Originally published on Nov. 14, 2017.

Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, which includes a 5K, 10K, half and the marathon, is Canada’s largest road race. Unsurprisingly, each year, it produces a lot of incredible storylines.

While the 2018 running of the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend is still months away, it’s likely that we can expect similar numbers to years past: 200,000 spectators and in the neighbourhood of around 50,000 runners. With such an exhilarating crowd, it should be no surprise to fans of the race that this event has seen its fair share of rather, shall we say, unusual moments. From politicians making an appearance, to rollerblade competitions on the course to some crazy mid-May weather, the Tamarack Ottawa Marathon has seen some pretty odd moments.

Below, a round-up of some of the weirder stories we’ve ever seen in running.

*That* famous finish line collapse

The finish line at the Ottawa Marathon has been the site of some intense drama. One moment that caught the attention of thousands was actually at the end of the women’s 10K in 2016. Peres Jepchirchir ran a fast one clocking 31:28 to get herself to first place. But her finish wasn’t exactly what the spectators and competitors expected: completely spent, she caught everyone off-guard when she collapsed just at the end of her race. Talk about pushing yourself to the limit. That was one of the more dramatic running performances in the country that year. And Jepchirchir did it again when she set the women’s world record in the half-marathon in 2017.

Who is Soleman?

Geordie McConnell deserved accolades for costume design skills if any runner does. While most of us wear our shoes on our feet, McConnell constructed a full-body shoe outfit, went by the nickname “Soleman” (as you do…) and ran the marathon in 2012 as a giant shoe to raise funds for Sole Responsibility – a charity which donates shoes to parts of Africa.

What the heck is the “red badge of courage?”

This may sound like some sort of race prize but actually, the red badge of courage refers to a blood-soaked running shoe. Brian Maxwell, just moments after winning in 1978, was the unlucky runner sporting the bloody racing flat when everyone took note. Maxwell, quick on his feet (literally and figuratively, it seems) came up with the nickname for himself on the spot. He probably ended up winning by that bloody shoe, as he outstepped Paul Bannon, who lead much of the race, by just 0.02 seconds. Another fun fact: Maxwell would later on found a little sports nutrition company called PowerBar. You can read his story here.

Whitlock with challenger Joop Ruter from the Netherlands, both competing in the M70–74 age group at the 2005 Toronto Waterfront Marathon, their ages reflected in their bib numbers. Whitlock outruns Ruter by 42:33 to finish in 3:02:41. Photo: Canada Running Series.

At 48, Ed Whitlock clocks 2:31:27.

By now, we all know about Mr. Whitlock’s seemingly nature-defying running ability. In 1979, he was already showing how he’d sweep masters records. At 48 years old, he knocked out a 2:31:27 to win the masters division. That’s the equivalent of a 2:18 marathon, age-graded. Impressive, but it’s got nothing on his later performances, which are considered some of the greatest marathons in history.
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Future Governor General David Johnston almost participates…

but drops out to be on time for a debate. David Johnston became Canada’s Governor General in 2010 and worked in politics well before that. Back in 1975, he was signed up to partake in the first-ever Ottawa Marathon with a friend. A month out though, he got asked to moderate a debate between Ed Broadbent, Joe Clark and Pierre Trudeau – and it happened to be on the day of the marathon. Figuring he could fit in both a marathon in the morning followed by a major political debate at night, he kept his entry… until the last minute. After some thought, he figured he didn’t want to make a mistake and have others blame the race. He cancelled and ran the next year instead.

Rollerbladers take on the Ottawa Marathon course in 1995

Forget your favourite racing shoes, put on a pair of rollerblades instead

Remember that really big rollerblading craze in the 1990s? (Be honest, you know you totally owned a pair.) Well, props to you if you were one of the participants who took part in one of the in-line skating competitions that dominated the capital city every year. Yes, it’s true. Strange as it may seem now, Ottawa Race Weekend did feature a battle between in-line skaters. It started with the 8K event in 1995. Were you there? Believe or not, the Berlin Marathon still hosts a rollerblade battle

One year, the group that showed up was shockingly fast

When standing at the start line of a marathon, many are looking simply to make it through the 42.2K. For many a recreational runner or marathon newbie, setting a blazing fast time simply isn’t the main objective. That wasn’t the case for the pack who showed up in 1981 though. Of the 3,478 runners who completed the race that year, 630 of them managed to bang out a sub-3:00. That’s nearly 20 per cent of the field. Speedy. In comparison, in 2017, 175 swift runners cracked the three-hour barrier.

The 1975 start of the first edition of the marathon. Photo courtesy Ottawa Race Weekend

The smallest number of runners on the course? 146

Sure, runners who know the scene inside-out may know Ottawa for its mass appeal. Running in the course, the marathon is buzzing. But did you know that this hasn’t always been the case? It’s weird to think about given its atmosphere and reputation now, but in its inaugural year in 1975, just 146 runners showed up ready to put their marathon strength to the test. They lined up at Carleton University with a pretty sparse field. Hey, at least there was no bottleneck on the course.

Four generations in one family take to the course

Having four generations of people alive and well in one given family is noteworthy enough. Having all four generations show up as participants in the same race? Now that’s something that’ll turn heads. As reported by the Ottawa Citizen, in 2013, four generations of ladies from one family participated in the 2K on race weekend. The youngest member was Elisabeth Ridgen, then two years old. She was accompanied by her mother, Melanie Dompierre, her grandmother Rachel Groulx and her great-grandmother, Jeannette Groulx, 93. According to the report, the family saw an opportunity for a rare family moment and so they took it.

30 Ottawa Marathons in a row

You could say David Fricker knows the Ottawa Marathon course better than the back of his hand. After getting into running, he ran his first marathon in the city in 1983. He liked it so much that he went back the next year, and the one after that… and so on. In 2012, he had run it 30 times in a row without ever skipping one.

But it wouldn’t be a Canadian marathon without crazy weather…

Sure it might be scheduled for mid- to late May, but runners can’t take that as confirmation that it won’t snow. In fact, the 1996 running was so snowy that participants’ vision was affected. From the media truck, it was clear that the heavy snow, though not sticking to the ground, was affecting the runners’ long-range visibility. One reporter at the event noted how strange it was to be watching the runners make their way through a snow storm at that time of year.

RELATED: I paced my first race and may never go back to racing

What’s with the pace bunnies at this race?

To the newbie runner, seeing another participant sporting rabbit ears is a strange sight. For regulars on the scene? Not so much. The Ottawa Marathon pace bunnies come to race day and make their presence announced. If your family is reaching for activities to do as a group, consider signing up for pace duty and getting yourselves some matching ears. That’s what one Toronto-area family did. In 2009, the Arnotts showed up with Coli pacing the 3:30 marathon (in which his wife LeeAnne took part). Brother Ken paced the 1:35 group in the half-marathon, sister Sharon ran the 10K and their father Gord and Colin’s son Carey ran the 5K.

Think they’re an odd clan? Consider Chris Bright and Judy Andrew Piel who have been the 60-minute pace bunnies for the past nine years. Each year, they have a different costume designed by Bright. Last year, they dressed up as Easter bunnies.


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3 Comments

  • George says:

    Those are inline skaters. Not rollerbladers.

    Most olympic gold medallists in ice speed skating came from the sport of inline since the 90s.

    Yeah, Inline speedskating is a real sport, and its quite amazing. Still.

  • The year the course was cut short was an embarrassment. i remember being yelled at “Clear right” for in line bladders during my marathon. I will take the snow over the tremendous heat we have had the last 2 years. This year marks my 25th consecutive year of running the Ottawa Marathon.

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