Race Weekend biggest, best yet

ROB BRODIE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

Ottawa has caught a serious case of Stanley Cup fever.

But even in the midst of that malady, the running bug continues to spread across the capital.

From its humble beginnings 33 years ago, the Ottawa Race Weekend has grown to a six-event monster that attracted a record 29,641 entries this past weekend from a single marathon with 146 entrants.

Organizers didn't quite get to the magic 30,000 mark they'd targeted this year, but it's clear that's only a matter of time in coming.

"We haven't quite made it to 30 but we're close," said an elated Race Weekend president Susan Longbottom. "But that's okay. You can't be disappointed with way over 29,000 people.

"It's phenomenal, when you look how far we've come. You look at how many people are putting on a pair of running shoes, setting a goal for themselves and working toward it ... it's a fantastic feeling."

CHARITIES BENEFIT

The effects of the Race Weekend run far beyond sport itself. Literally dozens of charities benefit from the effort -- most prominently, the Ottawa Hospital, which added $590,000 to its coffers this weekend and has been the beneficiary of more than $5 million in fundraising from the event over the past several years.

Canadian Athletes Now has also reaped the benefits of a two-year partnership with the Race Weekend as its official national charity.

Even though rain dampened yesterday's proceedings, spectators lined the marathon course in large numbers. Many made their way to Festival Plaza over the two days to be a part of it all.

"It has a very infectious energy," said Longbottom. "Everyone here is doing something positive, whether it's running for fitness or running for a charity or running for some kind of personal goal.

"You've got tens of thousands of the nicest people you ever want to meet, all coming downtown at the same time. How do you not want to be part of that? So it just keeps growing every year."

RECORD SKIPPER

The runners themselves offer up the biggest endorsements. Mark Sullivan of Freeburg, Pa., has run more than 120 marathons. He's been to Ottawa's race the past four years and calls it his personal favourite.

Chris Baron, who set a world record yesterday by skipping through the marathon in 4:28:49 -- nearly 21 minutes better than his old mark, set here two years ago -- couldn't stop raving about what goes on in Ottawa.

"This is the best organized marathon in the country, if not North America," said Baron, 32, of Bolton, who's run 30 marathons over the past 16 years.

"There's more people on the streets (watching). Even over in Quebec, I couldn't believe the number of people on the streets in pouring rain.

"They were still out supporting us, and so early in the morning."


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