The 2000’s: The new millennium and the Ottawa marathon

The beginning of the new millennium brought a lot of excitement—and a little trepidation. People around the globe worried that the Y2K bug would lead to the end of the world. And although that never happened, the first decade of the 2000’s saw the beginning of some big changes. 

For instance, Apple changed the way we listen to music with the release of the iPod in 2001. The MP3 device became a “must have” for a lot of runners—and the classic white earbuds became a popular accessory for many participants of the Ottawa marathon. But that wasn’t the only change. 

The African era begins

The year 2000 was the last time a Canadian was the top male finisher at the Ottawa marathon. Although two-time Olympian Bruce Deacon had first run the marathon as a 12-year-old in 1979, it was another 21 years before the Ottawa-born runner finally won it. But Deacon would be the last North American to win the men’s title. (He had to settle for second place for the next two years and ended up pacing the lead runners for much of the second half of the 2000s.)

In 2001, Joseph Nderitu, of Kenya, became the first African to win the Ottawa Marathon, marking the beginning of a new era. With the exception of 2000, African runners consistently won the men’s category during the first decade of the millennium, with Nderitu winning three years in a row. Fellow Kenya David Cheruiyot captured top spot in 2005, and 2007-2009. 

On the women’s side, Lioudmila Kortchaguina was the runner to beat. She won in 2002 and went on to take home three more titles before the decade was out—more than any other woman in the event’s history. In 2006, she finished in 2:29:42, breaking the 22-year course record set by Sylvia Ruegger in 1984. But Kortchaguina would be the last Canadian woman to win for the next 12 years, as Moroccan and Ethiopian runners began to dominate the race. 

Same race, new date

For the marathon’s 30th anniversary, the race got a bit of a makeover in 2004. The date moved from Mother’s Day, to the last weekend of May. The route also changed. The two loop route was replaced by an interprovincial course that took runners over two Ottawa-Gatineau bridges and near nine of Ottawa’s top tourist sites.

The change was meant to give Canadian runners more time to train in spring conditions and avoid having to close the city’s roads on Mother’s Day. The start time was also changed from 8 to 7 a.m., enabling runners to have a cooler start and the city to re-open streets sooner.

Setting a different type of record

For some participants, completing the Ottawa marathon wasn’t the challenge in the 2000s. It was part of achieving a greater goal. In 2005, Chris Baron of Oakville, Ontario, skipped the entire marathon in an attempt to break a Guinness Book of World Records. Baron successfully skipped all 42.2-kilometres in a time of 4:49:39:05, breaking a record set by Guatemala’s Carlos Lopez in 1995. But doing it once wasn’t enough. He skipped the race again in 2007, beating his own record by more than 20 minutes. 

In 2009, Gavin Lumsden chose his hometown of Ottawa to finish a quest to run a marathon for every letter of the alphabet. The idea had started after Lumsden ran his first marathon in Amsterdam in October 2004 and second in Berlin. Once he’d run “A” and “B” marathons, he decided to try to complete a marathon for every other letter of the alphabet. Even though “O” was the 15th letter of the alphabet, it was the 26th and final marathon for Lumsden.

Running for a special reason

For Angelo Talluto, completing the Ottawa marathon wasn’t so much about running, but a way to celebrate the fact he was alive. At the age of 30, the newly married Toronto man was about to have his first child when he discovered he had a brain tumour. After undergoing brain surgery, he decided he’d run a marathon if he recovered—and he did! Just 11 months after his surgery, Talluto finished the 2003 Ottawa marathon—with his wife and son cheering him on from the sidelines.

Major Jay Feyko was another runner who signed up for the marathon for a special reason. In 2004, he was severely injured by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Shrapnel from the bomb tore through his  knee and shoulder, and he cost him the vision in his right. Feyko had completed the Ottawa marathon before his injury and started running as part of his rehabilitation. In 2006, he ran again. “I wanted to be as much the person I was after my injury as I was before  my injury,” he explains. 

The invasion of the bunnies

“Pace Bunnies” first made an appearance at the Ottawa marathon in 1998.  But it wasn’t until the 2000’s that the program really hit its stride.

Hilda Beauregard came up with the idea of having more experienced marathoners help other runners meet their target times. The Running Room employee had seen pacers at the Chicago Marathon and approached Running Room founder, John Stanton, and race director, Jim Robinson, about starting up a similar program in Ottawa.

The Pace Bunny’s job is to run the race within 30 seconds of the target time—and the Bunny that’s closest to their mark earns special recognition.

“We have this friendly little contest called ‘run for the carrots’ because we’re pace bunnies,” explains Mark Wigmore, the program’s chief organizer since 2008. “We award golden ears to wear in the next year’s race and a bag of carrots to the pacers with the closest times.”

Today, the Running Room Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend Pace Bunnies team is the biggest in Canada. Every year, some 60 runners don a pair of rabbit ears in order to help participants stay on track. 

Fun facts from the 2000s:

  • With the release of the popular “Razor” scooter, organizers added a scooter event for kids in 2001.
  • In 2006, 14 runners accidentally cut 400 metres off the course after a motorist moved a barricade. Some runners were given places while others were financially compensated.
  • Although inline skating the route had been permitted in 1995, it was banned in 2005.
  • Paralympian Jeff Adams won the first official wheelchair marathon in 2006 in a time of 1:33:48, the fastest time recorded in Canada.
  • In 2008, the Ottawa Kids Marathon was first held, with children ages 6 to 12 completing a full marathon distance over 14-weeks. 

The 50th anniversary of the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon is going to be Canada’s biggest running party of 2024! Register now for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, May 25-26!