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Top Canadian Runners Set To Rock In Arizona

Rob Watson and Natasha Wodak are among the favorites to win the men's and women's races.

PHOENIX — Every year, athletes from around the world come to run the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon and 1/2 Marathon, and they do it with great success. This year, the top entrants in the 11th running of the popular event include two from Canada, specifically from the B.C. Endurance Project in Vancouver — Rob Watson and Natasha Wodak.

Watson and Wodak are the favorites in the men’s and women’s half marathons, respectively.

“This is an opportunity to test where my fitness is heading into the spring season,” said Watson, the 2013 Canadian marathon champion.

Watson is coming off an exhausting but memorable year after running four marathons in 2013, including Boston.

“Boston was an iconic race, but it was a crazy day with what happened,” Watson said. “I had finished the race when all the attacks occurred. The people of Boston were amazing the way they handled it, but it was scary. There was a lot of disbelief because no one was expecting anything like that to happen. It was unbelievable, a real helpless feeling.”

Watson realizes that Boston will be a “tremendous” race this year, but he has no intention of returning “because it doesn’t fit into my plans,” he said. Instead, he will concentrate on shorter races before attempting a fall marathon, either at Toronto, where he won last year in a personal-best 2:13:29, or Frankfurt. He has a lot of experience on his side.

In addition to his performances at Boston and Toronto, he finished 20th in the marathon at the 2013 IAAF World Championships, when he was ranked 48th in the world, and he is the top-ranked Canadian in the half marathon with a PR of 1:03:22 in New York.

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Watson is familiar with Arizona. He has done some past training in Flagstaff and competed in the state when he was a student at Colorado State, where he won Mountain West Conference titles in 2006 (5,000 meters) and 2007 (3,000-meter steeplechase).

“I will have lots of friends there Sunday,” he said.

Watson also will have a different finish line to look forward to on Sunday. Whereas in the past, the finish was at Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium, this time it will be at Tempe Beach Park.

Watson’s top competitors are expected to be Scott Mindel of New London, Conn., and Glenn Randall of Tempe. Mindel has a half marathon PR of 1:08:30, which he ran at Boston last year en route to a 2:22:25 full marathon, while Randall has a best of 1:06:06 and won the Rock ‘n’ Roll Age Group Grand Prix for ages 25-29.

While Wodak is limiting herself to the half marathon on Sunday, her goal is to be a world-class marathoner, with her eyes set on making the Canadian Olympic team in the longer distance for the 2016 Games in Brazil. Meanwhile, she plans to compete in a series of 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons before running a fall marathon — possibly Toronto, where she made her marathon debut last year in a very respectable 2:35:11, or Berlin.

“Chicago or New York … those are possibly dream marathons I could run one day,” she said.

For this time of year, she will content herself with shorter races, just like she did in 2013, when she won the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon in 1:14:09, and the Canadian 10,000-meter and cross-country titles. “I want to set PRs in those events,” she said.

RELATED: Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series

Wodak will get her first opportunity Sunday when she faces a half marathon field that includes Jess Petersson, a 2012 Olympian with a marathon PR of 2:31 and a half marathon best of 1:13:28, and Megan Rolland, the third-place finisher at the 2012 Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon who set her PR of 1:17:14 at the 2013 Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll event.

The men’s full marathon, which begins in Phoenix, will feature Solomon Kandie of Kenya, the Arizona runner-up in 2011; Kalib Wilkinson, winner of the 2012 Gran Canaria Marathon in Spain; Pete Gilman, the four-time Med City marathon champion and 2009 Fargo marathon winner; and Roosevelt Cook, runner-up at this event last year.

Among the leading women’s marathoners are Becky Sondag, most recently winner of the Salt Lake City marathon; and Sally Dagrono, sixth at the Maui Half Marathon last year.

Overall, about 24,000 competitors are expected to run on Sunday.