Inspiring Canadian Women Who’ve Taken the Running World by Storm

Canada is a hotbed of running talent – especially when it comes to Canadian women. Throughout history, elite Canadian women have stood out in the marathon world, while over the last few years, Canadian women have been smashing national running records at an incredible pace. For International Women’s Day we’re celebrating records – recent and historic – set by Canadian women runners.

Plus, Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend Elite Coordinator, Dylan Wykes offers his take on some of the elite women to watch this year.

The Marathon

Silvia Ruegger leads at the 1984 Ottawa MarathonThe first ever marathon event took place at the Olympics in 1896, but it wasn’t until 1984 that the Olympics hosted a women’s marathon. Canada’s first woman to compete in the inaugural event was Silvia Ruegger. An expert in the 10K, Ruegger had never run a marathon until the 1984 National Capital Marathon in Ottawa (today the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon), which was an Olympic qualifying event.

Despite only having a few months of training under her belt, Ruegger came in first in Ottawa and went on to compete at the Olympics where she finished top ten in the world (eighth). Ruegger would continue to compete in the marathon distance, setting the Canadian women’s record at the 1985 Houston Marathon, where she came in first place with a time of 2:28:36. Ruegger held the Canadian record for 28 years and has been recognized in running history as an icon and trailblazer for women in the sport. She passed away in 2019 at only 58 years of age.

Ruegger’s record stood for almost three decades, until a bright and sunny day at the  2013 Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon, when it was broken twice. Lanni Marchant, who had only decided to run the Toronto marathon two weeks earlier, came in first, beating Ruegger’s record by 36 seconds. Close on Marchant’s heels was Krista Duchene whose finishing time was four seconds under Ruegger’s former record. Talk about an epic race!

Lanni Marchant at the 2016 Ottawa 10KMarchant’s record held for six years until Rachel Cliff set a new time of 2:26:56 in 2019 at the Nagoya Women’s Marathon in Japan. This record lasted only a few months when Malindi Elmore ran a record time of 2:24:50 at the Houston Marathon in January 2020 – the same course where Ruegger had first set it 32 years previously.

Wykes’ take: “At the age of 39, and a mom to two, Elmore is really inspiring many in the running community. Look out for her in the Olympic marathon this summer (she hasn’t been selected yet, but hopefully will be) and hopefully here in Ottawa to run the 10k in May!

Dayna Pidhoresky was the Canadian Champion at the 2019 Scotiabank Ottawa MarathonIn 2020, Wykes also suggests that people watch out for Dayna Pidhoresky – who came in first among Canadian women at the 2019 Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon. “She had a breakout performance at the Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon in 2019 running a 7-minute PB to clock 2:29, and she’s been selected to run the marathon at the Olympics. Look for her to continue to improve and bring her best to Tokyo.”

The Half Marathon

The Canadian women’s half marathon record has been a fast moving target. As of the publishing of this article (March 6, 2020), the record holder is Andrea Seccafien who ran 1:09:38 at the Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon in February 2020. But that was the third new record in as many months!

Rachel Cliff ran the Ottawa 10K in 2018In December 2019, Cliff set the new Canadian half marathon record by beating out her previous record, with a finishing time of 1:10:06. A month later, Natasha Wodak ran the first woman’s sub 1:10 half marathon, for a final time of 1:09:41. With three records in three months at the start of a new year, it will be exciting to see what happens next.

Wyke’s take: Winner of the 2019 Canadian 10K Championships here in Ottawa, Wodak continually performs at a high level on the roads, cross country and track. She’ll be preparing for the 10,000m at the Olympics this summer. She’s the National record holder in the event and should be someone to watch out for this year. We hope to see her here in Ottawa to defend her 10k title, too!

The 10K

Since 2013, Canada’s top elite runners have competed in Ottawa for the Canadian 10K Championships. A run along the beautiful and historic Rideau Canal, the Ottawa 10K is a fast, flat race that takes place just as the sun is about the set and finishes with a party.

With many of Canada’s top female distance runners expected to take on the 10K in May, the 2020 Ottawa 10K could herald breaking of Lynn Williams’ Canadian women’s 10K record (31:44), which has stood for over thirty years.

Williams, an accomplished international athlete who had won a bronze in the 3000m at the 1984 Olympics, and bronze and gold medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games, set her long-standing 10K record at the 1989 Red Lobster 10K Classic in Orlando, Florida. Only a few months later, Williams ran her final race at the 1989 World Cross Country Championships, where she took home the bronze medal.

Natasha Wodak and Malindi Elmore race the 2019 Ottawa 10KSince 2015, Marchant, Cliff and Wodak have all taken home a first-place finish at the 10K Championships in Ottawa, and last year Elmore arrived on the scene to take second place. Of the four, Marchant is the one who has come closest to unseating Williams’ record, with a PB of 31:48 at the Ottawa 10K in 2015. (Cliff and Wodak have also set their 10K PBs on the Ottawa course!)

Could 2020 be a record setting year?

The 5K

Elite 5K runner Émilie MondorThe 5K Canadian women’s record has been held by Émilie Mondor since 2004 when she set the bar for the 5K at 15:16. In the same year, she also ran the first Canadian woman’s sub 15-minute 5000m race on the track. When Mondor passed away in 2006, Run Ottawa made it a point to recognize her achievements by starting Run to Empower (formerly Émilie’s Run). Held every April, Run to Empower is a race that brings together womxn runners from the recreational and elite field for an inclusive and exciting race.

Indeed, with the talented field competing today, there’s no shortage of runners who may be Canada’s next record holder. Who do you have your eyes on?

Want to run with Canada’s best? Run with us in Ottawa at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend!