Natasha Wodak, two-time Canadian Olympian—the fastest Canadian marathon runner of all-time—has spent the better part of her life competitively racing. Today, at 41, Wodak is preparing for the 2024 Paris Olympics, coaching runners, and supporting her fellow racers on her popular social media channels. Injuries, and ultimately a sickness kept her out of the marathon in London, but, after winning the 2023 Ottawa 10K, presented by Otto’s Ottawa, the speed racer seems to have gotten her groove back. We asked Wodak to weigh in on longevity, volume, racing in Canada, and what she hopes her long-term contribution will be to the sport she loves.
iRun: We saw you race in Ottawa and that was incredible. Take us back to winning the 10K. I know it was hot, and I know you were defending your championship.
Natasha Wodak: I was really nervous! I had spent most of this year training for a marathon—and a month of injuries and sickness in April set me back. I wasn’t sure if the 10K training that I had done in May would be enough. But my partner Alan reminded me to believe in myself and run with confidence, and that I would win. Not that I could win, that I WOULD win. The mental game is so important!
iRun: Do you plan on defending your title at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend‘s 50th anniversary next year—make it three in a row?
NW: I’d love to come back next year and defend my title. [To join her, register for the event right here.]
iRun: What is it you dig about that weekend?
NW: Such great energy and so much fun and I love that the 10K is on Saturday night. I’m much happier racing in the evening than in the morning, and it’s so much fun running around cheering on the marathon on Sunday morning.
iRun: When did you realize you were a runner?
NW: When I started winning elementary school cross country races.
iRun: What do you love about the sport?
NW: So much! But at the end of the day running has brought some amazing people into my life, so gonna go with the run community and the friends I have made.
iRun: Can you describe your highest high of the runner’s high? What was your most joyful exact moment in your running shoes?
NW: It’s hard to pick just one “highest high.” Winning the Pan Am Games 10,000m in 2019 was very special, as my first global medal. Setting the Canadian marathon record in Berlin this past September was also incredible.
iRun: What is it you try to instil in your athletes?
NW: To run with joy and gratitude. We should be enjoying the process and having fun along the way—and with that, they will find success.
iRun: What was your lowest of the low running moment, and what did it take for you to get back in the race?
NW: Finishing second to last place at the World Champs in Doha in 2019. I remember thinking, ‘What was the point of all my hard work if that’s how I perform?’ I questioned myself as a world-class runner and thought: ‘Should I even be doing this anymore?’ I was distraught and sad for a good few days. Chatting with my coach (Lynn Kanuka), friends, and my partner Alan helped me “see the light” and realize that bad races are just a part of the game.
iRun: What’s a common misconception about success in our sport?
NW: That it’s a grind 24/7 and you can’t have fun along the way. That you need to eat super clean and not drink alcohol. I believe success comes from being happy and enjoying your life. Everything in moderation. So have a glass of wine. Take a day off. Rest is so important! So many athletes just grind, grind, grind and don’t understand the value of taking rest days. I take one every 7-10 days.
iRun: You’ve spoken out about an aversion to tremendous volume and also endorsed (see above) the occasional glass of red wine. How do you maintain your competitive, killer edge, while also living life like a normal human being who sometimes turns on the TV?
NW: More isn’t always better. There is tremendous value in cross-training some of your double days, instead of extra runs. Working the engine without the same impact on the body I believe has helped decrease my injuries.
iRun: Can you talk about the camaraderie you share with your fellow athletes?
NW: The Canadian elite female run community is extremely special. Over the past thirteen years I have become great friends with so many of these incredible women. Lyndsay Tessier is one of my best friends (and we don’t/have never lived in the same city). It’s really amazing how supportive the ladies are with each other—even though we are competitors.
iRun: You have a partnership with ASICS. You’re Canada’s all-time fastest marathon runner. Why did you choose this brand?
NW: I was with ASICS in 2013-2015 and loved their product. They have the best shoes on the market. As an older runner, I have developed quite a few problems with my feet, so footwear is more important than ever. The Novoblast is the absolute best everyday trainer that I have ever worn. My feet love them.
iRun: Can you rewind a bit to the moment of pulling out of London and what now does the run-up for you look like leading into qualifying for Paris and your state of mind as you get ready to reload?
NW: Yeah, it was such a tough call pulling out of the London Marathon just six days before the race. I was already feeling very underprepared as I had been dealing with two injuries in the last six weeks of the marathon build. Almost a week of gastrointestinal issues was the final blow that took me out.
iRun: I think this next question will be important to our audience: how did you recover, physically, mentally, spiritually?
NW: I spent a few days feeling sad, but realized it was absolutely the right call and so many more races to come! Fortunately I built some great fitness in the last sixteen weeks so I will be taking that with me into my marathon build for World Champs this summer in Budapest. I’d like to try and qualify for Paris there (either by achieving the standard, or placing top eight). I’m in great spirits and excited for some shorter races in the next months before Worlds on August 27.
iRun: Can you build off your 10K win for your next short race, and do you know what it is?
NW: I am racing the Canadian 10,000m on the track on June 23.
iRun: What’s one workout you think every runner should try?
NW: A Brazilian circuit! It’s a combination of strength, drills, sprints and longer intervals. We usually do it like this: three sets of 8 X 80 meter strides with a different running drill or strength exercise between each; 3 min rest; 1 mile at 10k pace; 3 min rest. It’s fun, easy to do as a group with different levels of runners and also really hard!
iRun: What do you always keep stocked in your pantry?
NW: Peanut Butter—and wine, lol.
iRun: What do you wish you could erase forever from our sport?
iRun: If you had to give one tip for the secret of your longevity and success, what would it be?
NW: You have to love what you do. I enjoy the process, and have fun along the way. Be kind to your body—take rest days and eat good food. Eat the chocolate. A happy Natasha has always been a healthy and successful runner. Surround yourself with the right people. Coaches that understand the mental/emotional side, a partner that supports you through highs and lows—and friends that make you laugh along the way.
iRun: Last words?
NW: Have the glass of wine.
Top photograph by Victah Sailer. Middle photograph from Berlin, and cross-country photograph, courtesy of Natasha Wodak.