Renée Rietveld is a lifetime Ottawan and current Sttitsvillian, who is a senior public servant by day, and a documentary filmmaker (and co-owner of On the Street Cinema) by night. Apart from her sometimes unhealthy obsession with the world of film, she also enjoys long distance running, traveling, photography, reading, and having a pint at Darcy McGee’s. But not all at the same time.
I first started running last year, when the running bug bit me as I was looking for a new and healthy way to stay fit. I always used to think that runners were crazy, because really, who actually enjoys running. As time went on though, I found myself doing it more and more. It became a great way to get outside, see the neighbourhood, and challenge myself a little. So when New Year’s Day 2011 hit and I was looking for my next resolution, I came to the conclusion that it was time to sign up for a real race. After doing some research, I decided upon Ottawa Race Weekend’s 5K run.
Why not do my first race in the beautiful downtown core of my hometown?
Ottawa Race Weekend is the city’s largest and most well known road race, one that has grown tremendously from its inaugural run of 146 people in 1975. Throughout the years, organizers have really worked to make it one of the most well known racing events in Canada. Case in point: more than 40,000 runners were expected to pound the pavement this past weekend. It has also become a great charity event, with many participants raising money for various causes as part of their run.
The first stage of my Ottawa Race Weekend experience was on Friday, when I stopped by the beautiful new Ottawa Convention Centre to pick up my race kit. This included my bib, a commemorative t-shirt, and a shoe sensor that would log the start and finish of my race. The air was electric inside the Centre, as everyone seemed to buzzing with excitement and anticipation. After picking up my kit, I weaved through the many booths of racing gear at the Pfizer Health and Fitness Expo. It was a great chance to pick up some last-minute items and meet my fellow runners.
On Saturday afternoon, I got over my jitters and made my way to the 5K start line in front of City Hall at the corner of Laurier Ave. and Elgin Street. Each race was broken up into “corrals” or coloured-coded sections based on what you think your finishing time would be. I was in the green corral, with an estimated finish time of 35 to 40 minutes.
If I thought the air was electric the day before, there are no words to describe what it felt like to be standing in that sea of people right before the race started. Everyone was smiling, stretching, focused and ready for a good time. As a massive set of cheers rose up from the front of the start line and rolled all the way to the back, I couldn’t help getting caught up in it all.
After hitting the official start line we were off, thousands of people from all over the country (and elsewhere) running together. For those 5 kilometres we were a team. Even the sun managed to poke out from the gloomy grey sky and urge us on. The feeling of being a part of this random group of strangers was unlike anything I have ever experienced.
The route itself was beautiful. We started on Elgin Street, and then weaved down Queen to Wellington, going past the Chateau Laurier. We then made our way alongside the canal all the way to the Pretoria Bridge, and back down the other side of the canal to the finish line.
Despite the amazing scenery, it was the spectators along the route that were my favourite part of the experience. My fellow Ottawans were lined up on the sides of the road, from the very start to the very end, with cowbells, clapping hands, and signs of encouragement for family and friends.
As the race began I actually had to stop myself from getting overly emotional. There was such a sense of community and encouragement that it was infectious. Best of all, every time I felt myself getting tired or wanting to stop, someone would yell out a positive “don’t give up!” or give me (a perfect stranger) a big smile, and it would give me the energy I needed to keep going.
As we neared the end the cheers got louder, and we were greeted at the finish line by smiling volunteers and fellow runners giving us high fives. Everyone was given a 5K finishers medal and some refreshments, and I watched thousands of my fellow runners hugging, laughing and celebrating.
In the end, for me this first Ottawa Race Weekend had nothing to do with the finishing time (30:35, not too shabby for a first try!) and everything to do with the experience.
From the amazing volunteers handing out water and catching people when they fell, to the people who lined the route just to encourage us, to my fellow runners who were so kind and considerate, it is one of my favourite Ottawa memories to date.
Thank you Ottawa, I would not have wanted to do my first race anywhere else. I’ll be back next year, and I hope some of you reading this are encouraged to do it then too!
Wow! Thanks for this wonderfully written post…and congratulations to you and all of the runners in this year’s Ottawa Race Weekend!