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After ‘devastating’ Houston race, Canadian Natasha Wodak unsure of taking final shot at qualifying for Paris Olympic marathon

Running with two tight hamstrings and a cramp in her right calf late in Sunday's Houston Marathon, Natasha Wodak knew her Paris Olympic dream had probably ended. The Vancouver resident missed the automatic qualifying time by nearly two minutes.

Fellow Canadian Sexton also falls short, while Woodfine runs best time in men's race

Canadian runner pictured competing in the women's marathon at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

Running with tight hamstrings and a cramp in her right calf late in Sunday's Houston Marathon, Natasha Wodak knew her Paris Olympic dream had probably ended.

On track to achieve the automatic qualifying standard halfway through the 42.2-kilometre race, the Canadian record holder realized her gait changed shortly thereafter due to the hamstring pain but she did "everything to hold it together" in hopes of finishing in two hours 26 minutes 50 seconds or faster.

"By 35K my right calf cramped up and it was a disaster," Wodak said in a phone interview three hours after the race. "I didn't know how I was going to run another 7K. In that moment it's heartbreaking."

Two kilometres later, a crying Wodak ran by her partner, who was standing along the course route, and shook her head to indicate she wouldn't run standard.

"It was devastating. You still have 5K to go and know how painful it is. Your [Olympic] dream is slipping through your fingers," Wodak said. "It's hard to stay focused.

"This was pretty much my last chance to make the [Olympic team for a third time]. I don't know if I can qualify on [world ranking points]. I'm frustrated and heartbroken."

WATCH | 'I seem to be getting faster as I get older,' Wodak says

Path to Paris 2024: Natasha Wodak

29 days ago

Duration 1:52

Natasha Wodak reflects on her journey to become the Canadian women's marathon record holder.

She reached the finish in 2:28:42 for ninth place among the elite women's athletes, one spot and 28 seconds behind fellow Vancouver resident Leslie Sexton, who was seeking her first Olympic berth.

Wodak, 42, will vacation in Mexico for five days this week before returning to B.C. to assess the physical damage from Sunday and determine with coach Trent Stellingwerff if she's in the mental and physical state to begin another marathon build.

If she takes one final shot at standard in April, Wodak noted she would likely race in Europe.

I'm emotionally really tired. [Running] is my whole life and I feel I've put so much into this [Olympic pursuit] over the last year.

— Natasha Wodak

"If I can get my head around an April marathon again. I probably have a strained calf and two strained hamstrings," said Wodak, who had a minor strain of the right hammy for two-plus weeks leading into the Houston event, and felt some discomfort in the left the past week.

"I'm emotionally really tired. "[Running] is my whole life and I feel I've put so much into this [Olympic pursuit] over the last year. It's exhausting."

Wodak said she felt good for the first half of Sunday's race in which she clocked 1:12:08. Her initial pacer, a friend, couldn't travel to Houston due to a death in his family, so she joined a group projected to finish in 2:25.

"It was windy, but I felt comfortable at the pace," she said. "I thought if things go sideways, I have wiggle room to get under the standard. By 25K, it felt quite windy, the ease of the pace was no longer there and my hamstrings started to tighten and seize. It was uncomfortable and painful."

Sexton top Canadian in 2022 world marathon

Wodak has competed at two Olympics, in the 10,000 metres on the track in 2016 and the marathon three years ago.

She went through a build for the London Marathon last spring before withdrawing due to injury and illness, while the heat affected her ability to run standard at the World Athletics Championships last August in Budapest, Hungary, where Wodak placed 15th in 2:30:09.

"I've had a great year of training," she said, "but the races haven't come together for me. It seems unfair but that's sport."

The 36-year-old Sexton was top Canadian in the 2022 world marathon (13th, 2:28:52) and second to Wodak on the road last May at the Canadian 10K Championships in Ottawa.

Lanni Marchant, a 2016 Olympian and former Canadian record holder in the women's marathon, was 15th in Houston (2:38:32). She didn't run a marathon last year and only raced twice while dealing with mononucleosis, anemia and kidney stones.

"That last 10K felt like it was going to take forever," Marchant, whose most recent marathon was in December 2022, said on her Instagram. "I went for [a fast time] and it just wasn't a great day.

"[My] hamstrings got quite crunchy and I got really cold, but I have made a lot of progress in the last couple months of training. No complaints."

Canadian record set in Berlin

Malindi Elmore of Kelowna, B.C., is the lone Canadian woman to have run standard for Paris, running 2:23:30 in the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 24.

In 2022, Wodak lowered Elmore's Canadian record, stopping the clock in 2:23:12 in the Berlin Marathon, five weeks before the Olympic qualifying window opened for Paris.

On the men's side, Tristan Woodfine of Cobden, Ont., (near Ottawa) also ran strong for most of Sunday's race but also missed the 2:08:10 Olympic standard, placing sixth in a personal-best 2:10:39. Vancouver's Thomas Broatch was seventh in 2:11:51, also a PB.

For Woodfine, it marked the 30-year-old's first marathon since May 2022 in Ottawa (2:21:55). His time of 2:10:39 is 10 seconds back of the PB set by his coach, Reid Coolsaet, and 10th all-time among Canadian men.

Last October, Broatch was the top Canadian men's runner and sixth overall (2:16:25) in his debut Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

The former University of British Columbia runner was third (1:04:23) earlier in 2023 at the First Half Vancouver Half Marathon (1:04:23). In 2022, he posted a 1:04:09 PB at the Monterey Half Marathon in California.

Two other Canadians also set PBs in the men's half marathon: Calgary-born Rory Linkletter (1:01:02, sixth) and Thomas Fafard of Repentigny, Que. (1:02:19, 12th). Linkletter held the Canadian record for nine months in 2022, posting a personal best 1:01:08 in Houston.

WATCH | Broatch takes 2023 Canadian men's marathon title in Toronto:

Vancouver's Thomas Broatch wins Canadian men's title at Toronto Waterfront Marathon

3 months ago

Duration 2:34

Thomas Broatch of Vancouver was the fastest Canadian at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, finishing with a time of 2:16:25.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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