By Paul Gains
Although the 2013 racing calendar is not even half way through, it is fair to say Natasha Fraser has already caught the attention of road racing aficionados everywhere. Moreover, she has also established herself as a strong contender for the Ottawa 10k on May 25 - an IAAF Silver Label race.
The 31-year-old resident of Port Moody, B.C. began the year with a stunning victory at the Harriers Pioneer 8k in Victoria. Her time of 25:28 smashed the course record, which had been held for 27 years by Canadian Olympian Debbie Scott and caused much chatter on running forums across the continent.
She handily won the NACAC cross-country championships in Jamaica before finishing a credible 24th in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Just days before the race, she was suffering from bronchitis. Most recently, on April 21st, she recorded her second consecutive Vancouver Sun Run victory in 32:42.
It’s an impressive start to what is being viewed as something of a breakout year. Up next is a return to Ottawa. Asked to explain the incredible string of results she laughs.
“I don’t really have a firm answer for that,” she says. “I just think it’s a whole bunch of things coming together at the right time: being healthy and having a nice block of consistent training, being happy in my life and not being injured.”
Fraser graduated from Simon Fraser University in 2006 but was disenchanted with running mainly because she had a series of injuries, shin splints, an inflamed ilio-tibial band and, at one point, a stress fracture in her leg. For three and a half years she didn’t compete, preferring instead to run recreationally or go to her local gym when the spirit moved her. Being reunited with her original training group sparked a return to serious running about three years ago.
“I was living about 30-40 minutes away from my training group and then I moved closer, about 5 minutes away,” Fraser explains. “I was still good friends with the girls that trained there and with my coach, Brit Townsend. I thought ‘maybe I will start going out for some sessions just for fun since I am so close.’
“I quickly saw improvement and enjoyed being with the group again, and running and doing the intervals. I realised I had missed it. Then all of a sudden I was running faster than before and I thought maybe there is something left to accomplish like maybe I have more in me that I didn’t realise. I just kept at it and here I am.”
Townsend should be credited with developing her athlete carefully. The former international 1,500m runner, who was 7th in the 1984 Olympic 1,500m final, has been both coach and mentor for the past 12 years now. At present, Fraser runs roughly 100 kilometres a week while holding down a part-time job as a server in a local restaurant. She also finds time to lead weekly running clinics for Kintec, a footwear and orthotics company. Great care is being taken to avoid injuries.
“I have been getting regular massage and physio and I have been working hard with strength training and core training with Innovative Fitness,” she reveals, “and it’s all those things coming together and I am seeing these improvements.”
A conversation with Fraser is punctuated often with a laugh demonstrating her gregarious personality. Spending time socialising with her husband or with friends takes up the majority of her spare time. Of course living in one of the more beautiful areas of the country, she says, helps her positive outlook on life.
Fraser is looking forward to returning to Ottawa and has her fingers crossed her streak of world-class racing continues.
“You know, I raced there last year and I didn’t have a good race,” she recalls of her eighth place finish, “and I just kind of want to go back and be able to compete with some of those top girls.
“I feel I am in pretty good shape. It’s exciting to be able to run in a race of that calibre, I am just hoping to run with some of the best women in Canada and the international ladies as well. I haven’t seen the start list but I am assuming there will be some fast girls there.”
The field is indeed fast. Among those she will face is the Ethiopian trio of Malika Assahah (32:15 personal best), Worknesh Alemu and Firehiwot Dado as well as Hellen Jemutai of Kenya.
The defending Ottawa champion, Lindsey Scherf of Westchester, New York who won last year’s race in 33:13, also returns with revenge on her mind. The tables were turned in Vancouver April 21st as Fraser beat the American by 19 seconds.
All in all, the race holds promise for a spectacular competitive affair and we can only wonder what Natasha Fraser has up her sleeve this time around.