Slow start for Ottawa Race Weekend

The biggest running event in Canada — and one of the most prestigious in the world — is just two days away, but the 2017 Ottawa Race Weekend still isn't sold out.

Organizers say decline in registration reflects industry-wide trend

Runners at the start of the 2013 Ottawa Marathon. ( Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The biggest running event in Canada — and one of the most prestigious in the world — is just two days away, but the 2017 Ottawa Race Weekend still isn't sold out.

The marquee running weekend — which includes a marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K, 2K races — often sells out months in advance. But this year, there are still spots available with the starting line just around the corner.

Ottawa Race Weekend spokesperson Annie Boucher says that reflects an overall trend in the industry that shows many races in other cities seeing a decline in registration.

Annie Boucher speaks for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. (CBC)
"A lot of it has to do with demographics and older population. It has to do with competition," said Boucher. "With the success of race weekend selling out so quickly in previous years, I think a lot of people decided to put on their own running events from a charitable perspective, as well as just from a running and participation perspective."

Boucher points to the event's past success leading to a greater demand for hotels and other amenities, leading to an increase in prices and causing some runners to stay home.

"We have a lot of out-of-towners that come into town, and hotel rates tend to go up a lot during race weekend because we've been selling out hotel rooms for years. And the rates are becoming prohibitive," she added.

"There's a two-night minimum - $300 a night. Your race registration, your food, your hotel — it just becomes cost prohibitive."

43,000 participants still expected

Still, organizers expect 43,000 participants for the races Saturday and Sunday. They're hoping for about 45,000.

And they're confident they'll have all the 2,500 volunteers they need in place to help everything run smoothly.

With major events happening this year across Ottawa to celebrate Canada 150, Ottawa Tourism isn't worried this decline in activity will set a trend for the rest of the summer. 

The Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend gets underway Saturday afternoon with the 2K race. (CBC)
"It isn't sold out. We're not worried about it. We understand from event organizers that's an industry trend across North America — so not specific to this event or Ottawa," said Catherine Frechette, director of destination development for Ottawa Tourism.

"We are hoping that the runners from this event learn about all of the other fun things that are coming to Ottawa and come back and want to experience them."

While online registration is closed, Boucher said runners can still sign up at the race weekend expo at the Shaw Centre.

Runners will hit the road with the 2K race on Saturday afternoon.

We asked some of our Twitter followers why they're staying home this year:

With files from Michel-Denis Potvin