1 June 2011

Ottawa Race Weekend Half Marathon Review

With a full marathon at the beginning of the month and a 5k just a week before, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to hit my goal of 1:30:00 for this half marathon. With even the weatherman unsure of what was up, and changes to the course, things were really up in the air. […]


With a full marathon at the beginning of the month and a 5k just a week before, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to hit my goal of 1:30:00 for this half marathon. With even the weatherman unsure of what was up, and changes to the course, things were really up in the air.

I didn’t have to pick up my race kit courtesy of a friend-of-a-friend, so I didn’t end up at the expo either. From what I heard I didn’t miss too much. Although it was reported that the expo wasn’t bad, there weren’t really any giveaways or handouts, which is usually a good reason to go. I’m not a fan of huge crowds, so I tend not to go to those things anyways.


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Race day was grey and overcast. While warm, it didn’t look too promising in the way of sunshine. Getting out of the car downtown I contemplated whether or not to wear my sunglasses. When I looked up there was a hint that the clouds may break, so I kept them on me. This was going to be the first long race for my Nike+ GPS SportWatch as well, and I was eager to see how it paired up with my PaceTat to keep me on track. I had decided early, though, that I was going to stick with the 1:30:00 pace bunny for as long as I could hold out (which I hoped was to the end). My only annoyance was that the disposable timing chip was the kind that’s supposed to be laced in, and with my Yankz in that was going to be difficult, so I ended up pinning it on with safety pins. I also forgot my medical tape, so rather than taping my gels to my arm (like I normally would), I pinned them onto my shorts. One turned out fine, the other caused an abrasion that I didn’t notice until after the race.

As usual I made a pit stop at the Lord Elgin hotel to go to the bathroom. I have to say, of all the races I’ve been in, Ottawa is the one that it’s noticeable that not only is the city ready, but they’re excited to have the race. The good folks at the Elgin, both staff and other guests, are extremely courteous and accommodating of all the racers going in and out of the hotel to use bathrooms, get some shelter from rain, etc. Last year my friend and I stopped at Second Cup to go to the bathroom and were rudely turned away as the washrooms were “only for paying customers.” Well, paying customer I am not… any longer.

Back to the race…

We got there early enough to get in a good warmup and I managed to see my wife, sister and dog before the race (they came separately after us). Getting into the corral wasn’t any problem – again, people are courteous and make way for people getting in. A quick hop over the barricade and I was just a few feet away from my bunny.

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[image img=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_4.jpg” url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_4.jpg” alt=”Ottawa Race Weekend”/]
[image img=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_1.jpg” url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_1.jpg” alt=”Crowd Lining Up”/]
[image img=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_2.jpg” url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_2.jpg” alt=”Corral Start”/]
[image img=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_8.jpg” url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_8.jpg” alt=”On The Run”/]
[image img=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_3.jpg” url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_3.jpg” alt=”Athlete Village”/]
[image img=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_7.jpg” url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_7.jpg” alt=”At the Finish”/]
[image img=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_6.jpg” url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_6.jpg” alt=”Race Stuff”/]
[image img=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_5.jpg” url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ORW_2011/ORW_Slider_5.jpg” alt=”The Medal”/]

Much of the race is a bit of a blur – I focused on high-fiving kids, thanking volunteers, and keeping an eye on my bunny. Not knowing Ottawa all that well, it was hard for me to pinpoint the route differences. The second half of the race felt fairly hilly (and mostly uphill, it seemed). It started to drizzle, then rain in that second half as well, so it may have seemed slightly tougher than it was. We were right on the money for the first half, and even stayed pretty close (within 15 seconds or so) up to the 16km mark. After that we slowed down, leaving us nearly one-and-a-half minutes off the mark at the end of the run.

Next time I’m going to have to take more notice of the scenery. I feel like I really zoned out this race, hitting my stride and focusing on the run to try and nail my goal time. Had I paid a little more attention to my new watch and PaceTat I likely could have shaved off the minute needed to come in under the 1:30:00 mark. I was so out of it that I don’t even remember passing through the arch heading into Chinatown. Crazy, I know.

Even with the extra time I cut nearly four minutes off of my previous PR, so I’m really stoked about that. I’m not likely to push through the 1:30:00 mark this year anymore with my focus on qualifying for Boston in the fall, but I’m planning on one or two more half marathons this year.

The finish line was excellently organized as well, with lots of people handing out the silver capes and medals. People moved through the chute quite quickly and on to the food, which was yogurt, bagels, bananas, and Gatorade: the usual. I took the time to stretch out in the rain and then went back to the Lord Elgin to meet up with my friends and family.

I’m sure that some people will find the crowd overwhelming. With over 40,000 people involved in the weekend’s races Ottawa Race Weekend has become the largest in Canada without a sponsor. That corporate sponsorship would help put in some of the little things (like better race packs) that add the finishing touches to any race. However, the great course, the excitement in the air, and the phenomenal crowds make this a must-race. You’re likely to be stuck in the crowd if you’re over the 2-hour mark, otherwise you should be able to jostle free and find a spot. You won’t be disappointed if you put this on your “must race” list. I mean, how many times do you get to run a race that goes through two provinces?

My wife asked me before the race if I would end up running it again – she knows I don’t like crowds, and find crowded races annoying (I almost always run alone out in the country). I really had to think about it, and was undecided when the race began. Now that race weekend is over, I’m sure I’ll be there again next year!

The Short Story

Despite the weather the great new course combined with excellent organization and an unbelievable crowd make this one of the best races anywhere. The only thing missing is a major sponsor to make the race kits beefier.

[info_box_1 title=”Race Stats”]
Distance: Half Marathon
Cost: $70
Weather: Warm with rain
Swag: Tech T, finisher’s medal
Terrain: asphalt streets
Time: 1:31:25.5 (gun) | 1:30:56.6 (chip)
Pace: 4:20/km
Shoes: Nike Free Runs
Fuel: Steel cut oats, banana, Tri-berry GU, Sport Beans
Overall Place: 209/9333
Gender Place: 193/4024
Age Group Place: 29/652

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