My name is Natalia Mack. I was born in Poland and moved to Canada when I was a toddler. I’ve grown up in Edmonton most of my life. I went to university for 9 years and have two degrees, as a result. I have a very supportive husband, who helps me achieve my goals. I also have two wonderful supportive and proud parents that live in Edmonton. I have an older brother who lives in Switzerland, along with his wife and daughter. They are great cheerleaders in my corner. Running is my passion and a big part of what makes me, me. I take running very seriously and enjoy it immensely. I use to run about 100 kilometers a week during marathon training. Currently, I run about 80 K a week, supplemented with weight training and cross training.
How long have you been running and how many events have you participated in?
I started running in 2008. I began running on a treadmill for fun and really did not know my ability what-so-ever. I was approached one day whilst running on the treadmill at the gym by an affiliate of the University of Alberta Cross Country and Track and Field team, and my life has never been the same. Soon thereafter, I joined the elite varsity team and was travelling almost every second weekend, writing a lot of exams on the road. I competed in many events including CIS and Canada West each year I was part of the team. Primarily my events were 5 Km cross country and on the track I ran 3000 m and 1500 m. After my adventure with varsity sports, I picked up a sponsorship with the Running Room (2012). I am currently coached by Matt Norminton, who is extremely supportive and an absolute gem to the running community. I compete in multiple races throughout the year. I typically run in 1-2 marathons, 1 half marathon, and then 2-3 10-15 Km races a year. However, marathon is my main focus. I have ran 9 full marathons to date.
What is your main motivation when running?
My main motivation for running is for competition, but also to keep a level head. Life can be stressful at times and having a focus other than the daily stressors, definitely keeps life enjoyable. Going for a run is where I do my best reflecting, it helps me center myself. I run when I am having a tough day, but also to celebrate a good one. I also enjoy running with my friends, they keep me motivated throughout the year with all the race chatter along the way.
What do you enjoy most about running?
I most enjoy the people I meet and the places I go. Running has taken me all over the world and I’ve met a ton of really cool people while doing it. I really enjoy sharing and listening to others racing experiences after a big event. I enjoy training with my friends and the social aspect of running. I also really enjoy the racing part and running amongst incredible talent. During a world major, there are some pretty enormous crowds that show their support. It is really unlike any other marathon experience. There are rappers, guitar players, dancers, drummers, you name it. It makes the race so enjoyable and I really thrive off that energy. There are massive crowds of people that come out rain or shine (or snow!) to support the racers. They bring all kinds of things to help show their dedication to the runners along the course. I think that is really special.
What are your biggest achievements as a runner?
After my successful varsity career, I focused more on the marathon distance. I have been to Boston (twice, 2015/2017), New York (2017), Chicago (2018) and on my way to London in April (the race I am currently training for). My goal is to run the world major marathons within the top 20 Canadian females, which I have done for 3 of the big six thus far. In Boston, I finished 13th Canadian female. In New York, I finished 14th Canadian female and within the top 5% overall (including males and females). And Chicago, I finished 20th Canadian female within the top 6% overall.
Do you have any advice on how to avoid injuries?
Listen to your body! When your body tells you to rest, do so. Also, I think replacing at least one day of running with cross training is a good idea. It helps you use different muscles and gives your feet a break from pounding pavement. Also, add some weight training into your training regimen. This will help you in the long run (see what I did there?). Lastly, nutrition is very important. It is easy to become complacent with nutrition during a training cycle since running takes up so much time. However, I think if you put effort into your nutrition, it will definitely help your longevity as an athlete and your performance on race day.
What is your take on meals before, during and after a race?
The week before my race, I try to eat a lot of carbohydrates to load up my glycogen stores. The night before a race, I load up my plate with pasta covered in meat sauce and cheese. I basically eat until my stomach hurts and wash it down with lots of water. Before a marathon, I do not eat a lot. My routine race day would be Vector cereal with water. I use water to avoid any stomach upset. Sometimes I will add a Larabar or Clif Bar along with that. I usually eat that about 3-4 hours before the race start time. I take a gel at the start line. During my race, I take a gel every 30-45 minutes and drink water along the course. I never take Gatorade during a race, my stomach just does not get along with it when I am running hard. After a race, I eat as much as my body allows for. During a marathon you are burning so much fuel, it’s important to have a good meal after your race. That’s one of the best and most rewarding parts of a marathon build. Sharing your marathon stories with your friends enjoying your favourite meal. My post race meal staple is typically a rare steak with mashed potatoes and some sort of vegetable.
Do you have a memorable running experience/story to share with us?
It is hard to choose just one! The first one that comes to mind is my Chicago marathon experience. My Mom is one of my biggest fans and she’s come to support me in New York and Chicago. During my training build for Chicago, I had excruciating pain in my left foot. After I would complete a running work out, I couldn’t walk for a few hours. It was bad. No, I didn’t listen to my body at the time and I probably should’ve. I did not want to know what the injury was until I completed my race, so I did get it imaged afterward (split torn post tib tendon, which put me out of running for a year). Anyway, I walked to the startline with one of my training partners, it was pouring rain that day. We got to the racing grounds and I sat under a tree for shelter and rung out my socks, as they were soaked in rainy water. The gun went off and I started my race. My Mom was stationed at the 3rd mile with a fresh pair of shoes for me incase I need to swap my racing flats for something more pillowy, due to my injury. She was dressed in a Canadian poncho, with a Canadian umbrella hat and Canada flags around her. She also had a giant megaphone yelling my name and jumping up and down. She was just so excited and proud to be there, it was really emotional and cool to have her there cheering me on. That race took pure grit, as I was probably in the best shape of my life, but in the worst pain. It took everything I had to cross the line in 3:13. After the race, there were a few fellow Canadians that made the trek to Chicago to run the race. We all went out for a great meal afterwards and shared our experiences. It was neat to have friends and family to fully enjoy the experience of the marathon.
If you could give a single piece of advice to new runners what would it be?
Focus on yourself. Don’t worry about what other people are doing or what other people tell you you can or can’t do. I’ve proven a lot of people wrong with my racing ability. I was laughed at early on when I said I would make it to Boston. I’ve been told by specialists my anatomy is ‘not built for running.’ I’ve been told I would ‘never run again’ to ‘pick a different distance’. However, I’ve always been stubborn and been surrounded by a great deal of support, which I am extremely grateful for. Do you, because you can!