The 2020s: A bumpy start to a milestone decade

To say that the 2020s got off to a rocky start would be an understatement. Just two months before the 2020 Ottawa Marathon, the race had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But despite social distancing rules and public health restrictions, race organizers weren’t ready to pack in the event altogether.

Runners may not have been able to hit the streets of Ottawa en masse, but Run Ottawa invited the 17,000 people who’d already registered for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend to take part in a ‘virtual’ event. They were encouraged to finish the race in their communities and submit their times online. They were also promised a 50 per cent discount that could be used to register for a future race in Ottawa.

Raising funds in a difficult time

Even though no physical races took place in either 2020 or 2021, they were still big years for fundraising with more than $1.4 million raised for charities over the two years.  In fact, 2021 was the most money ever raised through Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. And it couldn’t have happened at a more important time as many people were laid off due to the pandemic and were turning to food banks and other support services to get by. 

“COVID was hard on our city and that’s when charities needed us the most. Resources were lower and fundraising events weren’t happening,” explains Morgan Hunter, Run Ottawa’s Program Coordinator. “So, it was like our city kind of rallied together to raise as much as it could.”

Welcoming back the participants and crowds

In May 2022, participants excitedly returned to the streets of Ottawa and Gatineau. Some 25,000 runners took part in all of the race weekend events, including the marathon, half-marathon, and 10-kilometre races. 

That year, Ethiopian runner Andualem Shiferaw set a new marathon course record with a time of 2:06:04, the fastest time run on North American soil in 2022. Kinsey Middleton became the first Canadian to win the women’s event since 2007, finishing with a time of 2:30:09.

“The crowds were incredible,” said Middleton in an interview with CBC at the time. “Having gone through the pandemic for the last three years, it’s been really sparse racing, and there hasn’t been this energy out there in so long. And so every single person out there cheering helped get me to that finish line.”

Getting back in the groove

By 2023, Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend was back in full swing, with almost 3,200 elite and recreational runners participating in the marathon. Ethiopian runners secured the top spots in both the men’s and women’s events. Waganesh Mekasha was the fastest woman—running alone for most of the second half of the race—and Yihunilign Adane secured the men’s title with a time of 2:08:22. 

2023 was also another milestone year for the Desjardin Charity Challenge, with more than $1.12 million raised for 75 charities. Since the Challenge was launched in 2015, Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend has raised more than $5 million. And the 50th anniversary event is on track to be a record breaking year, with 95 charities—the most ever—joining the Challenge this year.

One of the many standout fundraising teams over the years has been the Partners Investing in Parkinson Research (PIPR). Started by a group of Ottawa investment advisors, it has raised more than $1.7 million in support of research to better understand and diagnose Parkinson’s disease. 

Celebrating five decades of the marathon

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ottawa marathon—and the hundreds of thousands of amazing people who have participated in the event over the years—Run Ottawa has launched the “50 Stars for 50 Years.” It commemorates the runners, volunteers and fundraisers that have helped make the event what it is. 

On May 7 the first star was awarded to Ottawa’s Sindy Hooper. The former marathon runner started fundraising during Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend when she was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer back in 2013. Since then, her two teams—the Make Every Moment Count (MEMC) and Marathoners Gone Viral—have raised more than a half-million-dollars in support of pancreatic cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital.

Organizers will be unveiling the full list of 50 “Stars” on May 24, at the Health & Fitness Expo at Aberdeen Pavilion. Other highlights for the 50th anniversary include a commemorative beer can from local craft brewery Kichesippi, the addition of a local mascot race, a Tattoo Truck, and 26 cheer stations along a new marathon route that passes in front of Parliament Hill.

Looking ahead to the next 50 years

Another new addition this year is the person overseeing the event. Mike Vieira took over as Run Ottawa’s Executive Director on April 1st, bringing his years of experience in endurance sports to the organization. And being Ottawa born and raised, Vieira knows just how special the Ottawa marathon is. 

“It’s one of the cornerstone activities of Ottawa. Everyone knows someone who runs,” says Vieira. “I’d say 25 per cent of the city is either a spectator or participant every race weekend. We get about 200,000 people out to spectate alone, which makes it pretty unique.”

As for Vieira’s plans for the future? Well, he’s still figuring those out. But one thing he does want to do is to introduce some fun, new routes, to ensure the race touches as many different neighborhoods as possible. And now that the event is back to pre-pandemic levels, he’s also hoping to increase capacity so that more runners can have the opportunity to take part in Ottawa Race Weekend in the years to come.

But for now, Vieira is focused on making sure this 50th anniversary marathon is the best event possible.

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