One of the most scenic and well organized marathons in Canada, not to mention the biggest, the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon has elicited high praise from participants throughout its 45-year history. But Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, which takes place May 25 and 26 this year, is more than just a well run event in a beautiful city: the 10K and the marathon are both IAAF Gold Label races, and Ottawa is the only race weekend in North America (and one of only four in the world) to boast that distinction.

RELATED: Burka wins Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon, sets new Canadian soil record

The women’s podium at the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon in 2018. Photo: Canadian Running

Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend includes 2K,  5K and 10K races on the Saturday and the half and full marathons on the Sunday, as well as the Scotiabank Ottawa Kids Marathon. Both the marathon and the 10K boast Gold Label status, something many races aspire to and which can take years to achieve. The 10K, which doubles as the Canadian 10K Championships, acquired the designation in 2015, and the marathon the following year. Here’s a sampling of some of the conditions a race must prove it can provide to be granted the Gold Label designation:

  • elites from at least five different countries competing
  • elite men must meet the standard of 2:10:30, women 2:28:00
  • adequate numbers and systems of professional medical support
  • high-quality road surface and complete road closures
  • adequate aid stations with well trained volunteers who provide electrolytes, water and other necessities
  • video screen at the finish
  • live television coverage or internet streaming in at least 10 countries
  • press conferences and support including a media scrum at the finish line, prize money, appearance fees, and insurance
  • sophisticated anti-doping facilities and procedures

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Photo: Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend

“We know that runners in Europe and Asia discover our event because of this,” says John Halvorsen, race director and president of Run Ottawa, the not-for-profit that runs Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. He notes that Ottawa had a Silver Label designation for many years before being granted the Gold Label distinction. Halvorsen, a two-time Olympian (1988 and 1992) who competed for Norway in the 10,000m, brings an international perspective to his role as race director.

Multi-Day Race Challenges
The Lumberjack Challenge. Photo: Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend

What draws runners to IAAF Gold Label races?

An IAAF Gold Label race is an exciting place to be, for elite and recreational runners alike. Ottawa is a beautiful, scenic, varied and relatively flat course that starts on Elgin Street just south of the War Memorial and takes runners along the scenic Rideau Canal and Queen Elizabeth Drive, into trendy Westboro and along the Western Parkway to the Chaudière Bridge, where it crosses into Gatineau, Que. It eventually winds back into Ottawa and follows Sussex Drive into the elegant New Edinburgh and Rockcliffe neighbourhoods, and back to the finish line with a second sweep along the canal on Colonel By Drive.

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You can be certain the course is accurate, and you get to run on well maintained roads that are free of hazards and completely closed to traffic. Elites can expect to race in a field with great depth, to be well looked after, and to receive phenomenal crowd support in a city where race weekend is the biggest tourism draw of the year. Fast recreational runners might find themselves lined up directly behind some of the biggest names in the running world, and running on the same course, at the same time, as records are being set and running history made.

Photo: Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend

What draws spectators to IAAF Gold Label races?

IAAF Gold Label races attract top elites from around the world, making the race exciting to watch. Your friend is more likely to come and watch you run the marathon if they’re guaranteed to also see some of the fastest runners in the world, like Gelete Burka of Ethiopia (who set a new Canadian soil record at the 2018 marathon), or women-only marathon record-holder Mary Keitany (who broke the 10K course record in 2014 and went on to win the TCS New York City Marathon the same year, and twice more since then, as well as the 2017 London Marathon).

Or multiple-world-major-marathon winner Geoffrey Mutai (who won the 10K in 2017). Whether they get right up next to the barrier or not, your friends and supporters can also watch the action on a giant screen at the finish line.

RELATED: Cliff and Esselink win Canadian 10K Championships


Photo: Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend

Strong organization, a fast course and a great atmosphere combine to attract the top elite Canadian athletes as well, names like Canadian half-marathon record-holder Rachel Cliff (who won the 10K in 2018 and went on to win the 10,000m championships later in the year), Tristan Woodfine (first Canadian and 10th overall in the marathon, after previously winning the Montreal Half-Marathon in 2018) and Natasha Wodak (who holds the Canadian records in both the 10,000m and the 8K, and who finished second in the Ottawa 10K in 2018).

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Natasha Wodak at 2018 Ottawa Race Weekend. Photo: Victah Sailor/PhotoRun

Halvorsen notes that Race Weekend is a big deal in the relatively small city (approximately 35,000 people participate in all the various events combined), and that the air of excitement fills the city, something it shares with its counterparts in the obviously much bigger Boston and New York. “We’ve had people tell us that the finish stretch is like Chicago in terms of spectatorship,” he says. “The atmosphere is wonderful.” He recalls that in 2016, when it was 30 C on the course, residents pitched in to support the runners in a way that made a very real difference. “The community came out in droves with hoses and sprinklers,” says Halvorsen. “People ran smart and cautiously, and our medical resources were not overloaded as a result.”

Whatever your reason for running, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have an awesome experience at Tamarack Ottawa

Race Weekend. This year’s festivities take place May 25 and 26, 2019.