Celebrating 10 years of the marathon for kids

Race Day was never just for grown-ups.

This Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend marks the 10th annual Scotiabank Ottawa Kids Marathon, where 1,800 children aged six to 12 fly across their very own finish line.

Although the 1.2 km race on Sunday, May 27 goes by in a 10-minute flash, the run marks the culmination of a 14-week running and training program. All told, the kids from 42 local schools complete a full 42.2 km marathon.

“I thought that was a great idea,” says David Dazé, a marathon runner and retired teacher. “I remember going into school that first year with my previous Ottawa Marathon medals and a Boston Marathon medal, also the big foil blanket they wrap you up with after the race, and the kids really got interested.”

In 2008, Dazé noticed the Run Ottawa was hosting an exclusive race just for kids and he jumped on the opportunity to sign up over 100 of his students from Monsignor Paul Baxter Catholic School.

From February to May, kids accumulate 41 kilometres of running, or one kilometre logged for every half hour of physical activity. “It doesn’t necessarily all have to be running,” says Dazé. “It could be biking, soccer, walking to school, or swimming.”

Nathalie Roy, vice principal at Guardian Angels Catholic School, has 70 of her students racing this year. During the 14-week lead up, Roy incorporated the school’s play structure and different exercises to work different muscles, and made a point to always participate. If the kids were running, she ran alongside them; if they did burpees, she did them too.

“They’re very excited,” says Roy. “They keep asking, ‘is it this weekend? Is it this weekend?’ I can’t wait to see what they excitement is like inside the running corral.”

Although the race is exclusively for kids — no parents allowed! — the volunteer teachers and organizers can run and keep the pace on Sunday. Safety is a priority: nobody can get on the route, which is monitored by the Ottawa Police, and the recovery area after in Confederation Park is secured. Kids can’t leave unless they are with their parent. Each child’s bib has a tear-off portion which mom or dad keep, and need to present upon entering and leaving the Park.

The race itself goes by in a flash. It only takes about 10 minutes to complete the final 1.2 km. Already wearing red and blue silicon bracelets for reaching their 10- and 21-km marks, each child gets a real medal for crossing the finish line. Runners also gets a Sportstats profile where they can see their times, which is a proud confidence booster, and a t-shirt, with the winning design by participating runner Olivia Bernard from St. James School.

A sense of accomplishment on completing the course is the cherry on top of the cake.

“I also think they like the idea that they cross the same finish line that the marathoners will be crossing later in the day,” says Dazé.

Monsignor Paul Baxter has between 60 and 80 kids run every year. It’s become part of the school’s culture, something the kids and parents look forward to every spring.

“I’ve known kids who started in 2008 and some of them have gone on to run the 5K or the 10K or the half marathon,” says Dazé. “My daughter Grace is going to run the 5k with me on Saturday before the marathon.”

To allow every child to participate, Run Ottawa partners with Shoe Bank Canada to distribute free shoes to those who lack proper footwear. Keep an eye out for their collection bins, accepting new and gently used shoes, in the Shaw Centre during Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.

“Any school can request shoes from the Shoe Bank and they will deliver them,” said Lisa Georges of Run Ottawa. “We want to make sure everybody has the proper footwear for the event or just at school for anything at all.”

The Scotiabank Ottawa Kids Marathon kicks off at 8 a.m. on Sunday, May 27.