Why the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend Rocks

What is it that makes the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend so special?

That’s what Running Room founder John Stanton asked me as we chatted over the PA at the finish line after I ran the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon on Sunday.

Rideau Canal LocksI told him that what made it special for me was the level of participation. You have over 49,000 people running in the various events that make up the two day Race Weekend.

Add another couple hundred thousand or more who come out to cheer and watch the runners and it seems like the entire city is involved in the event.

Other cities in Canada have big marathons that draw as many runners as Ottawa does for its race. But no other city gets involved in its races like Ottawa.

The spectators

You see it at 7:00 A.M. as you run up Elgin towards the War Memorial. Both sides of the course are lined with people cheering you on. At 7:45 A.M. as I ran through Hintonburg, the streets were filled with residents of the neighbourhood who came out to see the race and cheer the runners on.

There were people at the end of their driveways with hoses misting runners at 36km. I got frozen freezies from two different families who were handing them out by the dozens from cooler bags along the route.

Then there’s the finish. What can I say? There is no better last 2km than Ottawa in any race I’ve ever run. As I told John Stanton, I knew I just needed to get to 40km and make that turn over Pretoria and then the energy of the crowd would carry me home.

The volunteers

Don’t forget the volunteers! Every single water station was filled with excited, helpful volunteers who provided water, gatorade, gels, bananas, oranges and encouragement. Every person I encountered at the Health and Fitness Expo greeted me with a smile and wished me a good race. I felt like a rockstar after the race heading down the chute to collect my medal.

SpectatorsSome of them worked long hours so we could race. Many were up earlier than I was on Sunday morning to setup water stations. Many of those same volunteers were still out on the course working well after I had finished.

Local businesses

Restaurants were in on the act with marathon special pasta plates on Saturday evening, and our hotel (Hotel Indigo) provided towels, water bottles and a special breakfast box for runners. Starbucks added staff and opened at 5:30 A.M. to serve up breakfast to runners and fans.

After the race the staff at the restaurant where we ate asked us about our race and congratulated us on our accomplishments. You could tell they genuinely meant it.

Even VIA Rail, which got us from Toronto to Ottawa and back for the weekend, got involved sending out tweets to participants.

The City of Ottawa

Apart from the races and running, Ottawa is also a beautiful city to visit. After the races, we walked along the Rideau Canal, checked out the locks and strolled past the Parliament Buildings.

There’s no shortage of things to do around the city between areas like Byward Market, and the various museums and attractions like the Museum of History, and the National Gallery.

To sum it up, Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend is the biggest and best running weekend in Canada (and maybe anywhere), in one of the nicest cities you’ll ever visit, with the best spectators and volunteers you’ll ever encounter.

Mark your calendars — the 2016 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend takes place May 28-29, 2016.

Thanks to Pierre Lachaîne for the race photo above.

Obsessing About Marathon Day Weather

In the week or two leading up to race day, weather watching becomes every runner’s new hobby. Seems every minute spent not running is spent obsessing over the forecast.

The weather for Ottawa Race Weekend is looking pretty good right now. In fact, if I could, I’d “lock it in” right now. That said, even when a runner knows exactly what the weather will be like, they often imagine it to be worse than reality. Light rain becomes a monsoon, some wind becomes a gale, warm temps become a furnace.

Ottawa? More like Hottawa!

My big concern for Ottawa is always heat. We don’t call it the Hottawa Marathon in my running club for nothing. So far it’s looking pretty decent on the temperature front with a forecast high of 21ºC. Of course that doesn’t stop me from imagining that forecast to be worse than it is.

What I imagine the temperature graph will be like:
What I wish the temperature graph would be like:
What the temperature graph will probably be like:

Advice from the Medical Director

Whatever the weather ends up being, make sure you adjust your running to fit the forecast. Dr. Jon Hooper, Medical Director for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend has some great advice for you to ensure you have a safe, successful run.

Good luck, and stay safe!

Dreaming of Boston

This morning at work I put the live feed of the Boston Marathon on my second monitor and undertook the mindless task of checking every single price in our pricing system at work for accuracy.

On my main monitor, amongst the roughly 10,000 prices I checked, I found quite a few incorrectly priced SKUs. On the second monitor, amongst the tens of thousands of runners on course, I found an incredible amount of personal inspiration.

Boston calling

I’ve never really felt all that drawn to the Boston Marathon, mostly because I’m not nearly fast enough to qualify to run it. The last thing I’ve wanted to do over the last five years of running marathons is to get obsessed over a specific, unreasonable time and feel disappointed if I didn’t attain it.


I visited Boston in the fall of 2010 and ran across the finish line just a few months after my first marathon in Ottawa in May, 2010.

But this year was different for some reason. I watched the race from start to finish and then kept watching the finish line live stream and tracking map as my friends and fellow runners finished their races.

I found myself thinking about what running Boston would be like. I felt drawn to it.

Reality check

My personal best for the marathon is 3:48:30 which I ran last year at the 2014 BMO Vancouver Marathon. Currently, I’d need to run a 3:15:00 marathon to qualify to race Boston next spring. In reality, I’d probably need to run a few minutes faster than that to account for the fact that there have been more qualifiers than spots in the race the last few years.

Knocking more than 30 minutes off my time at the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon in May just doesn’t seem possible right now so I’ve put it out of my mind. But I’m turning 44 in a couple of weeks and it turns out that the qualifying times for men aged 45-49 is 3:25:00 — a ten minute difference.

Looking forward

In the back of my mind I think a 3:40:00 is probably possible for me, maybe even this year in Ottawa. Add the additional ten minutes I get next year for getting one year older, and I feel like I could be within striking distance of that magical 3:25 qualifying time in 2016 or 2017.

I confess that for the first time Boston has a bit of a grip on me today. Nothing in running is ever a sure thing, but I think that over the next few years I might be able to commit to the significant training required to bring my marathon time down below 3:25:00.

For the first time, I feel the way others feel about Boston. And I think I’m okay with that.

Ottawa Race Weekend Volunteer Profile

Too often runners overlook the many thousands of people who give their time to make events like the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend possible – the volunteers.

At this year’s Tamarack Ottawa Race weekend, more than 2,000 volunteers will come together to make the Race Weekend happen. Volunteers help out with all sorts of jobs including handing out race packets at the Expo, staffing information booths, handing out water on course and even providing entertainment along the route. And they all do it with a smile on their face despite the fact they aren’t getting paid a cent!

Without the help of these great volunteers, the Ottawa Race Weekend would simply not be possible.

Volunteer Profile: Rebecca

I talked to one volunteer, Rebecca (@RebeccaRuns on Twitter), to find out why she’s giving her time and volunteering at the 2015 Ottawa Race Weekend so that the tens of thousands of runners can all take on the challenge of their races.

James: How many times have you volunteered and what do you normally help out with?


Rebecca Wemyss at the water station, awaiting the throngs of runners

Rebecca: I have volunteered four times for a few different events in the Ottawa area. My biggest volunteer role is with the Ottawa Race Weekend where I am a station captain for one of the marathon-route aid stations.

I ran a station in 2013 with my school, but could not volunteer last year since I was participating in the half marathon. I also volunteer with inStride Event Management who put on the Manotick Miler and Ottawa Beer Run. I’m one of their pacers for the 5 Miler at the Manotick Miler and also helped lead a group of young children in a 1K and helped lead a group in the Ottawa Beer Run.

I already have a few volunteering gigs lined up for 2015 including The Ottawa Race Weekend, Manotick Miler, the inaugural Ottawa Sporting Life 10K and hopefully the NYC Marathon!

James: Why did you decide to start volunteering at the races and had you already run races before, or was volunteering what got you into running?

Rebecca: I have participated in every Ottawa Race Weekend since 2010 and was asked to lead a water station in 2013. I had a bit of experience with running athletic events since I am a track and field coach and have to officiate events from time to time. I emailed inStride Events one day to see if they needed pacers for the Manotick Miler and that started a volunteering relationship with them.

James: What’s the best and worst parts about volunteering? Any memorable stories to share?

Rebecca: I’ll start with the best part first…meeting new running friends! The Ottawa Beer run last year was one of the best afternoons of the year. I was a “Beer Bunny” that was in charge of leading a group on the route to different breweries. I ended up talking to several people throughout the day and eventually I discovered that I knew a few of them through Twitter. We all ran together as a giant group and were talking/laughing throughout the day. We almost made a detour to a popular Ottawa donut store! This year there are even more of us running in the event together.

Along with new running friends, volunteering allows me to gain valuable experience in event management, be a part of something big and fun in Ottawa and of course I love getting the race goodies and a chance to participate in events for free.

IMG_0056There really aren’t many worst parts. Maybe nerves about being a pace bunny when you are not feeling 100%. During the Manotick Miler, I had some GI issues since I had not discovered that I couldn’t chew gum and run yet (I have an intolerance to sorbitol) – that made for an interesting run.

Other than that, waking up crazy early for the Ottawa Marathon and ensuring that 40+ teenagers [water station volunteers from local high schools] wake up before 5:00 A.M.

I can’t think of any more bad parts about volunteering. During the Ottawa Marathon in 2013 I only had one person who was a bit rude during towards us. Everyone else was so nice!

James: Any advice for first-time volunteers?

Rebecca: Make sure you check the weather the night before and dress appropriately. You will most likely be outside for a long time — be prepared for anything!

At the water station, really separate the water/gatorade tables from each other. Make sure that everyone is yelling “WATER” and “GATORADE” continuously and Gatorade should ALWAYS be placed first. Wear a poncho/water proof jacket and boots. You will be surprised how wet you get! Make sure that you don’t slack on filling up your cups before the race gets started. Everyone under-estimates how many runners will go through the stations and it’s hard to be filling up water cups while handing them out at the same time. If the weather on race day is hot and you are using a hose for your water source, spray the runners!

James: What would you say to someone who is thinking about volunteering?

Rebecca: Definitely try it out. There are so many different roles that one can take part in during a race. You don’t necessarily have to sit outside and hand out water for hours. For the NYC marathon for example, there are over 30 jobs to choose from. Make the “race weekend” a double header and run one day and volunteer the next. For me, Ottawa Race Weekend is one of my favorite weekends because I do just that.

Thank your volunteers!

When you are at the Expo picking up your race kit, or when you are out on course in Ottawa, make sure you thank the volunteers. It’s not hard to flash a smile and shout out a “thanks!”, and they really appreciate it.

If you are interested in volunteering in Ottawa, you can get more information at the Run Ottawa website.

Running on Vacation

I just got back from a nine-day family vacation in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. We do this trip every March Break, and since I’m almost always training for a spring marathon, it means a week of running while on vacation.


A little taste of what running is like in Hilton Head Island. Paved paths everywhere.

Whether you can continue your running or not when on vacation depends a lot on where you are going. In the case of Hilton Head Island, running is safe and easy. If you are in a resort in Mexico or Cuba, it might not be reasonable to venture off the property, so long runs might be an issue.

Finding routes

But how do you find routes to run that are safe and good for running?

Use a route mapper

Sites like MapMyRun and DailyMile have route mappers that are handy in planning out routes to run if you know the area. But if you aren’t sure exactly where the good places to run are, Strava’s amazing Global Heatmap site is a great help. It shows where runners have run the most. That’s usually a good indication that it’s a good road or trail to run. I’ve used it to find runs in various cities around the world including in Amsterdam, San Antonio, and Portland.

Here’s Hilton Head Island on Strava’s Heatmap. You can see that many runners hit the beach to run, and that William Hilton Parkway is also a favourite. Super handy!

Find a running store

Another option is to search out a local running store to get some advice from the locals. If you are in Canada, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find a Running Room around. Outside of Canada is a bit of a different story.


The Strava Heatmap view around my house. Lots of streets that are popular with runners (including me)

I did a Google search for “hilton head island running store” and found The Palmetto Running Company which wasn’t far from where we were staying. Their running club page provides a link to a bunch of group runs, and also a link to local running routes of various lengths.

Ask a local!

Local runners are always a good resource too. I’ve had good success with just stopping runners out there and asking them where I should go. Every runner has been happy to share a route or two with me. Sometimes you can find a group run or pick up an impromptu running buddy this way. Don’t be afraid to say hi and ask about the local running scene. Put yourself in their shoes – you’d be happy to share a route or some advice with an out-of-town runner, right?

Whether you stick to your full training schedule, or dial it back a bit while you take a break from work and life, running on vacation is a great way to unwind and see some different scenery. Get out there and enjoy your runs!

Keep Your Shoe Tongue From Sliding

One of the biggest annoyances in my life right now are running shoe tongues that slide to the side. Seriously.

I’ve tried everything to get them to stay where they belong, and suffered through bruising and pain when they slide off to the side mid-run and put pressure on the tendons of my foot.

Then I came across this video on YouTube that shows an alternative way to tie your laces through the little loop on the tongue that actually keeps the tongue centred on my foot.

The Fine Line Between Hardcore and Dumb

It’s been ridiculously cold in Toronto this week. So cold that the simple act of running outdoors this morning was just plain dangerous.


The indoor option.

When the air temperature hits -25ºC and a stiff wind from the north brings windchills in the -35 to -40 range, gearing up and venturing out for a run is one of the last things a smart runner should be doing.

At those temperatures, you risk frostbite on exposed skin and far worse in the event that something happens to you that renders you unable to run.

There are other options when conditions turn dangerous. You can hit the treadmill, or an indoor track. Or you can postpone your run for a day or two until conditions are more favourable.

Badges of honour

Many runners see heading out in any and all weather conditions to be a badge of honour. I’ve been there, done that and earned the merit badges for running in the rain, the snow and the wind. Some days it’s awful to run and we do it anyways. But not when it’s dangerous.

When the temperatures dip below -20ºC, going out for a run isn’t a sign that you are hardcore, or committed, it’s a sign that you aren’t thinking straight.

The Benefits of Joining a Running Group

One of the best things you can do to make your running more enjoyable is to join a group or club.

Running has often been described as a solitary sport. It’s true that out on the marathon course, it’s really you against the distance and it can be fairly lonely, even with thousands of other runners out there with you.


Do these people look like they are having fun?

The long Sunday runs that come with marathon training can often be lonely as well which is why I tend to run with a running group at my local Running Room store. 32km is daunting enough so having a few people with you along the way can be a real help when the running gets tough.

Some benefits of group running include:

  • Fun: nothing beats a little friendly banter or a bit of trash talking. Some of the best fun I’ve had over the last few years has been out on a Sunday morning run with some long-time running buds.
  • Encouragement: our group is made up of a good mix of runners, both veterans and some rookies too. The multiple-marathoners are always happy to provide that much needed encouragement to the first-timers. Everyone was a newbie at some point and it’s good for the new runners to see that others just like them were able to train for and complete a marathon.
  • Safety: having another runner or three around is always handy in the event that you find yourself injured or otherwise unable to continue. No runner left behind is something we practice in our group. If someone needs to drop out or slow up the pace, at least one other runner will drop back or we’ll make sure the runner gets back to the store.
  • Accountability: if you no show, or don’t get your weekly runs in, you can bet that someone in our group will ask you about it. A good run group helps keep you going because you know if you don’t, you’ll hear about it.
  • Motivation: when the run includes a brunch or coffee afterwards with the group, you’ll be more motivated to come out at 8:30 A.M. on a Sunday morning to get the run in. I look forward to the after-run socializing as much as I do the run sometimes.

Where to find a group

If you have one, your local Running Room store is a great place to find a run crew. There are free weekly runs on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings and I’ve never been to a Running Room that didn’t welcome new runners into the group. You’ve got running in common, so there’s no need to fear not having anything to talk about.

The-Running-Room-sign-at-7th-and-Cambie-in-VancouverYou can also check online for a local run club or crew. In Toronto there are a number of groups including the Parkdale Roadrunners and the Running Rats. Ask around at your local running store, or check the announcements board to see if there are any clubs in your area. Most of them will have social events that go along with the running if you are looking for more than just a weekly training run.

Local races are also a good place to look for clubs. These small events are often organized by running clubs in different areas and joining in and running a few of the events will allow you to meet some new runners and find out when and where they meet.

Group runs are more enjoyable runs

Find a group to run with and I guarantee that your long runs and training will be more enjoyable. The friends I’ve met running are some of the best friends I have and there’s no way I’d have accomplished the things I have over the last bunch of years if it wasn’t for them.

Eight Things People Do On Treadmills That Drive Me Nuts

I treadmill run a lot and as a result, I see people doing stuff on the treadmill that drives me nuts.

Here’s the top eight things that make me want to walk over and say, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”:

  1. Run like hell for a minute and then stop and that’s it. What possible benefit are you getting out of a 60 second run at 8mph? Did you even get your heart rate up in that amount of time? Did you realize you have to go to the bathroom?
  2. Highest incline, hanging off the panel leaning way back. You are completely obliterating any benefit of walking or running on an incline if you hold on and lean back so you aren’t climbing a hill anymore. Similarly annoying is when you support your entire body weight on the handrails.
  3. 15mph YouTube run. Usually a teen male and three bro friends with smartphones in hand, making a video of the whole thing. You think it’s hilarious to set the speed to 15mph and see if you can somehow run that speed? It’s not. It’s dangerous. Eventually you’ll learn the hard way that treadmills can reach out and bite you.
  4. Run for a bit, feet on the rails for five minutes, run a bit more, feet on the rails some more. We all occasionally hop onto the side rails for a few seconds to grab a drink or wipe the sweat away. But some people spend half their workout standing on the rails and not running. I’m sure all your friends would be less impressed with the 5 miles you said you “ran” on Facebook if they knew half of it was spend watching the distance slowly rising while standing straddling the belt.
  5. Rocking out on the run. You’ve got your Beats headphones on, arms pumping in the air, and singing some awful song (out loud). Stop it. No one wants to hear you singing Miley Cyrus while you workout. And the Beats look ridiculous. Get some Yurbuds or something.
  6. Twelve treadmills available, you pick the one beside me. First of all, if you are a dude who does this to female runners – you are creepy. Don’t do it. Second of all, treadmills generate a lot of heat. If there are lots available, space things out so I don’t have to roast thanks to the heat from two belts on a wood friction plate instead of just one.
  7. Racing me without declaring it’s a race. If I run at 7.6mph, you run at 7.7mph. I up my pace a notch, you up your pace a notch. I’m not racing you so how about you run your pace and I’ll run mine? If you want to challenge me, then come out and say it and it’ll be go time.
  8. Standing on the treadmill doing nothing. Does it really take you ten minutes to mentally prepare to walk or run? Do your static pre-run stretches somewhere else! In a similar vien are the people who spend ten minutes going through all the programs, or flipping through the TV channels. Get on the thing, turn it on and go.

I’m sure there are more…in fact, I’ll probably be able to add to the list later tonight when I hit the treadmill for another run. In the meantime, if you are one of these people, I have a suggestion for you: maybe hit the elliptical instead.