On May 25, Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend will be celebrating fifty years of running: an achievement enjoyed by runners across the country who’ve loved this race from the start to the finish line. From Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe to Canadian Olympians like Natasha Wodak, Cam Levins and Malindi Elmore, Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend has always been Canada’s premiere running event. Herewith, runners nationwide reflect on their experiences.
“Too Tall Tony” Fletcher: “We worked together and nailed it.”
Years run: 1978 – 1980 – ‘82 – ’83 –’84 –’85 –’86 – 1991.
All on the original course with the start/finish line at Carlton University.
“I started running in March 1978 and ran Ottawa in May as a bandit—my longest run to date was 9 miles! I honestly hadn’t planned to do this, however my uncle was running and I thought… “What the hell? I’ll start at the back and just run half way…” When I got to the turn-a-round at Lincoln Fields, I just kept going and stopped at 19 miles. With dogged determination, I jogged and walked the last 7 miles and finished in 4:15—and took four weeks to recover! Looking back, I realize this was a stupid thing to do, however, I found my game! Took an hour off my time at the inaugural Toronto Marathon later in the fall (3:15) using a basic marathon training program from Runner’s World.
In 1980, the conditions were ideal—cool, overcast with a light drizzle. I officially entered and ran my first sub three hour marathon (2:57:50). From 12 miles to the finish, I ran with another runner who was also shooting for a sub three effort—we worked together and nailed it! Good luck to everyone running this year.”
Paige Nicols: “It’s a moment I carry with me when things get tough.”
“The Ottawa Marathon in 2017 was my second marathon. It was Canada’s 150th birthday. It was also the last 5km I did with my mom. There are so many amazing memories from that weekend, but the one that stands out is when we crossed the finish line of the 5km holding hands. I also remember when I crossed the finish line of the marathon my parents were at the fence and I reached out to grab their hands. It was a moment I carry with me when things get tough. I know she is always there just I just need to reach out.”
We Run North York plans to take it to Ottawa race weekend again in 2024 for the 50th anniversary of the marathon distance.
Joyce Law: “I guided a visually impaired runner at the 2023 Ottawa half marathon and had an amazing time!”
When I ran my first marathon in 2018, I happened to follow a blind runner and his two guides for the first 10k of the race. I was fascinated and inspired as I listened to how the guides interacted with the blind runner and navigated the runner through the terrain and the crowds. During the race, I committed to myself that, one day, I will give back to the community and be a guide too.
However, it wasn’t until early 2023 that I finally got connected with the blind running community. I joined a group run that was promoting the Toronto St Patrick’s Day Race which raises funds for Achilles Canada, a non-profit organization that provides people with various disabilities an opportunity to receive the physical, psychological, and communal benefits of running. At the event, I met Brian McLean, the president of Achilles Canada, and asked him to add me to his roster of volunteer guide runners.
A few weeks later, Brian sent an email asking if anyone was available to be a guide for the Ottawa half marathon with a goal time of 2:05. Coincidentally, I was already signed up for the Ottawa half and was planning to go with my run crew. Since I was still recovering from an injury, I was planning to just run “for fun” and I had no goal time in mind and 2:05 was a reasonable pace for me. It seemed like the stars were aligned but the only problem was, I had never guided before and I didn’t know if it was wise to be a guide for a half marathon with no prior experience. I responded to Brian’s email and let him know that I was available but if there was someone else more qualified and available, I would be happy to not do it until I got more experience with guiding. A few emails back and forth later, I got connected with Chandra on the phone. I found out that he still has some peripheral vision but he wanted to try running with a guide for the first time because his vision is going to get worse with time. Since both of us were new to this, it was truly a case of “the blind leading the blind.”
Two weeks before the race, I went to meet him for our first and only training run. Since he is very familiar with the route in his neighbourhood, the run was more for me to practice giving him cues: right, left, slight uphill, slight downhill, high feet, STOP. We even tried running at race pace for 5km just to practice how that would feel. To be honest, I was exhausted at the end of the 10km run. I was surprised at how much effort it took to talk and give cues during a run. But we did it and we were as ready as we could be for race day.
During this time, I found out that there are other groups for blind runners in Toronto so, one week before the race, I got connected to a group called the Blind RoadRunners. They were very welcoming to me. I told them that I was nervous about guiding someone for a race the next week and they were very generous with giving me tips and advice. I even got to guide one of the runners for a bit, under the supervision of an experienced guide. She is fully blind and used a tether so I was very grateful that she trusted me enough to let a newbie like me guide her.
As expected, the weather was hot on race day. After all, the city is also known as “Hottawa”. I found Chandra and his family in the very crowded start area and we headed to our corral. Since Chandra still has some peripheral vision, we didn’t use a tether. Instead, I had a bright orange shirt on that Chandra could track in his peripheral vision.
I am usually pretty good about starting in my designated corral according to my goal time but this time, we started at the back of the 2:00 corral because even though our goal time was 2:05, the advice I got was to start in a faster corral because it’s easier for people to pass us than for us to pass people. However, it was so crowded at the start of the race that we started much slower than our goal pace and we ended up having to weave through people.
The race was very well organized with plenty of water stations, mist stations, and even wet towels to keep runners cool. I am often directionally challenged so I messed up my right and left a few times but thankfully I didn’t cause any major issues for Chandra. At one point, he even lost me for a bit but he ended up catching back up. Thank goodness he was able to track my bright florescent orange shirt! At another point, a runner stopped to walk right in front of him, not realizing that he can’t see her. PSA: if you need to stop or slow down during a race, walk off to one side or make sure no one is right behind you.
In the end, we finished in 2:06 and just missed our goal but I was happy with the result especially because it was so hot and crowded in the beginning and it was our first time racing together. I had a lot of fun and would do it again in a heartbeat. I’d encourage anyone who is interested to get in touch with either Achilles International Canada, Achilles Canada (they are different organizations) or the Blind RoadRunners in Toronto. The blind runner community is very welcoming and they are always looking for guides for training runs and races!
David Daze: “I have run every Ottawa Marathon since 2001, so I have lots of very fond memories of this race!”
Everyone remembers their first marathon and for me the 2001 race stands out because it was a double loop for the 42.2km. When I swung back to the finish area at the 21.1km mark, I thought to myself “you mean I have to do this again??” I’m certain I did the second loop much slower than the first, but I finished and I was already thinking about my next marathon.
The 2005 Ottawa Marathon stands out because it was the first time I was able to BQ on the course. This was long before the “cutoff times” were introduced at Boston, so if you ran a BQ at a race you knew you were in. It was very emotional for me as I ran down Queen Elizabeth Driveway to the finish line, seeing the clock and knowing that five years of consistent training and determination had paid off, and that I was headed to Boston.
The Kids Marathon was first introduced in 2008 and I was very proud to have had a hand in getting that race off the ground. I had coached over 100 students (including my own two kids) from the elementary school where I was a teacher. It was the largest group entry from any school in the city. I was more nervous for the Kids Marathon than I was for my own race, mainly because my marathon started at 7am and the Kids’ race started an hour later, meaning I never got to see it! For the first half of my marathon I was constantly thinking about the Kids’ race, until the course looped back into downtown Ottawa and I saw hundreds of smiling children with medals around their necks. At that point I relaxed and settled in for the second half of my own race.
Weather is always a consideration when running a marathon. The 2016 race was one of the hottest Ottawa Marathons ever, with the humidex climbing near to 40C. It was so hot that a decision was made by race officials to shorten the course by about 10kms, for the runners at the back of the pack. I knew going in that the race would be a sufferfest, so I made sure to drink at every aid station and to also pour a cup of water over my head. The volunteers were fabulous that year, as were many of the residents of Ottawa, as they set up their own aid stations, including water sprinklers, on their front lawns and driveways as the runners went past.
Ottawa Race Weekend added the Lumberjack Challenge in 2017. This meant running the 2km, 5km, and 10km races on Saturday, followed up by the marathon on Sunday. I chose to take on this challenge for a couple of reasons. It was Canada 150 in 2017, and that June I was retiring after 34 years as a school teacher. I had never run the Saturday races before so that was a new and exciting experience for me. I kept telling myself to “lay back, lay back, you’ve got a marathon to run tomorrow!” The Lumberjack Challenge truly gave me a sense of how big and well organized the entire weekend is!
When Covid hit I knew I still wanted to help support Run Ottawa so I registered for and ran virtual marathons in 2020 and 2021. It was very strange getting marathon medals in the mail, and running 42.2km unsupported, save for the water station I set up on my driveway. Social media allowed many runners to stay in touch, and to cheer each other on, when we finished virtual Ottawa Marathons.
The return to an in-person Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, in 2022, was huge. The race vibe the entire weekend was fantastic, and to cross an actual Ottawa Marathon finish line again felt like things were returning to normal.
I have been asked “why do you keep returning to the Ottawa Marathon when there’s so many other marathons out there?” I have done races all over North America and can honestly say that the Ottawa Marathon is one of the best organized races anywhere. The volunteers who come out are simply the best. And year after year Ottawa has one of the best finishers medals out there. I honestly wasn’t thinking about a race streak when I initially kept coming back to Ottawa, but having met so many wonderful people over the years, who are connected to the race in one way or another, I look forward to Ottawa Race Weekend with great anticipation.
Very excited to run my 24th consecutive Ottawa Marathon in 2024!