“It felt like we’ve never left.”

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Take a bow, those of you who were cheering Ben Flanagan and Natasha Wodak on to national 10-kilometre titles at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend on Saturday evening.

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Both of them credited the fans for pushing them.

“Oh, yeah, the energy was electric, and the fans came ready,” said Flanagan, who broke free from Rory Linkletter and Lucas Bruchet at the seven-kilometre mark and pulled away to win the men’s portion of the race in 28 minutes 39 seconds.

“I love races where it’s also being run by the community. Coming under that (Bank Street) bridge, when everyone is going by you, they start screaming, and it’s just, like, it almost hurts, how loud it is.

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“The course is amazing. As you get closer and closer to the finish line, the crowd and the noise just builds into a crescendo, so it makes it really exciting to come down the home stretch with that much support.”

Flanagan acknowledged that encouragement by waving to his left and right as he completed the course along Queen Elizabeth Drive. Linkletter finished second at 29:01, followed by Bruchet at 29:04.

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“Well, you try and keep the fans happy,” Flanagan said. “They came out to support me. The best I can do is throw up my hands and try not to fall down.”

As for race strategy, Flanagan said it was always a case of reading and reacting based on the conditions. He has the utmost respect for both Linkletter and Bruchet and said all three set a quick early pace on Saturday.

“I just had to really settle in, try to relax, trust myself and, fortunately, when I made my move, I was able to bring it home in the first and couldn’t be happier with the day.”

A file photo of Natasha Wodak, who again won the women's portion of the Canadian 10K road racing championships in Ottawa, this time by a margin of 14 seconds.
A file photo of Natasha Wodak, who again won the women’s portion of the Canadian 10K road racing championships in Ottawa, this time by a margin of 14 seconds. Photo by Patrick Doyle /postmedia

Wodak, meanwhile, set a hard early pace and kept a big lead in taking the women’s 10K title at 32:41. Leslie Sexton was second at 32:55, followed by Sasha Gollish at 33:02.

She was ecstatic at the mood and atmosphere all around her.

“It felt like we’ve never left,” said Wodak, who won the 2019 10K in Ottawa and established a career-best time of 21:59 in the national capital in 2015. “It felt just like yesterday that I was back here .”

The last two years, of course, were wiped out due to COVID-19, but Wodak, like Flanagan, praised the crowd.

Unaware exactly how far her pursuers were, she at one point asked a random person in the crowd.

“So, if that person is listening, thank you for telling me I had a 100-meter lead,” she said with a laugh.

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Wodak, 40, who has represented Canada twice in the Olympics — the 10,000 meters in Rio and in the marathon in Japan — was particularly pleased with her performance because she wasn’t sure how she would react after completing the Boston Marathon in 2:35 :08 just six weeks ago.

Her victory Saturday and the support from the crowd have inspired her to push for more.

“It’s amazing, especially racing in Canada,” she said. “People know my name, so it’s really special when you hear, ‘Go, Natasha.; I don’t think it has really sunk in.”

She also hopes her story helps motivate others who have reached 40.

“I hear women, especially women with kids say, ‘I don’t know if I will run again’. Yes, you can and you can run (personal bests) and you can faster than you ever have in your 40s. I hope that inspires women all over Canada to just go out there and run, and don’t let age be any sort of barrier for you.”

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