Ian Fraser is race director of the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and a leading light in the Canadian race community. With so much changing so quickly, and the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend as the country’s largest multi-day event, it’s interesting to hear about his plans for the spring. Capitalizing on a return to in-person racing and the current running boom, big things could be in store and Ottawa Race Weekend begins May 28. iRun editor Ben Kaplan caught up with Fraser for a run down on where things stand in the lead-up to the country’s largest running event.
Ben Kaplan: What’s the vibe currently with regards to race preparations?
Ian Fraser: Hugely optimistic.
IF: We opened our first block of registration in September and sold out 5,000 spots in four days. And then we waited until after Toronto, Monday October 18, and opened another 5,000 spaces. It sold out last Friday.
BK: There’s just a huge appetite for in-person racing.
IF: This far exceeds where we’ve been in terms of registration at this date.
BK: So how many people can race?
IF: That’s our dilemma right now. How do we scale capacity? What will the spring look like in terms of how many people we can safely and effectively put on the start line?
IF: And it’s a good problem to have. But we have to make sure everyone is safely distanced, if that’s still a thing. And things like kit pick-up. But listen, we’re excited.
BK: Love it. So what’s next?
IF: We’re going to pause registration and then open a block of 5,000 again before the new year. I expect it will sell out in a couple days. We’re on fire, man.
BK: Are you seeing any trends amongst participants?
IF: They’re going for longer distances—the marathon, half and 10K. Fewer 5K and 2Ks, but most of those folks generally register closer to event day. We’re also seeing good uptake on our challenges—people running the 2K, 5K and 10K, or else every Saturday event and then the marathon on Sunday.
BK: How many people historically participate in your event?
IF: Pre-COVID, in 2019, we had 33,000. Our high was probably 2014. We had over 49,000 people run our event.
BK: What if COVID created the next great running wave and you surpass 50,000 runners this spring!
IF: It begs the question: do we want to get there?
BK: Why wouldn’t you?
IF: Part of me wants to throw open the floodgates and see how big we can scale 2022 and get back to those 2014 numbers, but I’ve been relentless for the last two years that we want to make this event the premier participant event in this country. Rather than fixate on a number, I want to be known as an event that sells out regularly and is the premier participant event in the country.
BK: I think a lot of people might be coming to Ottawa that have never participated in an event before. New people who got into running during the lockdown.
IF: Exactly, and they don’t have a frame of reference to the race experience—they don’t have anything to compare it to. If you’ve only run virtual events during the pandemic, a major in-person event is a completely different beast. It’s awe-inspiring.
BK: I saw you in Toronto at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and that was definitely the mood on the course: people were so grateful to be back to in-person racing.
IF: When I came on board a couple years ago at the Ottawa Marathon, the board was questioning how we can get back to the really big participation numbers, but my answer was: we don’t need to get back there. What we need is an event that sells out; that generates excitement and enthusiasm. We want to put on an event that is absolutely the best in show and wins hearts and minds.
BK: So you’re not only competing with other races, but other participatory events.
IF: New participants who are creating this running boom need to see that we produce the best lifestyle and fitness choice. Think about what it costs to go downhill skiing in Whistler. We want to provide great value and a great experience. The idea is to expand upon our current running boom.
BK: That’s great, man. Well, thanks for your time and good luck. We’ll see you out there for sure.
IF: It’s exciting and I think it will be business as usual for races in 2022. We’ve done well over the last six months and you saw it in Toronto—people are thirsty to be back out. Everyone is filled with enthusiasm, hope and promise.