Ian Fraser is brimming over with excitement about the innovations coming at this year’s Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend (May 23 and 24, 2020). With two new race options (the marathon relay and the Bytown Challenge), a fantastic new finish-line video system and a new focus on Canadian elite athletes in the 10K, the new executive director of Run Ottawa is on a mission to make Canada’s biggest running event better than it’s ever been.

Photo: Bruce Wodder@PhotoRun

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Run a marathon with your friends, relay-style

New in 2019, the marathon relay is just one of the new features Fraser gets to introduce in 2020. A great option for those who love the idea of moving up to the marathon but either aren’t sure they’re ready for a full marathon or just can’t make the training happen this winter, the relay lets you and three of your best running buddies achieve it together, running legs of a little over 10K each. “If you have a regular group, what a great opportunity–you’re already running together on Sunday anyway, why not do the relay?” says Fraser, who got the idea from the handful of other marathons across the country that host a relay event, like the Manitoba Marathon and the Blue Nose International Marathon

Ian Fraser
Ian Fraser. Photo: CBC

The relay is limited to 50 teams (200 participants altogether) in its first year, since Fraser is committed to making sure it’s a success (which means having a manageable number of participants). Runners will be shuttled to and from the transition points, which will be at visually interesting points on the course. “There are no wastelands,” says Fraser. “We wanted to make sure at first crack that we do an excellent event and can control the details… We have to get people back and forth, make sure they’re well looked after… and that they’re having an awesome time.”

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Instead of a baton, each relay runner will wear a belt holding the race bib with embedded chip, which starts with the lead runner and gets handed from one runner to the next in the transition zone. The timing company Sportstats will manage this, so that transitions are smooth and quick.

Those 50 marathon relay team spots are already more than 98 per cent sold, so if you’re thinking of entering, don’t waste any time.

Multi-Day Race Challenges
Photo: Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend

Enjoy a full day of racing with the Bytown Challenge

Race combos are a great way to make it worthwhile for out-of-towners to travel to Ottawa for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. Ottawa has had great success with its Voyageur Challenge (the 5K and 10K on Saturday and the half-marathon on Sunday) and Lumberjack Challenge (the 2K, 5K and 10K on Saturday and the marathon on Sunday), which were introduced in 2017. Now there’s a new one–the Bytown Challenge, which includes the three Saturday races (2K, 5K and 10K) only–so you can run three short, fast races in one day, plan a fun evening out and sleep in on Sunday. (And then spectate the marathon before you drive home, if that’s your jam.)

Ian Fraser's dog
Fraser’s Great Dane-rottweiler-retriever mix, Winnie, who accompanies him to work every day. Photo: courtesy of Ian Fraser

Finish line enhancements

Fraser also reports that there will be a “wicked-looking and fantastically awesome” video system at the marathon/half-marathon finish line, with columns wrapped in video screens on each sides from 30 metres out. The screens will push photos, results and other cool content, and Run Ottawa has contracted with the Motigo app, which lets runners hear their own cheers and mantras in their earbuds on race day. There’s also a surprise planned for the finish line that Fraser isn’t giving away until race day. All of these enhancements are guaranteed to make the participant experience “unbelievably awesome.” 

Ian Fraser
Ian Fraser in his triathlon days. Photo: courtesy of Ian Fraser

The changes are not just a matter of Fraser trying to put his stamp on Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend after taking over from John Halvorsen, who’d had the job officially since 2013 (and as an unpaid volunteer for many years before that). The numbers are down–having peaked at 48,000 with the event’s 40th anniversary in 2014, the organization feels that a renewed emphasis on the runner experience could turn things around. And having run both the marathon and the 10K and paced the marathon multiple times, Fraser knows what works (and what works better). As he said in a CBC interview upon his appointment last year, “It may not be realistic to hope to get back up to 48,000 people, but to do a fantastic job with 35,000 or 40,000 would be incredible.”

There’s no question that Fraser will move mountains to get there. While it may seem like everything in his life was leading towards this new adventure, the way he talks about the changes he had to make to take the job, he might have been describing a midlife crisis. A former pro triathlete and longtime successful Ottawa business owner in the athletic space, Fraser had to give up the Hintonburg bike shop he opened in 2002, as well as his interest in a triathlon company he’d run since 2015, for both ethical and practical reasons. “I blew up my life,” Fraser says. “And I mean that in a good way.”

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Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend takes place May 23 and 24, 2020. Click here for more information and to register for races.