O Canada! (aka Ottawa Marathon Race Report)

As of May, I have now finished marathons in 8 countries. It took me a while to run in our neighbor to the north, but Canada is now checked off the list! I had heard great things about the Ottawa Marathon, so when I found out running buddy Angela was going, it didn't take long for me to offer to share travel costs with her. Later, Scot chose to join us. He's a bit of a Canadaphile, so he couldn't stay away. It was his third marathon in Canada and second in the province of Ontario.

With Angela before the marathon

We all flew Canadian airline Porter, but Angela arrived a couple hours after Scot and me. Porter is interesting. Their hub is in Toronto, where they pretty much own the small Toronto City airport, right on the water on the edge of downtown. There is a nice lounge with free non-alcoholic drinks and basic snacks (the shortbread cookies were YUM). Porter also serves free snacks on its flights, as well as free alcohol, and serves all drinks in real glassware. Pretty much unheard of for economy flights these days.

Toronto city view from the airport window!

Our Ottawa hotel was within walking distance of the start/finish area and the expo, and about a million Tim Horton's locations. This was all good. The expo was nice and full of interesting vendors, including several that we don't normally see in the US. One of the best freebies was three full-size boxes of pasta (I hoped I'd be able to squeeze them into my suitcase, and I did). We also got some bonus samples of Nuun (the electrolyte drink on the marathon course) and a Nuun water bottle with the maple leaf on it. Not everyone got so many things from Nuun, and we can thank Angela for striking up a conversation with one of the Nuun guys at the reception we attended.

Start/finish area at Ottawa city hall

Yes, we all were guests of Ottawa Marathon staffer Joe at the Friday night reception, and we also had passes to the VIP tent at the finish line (which we didn't use, because of logistics). Angela had met Joe at the Philadelphia Marathon and kept in touch. It's great that she did. He was a really nice guy and the reception was a nice perk. They passed hors d' oeuvres and also had a table of dips and crackers/chips. But the best: unlimited open bar with so many varieties of Canadian beer and cider; Angela and I tried them all.  Also at the expo, we got to chat with race director John Halvorson, who I'd met a couple years ago at the Marine Corps Marathon expo, and took a photo of him with Magenta. He didn't remember me, but how could he have forgotten Magenta? I asked John what the plan was for the very hot race-day forecast. He said that they had a contingency plan if they needed to shorten the course by cutting off some out & back or loop sections, but he hoped they wouldn't need to. He was sure that they would at least start the marathon.

John with Magenta the Road Trip Flamingo at 2013 MCM expo
Fun pic on the way to the reception; I'm holding up the nice race shirt
ByWard Market
The Shaw Centre, location of the expo; the runners you see are doing the 5K on Saturday evening

After the expo and the reception, the three of us were tired. It was a long, busy travel day. On Saturday we decided not to do too much and stay off our feet. Angela and I went back to the expo and explored the area around the ByWard Market. Loved the market, which included lots of outdoor stalls, but the area also had lots of interesting shops and restaurants. Scot did his own thing during the day. Then for dinner, Scot and I went for a walk and then met up with our friend Jim for a really great meal (and forgot to take a pic with him); Angela dined at the hotel and turned in early.

Canal view
Parliament selfie
Spider sculpture and a church

Race day was definitely going to be hot. The temperature was up to 90F on Friday and Saturday, and wouldn't get quite as hot on Sunday, but mid-80sF is still too hot for a marathon. The good news is that we knew in advance, so we could prepare for it was best we could. And the race organization also did what they could, adding aid stations and misters, and encouraging residents to bring out their hoses and sprinklers if they lived on the marathon course.

This was a big race (the largest marathon in Canada), so the start corrals were packed, but I was able to find fellow Marathon Maniac and Marathon Globetrotter Caren before the start. I started out with Scot, but we were separated early. The first mile or so through the downtown area had a lot of spectators and scenery such as Parliament Hill. It was warm, and going to get warmer, but I was in a great mood and ready to run in a new country.

With Caren pre-race
Runners early in the race 
In Gatineau

The course was nice. It was part residential, part commercial, part inclusive of landmarks, and part scenic along the river or the canal. We started in Ottawa, Ontario and crossed over to Gatineau, Quebec and back. It was cool to run in two provinces and to cross two different bridges across the river. The view coming back into Ontario was stunning.

I did my run/walk from the beginning. On some hills I walked extra. I found my running pace slowing as the heat rose. I continued run/walk; it just wasn't as fast. And this was OK, as I am a believer in running in heat by effort, not by pace. I could have pushed harder, but I didn't want to suffer heat exhaustion. I just continued on the course, taking only a few photos so I could concentrate on my race. I saw Scot and Ed on a long out & back. I saw Angela at one point, but then she went ahead of me. She had trained for a PR, which didn't happen due to the weather, but she was still stronger and faster than me that day. Later on I ran into Kino, who I didn't know would be in Ottawa, so that was a nice surprise.

Not sure where this was on the course
With Kino on the long out & back
US ambassador's residence?

I avoided all the sprinklers and hoses until mile 20 (which I gauged from my Garmin, since all course markings were in kilometers). I didn't want to wash off my sunblock, and I didn't want to be any more soaked than I already was with sweat (didn't matter; I suffered a bad burn anyway). But with only 10K to go, I chose to enjoy the spraying water. I was also very receptive when a neighborhood of spectators was handing out ice pops to everyone. I loved that the Canadians call them "freezies"...what a great name! And it tasted so good and was so cold. I walked and savored my freezie.

The last couple miles were on a main road through downtown and then along the canal, and in direct sunlight. It was really quite miserable for that last hour, and I walked even more. But I was very impressed by the special crew of volunteers who were on the course with us, making sure everyone was OK, and keeping pace with some of the runners who needed some support. Some of them ran with participants for quite a while. I know I looked tired and slow, so each time I came by one of those volunteers they thought I might need help. I said that no, I'm doing great, thanks for being out here supporting the runners in the heat. These volunteers were awesome!

Finally, I knew I was near the finish and ran it in. Scot was waiting for me, having finished a bit before. He said he also saw Angela, who either went for beer or back to the hotel. Even though we weren't at the 7 hour time limit yet, there were few runners behind me and the finish area had mostly cleared out. We found out later that due to the heat the last out & back was cut off for some of the slower runners and they were routed directly toward the finish, missing about 10K of the course. Luckily, I made the cut-off and finished the full marathon.

My finish
In the shade with Scot post-race

After my finish I needed to sit in the shade for a few minutes. Then I needed beer. The beer wasn't free, but I didn't care. I had brought some cash. All the beer was from Beau's All Natural Brewing Company and I enjoyed that beer so much. And I struck up a conversation with some Canadian baby boomer men who were drinking all day while their wives ran the race. They bought me another beer. And then I got another one when the beer guys were trying to shut down. So, I got to try them all. I think the blood orange wit was the most refreshing on that hot day after that major effort.

My feet were hurting and it felt so great to sit in the shade for a few minutes
With my Canadian friends at the beer tent

When Scot and I got back to the hotel Angela had already showered, so it was our turn. Once everyone had recovered, we went out to dinner at Lowertown Brewery near the ByWard Market. It was a so-so meal with decent enough beer, but the main thing was that we were off our feet. Back at the hotel, Angela and I enjoyed some meads that Scot had bought so that we could work on our mead badge on Untappd.

And that pretty much concluded our time in Ottawa. This was a very well-managed race, and they did everything they could to mitigate the heat, including starting the half marathon early. I don't think anyone faulted them for cutting off an out & back, but of course some runners were disappointed about that. Still, safety first...  I don't repeat a lot of marathons, but I would do this one again. Ottawa was a beautiful city with good food, great beer, nice parks and outdoor spaces, and a fantastic running community. I enjoyed running with people from all over Canada, including quite a few French speakers. I also had Tim Horton's every day. It was a hot but fun weekend and I'm so glad I found out that Angela was going.


  1. hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm maybe the half will be on my radar next year......once DLand is over with, I can do as many HMs as I want lol

    1. The half has a different start time (later than the full), so you'd be running only with other half marathoners. I think that's a good way to do it. I think you'd like the race. You have to take your beer appetite through! ;-)


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