Why one run crew chose Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend…and can’t resist going back


The trip to the 2014 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend began as a “girls’ getaway” for a run group from southern Ontario.

After a first successful trip to Ottawa, the group, which had since expanded, returned for a second year. And then, in 2017, an even greater number of members raced again. They continued to go back. You get the idea.

RELATED: The 12 wackiest, strangest and most impressive moments in the history of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.

Sandra Karl, and runners who met through the Runners’ Choice Waterloo group, first completed the road trip as part of what they call the “22 from Waterloo.” (Try saying that 22 times, quickly.) According to Karl, most of the members are women aged 40 and older with some exceptions. An 18-year-old joined the crew in 2014, she says. A number of men also joined in years following the inaugural trip from southern Ontario to Ottawa, an approximately six-to seven-hour bus drive. That’s their choice of transportation. (Bus, Karl says, means less stress, though more expensive compared to driving on one’s own, as the bus driver does most of the work.)

A weekend envisioned to be “relaxing” turned out to be a party with more than 40,000 runners in what is Canada’s largest road racing event. Plus, in 2014, the marathon was celebrating its 40th edition, four decades after welcoming 146 runners in the nation’s capital.

In the group’s first-year trip, the majority of them did the marathon (versus the half-marathon) but more have transitioned to the weekend’s most popular distance, the 21.1K. The group itself grew to 30 in 2017 from 18 in 2014. A bonus for those who choose to do the 10K or 5K get Sunday to spend sightseeing, dependent on how fresh one’s legs feel.

That said, only the half-marathoners and marathoners of the group enjoyed this mid-race view of Major’s Hill Park and Parliament Hill after crossing Alexandra Bridge from Gatineau, Que.:

Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend

Photo: Matt Stetson.

The Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend is a two-day event, not including the expo, featuring, notably, the HTG Sports 5K and 10K on Saturday evening and the Scotiabank Half and Marathon on Sunday morning. (There are races for kids too.) Plus, the race added a twist in recent years: the Lumberjack and Voyageur Challenge, which offers twice the challenge. (Two times the race bling too, which cannot be overstated from the Waterloo group’s perspective, according to Karl.)

For runners who feel like they may be missing out on one of the two days of events, the Lumberjack (59.2K) and Voyageur Challenges (36.1K) offer a combination of either three or four races. Karl says a few members conquered the challenge in 2017, which also happened to coincide with Canada’s 150th anniversary. The race incorporated added flair for 150, including provincial flags on course to make it seem like you’re running throughout Canada.

Registration for 2017, as a heads up for future years if you’re part of a Ottawa-travelling run group, happened almost immediately after the group completed its 2016 weekend. “When the race finished in 2016, I was already reserving [for 2017] within a week,” Karl says. “Ottawa offered an early-bird discount and we got that until mid-June.”

New for 2018 is run crew-specific incentives for out-of-towners. Perks include: $10 off your registration fee for the marathon, half and 10K, priority race kit pick-up, priority bag check on race day. Plus, get this, beer at finish line.

Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend

Photo: submitted.

There are plenty of spring road races in Canada, and specifically, the Ontario region ever year. Why Ottawa? “The proximity,” Karl says adding “Ottawa is close enough that it can be done in a weekend and far enough away that it’s a road trip. We’ve always liked the Ottawa bling, like the T-shirts and medals, it’s a great course and it has an exciting atmosphere.” Admittedly, some returned for other reasons, including using the following year’s race as sort of revenge, looking to improve on prior year’s results.

As is in the case for most spring marathons, the bulk of the training avoids Canada’s hot late-spring and summer conditions.

The group won’t be returning in 2018, simply because completing another race, in Cincinnati, Ohio, was part of a long term plan. They are however considering going back to the event in 2019.

Pre-race in 2017 (with “we love Ottawa” T-shirts)

Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend

Photo: submitted.

Post-race in 2017 (with TORW T-shirts)

Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend

Photo: submitted.

A pro tip from Karl and the group is to stay at the Business Inn (exactly 700m from the start line) because of its proximity and presence of a kitchen, which runners will appreciate for keeping their carbo-loading routines unchanged from the weeks, and months, preceding the big day(s), which in 2018 are May 26-27. The day ends with exchanges of “war stories” from the races, an aspect perhaps not otherwise experienced if travelling solo to the race. A post-race get-together at Fat Boys, a short 1K walk from the finish line for sore half-marathoners and marathoners, has become a ritual.

And remember, don’t forget your medal for the post-race lunch or dinner. Race T-shirts are optional.

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