Watching the runners at the 2022 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, I felt, as a sports fan, that I was watching the best athletes at the best sporting event in the world. Of course, it’s personal. I don’t know Steph Curry or Vladimir Guerrero, but I do know Kinsey Middleton and Natasha Wodak. Middleton, who took first place at the 2018 Waterfront Marathon in Toronto was victorious in the women’s marathon and Wodak held off Leslie Sexton to reclaim her title as Canada’s 10K champion.
“Definitely did not follow my race plan (sorry coach Trent) which was to run the first 5km more conservative (it was 22c which was pretty toasty considering Vancouver has been cold) and then pick it up if feeling good. Instead I pushed the pace from 1km—dropping a 3:06 2nd km #idiot)—and led the entire race (I was excited?!) Around 6K, the early fast pace and heat caught up to me, but I just kept on pushing & grinding—cause 4km ain’t nothing after my sufferfest at the Boston Marathon,” wrote Wodak on her Instagram account.
Flanagan, in winning the men’s 10K, fought off a fierce early battle with Rory Linkletter and Lucas Bruchet, and ran away with the title and showed real guts in the back half of his race. It was a performance as impressive as Connor McDavid en route, we hope, to the Stanley Cup. On his Instagram, he said: “Absolutely electric environment yesterday in Ottawa, a huge privilege to come away with a W and title.”
There’s something about the way Flanagan used the word “privilege” that I love. It’s like how Natasha and Leslie went back and forth after the race on Leslie’s Instagram. Leslie is a fierce competitor, one of the country’s finest runners, and won the 10K Championships last year, beating Natasha, and she wrote: “Nothing like a fast first 3k and @tashawodak kicking your ass to keep ya humble!”
Natasha responded: “I ran so scared knowing you were on my dang tail the whole way!!”
Sports bring out the best in people, but we all know that they can also bring out the worst. Between doping and fighting and corruption and the evil that lurks in coaching systems behind closed doors, it’s a relief and pleasure to find athletes at races that we can support with full hearts. These runners all know each other and, by and large, like one another.
Wodak, in her post-race note, wrote this: “Super pumped to watch my girl @kinseymiddleton WIN the Ottawa marathon this morning in a big PB 2:30:09!! So proud of her!”
Lots of runners in attendance told me that Ottawa race weekend felt like a reunion. There’s certain people that we all know we’ll only see once a year at these events, and here’s the thing: we actually like them. With all of us at every level basically doing the same thing: trying to run as fast as we can for as long as we find humanly possible, it’s not far-fetched to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. This adds not only energy to these events and fandom, but also compassion. And the more you show up at races, wherever you choose to show up, which are the same races where our stars compete for world records, the more ingrained into the accepting community you become.
It’s hard to find a healthy place where the heroes don’t disappoint and a community where the people are by and large decent. All weekend long in Ottawa I traipsed around the different events, and all weekend long I saw Alan Brookes working, smiling, and working hard. Brookes, a former competitive runner who used to run with the great Silvia Ruegger (who wrote this beautiful thing before she passed three years ago this August), is the founder of Canada Running Series and puts on events across the country, including the massive TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon in the fall. In his 70s, I watched Brookes stand at the finish line and not only greet the elites (many if not all of whom eked out their career at the events Brookes, now with Charlotte, his daughter, runs), but also the middle and back of the pack runners, too. These people had no idea who Alan was, who was helping them, and Alan just does it out of his love and respect for his sport.
Alan stood in the heat for two days helping friends and strangers cross that finish line and get to the next station for their water and food. I think more than the runners, the winners and the medals, it’s Brookes who I’ll think most of when I reflect back on this weekend. Selflessness, and concern when no one’s watching, and the way we all take care of and cheer on one another, is what I love about this sport.
Congratulations to everyone who raced this past weekend, and good luck to all of us as we prepare for our next run. Today is Global Running Day, enjoy.
Top three photographs by Victah Sailer@PhotoRun.