© Copyright – 2019 – Victoria Sports News

Natasha Wodak (L) and Rachel Cliff (R) at work cross country championships

Two of Canada’s fastest distance runners will be in Victoria on Sunday to race the Harriers Pioneer 8K in North Saanich. Both from Vancouver, Natasha Wodak and Rachel Cliff, will go 1-2 in the race, but who finishes first will have to be decided over the 8,000-metres of asphalt between the start and finish points. The race will take them somewhere around 26 to 27 minutes to complete.

Cliff and Wodak are both national record holders, they are tough and experienced cross-country runners and veterans of the tracks and roads. But, because Sunday, Jan. 13th is so early in the racing season – even pre-season – neither athlete really knows how fit they are for racing.

Cliff is the defending champion from 2018 and will look to retain the title. She ran the course in the time of 26:23 last year as the first woman across the line and ninth overall.

Wodak competed in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the 10,000-metre event (10K). She holds the national record of 31:41.59 and the national 8K road record, from this very race – but on a course in Central Saanich. She ran 25:28 and placed behind just four men in the 2013 edition.

It’s a rare opportunity to race the 8K distance. It’s unheard of on the track and in cross-country courses that are often 8K in distance are not required to be perfectly accurate. Sunday, it will be a test to see how fit one is.

Wodak will be racing the following week in the Chevron Houston Half Marathon. She will be seeking the national record in the 21.1K, half-marathon distance, however, is unsure if that would come so soon – again it is too early in the season to tell. Sunday will provide her and her coach Lynn Kanuka (Olympian) the information they need to plan.

“I look forward to racing the Pioneer 8K to get an indication of where my fitness is. Then we will see for Houston,” shared Wodak. “I would like to break the national record in 2019 – it is difficult to tell if it will happen in Houston – this early in the year – but I am feeling healthy and fit.”

Cliff ran the fastest Canadian marathon debut all-time in September at the Berlin Marathon, finishing in the time of 2:28:53, a performance that was just 53 seconds off of the current national record that Lanni Marchant owns.

Six months prior, in March, Cliff took that national record in the half-marathon that Wodak looks to best sometime this year. Cliff set it at a race near Houston in a place called The Woodlands, TX. She ran The Woodlands Half Marathon in the time of 1:10:08.

Wodak’s best at the distance is 1:11:20 from New York in 2015.

Both athletes have changed coaches over the past couple of years and both continue to run at an international level.

“Training has been going fine. I have put in a lot of base work and it is still early days,” Cliff told Victoria Sports News. “I’m excited to get back to racing and shaking off some cobwebs.”

Runners can register online until 6 pm, Friday January 11 at www.islandseries.org, at Frontrunners, 1200 Vancouver St, on Saturday January 12 from 10 am – 3 pm, or on race day from 9:30 am to 11:15 am. Race registration until January 11 is $30 for adults/$25 for students and $50 on race weekend.

The deadline for registering online for the series of eight races is 6 pm, Friday, January 11. The fee is $175.The eight races comprise the Harriers Pioneer 8K on January 13, Cobble Hill 10K on January 27, Cedar 12K on February 10, Hatley Castle 8K on February 24, Port Alberni Paper Chase 15K on March 10, Comox Valley RV Half Marathon on March 24, TriStars 10K on April 7 and the Synergy Health Management Bazan Bay 5K and Series Awards on April 14.

For more information on the Harriers Pioneer 8k go to: http://pih.bc.ca/race/1-pioneer-8k

To register online for the Harriers Pioneer 8k and for the series go to: www.islandseries.org