By Paul Gains
Two of Canadaís Olympians will contest the Vancouver Eastside 10k knowing they will face a very strong field and will have targets on their back as the Canada Running Series fall season gets underway on September 17th.
Eric Gillis, running in his third Olympic Games, had an incredible day in Rio finishing 10th in the marathon while recording a time of 2:12:29 in very hot conditions. Vancouver native Natasha Wodak was 22nd in the Olympic 10,000m. Her time of 31:53.14 was her second-best ever. Both say they are racing to support the Canada Running Series although they wonít be fully prepared.
"I took some time off in Rio and then tried to start running again," Wodak conceded this week. "I have just been running easy every day and trying to get back into it. But my body is tired. Itís in Vancouver and I want to support the CRS. If I can pull off the win that would be awesome."
Wodak is the defending champion and knows there are any number of women who would like to prevent her from a successful defense. And with the race doubling as the B.C. Provincial 10K Championships, and with over $12,000 prize money on the line, the race is attracting a larger than usual field.
"I donít know," she says perhaps realizing the challenge she faces. "Dayna (Pidhoresky) is in really good shape right now and Lindsay (Carson) is very talented so they will be tough to beat. I would love to be able to win it but I just donít know if my fitness will be even close. I havenít done a workout since my Rio race. We will see.
"I like the course. Itís different from all the other Vancouver courses that go along the Seawall and go through the nice areas. I like it because it goes through the downtown Eastside and through Gastown and there is no other race in Vancouver where you get to see those neighbourhoods, so that is really cool."
At the age of 34 Wodak says she draws inspiration from American marathoners Shalane Flanagan and Deena Kastor who are both older than her and still competing at the highest level. Flanagan was 6th in the Rio Olympic marathon.
"I am going to continue to race until I donít improve anymore," Wodak declares. "I donít know when that will be but I love this life and l love traveling and I love racing so I am going to just keep at it.
"I am really happy with my Olympic race. I didnít want a replay of the World Championships. I wanted to run with the pack and run strong and did those things. I went for it and am proud with having run my second fastest time ever. After a pretty rough season going in I was really happy and proud of myself."
The discussion of age is nothing new to Gillis. The native of Antigonish, Nova Scotia turned 36 in March but his Rio Olympic performance is arguably his best ever.
"The way that I ran the race," he explains, "I was expecting to do that: run a strong second half, pass some bodies, especially when I wasnít up with the leaders and wasnít in that big pack. I just tried to run a strong second half. I really would have been pretty stoked with eleventh if I couldnít have passed that last Ethiopian but the top ten has a nice ring to it."
Gillis cites 43 year old Meb Keflezighi as an inspiration. The American took home the silver medal from the 2004 Olympic marathon and represented the USA in Rio. And, of course, Carlos Lopes of Portugal won the 1984 Olympic marathon at age 37. In other words, Gillis has no plans to stop racing.
Like Wodak he is now turning his attention to the Vancouver Eastside 10k. The glowing aftermath of his incredible run through the streets of Rio has yet to wear off. The Olympics took a physical toll too. Asked how he is feeling he is quick in his response.
"Tired, to be honest. I have been in a bit of a fog since Rio," he admits. "Thatís a good fog except a tired one. Itís when I think about it makes sense. I put myself in a bit of a hole, three hours sleep after the closing ceremonies and then an overnight flight a couple of nights later in which I didnít get any sleep. That put me in a hole. But I am feeling better now.
"I will be ready. I want to put in a hard effort and stick to my curiosity mindset and put in a good effort and see what it will get me in a 10k four weeks after a marathon. I am curious. I will be prepared to give it a good effort."
Geoff Martinson returns to defend his 2015 Vancouver Eastside 10k title and 2012 Olympic marathoner Dylan Wykes has also entered though his wife Francine is due with the coupleís second child around that time.
Both Wodak and Gillis would like a little more time to prepare for this race but they didnít get to be Olympians from shying away from a challenge. The race promises to be an exciting one for fans of the Canada Running Series.
While the spotlight will shine on Wodak and Gillis a third Olympian will toe the line. Evan Dunfee, 4th in the Olympic 50k race walk, will be on hand to walk the course.
Everyone is invited to come out and chase the Olympians around the great Eastside 10k course; and who knows, with the best races of their lives still lingering a little in their legs, you just might catch them!
For entry and race info: Eastside10K.ca.