Ottawa

Ottawa Race Weekend cancelled due to COVID-19

Ottawa Race Weekend is the latest local event to be cancelled because of COVID-19. Organizers aren't offering a refund, but they are planning a virtual race to keep runners moving.

No refunds, but organizers planning virtual race to keep runners moving

Spectators look on as runners begin the half-marathon in Ottawa on Sunday, May 27, 2018. This year's Ottawa Race Weekend has been called off for the first time since the event began in 1975. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Ottawa Race Weekend is the latest event to be cancelled due to COVID-19.

Organizers announced Monday they're calling off the annual race, scheduled this year to take place May 23-24, over fears it would be impossible to maintain a safe distance between runners of the marathon, half-marathon, 10K, 5K, 2K or children's event.

It's the first time the event has been cancelled since it began in 1975.

But before you hang up your Vaporflys and hit the couch, Run Ottawa, the organization behind Race Weekend, is offering an alternative that will allow runners to compete while still following the physical distancing guidelines set out by Ottawa Public Health.

Competitors will be offered a spot in a virtual race, where they'll determine their own route and run or walk their chosen distance through their own neighbourhood.

The virtual race will start as early as May 23, but will be spread out over the spring and summer months, until August 31. They'll receive a race kit, including medal, T-shirt, and even a photograph of them crossing a virtual finishing line.

A runner holds a rubber chicken as he begins the half-marathon in Ottawa on Sunday, May 27, 2018. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press )

"Part of having a long runway to complete the event is that maybe things will be a little bit different further into the summer, and will allow people to run in groups of two or three," said Ian Fraser, executive director of Run Ottawa.

Run Ottawa said it will partner with the international race timing company Sportstats to create a virtual finish line, using "e-bibs." Participants will be able to share their results with friends and family, and compare their times with other runners once the final results are published.

The reality is that a full refund for all participants would bankrupt us, and there wouldn't be a race weekend in 2021.- Ian Fraser, Run Ottawa

Registration, which was halted two weeks ago with around 18,000 runners signed up, will be reopened to allow for more people to join up for the virtual races. 

"There's a great spirit in the running community that I think is going to see this as something they can celebrate, to push something positive forward in difficult times," Fraser said.

Run Ottawa had been expecting some 33,000 runners this year.  

The virtual race won't be a sanctioned event, and the results will not qualify runners for major marathons elsewhere, such as Boston. 

No refunds

There will be no refunds, according to Fraser.

"Pretty much all of the registration money that we take in is spent quite a ways before you actually get to the start line," he said. "The reality is that a full refund for all participants would bankrupt us, and there wouldn't be a race weekend in 2021."

Instead, people who have already registered will be given a 50 per cent discount on next year's race, which is scheduled for May 28-29.

Run Ottawa considered postponing the event until fall, but worried about the crowded running calendar, and the possibility of ongoing mitigation efforts over COVID-19.

"We're also not certain that the world's going to be in a better place by then, and we were really mindful to not double disappoint our participants," Fraser said.

Organizers of the event are making the change to protect people from the spread of COVID-19 8:13

The decision to proceed with a virtual event is meant to encourage runners to keep going with their fundraising efforts for local charities. In years past, runners have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities including The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. 

Fraser said he understands people will be disappointed.

"I've been a runner since I was eight years old," Fraser said. "I understand the hard work that goes into preparing for one of our events. But the journey to get to the finish line is every bit as important as the actual event itself.... I think using running as a way of coping with what we're going through is really important. I think there are more people running now than I've ever seen before."

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