealth Games

After enduring "a few" setbacks earlier this fall, Wodak changed her training with Kanuka to help her avoid injury by running under 100 km per week — "which is really low" compared to most of her competition — and pool running three days a week.

"[The toe] was starting to swell and hurt again four or five weeks ago and I had a cortisone injection," said Wodak, who was previously hampered by plantar fasciitis and stress fractures. "Since then, I haven't felt pain in my toe."

Wodak, whose ultimate goal is to represent Canada at the Commonwealth Games in April, has already met the 1:16:00 qualifying standard for the 2018 world half-marathon championships on March 24 in Valencia, Spain with her winning time of 1:12:58 at the Vancouver Half-Marathon in May.

Among her other season highlights:

  • 1st place: Race Roster Spring Run-Off 8K, Toronto
  • 1st place: Toronto Waterfront 10K
  • 1st place: B.C. cross-country championships, 6K, Abbotsford (Wodak in green top in video below)
  • 2nd place: Monterey Bay Half-Marathon, Monterey, Calif.

Wodak, who also won the 2013 Canadian cross-country championship in Vancouver, would be pleased with a top-three finish in Saturday's race that will feature 70 runners, including defending national champion and 2017 U Sports gold medallist Sasha Gollish, 2017 Ottawa 10K champion Rachel Cliff and Hannah, the 2015 Pan Am Games bronze medallist in the marathon.

"There's always a girl you haven't heard about that will finish in the top five," Wodak said.

That person could be Kingston native and Queen's University student Branna MacDougall, 19, who finished third at last week's U Sports National Championships after winning at the Ontario championships.

Her 16-year-old sister, Brogan, will be among the 68 runners in the under-20 (junior) six-kilometre race after finishing second to Branna in the 19-and-under division of the Athletics Canada national 5K road race in September at Toronto.

Saturday's race schedule

  • 9 am: Masters (30-plus) – 8 km
  • 10:15: U18 (Youth) girls – 4 km
  • 10:45: U18 (Youth) boys – 6 km
  • 11:30: Community race – 2.5 km and 5 km
  • 12:15: U20 (Junior) women – 6 km
  • 1 pm: U20 (Junior) Men – 8 km
  • 1:45: Senior women – 10 km
  • 2:45: Senior men – 10 km