Ottawa Race Weekend cancels in-person events for second straight year

Ottawa Race Weekend
Participants line up at the start of the 5K run at Ottawa Race Weekend in 2013.

In a sobering prediction that COVID-19 will continue to disrupt some of the city’s most popular festivals and events well into next year, the organizers of Ottawa Race Weekend have confirmed that runners in the event will once again not be gathering en masse in 2021.

Ian Fraser, the executive director of Run Ottawa, told OBJ Thursday afternoon that the regular races scheduled for next May 28 and 29 will be replaced by virtual runs for the second straight year. 

With the city now in the grip of a second wave of COVID-19 and no guarantee that conditions will be safe for a mass gathering by next spring, Fraser said organizers made the difficult decision to go virtual again out of an abundance of caution.

“I would think you would have to be the most wide-eyed optimist on the face of the Earth to think that (a full in-person Race Weekend) would be in any way really remotely possible,” he said.

“We’re looking at a condition where I don’t even think we can get together for Christmas dinner with more than 10 of our family members, so the possibility of toeing the start line with 35,000 of your closest friends in May seems a little bit of a fictitious expectation.”

More details next month

Fraser teased that organizers are looking at making a few “interesting” tweaks to next year’s events, adding all the details will be revealed in mid-November.

He also left the door open for a return to a full in-person slate of events if public health officials deemed it safe for runners to congregate by then.

“Should things change and should the world become a much better place, we’d be ready to pivot to a live event if that was the case,” Fraser said.

Featuring 2K, 5K, 10K and children’s races as well as a half-marathon and marathon, Race Weekend is one of the capital’s most anticipated annual events. In addition to drawing tens of thousands of participants, the annual celebration of all things running also attracts more than 200,000 spectators and pumps about $14 million into the local economy, according to Run Ottawa. 

More than 17,000 people had registered to take part in this year’s race weekend before it was called off due to the pandemic. Fraser said more than 20,000 people ultimately signed up for the virtual runs.

Participants were not given refunds but were promised a 50 per cent discount on the race of their choice at the 2021 Ottawa Race Weekend. Fraser said participants will now be able to cash in those savings in any of the next three years.

Thursday’s news comes a day after organizers of the Boston Marathon said they were postponing the 2021 edition of the iconic race from its scheduled date of April 19 until at least the fall.