Runner of the Month: Ian Fraser

You could say Ian Fraser’s triathlon career started with a bang. Or rather a crash.

In the early 80s, a then 19-year old Ian Fraser drove his old hand-me-down Dodge Colt off the Queensway, totalling the vehicle, but otherwise walking away unscathed (no one else was involved in the crash). Instead of buying another car, Fraser, who was living in Orleans and working as a summer student in Gatineau, put the insurance money towards an expensive bicycle and started riding to work every day. It was a turning point.

“I loved riding my bike. I loved it!” says Fraser, who was already a dedicated runner, having fallen in love with running after a track and field day in Grade 3. With cycling added to the mix, Fraser started eyeing a new challenge. “Triathlon was new in those days. I’d watched the Ironman on TV and I was really excited. I couldn‘t swim. So I started swimming.”

After a two-year sabbatical in London, England, where he worked in a pub at night and ran every day at the Paddington Athletic Centre, Fraser returned to Ottawa to finish university at Carleton. He also decided to do more triathlons.

“I’d done a couple [triathlons] recreationally before I left to go to England and I was terrible. I joined a masters club and really learned how to swim. From there I got better and better. I would say this, I had a good athletic work ethic.”

What followed was a five-year career as a professional triathlete, culminating in three years as a member of Canada’s National Elite Triathlon team (1994 to 1997). When asked about his favourite running moment, Fraser points to an epic duel in the 1997 Canadian Long Course Championships where he and Mike Buck traded spots for the lead over the last 10km of the run, with Buck eventually pulling out the win in the last half kilometer.

To support himself while competing as an elite triathlete, Fraser worked in restaurants, hustling “like a dog” from November to January each year and then spending the rest of the winter training and racing in places like Texas and California. When his elite career came to an end, it was back to restaurants that he turned.

I went into the restaurant business. It was the only work that I knew, and boy, was that an incredible experience,” says Fraser about stopping racing. It probably cost me about the same as a good MBA program, and I probably learned more than I would’ve learned in an MBA program. It was a smoking, horrible disaster [laughing] but I learned about every aspect of the business I could learn about.”

While restaurant ownership may not have worked out as he had hoped, Fraser developed the entrepreneurial chops that would be the foundation for a series of business ventures in the endurance sport field, starting with the founding of Zone3Sports coaching with Rick Hellard and followed by Fraser’s widely known and respected cycling store Cyclelogik.

Ian Fraser

It was thinking about how to solve business challenges that led Run Ottawa’s new Race Director to fall in love with organizing endurance sporting events. As the retail landscape evolved, Fraser saw the need for Cyclelogik to expand its offering. An opportunity to become 50% owner of Somersault Events, one of Ottawa’s other leading sport event organizers, presented itself and Fraser jumped at it.

When he did, it became clear this is what he was meant to do: “I just loved every minute of doing that work. Absolutely every minute of it.”

Asked about what he loves about event organizing, Fraser says there are three things: “I love the planning of things. I love the adrenaline and the uncertainty associated with every event that you put on. And then most importantly, what we do is supposed to make people happy [and] should provide a net benefit for our community. You can see people smiling when they cross the finish line. That’s my favorite place to be. Because that’s what it’s all about.”

It’s that commitment to creating something both for every individual participant and for the community at large that Fraser brings to his new role as Executive Director and Race Director of Run Ottawa. He knows he is taking on a big role managing Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, and while there has been declining participation, he isn’t worried about the numbers.

“I don’t care if we sit at 30,000 people or we sit at 48,000 people. What I do care about is that we are working towards creating the right number of participants where every single person is enjoying what we put on and every single person is taking some kind of value from [our event].”

What’s more important rather than a specific registration number is the continuing improvement of the participant experience. “Do I think that we have work to do as a participant experience organization? Absolutely. Every organization does,says Fraser.

To that end, the new Race Director has already announced some specific initiatives for the 2020 edition of Canada’s largest marathon weekend, including a marathon relay to make the event more approachable and a new challenge to highlight Ottawa and Canada’s sporting history.

“We are using our events to create compelling reasons to do other things here in the city. You’ll see more of that from us over the next one to three years, where we’re working with Ottawa Tourism and working with the city to really push out that complete experience for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.”

At the foundation of the new changes is a commitment to showcase the city that Fraser loves.

Ian Fraser running routeWe forget sometimes how amazing our [marathon] route is. Like it’s incredible. Right? We want to tease that out. We want the people who are local, who run here, to be fiercely proud of that and to share that with people from out of town. I was born and raised here. This is my city. It’s an incredible place. I’m so proud of it and I want other people to come and experience it.”

For his favourite running route, Ian picked a 10+ miler not only takes you past some of the well-known Ottawa running highlights (think  Rideau Canal), but also adds a fun less-traveled section behind Carleton University, underneath a graffit’d section of Bronson Bridge and down along the Rideau River.

Want to get in on all the new excitement of #RunOttawa2020? Registration for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend is now open.

Header Photo: Olivia Chandler, CBC