A Chat with Canadian Olympian Natasha Wodak

Natasha Wodak (courtesy N. Wodak) Elite Canadian distance runner Natasha Wodak is a badass. Not only is she an Olympian, she currently holds the Canadian record in the 10,000m (31:41.59, Palo Alto 2015). By all measures she is one of the top Canadian distance runners of all time, with a running resume to prove it.

I’ve long been a huge fan and admirer and I want to share what I find so inspiring about Natasha with you!

Natasha having fun in her Canada gear at the 2016 Olympics
Natasha’s road took her from unexceptional to national champion, and ultimately sent her to rep Canada at the Olympics.

SR: Tell us a bit about your journey. How did you get into running? 

Natasha: I started running in elementary school and then competed all through high school. I ran at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, but was never exceptionally good. In other words, I never made national teams or won national championships.

After college, I spent one year trying to run competitively and didn’t find much success, so I quit competitive running for three years. I still ran 3-4 days a week, still going to practice, but did not compete.

I came back to competitive running in 2009 and started to train more seriously with my old college coach and the team. I saw myself getting better and better. I really enjoyed coming back. I had a renewed passion. Workouts were fun, which was something I had lost in my final years of college. I was enjoying it again.

SR: Congrats on your epic race in Rio. Beyond the great recap on your blog, how would you describe that day for you?

Natasha celebrating with her parents after her 10k performance in RioNatasha: I was really pleased with that race. I wanted to be top 20 and I wanted to break my Canadian record. Ultimately, my A-goal was to run with “no regrets” and give my everything. I did that and it got me 22nd and 10 seconds off my Canadian record. It was a good day. I was so happy to be there and be there healthy!

With some struggles mentally and physically in the past few years, it was great to be there and have my family there with me. I was able to enjoy the experience.

SR: Now that Rio has passed, can you tell us a bit about what the next five years looks like for you?

Natasha: I got back from Rio and I was injured within the first month of being home. It’s been frustrating because I had a stress fracture this past year in February-March. I’ve spent a lot of time being injured, so now I’m really trying to take the time to let my body heal, get better and refocus on races that are a little more fun for the next little while.

I also want to get back into road racing. World Championships this summer would be nice, but I’m not going to force myself to go through what I went through to get to Rio. I want to enjoy myself and love running. I’d also like to do some marathons in the next few years. Basically, my goal is to race because I enjoy it. It always seems to be “I gotta get to that next level”. I feel like I’ve hit that level. I’ve been to the Olympics and now I want to enjoy it.

SR: Do you have your eye on a particular marathon yet? 

Natasha: There are a few I’d love to do: Berlin, New York City and Boston are all on my bucket list. I’d also like to go back to Toronto. There’s lots I want to do, but I’m 35. Not that I think I can’t run fast in my 40s, but I feel like I have four or five really good years in me. Realistically one can have one or two strong marathons a year, so I have to be selective.

Canadian Cross Country Championships
Natasha bravely running toward a win at the Canadian Cross Country Championships. (Image courtesy Maxine Gravina)

SR: You have a Be Brave tattoo. What do those words mean to you?

Natasha: I got the Be Brave for me. It wasn’t really for running. It was for me. I had been dealing with some serious issues in my personal life and struggling with depression and anxiety. I was taking it one day at a time. I was telling myself to get through the hard stuff by being brave and strong.

It’s come into my running as well, when I have difficult days I remind myself to take risks, to get out there and put things on the line. I did that in Rio.

SR: You’ve been open about your 2013 divorce. How did running help you through this tough time and vice versa? 

Natasha: As runners, people don’t always see personal issues as serious as physical injuries. Sometimes when someone is dealing with something in their personal life, it can be as debilitating as a physical injury.

There were some tough days [during that time]. Running kind of saved me. It was the reason why I would get going. I had this goal to run the Toronto Marathon, I had to get going and get the workouts done. At the same time, I put a lot of pressure on myself because I wanted to run well! Sometimes I wasn’t mentally strong enough, which made things tough.

You have to be in a good place mentally to run a race well. It’s a big mental game. To run a marathon, when it gets tough, you have to be mentally strong. If you are dealing with other things in life, it’s physically draining.

SR: What does a typical training week look like for you?

Natasha: It depends on where I am in my training cycle. In preparation for a race, this could be a typical week:

  • Monday – Pool run in the morning (45 mins to an hour), afternoon strength session, easy run (40-50 mins).
  • Tuesday – Shakeout in morning (30 mins), afternoon track workout (for example: 16 x 400s, 8 x 800s, or 4 x 1600s). It depends on what I’m training for.
  • Wednesday – Optional pool running in the morning, afternoon strength session, medium long run (80-90 mins).
  • Thursday – Depending on time of year, Thursday will either be a progression run in morning (16K-20K progression run) OR easy 10K.
  • Friday – Easy run (10-14K).
  • Saturday – Morning run with longer intervals on road or trail (for example: 3x3K, 4x3K), afternoon shakeout (30 mins).
  • Sunday – Long run (20-25K).

I also do yoga on Wednesday nights. I started to do yoga consistently last year. It’s helped, especially with the strength training. The nice thing about yoga is that it’s at your own pace. You can do what you feel comfortable with. It’s nice to devote that hour to stretching and breathing. It’s made a difference.

Natasha with coffee and a donut
“I eat and refuel with things that make me feel good.”

 SR: How do you approach nutrition? 

Natasha: I think I eat healthy, but my boyfriend may say otherwise (laughs). On a typical day, I get up and have multi-grain toast with peanut butter and banana, or I’ll have Greek yogurt, granola, blueberries, bananas, and coffee. I don’t like oatmeal! I usually eat right when I get up. I don’t ever skip breakfast. I’m usually doing my first workout within an hour of eating.

My lunch depends on what I’m doing; I’m normally out and about. For example, I’ll get a smoothie or sandwich on the go. If I’m home, I’ll have avocado on toast, with eggs (I eat a lot of eggs), and cheese. For dinner, if I’m home I cook pretty basic and healthy. For example, salmon or baked chicken, with baked yam, or quinoa, kale, rice. Very basic. I eat out two-three times a week and eat what I want.

Nutrition was one thing I really worked on before Rio in order to get down to race weight. For me, when I cut out wine and chocolate I can drop weight fairly easily. I don’t need to be like that all year round though. My body needs to be fueled properly. I eat and refuel with things that make me feel good.

I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had issues with weight. I’ve always seemed to lose weight easily. At my age and at this stage, many women have struggled with issues in this area. I know I am fortunate.

Natasha and Blinky, the one-eyed kittenSR: As a fellow cat person, I love that you bring awareness to the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue (VOKRA). Can you tell us a bit more about that? 

Natasha: I’m a huge animal lover, but I am definitely a cat lover. I wanted to volunteer somewhere that meant something to me. VOKRA is close to my house and it was a great fit. The organization is 100% volunteer run. I’m not making a huge difference, but it’s something. I go Fridays for two hours and I’m currently fostering six kittens right now and also have Sammy.

***

A huge thanks to Natasha for being so generous with her time to answer our questions! We will continue to cheer for you in whatever comes next!

If you’d like to reach out to Natasha, visit her website here and connect on Twitter and Instagram.

I'm a Canadian runner with a knack for training in frigid temperatures and completing 20 milers on the treadmill. I'm currently training for a spring marathon, with the goal of Boston Qualifying. Outside of running, I work in public policy and can often be found cross-stitching or being talked out of adopting another cat.

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5 comments

  1. Definitely an inspiring person! I love how open she is about everything- from wanting to ENJOY running now that she is at the level she is at, to openness about divorce and anxiety struggles. I think it really shows people that even the best athletes are human too- and that we all have struggles we face. Seems like it’s only been even more fuel for her to overcome everything, and just come out stronger (and faster!)

  2. I really enjoyed reading this interview! I love her cross country picture- so tough! I also appreciate the fact that she’s 35 and is confident she has several more good years of racing ahead of her, as well as that she incorporates pool running regularly into her routine.