A highly competitive field will race the fast course around Stanley Park

canada running series

Story written by Paul Gains


(ISN) – Just eleven months ago Kelly Wiebe lay deathly ill in a Vancouver hospital bed, a blood clot embedded in his groin. In an astonishing display of resilience the 25 year old from Saskatchewan recovered and went on to claim the silver medal at the 2014 Canadian Cross Country Championships just four seconds behind Chris Winter.

On March 22nd Wiebe will defend his Modo Spring Run-Off 8k title in Vancouver’s picturesque Stanley Park against a field which includes Winter. The race kicks off the 2015 Canada Running Series. It will also open the 2015 racing schedule for the majority of competitors and the general consensus is, therefore, that it’s not to be taken too seriously. But with pride on the line runners of this calibre will have a difficult time quashing competitiveness. Bragging rights are at stake here.

Wiebe spent a month training in Australia recently and reckons his fitness is at a new level. “The Modo 8k is just intended to get me sharp and race ready,” he explains, treading the politically correct line. “I have only raced once since the National Cross Country Championships back in November, so I am just looking for that race stimulus that you can’t really get in training. “It promises to be a competitive event this year. I expect there to be some good competition from Chris Winter and Lucas Bruchet, but at the same time I think all three of us are really just looking for something to break up training, and not really something to smash. The main goal is to walk away from the day feeling healthy, and ready to tackle 12km at the world cross country championships the following week.”

Neither Bruchet or Winter the 2013 and 2014 National Cross Country Champions respectively, will be joining Wiebe at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China March 28th. Despite their best intentions to use the Modo 8k as a fitness run it is more likely they will not want to lose in front of the hometown crowd. All three are living in Vancouver these days. Winter spent five years at the University of Oregon before joining Speed River Track Club in Guelph, Ontario. After three years in “The Royal City” he and his fiancee, Rachel Cliff, have moved back to B.C. He continues to receive his training program from Speed River coach, Dave Scott-Thomas. “Dave and I continue to work together,” he reveals. “It was a bit of gamble to move away from the great program Guelph has built but the relationship works great. We correspond mostly via email, but if something pressing comes up Dave’s always available to chat. It’s definitely not the “ideal” scenario, but I am a senior athlete and both Dave and I know very well what I need to get me where I want to be – and it appears to be working. “My (track) racing schedule has been such that I haven’t been able to do too many road races in the past couple of years so I am excited that the Modo 8km fell at a great time.

I love racing on the roads and training has been going really well. I am looking forward to what promises to be a great, fun event on a beautiful course here in Vancouver.” Wiebe, Bruchet, Winter and Canadian Olympic marathoner Dylan Wykes, who is also planning to run easy, all live within five blocks of each and see each other training occasionally. Winter represented Canada at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2013 IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Moscow and trains alone except on easier days when he and Cliff run together. “I fully expect that I should be able to mix it up with those guys,” Winter says. “Kelly is a little more experienced on the roads and over the longer distances but Luc also ran a great road 5km (at the International Ekiden) in Chiba late last year. It’ll be fun to see how it plays out.

“I really just want to put myself in the mix early and try to be the first guy across the line at the end of it. I am not putting a lot of pressure on myself for this race. The important races are coming up later in the spring but I do want to run hard and give my legs a good test. It should be fun.” The men’s event record was set in 2008 by Ryan McKenzie at 23:40. With the strength of the field being what it is there is every chance that time could be challenged. The women’s race will pit Cliff, who will marry Winter on September 11th of this year, against defending Modo 8k champion, Natasha Wodak. A year ago Wodak set a women’s event record with a brilliant 26:37. But it’s 24 year old Andrea Seccafien who could provide an upset if the other two think they can wait and kick.

A member of Athletics Toronto she is a training partner of Commonwealth 1,500m bronze medalist, Kate Van Buskirk and surprised many with her consistency over 5000m on the track. Her personal best of 15:52.06 ranks her 6th in Canada. But it is a very fit Wodak who will command the most attention. “I am racing Modo 8k the weekend after the United NYC half marathon, and the weekend before the world cross country championships, so I’m not going to be hammering it,” Wodak declares. “I really love the Canada Running Series events, so I didn’t want to miss Modo 8k, even though it’s not an ideal weekend for me. I’m treating this race as a hard workout, in preparation for World Cross Country Champs the following weekend which is also 8km.”

At the same San Diego training camp where Wiebe took ill, Wodak developed a case of plantar fasciitis which curtailed training for most of 2014. Like Wiebe she had a good result at the Canadian cross country championships to salvage the season. Her bronze medal performance was just nine seconds behind Cliff. “I don’t feel any pressure (to defend the Modo title). I just want to have some fun and enjoy the race,” says Wodak. “It’ll be great to have Rachel Cliff there again this year- we always have great battles. I’m feeling fit and ready to roll.” Wodak volunteers every Friday morning at the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association and continues to wait tables at the Boathouse Restaurant on Kits Beach two or three nights a week to help with her living expenses. “I have been serving for over 10 years now, all the while training every day. I’m pretty much used to it now. When I used to work five nights a week, it would be pretty exhausting. But now that I’m only working two or three nights a week, it’s not too bad,” she reveals. “Also, my employers are pretty awesome and they allow me to wear Asics running shoes at work. That has been very helpful, especially this year while I was suffering with plantar fasciitis.” With one of the deepest fields ever assembled in both the men’s and women’s races there is no doubt it will be a battle to get on the podium. What a start to the 2015 Canada Running Series!

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