By Denise DuBois
The Ottawa Race Weekend has made changes to this year’s event, including adding signs and barricades, an earlier start-time for the half-marathon, and a more “tourist-friendly” marathon route.
Since the ice on the canal began melting, many people have been trading in their skates for running shoes in preparation for race weekend, May 26-27.
For the 15,000 Ottawa residents expected to participate again this year, the race is on to get in top shape.
Just as running has become more popular over the past ten years, so has the Ottawa Race Weekend. Last year, the race broke participation records when nearly 30,000 people took part — running, jogging, or walking their way to the finish line.
Support from the Ottawa community for this event has spurred its continued success, says race director John Halvorsen.
The race is the third-largest tourist event in Ottawa, just behind Winterlude, with over half the participants from outside the region.
Over the past few years, the organizers have made changes to make the race more interesting for tourists.
The marathon course now passes many of Ottawa’s big attractions, including Parliament Hill and Rideau Hall.
Halvorsen says these changes are attracting more people every year.
Increased marketing at other races in cities like New York is also enticing runners to make Ottawa their next race destination, he added.
This year, Halvorsen says 50 to 60 international elite runners have been invited.
“We have a big budget for this because we want to support track and field and Canadian athletes,” Halvorsen says. “By inviting quality international athletes we can boost Canadian competition.”
Last year, 14 of the top runners accidentally strayed from the race course because a barricade had been moved.
They were disqualified, raising questions about how this could have happened.
In hindsight they should probably have used different barricades that were more visible to the runners at the intersection where the runners went off-course, Halvorsen explained.
“The incident . . . is unlikely to occur again,” he says. “This year we’re going to be more cognizant of barricades . . . and add more signage.”
But Bruce Moquin, manager of the Running Room on Slater Street in downtown Ottawa, a running apparel store with locations across Canada, says he felt it was the elite runners’ responsibility to know the route.
“I feel bad for the volunteer that moved his barricade, the elite athletes should also be held responsible,” he says.
Another complaint from last year’s race was the heat.
This year, Halvorsen says the 21.5 kilometre half-marathon race, which over 8,000 people ran, will start earlier.
Alexandre Audet, who ran the half-marathon last year in the unusually blazing May heat, says he’s happy about the earlier start time.
“Because then we’re sure to run in cool weather, even if it’s a hot day,” he says.
Many of the runners competing in the Ottawa Race Weekend started their training through clinics offered at the Running Room. Audet has been training off and on the store for the past four years.
Moquin says running is popular because it’s inexpensive and you can do it anywhere.
“All you need is a pair of shoes, shorts and a T-shirt,” he says. “You can’t take your gym membership with you to Toronto, but you can bring your sneakers.”
If you’re part of the running community and want to be ready for May, now is the time to get outside and start training, says Moquin.
Committed athletes like Halvorsen, Moquin, and Audet have bravely faced Ottawa’s chilling temperatures all winter to run outside.
For many other runners early spring marks the date to move off the treadmill and onto Ottawa’s pathways, says Moquin.
Whether or not you’re planning on participating in the race this year, Halvorsen says he wants the Ottawa community to take part in the event.
“It’s fun for the people in the city and it gets lots of people out. You don’t need to be an elite athlete, or even a runner—you could walk,” he says.
“Or, come out and just encourage our runners, because without spectators the course can be boring.”