The 2010s: A decade of growth for the Ottawa marathon

The 2010s saw a lot of new things—from the rise of the selfie and the birth of Instagram to the emergence of ridesharing apps like Uber and the launch of the iPad.  But one thing that remained constant throughout the decade was the popularity of the Ottawa Marathon—even if the event did undergo a few changes along the way. 

In 2011, the race medal design got a bit of a facelift, changing from the traditional three runners in front of the Peace Tower, to a picture of the Chateau Laurier. The course also went through a transformation. To make the course flatter and easier for supporters to cheer on participants, the half-marathon and marathon route was changed to take runners through more urban neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, Little Italy, and Westboro. 

The new route was one of the many changes brought in by Jim Robinson. As race director from 1997 to 2013, he helped grow the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend into the largest road race event in the country. In fact, under his leadership, registration increased by almost 350 per cent. But after more than a decade and a half, Robinson decided to pass the torch to John Halvorsen in 2013. 

A new era for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend

Halvorsen might have been new to the position of race director, but he was no stranger to Ottawa Race Weekend. In fact, the former Olympian won the 10K in 1988, setting a course record that stood for more than a decade. Halvorsen had also volunteered with Run Ottawa for more than a dozen years, including as a member of its board of directors. 

Under Halvorsen’s watch, two of Ottawa’s six races—the marathon and the 10K—gained the prestigious IAAF Gold Label designation. But after just six years, he stepped down in 2019 and Ian Fraser, took over at the helm.

Celebrating 40 years of marathoning 

When the marathon turned 40 in 2014, runners from across Canada and around the world flocked to Ottawa in record numbers to mark the event. In 2013, the marathon didn’t sell out until almost the end of March. But for the 40th anniversary, all marathon bibs were scooped up before the end of January.

That year, the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend welcomed a record number 47,500 participants—with 7,000 runners taking part in the full marathon and another 12,500 in the half. It was also a record-breaking year for marathon times. Ethiopia’s Yemane Tsegay set a new course record and a new men’s Canadian soil record, while his countryperson Tigist Tufa, broke the women’s course record. 

To commemorate the 40th anniversary, Run Ottawa also commissioned a book, which was written by long-time runner, and Ottawa’s current mayor, Mark Sutcliffe. Full of archival pictures and fun facts, Canada’s Magnificent Marathon highlighted some of the stories of the almost 100,000 runners that had crossed the marathon’s finish line during the first 40 years. The book remains available today on Run Ottawa’s website.

Beating the heat of 2016

In 2016, it wasn’t the number of runners or race times that were the big story—it was the heat. Days before the event, organizers announced that they might have to call off the races due to the 30-plus temperatures forecasted. Instead, they shifted start times in an attempt to take advantage of cooler times of the day. 

Volunteers also hand-delivered letters to houses in neighbourhoods along the course, asking residents to use their hoses to cool off runners and to make extra water available to participants. Misting stations were also installed along the route and water trucks were on hand to spray down runners.

On race day, organizers actually decided to cut the marathon short for some of the slower runners due to the extreme heat and humidity. Around the four-hour mark, runners were redirected over the Alexandra Bridge, shortening the course by close to 10 kilometres.

But the heat didn’t seem to do much to slow down the frontrunners. For the fourth year in a row, Ethiopian runners took home top spots in both the women’s and men’s categories, with Dino Sefir finishing in a time of 2:08:14 and Koren Jelela winning the women’s race in 2:27:06.

Running for a cause 

For many participants in the 2010s, completing the Ottawa marathon wasn’t the big accomplishment—it was the money they raised doing it that really mattered. Every year, hundreds of thousands of dollars is raised over the weekend for charitable organizations, including The Ottawa Hospital, CHEO Foundation, Amnesty International and others. 

In 2012, Ottawa runner Geordie McConnell decided to run the marathon in support of Sole Responsibility, a charity that donates shoes to parts of Africa. But to do it, he ran the entire 42.2 kilometres wearing a giant shoe. The full-body shoe outfit was created by students from Carleton University’s industrial design program. To prepare for the race, McConnell had to train wearing a weighted backpack.

For Ottawa runner Julie Drury, her charity of choice was an extremely personal one. In 2016, she ran her eight marathon to raise funds for mitochondrial disease, an illness that took the life of her eight-year-old daughter Kate just six months before the marathon. That year, she organized a group of 150 runners who raced in her daughter’s memory, raising some $50,000.

In an interview at the time, she called it an “incredible show of support,” noting that it wasn’t just friends and neighbours who had signed up to support the cause, but people who she’d “never met.”

Julie Drury’s story is just one of many heartwarming—and heartbreaking—tales behind the funds that have been raised during Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend over the years.

Fun facts from the 2010s:

  • In 2010, Arata Fujiwara became the first—and only—Japanese runner to win the Ottawa marathon, setting a new course record.
  • Rick Ball of Orillia, Ontario, became the first single-leg amputee athlete to run a sub-three-hour marathon at the 2010 race. His world record of 2:57:48 stood for the next seven years.
  • In 2015, Ottawa Race Weekend participants raised a record-breaking $800,000 for charity, approximately $175,000 more than the previous year. 
  • In 2017, 645 runners qualified for Boston at the Ottawa Marathon, more than any other race in Canada and ninth highest in all of North America.
  • Gelete Burka of Ethiopia ran the fastest marathon ever by a woman on Canadian soil in 2018, finishing in 2:22:17.

In 2019, organizers had to rearrange the route just a month before the marathon after the Chaudière Bridge was closed due to flooding.

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!