at the races Wodak, Preisner lead the return to mass racing in Canada

Wodak, Preisner lead the return to mass racing in Canada

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Mid-October in Canada means a number of things. The weather begins to turn from humid to cool. The morning dew turns to a crisp frost. The Toronto Maple Leafs get set to begin another NHL campaign that is bound to break my heart. And the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon takes to the streets of Toronto.

As the pandemic continues, however, organizers have been forced to make some changes to the event. Instead of a marathon, the Canadian Running Series and RunOttawa, Canada’s two premiere road race organizations, have joined forces to host the Canadian 10K Championships. The race will also be the first in-person, road National Championships since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an important step for running in Canada. On one hand, elite athletes will have the opportunity to run in meaningful Canadian races with excellent prize money. On the other hand, runners of all abilities will have the chance to chase their goals on the streets of Toronto. Although capped at 5,000 people, participants will follow strict protocols, and for many, it will represent their first official race since March of 2019. 

As I mentioned, the return to racing is most important for Canadian elite athletes. Deprived of many racing opportunities, professional runners in Canada are flocking to the 10K Championships with an opportunity to capitalize on the prize money put forward by race organizers. The pandemic has heavily impacted Canadian elite athletes, impacting their ability to qualify for international competitions, make their living in prize money, and even impacted ability to find contracts.

The women’s field at the Canadian 10K Championships is led by two-time Olympian Natasha Wodak. Wodak is coming off an amazing Olympic performance. After pacing the race next to perfectly in the Tokyo heat, Wodak finished in 11th place, a historic finish for a Canadian marathoner. Wodak is also the defending Canadian 10K (in-person) champion, a title she won in Ottawa in 2019.

She will be challenged by former Canadian marathon champion, Leslie Sexton, pictured below. Coming off her win at the virtual Medavie Canadian 5K Championships, Sexton appears to be in excellent form as she looks towards a fall marathon. Sexton will be looking to add the 10K title to her resume while capitalizing on her post-pandemic fitness.

Perhaps less known to fans of Canadian distance running is Briana Scott. Like Sexton, Scott also finished on the podium of the recent virtual 5K Championships and is looking to build on that result with a podium finish in Toronto. Scott, who represents the BC Endurance Project, has already has a breakout 2021 campaign with her runner up finish at the Canadian 10,000m track championships. 

The women’s field also features other notable athletes vying for the title such as Cleo Boyd, Kirsten Lee, Rachel Hannah, and Erin Teschuck.

Like the women’s field, the men’s field also features Olympians and National Champions. Despite the accolades of many in the field, it is hard to look past Ben Preisner, pictured below in white shirt and green shoes, who was the top Canadian in the Olympic marathon. Preisner has been on a meteoric rise the last couple of months, and at just 25 years-old, is already one of the fastest Canadian marathoners, ever. Preisner’s real test will be to gauge how he has recovered from the Olympic marathon, run just two months ago.

In reality, two-time Olympian Lucas Bruchet is the favourite on the men’s side. Also in the midst of a breakout year, in 2021 alone, Bruchet has won two national Championships: the virtual 5K Championships and the 10,000m track Championships; he also ran at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, made his half marathon debut, and perhaps most impressively, became the third fastest Canadian of all-time over 5,000m, sneaking inside the Olympic standard at the eleventh-hour. Coming off a break, Bruchet is likely the man to beat.

He will face a challenge in the form of NCAA 10,000m champion, Ben Flanagan. Originally from Kitchener, but now training in Virginia, Flanagan recently became a back-to-back champion of the famous Falmouth road race. Just missing the Olympic standard by a handful of seconds, Flanagan typically runs his best in strategic, unpaced races such as Canadian Championships so look for him to be competitive. As a 3:57 miler, watch out for Flanagan to close hard if he is still in the pack.

After finishing 2nd in the Canadian 5,000m Championships, 2nd in the Canadian 10,000m Championships and 3rd in the virtual 5K Championships, Justin Kent will surely be looking to climb to the top of the podium for the road 10K Championships. Kent, who trains in BC with Bruchet, has been slowly climbing the Canadian running ranks and will be a strong challenger for the title.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the Backroads Bandits out of London, ON who are participating, led by 2021 Canadian 5,000m champion, Mike Tate, the Bandits are bringing a strong line up including former USports champion Connor Black, Phil Parrot-Migas, Jack Sheffar and Jeremey Coughler. 

The men’s field is rounded out by other notables: Kevin Coffey, Paddy Birch, Aaron Cooper, Blair Morgan, and many others.

Just to make things interesting, I will also pose a prediction for the race:

Women’s Top-3:

  1. Inglis (a Scottish athlete who is in the race)
  2. Sexton
  3. Wodak

Dark-horse: Boyd

Men’s Top-3:

  1. Bruchet
  2. Flanagan
  3. Kent

Dark-horse: Coughler

You can watch the race on the Canadian Running Series YouTube Channel. The women’s race kicks off at 8:00 AM ET and the men’s at 8:13 AM. The full start lists can be found here.