Natasha Wodak aims for road race PB at Ottawa 10K while raising money for cancer
Fellow Canadian Evan Esselink to make event debut ahead of national 10,000m title defence
Natasha Wodak began her week with a run at Vancouver's fascinating Stanley Park, feeling "incredibly grateful" to be healthy and happy nearly 18 months after right toe surgery left the distance runner wondering if she would make a comeback to the competitive circuit.
While excited at the prospect of attaining a personal-best road race time at the Ottawa 10K on Saturday (6:30 p.m. ET), Wodak appeared just as proud to discuss one of her good friends.
"Do you know Jane Cullis?" she said over the phone. Cullis is a pancreatic cancer researcher at New York University, where she is attempting to discover a way for doctors to detect the disease earlier.
"One day she's going to cure it, that Jane," Wodak added, with a laugh, while also mentioning her sister-in-law Veronica's mother, who passed away in recent years from pancreatic cancer. "It's so hard to diagnose and beat." Wodak's grandfather also passed about 10 years ago from bladder cancer.
On Saturday, Wodak and three others will run to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society during the Dream Team Challenge as part of the Ottawa 10K. Camp Misquah, The Ottawa Hospital and Make-A-Wish of Eastern Ontario were the other local charities that each drafted four elite runners. The charities could win up to $3,000 based on their team's performance, while the 16 athletes will each win prize money, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, based on their placing among that group.
5th at Commonwealth Games
Wodak, who is nearing her 10th appearance at the Ottawa 10K, is pleased that race organizers are trying to involved the community and raise awareness for charities.
"I feel very lucky to have been selected, especially by the Canadian Cancer Society," said the 36-year-old from Surrey, B.C. "I haven't had a mother, father or sibling pass away from cancer but I know so many people that have. I think of those people and all the cancer survivors who have gained from charity events."
Lynn knows first-hand how to race a championship race. We have a lot of fun, and that's the best part.— Natasha Wodak on her coach, 1984 Olympic 3,000-metre bronze medallist Lynn Kanuka
The two-time Canadian cross-country champion finished fifth in the women's 10,000 metres at the Commonwealth Games last month in Australia, remaining in contention until the end and clocking a season-best time of 31 minutes 50.18 seconds.
Should the weather in Ottawa co-operate, the 2016 Olympian said there would be an opportunity to eclipse her 31:59 PB from the 2015 Ottawa 10K. Wodak set a Canadian track record of 31:41.59 for the 10,000 three weeks earlier in Stanford, Calif.
Wodak was seventh overall a year ago in the Ottawa 10K and second to Rachel Cliff among Canadians in 33:55. But running with a confidence under coach and old family friend Lynn Kanuka that she didn't have previously, Wodak believes she can find the next level. Kanuka won Olympic bronze in the 3,000 at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Esselink gears up for 10,000m title defence
"Lynn knows first-hand how to race a championship race. We're on the same page and have a lot of fun, and that's the best part," said Wodak, who will run the 5,000 at the Portland Track Festival on June 10 and Toronto Waterfront 10K on June 16.
Meanwhile, Evan Esselink will make his Ottawa 10K debut after missing the Mt. SAC Relays and Payton Jordan Invitational in April and early May, respectively, with bronchitis that the 26-year-old fought through at the world half marathon championships in Spain on March 24.
Saturday's race will serve as preparation for Esselink's Canadian 10,000 title defence June 13 on the Alumni Stadium track at the Speed River Inferno in Guelph, Ont., where the University of Indiana graduate trains with coach Dave Scott-Thomas.
"I've had about seven workouts since I was sick," Esselink said Monday, adding he has run 90 miles each of the past two weeks after missing three weeks of training while sick and believes there is no reason from a fitness standpoint why he couldn't "do something big" in Ottawa.
On Jan. 14, Esselink set a PB of one hour, 4.08 seconds in placing 35th overall at the Houston Half Marathon. He also finished fourth in 31:00.4 last fall in the senior men's open 10K at the Canadian cross-country championships and clocked 14:23.1 for second at the 2017 Canadian 5K Road Race Championships in Toronto.
Esselink's goal for Saturday, regardless of the weather conditions, is to be top Canadian in the men's race. Three-time Olympian Eric Gillis of Antigonish, N.S., held that title a year ago with a 30:09 clocking.
"Winning would be great but I would love to run a fast time," said the economics graduate, who is currently studying for the Canadian Securities Course exam. "On an A-plus day, I could be top Canadian and top three. If I was to not worry about being top Canadian, I think I could chase a sub-29 or 30 [minute] time on the road. But I might race more on the safe side to ensure I am top Canadian."
As the only IAAF Gold Label 10K event in Canada, the Ottawa 10K attracts one of the world's best fields of elite runners that race down the Rideau Canal and by Dow's Lake before crossing the Pretoria Bridge.