Ottawa Race Weekend cancelled in latest blow to local tourism industry

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

One of Ottawa’s most popular annual sporting events is taking a different track this year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ottawa Race Weekend, the largest annual running event in Canada, has been called off and will be replaced by a “virtual” series of races instead, organizers said Monday. This year’s event was scheduled for May 23 and 24.

“Cancelling the event is a tremendous disappointment for all of us, but it is the right and only thing to do given the ongoing COVID-19 containment measures,” Ian Fraser, executive director of Run Ottawa, said in a statement.

Organizers said more than 17,000 people had already registered to take part in the weekend, which includes 2K, 5K, 10K and children’s races as well as a half-marathon and marathon. They will not be given refunds but will receive their race kits and be eligible to take part in a virtual race weekend and marathon this spring.

Run Ottawa said more details on the virtual events will be announced shortly. The organization said it’s teaming up Ottawa-based race timing and results provider Sportstats to create a “shareable virtual finish line” for the events, and racers will be asked to participate in events on their own “while respecting and promoting all public health physical distancing guidelines.”

All registered participants in this year’s events will also receive a 50 per cent discount to register for the race of their choice at the 2021 Ottawa Race Weekend, slated for May 28 and 29.

Organizers said they’d already paid for most of the costs of hosting this year’s event and issuing full refunds would have put the event in dire financial straits.

Race Weekend’s cancellation is just the latest blow to a local tourism industry already reeling from the fallout of COVID-19.

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. 

Nearly 40,000 out-of-town visitors attend Ottawa Race Weekend, which was named Event of the Year at the 2019 Canadian Tourism Awards.