The assumption is that Ottawa Race Weekend gets bigger and better every year.
Better maybe. But race director John Halvorsen fears participation levels are trending in the wrong direction.
“We peaked in 2014,” Halvorsen says. “The year 2015 we had more people (49,000-plus) but 2014 was the biggest demand because of the (40th) anniversary. We sold out early.
“Since that time, numbers have been declining.”
About 46,000 took part in the six weekend races last year.
It bothers Halvorsen that local hotels hike rates on race weekend ($350 per night is typical, he says). The Golden Goose is threatened, for a number of reasons.
Travel and accommodation costs are a factor in attracting out-of-town racers. A two-night hotel stay plus race costs and meals can add up to a $1,000 weekend. There are an estimated 9,000 area hotel bookings that weekend, making it one of the biggest attractions of the year (Canada Day 2017 excepted).
Airbnb is an option, but availability is scarce, driving up prices.
Runners also have other recreational options, such as mud runs or spartan races. Many decide last-minute which race to enter, making it difficult for race organizers to plan for numbers.
“We’re now among the realm of a lot of different events in North America,” Halvorsen says. “I’m not going to say Boston or New York, because they’re more expensive but a lot of others in the U.S. or Canada.”
Some runners will opt for Ottawa one year, Vancouver the next.
Demographics are another issue. The Baby Boomers who grew up with the running explosion of the 1980s (when advocate Jim Fixx was the guru) are getting on in years. Many have turned to cycling, swimming or walking to ease the impact on bodily joints.
For the first time, Canadian seniors now outnumber children, according to the 2016 population census.
Organizers estimate the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend pumps $34.4 million into the provincial economy from spinoffs associated with the event. Run Ottawa, the race organizers, do not receive funding from Sport Canada or the city of Ottawa.