Build a Marathon Relay Team and Split the Distance of Running a Marathon

When it comes to distance running, a marathon is often one of the first distances that comes to mind, and the goal of completing one is something many runners aspire to. But how does one go about marathon training? For runners who want the experience but who aren’t sure how to survive a marathon – or aren’t sure they’re ready yet – Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend has the perfect event: the Marathon Relay.

What is a Marathon Relay?

Quite simply, a marathon relay takes the full distance of the marathon and breaks it down into sections that different people run. It’s a style of running event that is growing in popularity because it’s about more than running, it’s about running as a team.

This is what first attracted Run Ottawa Member Coordinator Lisa Georges. She ran her first relay in 2019 at Winterman with some fellow Run Ottawa members and fell in love with the atmosphere.

Lisa Georges at Run Ottawa Farm Run“It’s less about running and more about the camaraderie and the encouragement that you get from your team,” she says. “There’s something special about the feeling of working together both as you take off and as you finish. I’m a big cheerleader when it comes to races so it’s exactly the kind of event I’m looking for.”

Several road races in Canada have added relay running events to their roster. One of the most well-known in Ontario is in Hamilton where during Around the Bay 2020 runners can do a relay version which splits the 30K distance between either two or three people. Out west, Be There Races recently began the Banff Ekiden Relay, which is named for a Japanese-style of trail running relay race.

Georges’ knew this kind of event was something that would be a great fit in Ottawa and fully supported the integration of the Marathon Relay when Race Director Ian Fraser proposed adding it to the 2020 schedule.

“We want to encourage people to take part in one of the most beautiful marathon courses in Canada and maybe beyond,” she says. “A full-marathon is not necessarily accessible to everybody and it’s a big time commitment. The relay option gives people an opportunity to run our beautiful course and to get a feel for the marathon experience.”

Building a Running Team

Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend’s logistics team has been working on dividing the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon course into four sections. With a team of four, each participant will run between 9.5K and 11K of the course and when they reach the end of their section, another member will begin. Each runner will complete their leg where a belt with a built-in bib chip. Once they reach the end of their leg, they will pass the belt on to the next runner.

By breaking the marathon up into sections, runners who never fathomed completing a marathon, like Lorena MacKenzie and her team from Women in Defence and Security, now have the opportunity to take part.

Lorena McKenzie's team from Women in Defence Security (WiDS)“We all love running, but a marathon! Perhaps that’s just a bridge too far for me and my training level right now,” she says. “I’ve been known to let my confidence exceed my capabilities, but there is a limit to what your body can take.  When we saw that we could actually participate in a world-class marathon hosted in our backyard, there was simply no hesitation.”

But a Marathon Relay isn’t just for people who aspire to run a marathon, it also offers seasoned runners a new way to experience the course. This is what Jackie Ryder and her two sisters (one of them will be running two legs of the race!) will be doing in May.

“Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend has always been about our family getting together from across Canada,” she says. “I’ve run the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon once, and the half-marathon twice. My sister Lauren has run the full once, and the half twice, and my sister Alex has run the Ottawa 10K and half-marathon. We thought, what better way to participate this year than as a relay team?”

A Marathon Relay team can range anywhere from two to four runners, and because the distances are no greater than 11K there is no age restriction – so your whole family can run! Participants will receive the usual Saturday t-shirt PLUS a special Marathon Relay medal to mark the completion of the event.

Train Separately, Run Together

While training to run the marathon relay is similar to training for a 10K run, the best part is that you and your team collectively share a goal and you can support each other along the way. Depending on how you build your running team, your relay marathon training can work in a couple of different ways.

Georges and her team were already familiar with each other when they signed up for their relay event. Because they were already part of a running group and were running on a closed course for the same distance, 5K, they made time during their lunch breaks for training runs.

MacKenzie and her running team are taking a different approach. “Since we’re all at different stages with our running, we’re currently working on our individual running plans.  Collectively, we will come together – perhaps over a glass of wine – and plan our team runs starting in March,” she says. “It’s not about getting us all to the same level: it will be about supporting and celebrating each other with the level we are individually trying to achieve.”

Jackie McIver, Lauren Ryder, and Alex Sullivan at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 2018

“Since none of us live in the same city it will make for an interesting relay!” says Ryder about how she and her sisters are training. Each has their own plan, but they regularly keep in touch about their progress. “I just bought a treadmill, Lauren bought spikes for her sneakers and runs outside, and Alex runs at the gym.”

Ultimately, when it comes to the marathon relay, each team will develop its own synergy and vibe as they prepare for the Marathon Relay. While each leg will be timed, this event isn’t about getting to the finish line the fastest, it’s about enjoying the experience and sharing it with your teammates.

“I’m excited to see the families and friends along the course who will come out and support all the runners,” says Ryder, “but for me, it’s mostly about crossing the finish line with my sisters.”

Does the Marathon Relay sound like the right event for you and your running buddies? Registration closes on February 29th, 2020 and is limited to 50 teams – so don’t wait to register!

If you’ve already built your team let us know about your progress and training on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Register for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 2020