The Scotiabank Tamarack Ottawa Marathon is a one of only two Gold Label IAAF races in Canada. For me, this race represents a bit of a homecoming, not only did I attend University in Ottawa, but this was also the first marathon I had raced. The homecoming was only a secondary reason to my selecting to race this event. The real reason was how badly it kicked my butt in 2016. I crossed the line in 4:44, a huge disappointment but also an enormous eye opener on what it takes to train and run a marathon properly. The final reason for selecting this race was how early in the season it was, it gave me a great opportunity to see where my fitness was as I gear up for Ironman Canada and to test a few things out.
All that said, I had two goals for this race:
- Set a realistic marathon PR (publicly I was aiming 3:30 but knew I had more in my tank); and
- Test out and execute a proper nutrition plan that would carry over to Ironman Canada.
Travel, Accommodation and Pre-race Organization
One of the fantastic parts about this race are its central location in Downtown Ottawa, the city offers free street parking on Sunday’s so even if you don’t snag a hotel right downtown, you can make your way to the start line and find parking within 30 minutes from almost anywhere in the city. I went with this option and stayed with a friend, I left their house about 6am and made it down to the starting area with no issues. Travel to Ottawa is also incredibly easy, there are relatively inexpensive flights to the city daily, and it’s only about a 4.5-hour drive from Toronto.
The race kit pick up was very well organized, open from Thursday through to Saturday evening at the Ottawa Convention center. The extended hours meant by the time I went through on Saturday afternoon there was nearly no line up, changing some of the information on my race kit was also extremely easy. A great job by the organizers in this aspect. Race morning however was a little more hectic. I arrived at the starting area at about 6:20 about 40mins before the race. The start area however lacked washrooms and waiting for them took a good bit of the time I had wanted to use to warm up. The second downside to the start area was the difficulty in finding the baggage check area, it lacked signage and was tucked away pretty good. Once it was found however the process went smoothly. I finished up some pre-race fuel (a Redbull and cliff blocks) and got in a short warm up before the national anthem and start gun.
The race started off great, my original plan was to kick it with the 3:20 pace bunny and try and bank some time before my predicted slowdown in the back half. We cruised along through the first 5kms and I realized I was feeling strong, and my heart rate was at ease, I kicked it up a little bit and paced with the 3:15 group. A few rookie mistakes like an undone shoe came up, but nothing that really hampered my plans (note to self- get elastic laces). Around the 10km mark I was still feeling great and could see the 3:10 group right ahead of me, I had surged past the 3:15 a few kms back. The course wound its way through the city, along the Rideau Canal and down through some of the more eclectic neighbourhoods which kept everyone happy and distracted. Throughout these sections the city really shows its colours and there are tons of fans and entertainment keeping everyone happy. As we crossed the bridge heading over into Gatineau I was maybe 20 secs ahead of the 3:10 group, but stomach troubles abound. I managed to stay them off for a while but at km 23 I couldn’t anymore, a relatively quick bathroom break only put me a few minutes back from them. To this point nutrition had gone well, a gel flask with 4 power-gels (strawberry banana) mixed with 1oz of water and salt tabs every 40 minutes. Coming out of the bathroom, I thought I could hammer down for a bit and catch that 3:10 group (full Shalane style in Boston) This proved not to be the case however, and I burnt a few matches that would catch up later on! Later on happened to be while running through New Edinburgh (km 35 or so). Whether it was fatigue setting in, or perhaps falling off the nutrition a bit, I had a few negative bouts going through this area, particularly with some of the signs I saw hung up by the community. While the thought was likely to be in good humour, it didn’t do much for me at that point. I battled through however and managed to get it back together around km 37.5 and strung together a decent finish!
The finish line is well organized with plenty of aid and volunteers there looking to give you your medal and make sure you’re ok. As you push through the finish line it’s a fairly sizable walk to the final tent for post-race food and then to the family meet up area. (sidebar: The volunteers at the finish line were no exception come to think of it, all aid stations were adequately stocked and the volunteers were enthusiastic and ready to help as best they could.)
Now the results– I not only met but smashed both of my Goals! Crossed the line feeling great in 3:12:42 (1.5hr PR!!). The nutrition plan went smoothly, salt tablets paired with the power gel and the course provided Nuun were an excellent combo!
Final Thoughts: This is a fantastic race for newbie’s and seasoned marathoners alike, although it is on the pricey side ($120 for general entry), the course support, beautiful course, and great organization make it worth the price.