Ottawa: our nation’s capital. Home to the federal seat of power, some of our largest and most important cultural institutions, and to Ottawa Race Weekend.
A handful of spring marathons are available for the running in Eastern Canada – Halifax’s Bluenose, more recently Toronto’s Goodlife – but Ottawa remains the destination of choice for thousands of runners, many of them attempting their first crack at the 26.2 distance.
The marathon’s popularity partly springs from its relatively central location, offering easy access to runners from the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario and the Eastern U.S. It’s also known as a flat and therefore “easy” course. Another factor is John Stanton’s dominant Running Room chain funnels a lot of first-time marathoners from its clinics to the race at the end of May.
All of which to say, Ottawa gets a bit busy over the race weekend. In 2011, some 40,000 participants showed up to run in the seven distances the weekend offers (including a family two kilometre run and a kid’s “marathon”).
The marathon organizers describe Ottawa as a fast, scenic route with few elevation changes that travels through some of the city’s most vibrant neighourhoods and past popular landmarks. They stress it is “an excellent course for first-timers” and a good PR course as well.
The marathon also takes in two provinces as it leads runners into Quebec’s Gatineau. And while, largely, the course is flat, it is there runners will encounter rolling hills for a few kilometres. You also get to take in the Prime Minister’s residence as the course winds past 24 Sussex Drive.
Ottawa is not without its challenges. Heat and humidity is unbearable some years. Ottawa also has its own moment of infamy, in 2006, when 14 of the lead runners inadvertently cut 400 metres off the course after a barricade was moved. The competitors, including the leader who set a course record, were disqualified.
Nonetheless, organizers must be offering runners a good experience. The marathon continues to grow in popularity, often selling out. New for this year is a virtual race bag. Runners receive an email that leads them to coupons, discounts and special offers. The race also offers start corrals and pace bunnies up to a three-hour marathon.